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FEMINIST PORN 101: A FRIENDLY RESOURCE GUIDE

September 4, 2016

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FEMINIST PORN 101

A friendly resource guide by Jennifer Lyon Bell

 
Lately I’ve been getting a ton of questions about Feminist Porn. So I thought I might try and help out with some answers from my perspective.
 
What is feminist porn? In short, it’s the enjoyable, satisfying, and occasionally educational result of feminists taking porn into their own hands.
 
Why would this be important? In order to explain why feminist porn might be meaningful to viewers, I can offer my own story as someone intimately involved in the field.
 
I started directing porn because I believed that masturbation was fun, self-loving, and a good way to get to know one’s own body. As a “sex-positive feminist” for many years, I fully believed (and still do) that women can be happiest and most powerful when they are at peace with their own individual sexuality.
 
Though I believed porn could be a valuable part of this discovery experience, I found most mainstream porn kind of boring to watch. I wanted to watch sex scenes that were not romantic per se, but where the characters looked each other in the eyes and seemed to genuinely connect with each other on both a physical level and an emotional level. I also tired of watching mainstream porn and frequently thinking “What are they even doing?” because the sex looked abrasive, jackhammery, and lacked all the fun stuff my female friends and I enjoyed in real-life sex (kissing, good cunnilingus, etc.) Moreover, I needed to know at least a little bit about how the film was made so that I could be certain that the performers were enjoying themselves; it spoiled it for me if I thought they were only tolerating the sex. Not only was that not sexy, it was important to my feminist values that I not be increasing the happiness of female viewers at the expense of female performers.
 
I started making movies so that I could make the films I wanted to watch. In this way, I became part of a burgeoning community of filmmakers: Like-minded women (and a few feminist non-women), also needing and wanting a new kind of porn. This became the wide and varied genre now loosely called “feminist porn”. Though there are many definitions, four elements seem especially important:
 
 

1. Bodily realism

 
Good feminist porn helps viewers, especially female and trans and nonbinary viewers, see their bodies and their bodies’ sensations represented in ways that feel empowering. That might be because the representations are especially realistic, or because the representations lack imagery that is frequently perpetuated in mainstream press (“real women have big breasts and small hips,” for example) in favor of new and more relevant imagery.
 
As an example about bodily sensations, I directed a film called “Matinée” in which the female main character has a sexual experience, and most viewers identify that the best moment of that experience for her is an orgasm which she experiences while being fingered by the male character. It’s highly unusual for a fingering orgasm to be portrayed in porn (or in the movies) as equally or more appealing than a penis-in-vagina orgasm, because it requires so-called “unnecessary” direct clitoral stimulation. But that’s the way the actress experienced her enjoyment of the scene; and in fact it had played out exactly as she had revealed to me, before shooting, that she was most likely to climax. It seemed only natural to preserve it that way in the edit. The wonderful side effect was that tons of women have approached me to talk about how good it felt to see direct clitoral stimulation depicted so positively; they felt relieved and sexy to know that they were in good company.
 
There are so many fantastic examples now of bodily realism in feminist porn, including trans bodies, fat bodies, breasts and penises of all sizes, kinkiness and BDSM, various kinds of non-penile penetration, kissing and biting, direct clitoral stimulation, prostate stimulation, and G-spot stimulation.
 
 

2. Ethical production process

 
All of the feminist porn directors I know are committed to maintaining an ethical production process. Just a few of the things we take into account:
 

  • • Letting the performers themselves choose their co-stars, or at least providing ample opportunity for them to get to know their potential co-stars in advance and see if there’s genuine chemistry and a sense of shared compatibility.
     
    • Talking with the performers far in advance to find out what kind of sex acts, moods, and fantasies they’d personally like to explore in a scene, and integrating that with the film’s concept
     
    • Encouraging the performers to request the sexual aids they’d like, such as certain brands of lube, or specific sex toys
     
    • Discussing safer sex protocols and coming with a plan that both performers feel good about
     
    • Sticking to the shooting plan and never pressuring performers to add extra sex acts to the scene that were not agreed in advance
     
    • Paying a fair wage
     
    • Treating the performers’ bodies with respect by asking what food and drink the performers enjoy and would like to have available.
     
    • Making sure the performers know they are welcome to stop the action to rest or renegotiate at any time. Their happiness and safety are #1.

 
Involving the performers in the creative process is not only ethical, but often leads to a better movie. One time, I was meeting with one of the lead actresses of a movie I was planning to make, Silver Shoes. After discussing with her the plot of the two-woman lovescene I had written, I asked if there were any special sex toys she might like to use. She mentioned that she was very fond of her purple Feeldoe, a sort of insertable strap-on dildo, and asked if I could incorporate it. It was a smart suggestion of hers because it fit great with the gender-play of the scene. Plus, she would likely not fumble with it; she would use it with confidence and – we guessed – a fair amount of pleasure. So we did. There ended up being an electric synergy between the gender-play plot, and this very personal and comfortable toy of Liandra’s. To me, this is a typical experience on a feminist porn set; by actively involving the performers in the creative process, they are much happier and more at ease, which leads to a better movie and also a more enjoyable filming process for the cast and crew.
 
 

3. Female pleasure

 
Since most porn is made by men and for men, male pleasure is often central in mainstream porn. Penis-in-vagina sex is the most important act, and male ejaculation is the literal and figurative climax of the movie. Feminist porn turns this concept around – female pleasure and female orgasm are the highlights of the movie. This isn’t to say that male pleasure is ignored in feminist porn. In fact, feminist porn films boast some of the most realistic, empathetic, and enjoyable representations of male sexual pleasure, precisely because the pressure is off the male performer to enact a standardized staged demonstration of virility. But the point of feminist porn is to bring focus back onto female enjoyment. Feminist porn directors do that in a couple of ways. First, in working with the female performers:
 

  • • Encouraging the female performer(s) to collaborate on the co-star/activities/mood of their scene, so they can help tailor it themselves for maximum enjoyability
     
    • Allowing female performers to have the style of pleasure/orgasm that feels natural to them, if even if it isn’t what one normally sees in a porn film (quieter, louder, “too many” orgasms)
     
    • Encouraging female performers not to force an orgasm if it doesn’t come naturally

 
Second, feminist porn directors always think about adapting their filmmaking practice to prioritize female pleasure. This can include making sure female characters are simply in frame more often. Also, feminist directors give thought to framing their shots in a way the director best feels showcases the female character’s pleasure –for example, showing the changing expression on her face, or omitting some of the penis-in-vagina “meat shots” in favor of incorporating shots that focus on other bodily sensations the female character is enjoying. Every director handles this differently, but it is crucially important.
 
 

4. Meaningful messaging

 
There is no one correct feminist approach to plot — nor, importantly, do feminist porn films necessarily even need a plot. But all feminist porn films pay attention to the message about gender and sex they are putting out into the world. Personally I am a filmmaker who enjoys plot and concept, and have drawn on my own life to find storylines that feel emotionally meaningful to me: “What does it feel like when you are a woman attracted to a man you think is gay?” “As a stage performer, would you be willing to sexually experiment onstage if you thought it was for a good cause – even if it made you nervous?” Other equally important messages I have seen in feminist porn films include things like “Femme queer women can be attracted to other femme queer women; it’s not always a femme/butch matchup”, “Couples in love sometimes enjoy fucking very roughly rather than tenderly” and “Some women enjoy anally penetrating their boyfriends, and their boyfriends like it too.” These seem like simple messages, but they are deeply meaningful to audience members who can’t get these messages in the mainstream media and are relieved (and aroused) to hear they are not alone.
 
 

Resources for Feminist Porn

 
There are a number of resources for exploring feminist porn more fully.
 
The Feminist Porn Awards This was the original award ceremony that educated the international media about feminist porn films, filmmakers, and performers. It was created as an activist effort by Carlyle Jansen of the female-focused sex retailer Good For Her in Toronto, Canada. Though the Awards is now sadly shuttered as of 2015, their archives are freely available for browsing and research.
 
The PorYes Awards, also called the European Feminist Porn Awards, is still running and honors a selected group of feminist porn artists each year, including filmmakers, photographers, and performers performers. They also host discussion panels and screenings.
 
The Feminist Porn Conference (FPCon) This is the first and only Feminist Porn conference, held until recently in Toronto, Canada (sometimes in concert with the Feminist Porn Awards.) Created by feminist porn director, sex educator, and writer Tristan Taormino, the conference highlighted academic and practical issues relevant to both scholars and to tradespeople. Though the status of the Conference is up in the air as of this year — because of the huge amount of effort involved in producing it — many are hoping it will be back in years to come.
 
The Feminist Porn Book This fascinating book is comprised of many essays about feminist porn, ranging from the chatty to the academic. The first of its kind, it’s a good starting place for encouraging further research. Edited by noted critical porn thinkers Tristan Taormino, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley and Mireille Miller-Young.
 
PinkLabel.tv is an “ethical porn” online streaming cinema run by one of the pioneers of feminist filmmaking, Shine Louise Houston. This site offers many (most?) of the current feminist porn films, including the more experimental, artistic, and hard-to-find films. They also posted a good listing of some of the key filmmakers in the feminist porn movement.
The Feminist Porn Guide Created by director Ms. Naughty, this site is another good roundup. I also recommend Ms. Naughty’s personal blog for her thorough discussions of timely issues in the feminist porn world.
 
Some additional feminist porn websites and filmmakers/performers you can explore, in no particular order:

 

pinklabel.tv
crashpadseries.com
brightdesire.com
foxhousefilms.com
blueartichokefilms.com
lustcinema.com
indiepornrevolution.com
luciemakesporn.com
dreamsofspanking.com
queerporn.tv
sensatefilms.com
makelovenotporn.tv
realqueerporn.com
heavenlyspire.com
ifeelmyself.com
beautifulagony.com
gentlemanhandling.com
 
Courtney Trouble
Goodyn Green
Shine Louise Houston
Tristan Taormino
Lucie Blush
Jiz Lee
Madison Young
Jennifer Lyon Bell / Blue Artichoke Films
Gala Vanting / Sensate Films
Ms Naughty aka Louise Lush
Vex Ashley / Four Chambers
Anna Brownfield / Poison Apple Productions
Michelle Flynn / Light Southern
Toytool Comité
Maike Brochhaus
Alyx Fox
Marit Östberg
Erika Lust
Maria Beatty
Dylan Ryan
Ovidie
Emilie Jouvet
Nenna Joiner
April Flores
James Darling
Wolf Hudson
Buck Angel
Tony Comstock
Anna Span
Tobi Hill-Meyer
Sadie Lune
Zahra Stardust
Aeryn Walker / Naughty Nerdy
Petra Joy
Morgana Muses
Annie Sprinkle
Candida Royalle