EVERYDAY FEMINISM

What Does Feminist Porn Look Like?

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

 

Originally published on Role/Reboot and cross-posted here with their permission.

It’s a common complaint among feminists that pornography “objectifies” women.

And rightly so, since a lot of it does. Most (straight) pornography really does present women as mere objects without feelings or desires of their own.

The only role most porn shows women playing in sexual encounters is as catering to the fantasies and whims of men, who pay no attention to anything about women’s needs, let alone their desires.

But that’s not the worst of it.

A lot of pornography is proudly misogynistic.

Women are mistreated, humiliated, used, and insulted, all of which is presented as “normal” and appropriate. The fact that this is expected to appeal to a male audience is scary.

But porn can objectify women without being so obviously offensive.

Most porn has a predominantly male perspective. The directors are usually men, and most porn is made for men. As a result, the camera often embodies the male gaze“: It looks where a man (a stereotypical straight man, that is) would look.

As a result, women are presented exclusively as objects of desire and never as subjects of pleasure.

This is why men are so strangely absent from much straight porn, except as disembodied penises.

This can easily appear, as J. Bryan Lowder once said on Slate, as a strange form of reverse objectification.

But, as Lowder notes, there’s a simple reason for this: Most porn made for men is shot in such a way as to allow the male viewer to project himself into the scene. The woman is thus presented as available to any man who wishes to use her.

A penis needs to be present, but the man to whom it is attached had better not be too present, lest he threaten to become the focus and the male viewer be threatened with homo-eroticism.

Only the woman is to be seen, and she is there for the pleasure of the male viewer.

Similarly, hardly any attention is paid in most porn to authentic female sexual pleasure.

It’s not just the fake moaning. It’s the fake sex.

Sure, it’s nice if the guy goes down on the woman after she has gone down on him. But having gone down on a few women, I’m here to tell you that what passes for cunnilingus in most porn is not giving anyone much pleasure.

The guy is usually so busy not blocking the woman’s genitals that he can barely make contact with her clitoris.

Porn doesn’t have to be like that, though, even if most of it is.

There’s no reason a video can’t be sexually explicit and still present women as human beings who deserve to be treated with respect, even when they have their clothes off, and who have an equal right to sexual desire, pleasure, and satisfaction.

There’s no reason, to borrow a phrase from Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, that porn can’t present women as sexual collaborators with men rather than as sexual conquests of men.

Porn that doesn’t present men and women as equal partners, sexually speaking — that presents sex as something that men do to women and that women do for men — is dangerous. It reflects and thereby reinforces the warped view of sex that underlies rape culture.

That is the core of the feminist criticism of porn, and it is absolutely correct.

But by the very same token, porn that presents sex as something two people do together as equals embodies and promotes positive, healthy attitudes about sexuality and, indeed, about gender itself.

As porn legend Nina Hartley once wrote, that kind of porn could “change men’s and women’s attitudes at their deepest neurobiological level.”

As a bonus, such porn stands a realistic chance of actually being appealing not just to straight women, but to men who love them as equals, and so offering heterosexual couples something they can enjoy watching together without having to check their politics at the door.

How might a commitment to sexual equality manifest itself on screen?

Obviously, the male and female performers, or their characters, should be treated as equals.

As a rule, just as much attention should be paid to her pleasure as to his, and we the viewers should have the sense that the male character actually cares about whether his female partner enjoys their shared experience and, better yet, cares about her. And that she cares for his pleasure, and for him. Or, if that is not so, then we should be offered some understanding of why it isn’t.

Second, male-female sex should not be presented as something penises do to vaginas (or other orifices).

Sex is something people do, and people make love with their whole bodies. So we should see the performers’ whole bodies.

Women should not be presented as vehicles for tits and holes, and men should not be presented as disembodied cocks.

What really makes it obvious that there are people having sex are their faces, which are wonderfully expressive of what they are feeling. To connect with the characters, then, as human beings having sex, we need to see their faces, and not just her face but his, too.

Third, sex is something that people do, at least most of the time, in the context of a larger relationship.

So the sex on screen should reflect the relationship between the characters.

If they are a couple, we would expect them to express affection toward one another. If they are friends consummating their long-shared crush for the first time, we would expect them to be excited about what they are doing, maybe even a little awkward, and to speak to each other about how long they’ve waited for this, how much they have wanted each other. If they are married, but not to each other, then the sex should reflect that fact. And so on.

Fourth, kissing, touching, and caressing are important, because that is what real lovemaking is like.

It is, as much as anything, what expresses passion, tenderness, and care. A lot of women apparently go weak-kneed when porn stars hold hands while fucking. And understandably so. It’s hot.

Finally, sex isn’t something a couple does for other people, but something they do for themselves. So their sexual interaction should be presented as one they enjoy.

Of course, the people having sex are performers, and the positions they use are sometimes better for the camera than for them. That’s understandable.

But if the whole thing seems choreographed, if no one actually seems to be enjoying themselves, but just to be going through the motions—well—I had a lot of sex like that in my first marriage, and I don’t care to be reminded of it!

I’m not saying that porn has to be so “vanilla” that it’s boring.

But if two people are going to have rough sex on screen, I want to know enough about them to know that it’s consensual and enjoyable. I don’t want to be a witness to sexual assault.

Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex series of videos proves that it is possible to present rough sex in a way that is not degrading.

She begins each scene with lengthy interviews with both performers, discussing why rough sex appeals to them. Only then do we get to watch them go at it, but by then, there is plenty of context for what is happening, and we know very well that, in fact, they care about one another and are enjoying what they are doing — even if it involves biting, slapping, and all manner of other things.

The same goes for any other sort of sex.

Threesomes can be fine, but not if it’s just two men taking advantage of a woman or some guy using two women for his pleasure.

Or, to take a different example, in the video Don Juan’s Therapist, from Sweet Sinner, our modern-day Don Juan attempts to seduce yet another woman, only to have the tables turned on him. They have sex, but she treats him as a mere tool for her pleasure.

Straight porn that strives to live up to the sort of standard I’ve just articulated is a kind of feminist porn.

Feminist porn includes a lot more: authentic lesbian porn, for example, such as the Crash Pad Series and the artsy videos released by Juicy Pink Box and produced by Jincey Lumpkin.

But straight feminist porn is still rare.

While many studios have tried hard to make “couples porn,” these efforts have rarely been successful. The “couples” label usually seems to mean little more than “no anal, no facials,” and that doesn’t by itself make for feminist porn.

In the last few years, however, several studios have started producing straight feminist porn, or at least trying to do so.

The effort doesn’t always succeed, but, even if it only succeeds some of the time, that’s a big improvement, and it deserves to be applauded and supported, as well as enjoyed.

Porn plays a significant role in shaping sexual culture, so the more porn reflects a feminist perspective on sex, the better off we will all be.

If you want to explore further, then, you might start by looking at some of the movies that have won Feminist Porn Awards. And there are feminist porn reviews at FemiPorn and reviews of porn by women and for women at Hot Movies for Her.

 

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Russell O’Connor (not his real name) lives in New England. He is a father, a husband, a feminist, a leftist, a radical Christian, and a huge fan of both baseball and sex. He considers himself to be ambi-gendered, though he is uniformly gynophilic.

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