Arise, Feminist Porn!
Isaw my first porn flick when I was 23, while in bed with a boy I liked. At first, I was excited. It felt naughty and easy. But just 50 seconds after he hit ‘play’, I felt the complete opposite. In it, two young ‘varsity’ girls – with boobs so big I instantly felt inadequate with my modest C-cups – were having sex with up to 16 aggressive ‘jock guys’. Instead of feeling turned on, I felt nauseous. ‘ These girls aren’t enjoying themselves, right?’ I thought. A few more attempts over the years didn’t prove much better. In fact, I felt more excited by a screening of Fifty Shades
Of Grey than anything recommended on RedTube, so I’ll admit I was just a little dubious when I heard about ‘feminist porn’.
Put simply, the genre focuses on female pleasure and celebrates different body types – everything mainstream porn does not. Not heard of it? Get ready to: many women in porn are sick of being seen as playthings, and are grabbing the industry by the balls. Pardon the pun.
Leading the way is Swedish porn director Erika Lust, who made her first short film, The Good Girl, in 2004 while studying political science, feminism and gender studies. The flick, told from a female perspective, signified a change in the way porn could be made. She’s made more than 100 films since (think actual story lines, soft lighting and no degrading language) and scooped several accolades at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto. She’s the Steven Spielberg of indie erotica.
‘When you look at porn’s history, it was born as the liberation of sexuality,’ says Lust when she calls me from her Barcelona studio. ‘ The people making it were visionaries. Then, with the rise of technology, it turned into a business driven by people who weren’t interested in sexuality or cinema, but in quick money.
Soon, any pimp or strip-club owner with a video recorder was making porn, and it got more and more extreme – women with bigger tits, punishment f*cking, racism.’
Thankfully, times are a-changing. It’s about time, because guess what: ladies watch porn, too – a lot. In Pornhub’s 2017 Year in Review, ‘porn for women’ was the top trending search, up more than 1 400% compared to the year before*. In South Africa, 32% of the site’s visitors were women (up 33% from the year before), and our preferred porn star was Kim Kardashian West. The fact that Kim K’s ‘movie’ is of the home-made variety says a lot about what we’re looking for in porn.
‘Women are realising the porn they’re watching isn’t even close to real,’ says Lust. ‘We know very few of us orgasm just from penetration. Almost every woman I know needs to touch herself to make it happen – so I’m not afraid to show it.’
In 2013, Lust started XConfessions, a subscription website that crowdsources ideas from viewers who anonymously submit their own fantasies. Lust then picks her faves and turns them into short films: girl-on-top, sleeping with your boss/neighbour – even period sex.
‘Feminist porn is about creating a positive and realistic view of what sexual activity should be like,’ says sexologist Isiah McKimmie. ‘It’s helping women become more confident in and out of the bedroom, and embrace their body instead of feeling self-conscious about it. Mainstream porn has been instrumental in creating a very narrow view of what women’s genitals “should” look like, leading to an increase in genital cosmetic surgery. Feminist porn can shift that.’
And it’s not just film that’s getting a makeover: print media is taking serious strides in a female-positive direction, too. Forget salacious magazine-cover photos of women with tiny waists, watermelonsized breasts and bleached buttholes: enter Math Magazine, with its unassuming red cover. The progressive porn mag was founded by American MacKenzie Peck, who was fed up with the unrealistic scenarios and bodies she was seeing in mainstream porn.
‘Sometimes I’d find myself in areas of the Internet where I didn’t feel great about what I was seeing,’ Peck says. ‘I wasn’t sure whether I could be a feminist and also be okay with watching women in these intense scenarios. Turns out I could – by opening up the conversation about how our porn is made and who is making it.’
The new normal
What sets Math apart from the porn your brother hides under his bed is the feminist viewpoint that runs through every issue – every shape, size and race is celebrated.
‘Representation matters,’ says Peck. ‘When folks don’t see people who look like them in idealised sexual scenarios, they start to internalise the idea that they aren’t worthy of affection. If women only see female performers in violent scenes, they start to think it’s normal. I hope the ideas we promote become the new norm, and that people recognise there’s no shame in looking at porn – or in making it.’
To do that, we need more women in powerful positions. It’s an idea not lost on Lust. ‘The porn industry is managed by men, so it’s only their vision coming through,’ she says. In an effort to bridge the gap, Lust put out an open call on her website, asking female porn directors to submit ideas and pledging to fund 10 films. She received applications from all over, proving women worldwide like porn – and have a lot to say about it.
While the feminist movement is seeing a shift towards more ethical porn, Lust says it shouldn’t just rest on female filmmakers’ shoulders, and that we should all be more responsible when it comes to porn consumption. And for anyone saying you can’t be a feminist and make/ like/watch porn, women such as Lust, Peck and their fans are proof you can be.
‘Feminism and entrepreneurship are a powerful combination,’ says Peck. ‘ To be a strong, smart woman who is confident and comfortable with her sexuality is something to be honed and honoured.’ Ain’t that the truth!
‘I hope people recognise there’s no shame in looking at porn – or in making it’