PorNo? PorYes? PorHaps…

Why not every Porno is hot.
ccording to Wikipedia, pornography or porn is „the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter that seeks to create the
sexual arousal of viewers and their erotic satisfaction, usually by including erotically stimulating material such as nudity and the explicit portrayal of sexual activity“. For many of us, it is now part of our daily lives. Maybe at some point we blushed upon finding the blue movie collection of our parents in the far back of the DVD drawer, or friends showed us some pics on their cellphones, perhaps some of us have surfed YouPorn, but even normal movies rarely do without a sex scene. The media even calls us „generation porno“. If people discuss the matter, they often use catchwords like ‚youth protection‘, ‚PorNO‘ (translator’s note: Campaign of the anti-pornography movement in Germany, which was influenced by Andrea Dworkin, author of Pornography: Men Possessing Women), ‚censorship‘, ‚loss of innocence‘, etc.

I wanna sex you up
We neither feel like listening to prude moralizers pointing fingers at allegedly pervy teenagers, nor like watching this society’s common sexism that continues to reduce women to sexual objects.
And we don‘t find it that easy to form an opinion on porn movies. Still, we want to try to clarify a couple of things.
One thing is pretty clear to all of us: sex is not evil. Fortunately the times are over when you had to be married in order to have it. Education on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases is easily available, it has become easier, at least to some extent, to have a gay or lesbian coming-out, tabloids regularly have headlines like: „Every woman is free to masturbate“ and nowadays you can even question monogamy and consider the advantages of an open relationship – or deconstruct the categories ‚friend-ship‘ and ‚partnership‘ altogether. Movies like ‚Drei‘ (translator’s note: ‚Three‘, a drama set in Berlin directed by Tom Tykwer centred on a 40-something couple who, separately, fall in love with the same man) have made it out of subculture. Sexuality can feel awesome, and it seems to make sense to enable as many people as possible to have great sex with themselves and one, two, three, many others. So if sexuality is something positive to begin with, shouldn‘t this go as well for porn movies which aim is to „create the sexual arousal of viewers“?

There’s no sex in your violence
Well, there’s just one little problem: In this society, sex is not only linked to desire, but often to violence and sexism, too. According to a study of Munich University, one in five women have experienced sexual assault during the course of her life, and sexual assault against boys and men is also increasingly brought up. Sexism appears everywhere: when it’s only women who do the dishes, when in a meeting only guys talk among themselves, when women are considered not tough enough to riot, plus clichés in advertisements, films and so on. All these ideas are being produced by social structures, for example by public child and family policy or by unequal payment, but also by our own daily thoughts, feelings and behavior. Back to the problem: Mainstream porn is almost always pretty sexist. Women usually appear only to pleasure men, they‘re always ‚willing‘ and ready and often rather cutsey and in less powerful positions: as pupils, baby sitters, hostesses or nurses. Lesbian sex is never emancipated, but always only goes on until the guy enters the door, is totally turned on by the women and proceeds to show them what they had been missing the whole time. Naturally, the man is always up to it and can keep it up indefinitely. Of course all women match the established body norms – not all that much attention is being paid to the men’s bodies. The whole thing always ends with the ‚money shot‘, i.e. the man ejaculating into the woman’s face, usually while she is kneeling down. Many porn movies show violent fantasies of men against women that are not BDSM sex (Bondage, Dominance, Submission, Masochism, based on trust and consensus) but rather imply rape. Often enough, mainstream straight porn is an expression of the existing sexism in society. And the movies simultaneously contribute to its constant re-affirmation, simply because there are no other images of sexuality. Consequently, many young teenagers get their first ideas about sex from porn movies and are stressed out when they actually get laid for the first time – because they think they have to perform the very same activities they saw on the screen. At the same time – see above – sex really is something awesome. And it can be nice and possibly inspiring to watch other people have sex, even if it’s just on video.
The debate whether or not porn consumption can be reconciled with a non-sexist, feminist attitude is not a new one, by the way. Women of the feminist movement in the 1970s identified pornography as an important battleground of sexist attitudes in society. It was suggested that the inhibition threshold for violence against women was lowered through the consumption of porn. „Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice“ was a slogan of that time. Feminists in Germany started the recently reprised „PorNO“-campaign in 1987, demanding a law against pornography. Although the assumption that porn directly causes violence and turns previously harmless men into rapists has been disproven by now (countries that liberalized the legal situation often even experienced a decline in rape – certainly, this is also due to the liberalization of sexuality as a whole), the sexist content of mainstream porn has changed little ever since.

Too sexy for this party
As a response to these movements, a feminist movement was formed in the United States in the early 1980s calling itself „sex positive“. Although these feminists also criticized the sexist imaginary of mainstream straight pornography, they wanted to confront the stereotype of the prude and anti-sexual feminist. Instead of perceiving women as passive objects of male desire, they emphasized female passion and active involvement in sexuality. In their opinion, the overall critique of pornography denied the sexual self-determination of women. They also thought that the focus on porn was distracting attention from all the other places where sexism appears in the media. One example is the classic role allocation in TV series. They even saw an opportunity in porn movies, because in those scenarios, unlike in everyday life, power proportions can be consciously staged, exaggerated and reversed. After giving thought to role allocations, one can play with them and turn them upside-down. That way, one can render fixed and often invisible correlations visible and flexible. The sex-positive movement also argued that the PorNO-feminists were backing up conservative attitudes by demanding a prohibition on pornography. Indeed, it was first and foremost lesbian and gay book shops or the BDSM community that were hit by tightened censorship, which, for example, made sexual education difficult.
Also, this strict anti-porn-position often coincided with a pitiful and contemptuous attitude towards female porn actresses and sex workers, who did not always perceive themselves as victims, but who, on the contrary, wanted to clarify that their shitty job was just one out of many, and that rather than compassion, they needed better working conditions and unionization.

She’s got the look
Sex-positive feminism has reached Europe since that time and influences the alternative porn scene, so that there are now more and more studios and (female) producers shooting porn with feminist or emancipatory standards. They have developed different criteria for feminist pornography. Inhuman and misogynist stuff was dispensed with, the use of condoms or dental dams was included in the game. Generally, only safer sex was performed and it attempted to transgress conventional ideas about sexuality. And why should the actresses and actors not occasionally laugh or hug each other? The production of porn was to be explicitly shaped by the involvement of women, just as female passion was to be focused on. Violence is only depicted if the agreement which clearly marks it as a game is also shown. Diversity among actresses and actors concerning age, gender, origin, body type, and sexual orientation is encouraged. There are also reference points regarding sexual practices: Sex is not always depicted as only building towards male ejaculation, as a competitive exhibition fixated solely on penetration. Rather, it’s about widening the sexual spectrum, about playing with gender stereotypes and unconventional forms of sexuality which do not have the orgasm as their single aim. These guidelines are represented, for example, by the PorYes-Award, the first European feminist porn festival which has taken place in Berlin since 2009.

Let’s talk about sex, baby!
So is it all so easy then? We simply watch alternative porn? It’s certainly not a bad idea to experiment with what turns you on, and to find out if there aren‘t other possibilities than those which we‘ve always perceived as ‚normal‘ sex. This also includes benefits for ourselves. Why should it always be the guy who penetrates the woman in straight sex, if there are strap-on dildos? Why does something have to be penetrated all the time anyway? In fact, why always this fixation on the orgasm – no matter how great orgasms are, they can be demanding and feel like physical exercise. And why not acknowledge that, in our experience, it’s a myth that everything always works just like in porn movies – without embarrassments, loss of passion, toilet breaks, getting tired, menstruation blood stains, goofing around, thirst, limbs gone numb, and spasms. Besides, no matter how great sex is: perhaps sometimes one just doesn‘t feel like it or is fed up. Not only are there people who generally define themselves as ‚asexual‘, it’s also a fact that sexuality is just not always loosey-goosey-easygoing. Experiences of sexual assault often affect how a person can live her/his sexuality. There might be ‚triggers‘, i.e. a certain gesture, a word or an act causing sudden memories of earlier sexualized violence. Or a general discomfort caused by too much sexualization. In order to avoid things like that as much as possible, it’s best to agree on the SSC-principle (Safe, Sane, Consensual) before-hand, meaning safer sex, well thought-out and based on the approval of all participants. Clearly, this does not work without communication! As a consequence, this calls for clear labeling of media and spaces. Be it the cover of a porn DVD clarifying what sexual practices are being shown and if there are, for example, violent scenes; be it the flyer of an alternative party informing that porn movies will be shown and that there’s a darkroom; etc.
We don‘t want to feel bad because we like porn. But we want to be aware of the kinds of images that are being reproduced and of the kind of sexuality that is again and again affirmed as the ‚actual‘ and the ‚right‘ one. If you like porn, it might be worthwhile to experiment with alternative movies. And we don‘t want to build up pressure by suggesting that you‘re only hip, cool and sexy if you have at least one porn movie on your hard disk. Ultimately, we want to be sensitive to the fact that sex, even though mainly something amazing, is also linked to violence in a structurally sexist society. Thus it is mandatory to communicate a lot with your sex partners about the things that turn you on – very much unlike in porn movies. And now, with or without sex: Have lots of fun!

Read and watch more:
Feminist Porn Award Europe – poryes.de
Infos about queer porn film and makers – realqueerporn.com
Text: Feminist Porn: Sex, Consent and Getting Off – check it out on feministe.us
Three (2010 film) directed by Tom Tykwer

Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email
  • MySpace
  • Tumblr