Getting hot and bothered with feminist porn

Delima Shanti writes

          

My first experience with porn was at 11, where I stumbled on a collection of stills featuring a bunch of 30 to 40-something year olds in the throes of an orgy. There was a lot of camp leather outfits involved, and I think I remember some fluoro feather boas.

 

For the longest time I didn’t dare breathe a word about this experience, as well as the many other times since then that I had sneaky peeks of porn. I was convinced that not one of my friends (particularly the girls) watched any porn, and I quickly got tech-savvy enough to clear all traces of the porn on my computer.

 

As I grew up, I had the great fortune of being in the “friend zone” with a couple of guys in my grade, so I managed to catch tidbits of what was popular porn at the time. This is how I came across some better produced, more theatrical masterpieces like Pirates, Russian Institute, and Tarzan and Jane. The first was a porn knock-off of Pirates of the Carribean, the second a series based around Russian girls at a boarding school, while the last was about well... Tarzan and Jane.

 

Let’s just get one thing out of the way here. Yes I watched hardcore, mostly hetero porn (though hardcore is subjective depending who you ask), and yes I did enjoy it. But after a while, the wham-bam-thank-you-m’am, blowjob-fuck-cumshot routine (cunnilingus optional) just didn’t impress me any more. Porn just got boring. And the young feminist in me hated how actresses were used as no more than ‘cum dumpsters’ (an actual film title). I also got sick of how all the women had breasts that looked like half-oranges, were absolutely hairless and how the men behind the penises disappeared five minutes into the movies. What I hated most was while some women were screaming like banshees they didn’t look like they really enjoyed it.

 

Fast forward to present day, I recently attended a talk at Melbourne’s The Pleasure Salon by Tristan Taormino, an American feminist porn director, writer, sex educator and self-described anal sex expert. She explained how the oxymoronic notion of feminist porn has a place alongside modern feminism as a means to empower female sexuality. Porn, traditionally made with male pleasure in mind, could be re-imagined to appeal to women and gender-queer people. Taormino, who occasionally makes cameos in her own films, also explained that feminist discourse surrounding the relationship of female sexuality and porn focuses a lot on “consent and agency, before pleasure and satisfaction”. She asks, why shouldn’t women be able to enjoy porn?

 

That’s maybe because a lot of women think they shouldn’t be into porn. Many, including my teenage self, feel guilty about liking porn, because it’s meant to be forbidden, dirty, demeaning, exploitative and something only zit-faced 13-year-old boys are into. But perhaps that’s because the only porn they’ve ever encountered is the type stocked in your friendly neighbourhood Club X. Abiola Abrams, an African-American porn producer from New York said it best: “It’s not that sex is degrading - sex is awesome. It was the images that were degrading.”

 

The difference between feminist porn and the demeaning stuff is more to do with the behind-the-scenes technicalities most viewers aren’t aware of. The annual Feminist Porn Awards lays out three criteria a film must cover to be eligible:

1.      A woman had a hand in writing, producing or directing the work;

2.      It has to depict genuine female pleasure;

3.      It should expand the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges sexual stereotypes often found in mainstream porn.

 

Part of Taormino’s own definition of feminist porn is that it is made under “fair, ethical, working conditions” where the performers are recognised as sex workers, with a particular emphasis on the ‘work’ part. With her own titles, performers must have regular STI and health checks and get fair pay. They are always offered the option of using condoms and the women in particular are allowed to do whatever they need and take as long as they want to get off.

 

It is not the most exciting part of porn, but it’s definitely something that needs to be more widely acknowledged. There is a growing volume of female-friendly porn out there, and while it’s still a niche segment, it helps that women like Tristan Taormino are also involved with some big names in the mainstream industry, giving them the chance to infiltrate the mass market and flood it with safe, sex-positive content. These are women who understand that while there is a great deal of sexism and exploitation in the porn industry, there is also the potential to strip away the stigma and promote sex-positive attitudes through porn that reflects feminist values.

 

Modern feminist matriarch Andrea Dworkin, who was famously anti-porn, consistently expressed her view that “intercourse as an act often expresses the power men have over women, while porn incited male hostility towards women”. But Anna Span, Britain’s first female porn director, said in an interview with Womens Views on News that the anti-porn feminists’ issue with porn is flawed. She argues, “Women and men are different, they have different powers...Power is something that excites us – it's a huge part of all our lives.”

 

Taormino argues many anti-porn feminists just haven’t seen enough porn. There is so much stuff out there, and the same applies to feminist porn; just because it is porn that is meant to appeal to women, doesn’t mean it is all gentle sex that looks like a scene from a European arthouse flick.

 

Taormino herself is partial to the gonzo genre, a kind of no-frills porn usually with little to no storyline, plenty of dirty talk and camera-work that is almost as hyperactive as the on-camera performance. Her award winning film, Rough Sex, is anything but soft and yet manages to steer away from the portrayal of men as sexual robots and women as vehicles for sexual pleasure. The film was peppered with personal interviews with the performers, where they talk about their likes and dislikes, how they set boundaries and the real chemistry the pairs had.

 

Bottom line is, not all porn is misogynistic, exploitative or derogatory, as long as the women involved are in control. That doesn't mean, of course, that there isn’t porn out there made by men that is absolutely female-friendly. Feminist porn can empower men, women and gender-queer viewers by giving them information and ideas that inspires fantasy and adventure. People feel their own experiences are validated when they see themselves and their sexuality, whatever it may be, represented.

 

Any pornography, not just movies that explicitly set out to be feminist feminist, that is inclusive of a diversity of genders, sexual orientations, sexual roles, ethnicities and body shapes is paving the way for a democratisation of the industry.

 

Meanwhile, chastising women who like porn is assuming there is only one way of being a feminist. Series like X-Art and Crash Pad, and Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex series offer great hetero and queer options for women. And the Feminist Porn Awards would be a good starting point if you’re looking to get some quality smut, whatever your kink may be. Women should be allowed to get hot and bothered with pornography without, as it has been in the past, getting hot and bothered about pornography. 

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3 comments so far..

  • SamJ's avatar
    Commenter
    SamJ
    Date and time
    Tuesday 17 Apr 2012 - 2:46 PM
    This could be simply me being male, but does a qualification need to be made? Why does porn need to be feminist? (as long as in all other workplaces, the workers are being treated with respect and paid fairly). Does Plumbing need to be feminist? I get that there's somewhat of a difference - pipe jokes aside - between the two vocations, but at the end of the day, they're vocations. I mean, seeing Sasha Grey holding up a best-of of existentialist philosophers is a bit much - that's great, Sasha, but you do porn, you don't need to justify yourself with your knowledge of Doestoyevsky, you just need to convince us you're having a great time whilst having sex on camera. But, I guess she may have been placed into a circumstance where she feels the need to justify herself, I suppose. I guess I would just find porn actresses who simply state, 'I get paid to fuck on camera and i love it' more honest than those looking to enter into a feminist discourse about empowerment. Though, having said that, that discourse then opens up the opportunity for those actresses to then feel validated to the extent where they *can* say 'i love doing porn' or the like... Jeez, I always thought porn was simply about efficient masturbation. Is this not enough?
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  • LouiseLush's avatar
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    LouiseLush
    Date and time
    Wednesday 18 Apr 2012 - 2:29 PM
    SamJ: Feminist porn needs to be feminist because porn ISN'T just a regular thing like plumbing. It's got a whole shirtload of negativity and assumptions behind it, including the idea that the women who appear in it are stupid and should not be respected. So much porn depicts sex and women in a negative way and it is almost always made for a male audience. The term "feminist porn" is a way of signifying that you're getting something different: more positive, more female-friendly, more respectful of performers and the audience. I'm also a feminist pornographer. I've recently worked with a woman who is studying mathematics and is extremely eloquent and intelligent. She's also very much into sex and enjoys being paid to perform porn. She finds it empowering. It's not an either/or dichotomy, people are complicated. That's part of the deal with ethical and feminist porn. I should ask you: why do you think this information gets in the way of efficient masturbation?
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  • jasons0660's avatar
    Commenter
    jasons0660
    Date and time
    Thursday 19 Apr 2012 - 11:48 PM
    Oh, please, don't get sucked in by Tristan Taormino. She has made porn that props up the sleazy straight guy fantasy. She is nothing but a sleazy pornographer. She has failed to put male-male scenes in her porn movies. She's only put in male-female and female-female that appeals to sleazy straight guys.
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