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What exactly is feminist porn?

WORDS BY DAISY HENRY

“The reality is, if you’re going to support ethical or feminist porn you’re going to have to pay for it.”

Like many others, my exposure to pornography was through free, easy-to-find online sites – and, as a young girl, the type of sex they portrayed was anything but erotic or exciting. Most clips featured aggressive depictions of heterosexual sex where women’s bodies were on display and the camera was positioned to give the viewer a ‘point of view’ perspective from the man.

The idea of a female orgasm, safe sex and consent were foreign concepts and sex was defined in heteronormative terms that began with an erect penis, and finished with male ejaculation.


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While most boys in my high school joked about porn and masturbation with no hesitation, the idea of young women taking part in any of these activities seemed shameful and embarrassing. Sex was always cast as the domain of men.

Granted, topics around sex have shifted away from what they once were. Female pleasure is becoming less stigmatised, Cotton On sells sex toys online and there is a range of sites and media platforms that regularly publish sex-positive content.

There is also feminist porn, with creators like Ms Naughty and Anna Brownfield who responded to the gap between what mainstream porn was offering, and what women actually wanted.

Ms Naughty has been making and curating online porn for women since 2000 and runs two major adult websites that focus on capturing intimacy and connection in their depictions of sex.

Likewise, Anna Brownfield is an award-winning feminist erotic filmmaker who heads Poison Apple Productions, an independent film production company dedicated to making creative and unconventional films. In order to delve into the world of feminist porn, I turned to Ms Naughty and Anna for some insight.

So what is feminist porn and how is it different?

“[Feminist pornography] started as a movement… of a group of women and non-binary people, and gay men to a lesser degree, who wanted to make something that was different – that looked at sexuality and the representation of sexuality on screen outside of this very formulaic, mainstream porn that was available at the time,” Anna says.

“If you think about the way mainstream straight porn shoots sex, it often follows a formula,” Ms Naughty explains. “The camera focuses on the woman and cuts the man out of the frame. Sometimes you never see his face at all. She might make a lot of noise while he stays deadly silent. Her shoes stay on. The woman rarely has an orgasm but the scene always ends with male ejaculation.

“For me, making porn has always been about finding non-traditional ways to show sex; making sure we see the man’s face and his enjoyment of sex, putting the focus on female pleasure and female orgasm… Finding ways to humanise and personalise the depiction of sexuality… And, of course, expanding the idea of what’s ‘sexy’.”

The female gaze

In her filmmaking, Anna reversed the norm of the male gaze by depicting the male body through a female gaze. “A lot of [my] camera work focused on men’s bodies [and] not necessarily the women’s bodies.

“If you watch a lot of mainstream porn, the camera [is usually] focused on the women’s bodies, [whereas] with men, they just become a prop and it really becomes all about their penis,” Anna says.

“In mainstream [pornography], it’s very much focused on the genitals and I wanted to move away from that… But it’s [also] about the way sex scenes were constructed more towards female sexual responses, so there were peaks and troughs and build-ups. And there was foreplay as well.”

How can you ensure that videos are made ethically?

“My process usually starts with the performers,” Ms Naughty tells me. “I’ll start a conversation and get to know them a bit. I ensure they’re on board with what I want to do and that they have the same values and ethics as me.”

“Typically there are extensive discussions about what’s going to happen on the day. Performers who aren’t couples often sit together and talk about what works for them, what’s off-limits, if there are safe words or whatever. Performers know that they can call a halt at any time, take a break, do whatever they need to be comfortable.

“I [also] encourage performers to talk to each other during the scene and to ask if the partner is okay [which] makes the consent visible to the viewer,” Ms Naughty explains.

Are there any challenges in making feminist porn?

While it may seem completely at odds with just how easy porn is to access now, most erotic content used to be subscription-based – until the introduction of tube sites. Like YouTube, tube sites allow users to upload clips themselves, offering primarily free content.

“Tube sites changed the landscape massively,” Anna says. “Suddenly in terms of being able to make a viable income from [porn], it became quite difficult because there was the expectation that everyone wanted to have porn for free… so that’s been a really big issue I think for a lot of people in Australia.”

In Australia, it’s also illegal to distribute most pornography and sexually explicit content outside of the ACT and Northern Territory. This specifically relates to content that is classified as X18+ by the Australian Classification Board, or films that are refused classification.

This doesn’t mean you’ll be in trouble for watching porn or X18+ content, but in theory, it means that it’s illegal to make and distribute it in most parts of the country.

While this is a bit of a grey area and the regulation is quite confusing (especially in regard to the rise of online streaming platforms and how they’re monitored), Anna tells me that there isn’t the same degree of freedom that her counterparts in Europe enjoy.

Ms Naughty adds that shadow banning also poses another challenge. “I can’t advertise with Google Ads. I can’t post on Facebook. I’ve been banned multiple times from Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, you name it. It’s incredibly frustrating because I’m trying to change porn, to help make it less sexist [and] more inclusive. But anti-porn people don’t see nuance like that,” she says.

Do you need to pay for porn?

“The reality is, if you’re going to support ethical or feminist porn you’re going to have to pay for it,” Anna says.

Ms Naughty agrees. “It costs money to film good, ethical porn. You have to pay your performers properly, hire a set, own the equipment, [and] spend time producing and editing the content. I’d say that the idea that ‘nobody pays for porn’ makes the creation of ethical feminist porn harder.”

In 2003, inspired by the idea of making porn that women like themselves would want to see, Ms Naughty and a friend created For the Girls. “At that point in time, ‘porn for women’ wasn’t really an accepted idea. People didn’t think women liked porn,” she explains.

“[For the Girls] was and is an online magazine with explicit content. So aside from articles and erotic fiction, it has a lot of couples porn and naked men. We always felt it was important to feature naked men. We felt it was evening up the scales a bit, creating a female gaze. [It] has always been about ‘porn for women’.”

Ms Naughty also founded Bright Desire in 2012. “I wanted to include queer content and cater to men as well as women. Basically, I wanted to create a smart, sex positive space that was about connection, intimacy and fun.

“So much mainstream porn was and is sexist, racist and really negative. Bright Desire has always been about sexual joy. People laugh in my films. They share themselves – they’re human and beautiful. I’ve always felt honoured to capture people during sex and I want to reflect how special those moments really are,” she explains.

For a list of feminist porn sites, head here.

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