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What is Feminist Porn?

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September 21, 2015

Can porn be feminist?

A member of my family, who would be appalled if I mentioned her name on this website, worked for a while in a video store. While there, she took it upon herself to view all the softcore pornography offered in “the back” (such a phrase, such a phrase), arguing that in her day, “women wanted porn for the plot, men want it for everything else.”

To her, there was porn for women, porn for men, and the stuff they can’t sell. The Internet has since leveled the digital playing field. Every sexual proclivity can be found and satisfied on the World Wide Web, from such innocuous kinks as threesomes and role-playing to highly illegal activities like child pornography and “crush porn”- where people crush animals for pleasure.

And amidst this sea of content comes controversy. Some think all sex, including porn, is morally wrong outside of marriage. Others level more specific criticism at porn. A recent Netflix documentary showcased how “amateur” pornographers (rather, professionals who try to cash in on the idea that their stars are young, inexperienced, and filmed without postproduction) take advantage of high school women. At the end of the day, porn is still a business — a business that often (but not always) leaves its stars addicted to painkillers and left out in the cold when their marketability expires.

With that kind of environment, can the digital world still be a part of the Sexual Revolution? Quite a few filmmakers around the world have been trying to carve out an online frontier of “feminist porn” since the founding of Femme Productions in 1984. Just this year, the city of Toronto hosted the 10th Annual Feminist Porn Awards. But what characterizes feminist porn?

To most “mainstream” pornographers, anything not male-dominated, white and full of bad acting could be considered a “fetish” worthy of its own category on porn websites. Feminist porn turns that on its head, encouraging their actors and actresses to try and enjoy the sex as much as possible. Participants have input on what sexual positions they want to use, and are not coerced into doing anything they don’t want to do. Scenes often encompass all parts of the sexual orientation spectrum. Feminist pornography has also captured a sizable portion of the transgender market, attempting to do so without fetishizing their sexual experiences. People of color also see more representation in feminist markets without being marketed as “an ebony fetish.” All feminist porn takes a sex-positive attitude to its work, often promoting social justice and sexual equality.

Tristan Taormino, a sex educator and feminist pornographer, sat down with Cosmopolitan in 2013 to discuss the topic. Feminist porn, according to her, is ethical both on-screen and off-screen. Feminist porn stars are paid a fair wage and are in a much better position to bargain with their employers. The trade-off is that there is less money to be made, as feminist porn is still considered by both distributors and audiences to be a niche market.

And as with any other form of media, feminist porn is a complicated world. There are still many people around the world who see porn as inherently anti-feminist. Other pornographers, like the directors of the French website Sex Art [Link NSFW], are classified as feminist by reviewers but do not necessarily identify themselves as such.
But perhaps this is a step in the right direction. Pornography use is a huge part of internet traffic in both pirated and paid-for features. A market for porn has, and likely will, always exist. The fact that feminist cinematography and business practices have managed to successfully thrive in such a market may one day force larger companies to take notice of the demand. Either way, it appears feminist porn is here to stay.

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