Pin It
combo7
Stills courtesy of Erika Lust and MakeLoveNotPorn

Porn For Women

combo7

Female-oriented porn is soft-lit, sub-par and totally unconvincing. Five game-changers discuss female sexual pleasure in the digital age – and present their case for an alternative

It’s no secret that women are consumers of online porn. This year, mainstream porn streaming site Pornhub.com announced that 1 in 5 of their users are women. But culturally, the idea of women getting off to sexy videos online still isn’t as normalised as it is for men. There’s a huge disconnect in the sexuality British society likes to project onto women, and acceptance of female sexual desire expressed by women. It’s even codified in law: a 2014 amendment to the 2003 Communications Act censored a number of sex acts from being shown in online pornography produced within the UK, and in the process deemed certain expressions of female sexual pleasure unacceptable.

The suitability of certain sexual tastes is being decided for us. When spanking, female ejaculation and face-sitting within UK porn were deemed amongst ‘content that is not acceptable’ by the British Board of Film Censors, a societal truth revealed itself. That female ejaculation has been banned from being shown, and the visual cue of a man cumming on a woman’s face remains the hallmark of mainstream heterosexual pornography, reveals a startling injustice.

How is it that being a woman and publicly admitting to watching porn still feels like a coming out? In the past year I’ve shared hot-cheeked, affirming chats with female friends in pubs in which we get progressively drunker and more forthcoming about our online viewing habits. At the time, sharing truths about female sexual desire within a safe circle felt personally revolutionary. Over time, talking openly about watching porn has become less daunting. But as a woman – incredibly – it still feels taboo.

“If the camera is up-close on the action, with as much vaginal detail as a Gray’s Anatomy illustration, what else gets missed from the frame? What about a compulsive fit of giggles, super-hot eye contact, or an awkward pause to reposition?”

The possibilities for personal taste are endless. So while we should never generalise about what kind of pleasure is “convincing” or “real”, the landscape of free video-sharing porn sites rarely offers nuanced depictions of female pleasure. The mainstream porn industry still relies on clichés; moaning women being passively pounded by relentlessly rock-hard men. It neglects to capture the messy, wide-ranging scope for female and shared pleasure within sex. 

If the camera is up-close on the action, with as much vaginal detail as a Gray’s Anatomy illustration, what else gets missed from the frame? What about a compulsive fit of giggles, super-hot eye contact, or an awkward pause to reposition?

Mainstream (free) porn sites do contain porn specifically aimed at women. But have you seen it? It’s sub-par hetero porn full of shit, slow ‘love-making’ under soft lighting. The mood is 100% eye contact. The score is Muzak. The fabrics are angora. We also know that straight women are more likely to watch girl-on-girl porn, perhaps because it shows a more satisfying amount of women experiencing personal pleasure.

So what else is out there? Tumblr is a goldmine for diverse depictions of sexuality. For young people, it’s a refreshing place to learn that sex is part of an ongoing conversation in mutual pleasure. Whether it’s arty dick pics, gifs of real couples fucking on sofas, shared sex lives, or audible porn, the Tumblr porn landscape is broad and sexy.

Pornography as a medium is not at fault, but the landscape isn’t as varied and exciting as it could be. No more lying back and thinking of England: sexual pleasure for all parties should always be part of the deal.

Five panelists discuss online porn and pleasure in 2015, and the ways in which their work within erotic cinema, academic porn studies, and new ‘real sex’ sharing platforms dramatically aims to change how we think about sex, desire and fantasy.

PANELISTS

Erika Lust: A Barcelona-based director of independent erotic cinema. In 2014 Erika Lust gave her “It’s Time For Porn To Change” talk at TEDxVienna. Erika’s latest project is XConfessions.com, which turns sex stories confessed by the public into creative and sexually intelligent short films.

Sarah Beall: Based in Montreal, Sarah Beall is in charge of curating the real world sex videos on MakeLoveNotPorn.tv. Her official title is “Madam Curator.” She was previously a script writer in the mainstream adult film industry.

Will Hoffman and Julius Metoyer: Co-director filmmakers who share work at Love.xxx. This year they directed Lover, a short film about sex produced after spending time capturing intimacy and sex between real couples. They are based in California.

Dr Clarissa Smith: Professor of Sexual Cultures at The University of Sunderland. Her research focuses on sexually explicit media and sexual practices. She is also co-editor of academic journal Porn Studies.

Many of you distinguish your work as ‘not porn’ and much of the online landscape celebrating less extreme, performative porn is presented in alternative to the mainstream industry. Can the mainstream porn industry become more supportive of diverse representations of sexuality?

Erika: ​[The] mainstream porn industry sucks. One top executive back when I started told me, "Forget about your project Erika, women would never pay for female-oriented content, they get paid for sex". This is the emotional intelligence the average executive has. I don't expect that industry to be supportive of what I do. My thing is female-relevant erotic films, we are doing something different. We want to see emotions, connection, intimacy and complex feelings. We want intriguing storylines, good characters, female pleasure, and all that packed in beautiful cinematography. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about romantic chick flicks, champagne, and a charming prince. I just want a nouvelle vague of independent adult cinema.

Sarah: One of the glaring revelations from my time as a mainstream porn script writer, is that in a profit-driven industry, in which profits are falling, there is very little interest in innovation that would somehow challenge the now standardized porn tropes. The mainstream porn industry is like a snake eating its own tail - uninterested in taking risks. Taking a risk like introducing a gang bang scene is seen as less risky than having performer wear a condom, for example.

Will and Julius: On a larger social level it’s hard to think that porn will ever escape its own shadow. It’s almost like McDonalds. As long as it’s referred to as "porn" people will always think of aggressive, animalistic fucking. They aren't thinking films about passionate representations of lovemaking and emotional connections between partners. Maybe these films should try to distance themselves from "porn" as opposed to join it. Maybe it can be called something else? 

Sarah: There are a lot of great feminist pornographers out there, as well as independent performers and directors like (porn actress and writer) Stoya wanting to change the game and create more ethically produced porn. Porn's Generation Y is interested in changing things too. If the mainstream porn industry thinks it will make money, I'm sure we're not far off from their version of a site like Make Love Not Porn. But given how much time, energy, creativity and gentleness we put into our curation process, I don't think it will ever be quite the same as what we're doing!

“One top executive back when I started told me, 'Forget about your project Erika, women would never pay for female-oriented content, they get paid for sex.' I don't expect that industry to be supportive of what I do” – Erika Lust

What about the potential for porn to be liberating? Porn remains an off-topic conversation in most social situations, but for some women there’s a sense of ‘coming out’ when porn  is discussed with friends. Like 'Yes! We do this.' Can porn be a medium for initiating a greater public conversation about female pleasure?

Sarah: I think MakeLoveNotPorn’s #realworldsex videos are a great way to help women become more comfortable with their bodies and see what real female pleasure looks like. I also think that porn that shows real female pleasure and centres the experience of female performers, as well as people and bodies not normally represented in mainstream porn — like feminist porn — also has the potential to incite communication and increased pleasure. 

Erika: I agree that porn could be a great source of education and inspiration for men and women. The problem is that most of the porn out there is a wrong source of inspiration, because it’s boring, sexist, ugly, and anti-erotic. And because it teaches unhealthy values to the younger generations, and reaffirms bad sexual habits on adults. We have to rethink pornography, we have to talk about what we like and dislike in adult content, as we do with TV shows, magazines, films and commercials. Porn is a discourse about sexuality, about femininity and masculinity. We have to start paying more attention to porn.

Clarissa: Open and public discussion about sexuality is important but one size will never fit all. I’d like to see us change some of the terms of the debate so that we begin to understand different responses to pornography. Different expectations of sexuality and the forms of pleasure to be had. How pornography may or may not fit women’s, and men’s, everyday lives and sense of themselves. We don’t understand the complexities of peoples’ fantasy lives, and pornography is just one means by which sex is represented. We need to recognise the ways in which sex and porn are not experiences ‘quarantined’ from other aspects of life.

Will and Julius: Consuming porn isn't a very social topic but consuming other things is brought up in causal conversations all the time. People talk about getting drunk or getting high all the time and nobody really bats an eye to that stuff, but porn is different. Sex is different: it's more emotional than drugs or alcohol and people don't generally like to dive into that aspect of their lives, they feel vulnerable and judged by what turns them on. We're not sure if that makes porn liberating, or just a risky thing to bring up in conversation. Confident people can talk about anything they want at any time, I don't know if the subject matter has much to do with it compared to who is starting that conversation. An open conversation with a confident woman about her sexuality will always trump a porn that tries to tackle the same thing. 

How can consumers know they're watching ethical porn produced by consenting participants? Are there clues to look out for in order to avoid supporting exploitation? 

Erika: Look for the faces behind ethical porn. If you can’t find them then be suspicious. A number of "female relevant" erotic sites claim to be made by women with fake names and profiles on Twitter but you don't see the faces of the directors behind the films. Their "profiles" are general shots of people with their faces complete emitted. That means they are very unlikely to actually be females at all.

Clarissa: If you want ethical porn you’ll need to pay for it. Porn stars, directors, camera operators and make up artists are no different from other workers - they need to be paid for their work and time. 

Sarah, MakeLoveNotPorn.tv champions “real world sex” through videos uploaded by the public. Can you talk about your role as curator, and how your relationship with contributors plays into it?

Sarah: MakeLoveNotPorn is pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference. I review every video submitted to Make Love Not Porn in order to ensure that it's non-performative, consensual, contextualized and porn-cliche free. Bonus points if #condomhot, our tag for videos showing how condom usage can enhance sex.

Most of the people on our site have never shot themselves having sex before, let alone uploaded it to the internet, so sometimes I'll Skype with prospective MLNPstars to answer their questions. I ask people to pull the camera back and do as little editing as possible. A lot of my initial work with contributors is about giving them permission to appreciate their real world sex and real world bodies. People will still want to watch their video even if hardcore penetration isn't present at all times, as it so often is in porn. I sometimes liken my job to being equal parts sherpa, handholder, and diehard fan. 

“The mainstream porn industry is like a snake eating its own tail – uninterested in taking risks. Taking a risk like introducing a gang bang scene is seen as less risky than having performer wear a condom” – Sarah Beall

Could you tell us about your own porn consumption?

Sarah: When I worked in the mainstream porn industry as a script writer, producing up to 30 scripts a month, I had to watch a lot of porn. Now, after watching so much real world sex, I find the stuff I used to enjoy too fake and performative. These days I'm excited about Erika’s work as well as Stoya's Trenchcoat X, Tobi Hill-Meyer and Shine Louise Houston. Of course I'm most excited about our growing community of MakeLoveNotPorn stars who continue to dazzle me with their beautifully hot, uncensored sex. To name a few, LoveandLasagna, borninheat, VonBettie, Corkle, Redfox, AllenandtheJean, and ColinGray.

Will and Julius: Growing up, I remember kids would burn CDs and trade them in little jewel cases, sharing porn like music. It was cool because it was mischievous but it always felt kind of pathetic. I knew that porn was entertainment and imagery of people’s fucked up fantasies. I never had the idea that all sex was like that. The last project about sex that really intrigued me was the Steve Mcqueen film Shame. That was amazing for the storytelling and Brandon’s character. It wasn't a statement about sex as much as it was about one mans relationship with himself.

Clarissa: I’ve always had a taste for quite mainstream porn – I have liked Eva Angelina and Allie Sin’s work, I like Sasha Grey, Audrey Hollander; I’m intrigued by James Deen and Rocco Siffredi and I love the work of a director called Jack the Zipper, though I’m less enamoured of other ’star’ directors. I’ve spent many an afternoon laughing (to the point of tears) at some amateur productions, particularly 'cumming on' videos. I’m fascinated and bemused by the impulse to post videos of ejaculation on various household items and bits of clothing differentiated by colour. I’ve also enjoyed viewing edited together clips of household pets watching their owners engaging in sexual activity – look up bored cats in porn!

Erika: I think that there's porn for every occasion. The adult films I create have certain values in terms of ethical norms in production, and certain high standards in terms of how they should look. My content can cater to certain audiences in a certain moment, the same way that you may want to go to fancy restaurant one night, and order pizza at home the next.

“If you want ethical porn you’ll need to pay for it. Porn stars, directors, camera operators and make up artists are no different from other workers – they need to be paid for their work and time” – Dr. Clarissa Smith

How do you feel about new technologies like Virtual Reality, teledildonics and the scope for experiencing shared porn in virtual worlds? Is this something you see as enhancing the erotic landscape, or emphasising the “lonely together” paradox of the internet?

Clarissa: I’m sure it's going to be both and more… New technologies may provide all kinds of opportunities for people to explore sexual representations and for many different reasons – porn can be a component in an ongoing relationship but it can also be a leisure choice in its own right, offering aesthetic as well as erotic experiences. It is quite often a means of staving off boredom while at other times it can be a really exciting exploration of the weird and the wonderful – there is no singular response to pornographies.

Will and Julius: The idea of remote sex technology seems pretty interesting for people who are far away from each other. I can see that being fun and kind of silly thing to try out but nothing compares to the real thing. Just like all technologies, I'm sure they'll grow and have a significant impact on peoples lives as a tool but i don't know if that will help people gain confidence, understand body language and know how to truly connect with another person. 

Sarah: In terms of what will lead to lasting pleasure and happiness in the real world, I put my faith in real world sex. There is a certain sense of vulnerability, caring and tenderness that's palpable when you're watching it – even if it's kinky or rough. Many people find it more intimate than watching porn because it arouses you both physically and emotionally. We had this great bit of feedback from a male member who said, "When I watch porn I want to jerk off. When I watch your videos I want to have sex with my girlfriend."