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(Still of 1920s silent film porn by Narisa Spaulding)
(Still of 1920s silent film porn by Flickr user Narisa)

Last year, I was short on cash and struggling with full service work. For the first time in my life, I approached a porn company.

This was no ordinary porn company—they made this known every step of the way. They were “alternative” and “empowering.” They were “feminist” and made “erotica.” They were a company that was not like the others.

They were full of shit.

Here’s what working for them looked like:

They had me sign a form in which I promised that filming for them was just a hobby, not my job. It was a lie—one that was already pissing me off. They handed me a camera, took my passport for collateral, sent me home with a list of very exact specifications for what to film, and had me shoot my scene myself. Then, they had me come back to deliver the work. They complained about the amount of makeup I wore—said it didn’t fit their more “natural” style, though it was the same amount of makeup I had worn every day for the past 10 months—and handed me $200. They didn’t invite me back. They did invite back my skinnier, scar-free friend.

So feminist, right?

The Short Life of “Feminist” Tube Site Bellesa

Bellesa CEO Michelle Shnaidman.

How can you talk about ethics when your company is posting stolen content from producers and sex workers?

A tube site aimed at women did just that this month. Recently launched, Bellesa claimed it created a safe atmosphere for its users, which, unlike other tube sites, was supposedly free of “degrading” porn. However, like all tube sites, their collection of videos was largely acquired through piracy. While boasting “safe space” and “ethical porn for women,” Bellesa perpetuated the same exploitative practices the sleaziest tube sites do.

Their hypocrisy caused a stir in the porn industry. The site claimed to be empowering while simultaneously exploiting people’s sexual labor. At least some other tube sites let performers upload their content and get paid for it—it’s a way to make your money back on already pirated content. Bellesa also perpetuated sex positive feminism’s voyeuristic and conditional obsession with sex work, that is, the idea that it is only valid as long as it’s empowering—a standard other jobs are not held to. What this attitude ultimately demonstrates is a complete disregard for those who work in the sex industry.

To add insult to injury, Bellesa’s marketing campaign used Twitter to blast videos full of this kind of rhetoric, feeding a  liberal sex positive audience hungry for it. Feminist sex writer Suzannah Wess profiled their CEO Michelle Shnaidman at Bustle, opening her piece with, “It’s hard enough to find porn that isn’t totally degrading to women. And then, when you finally come across porn for women, it’s usually behind a paywall. There’s a good reason for this: It’s hard to produce porn ethically without charging customers. But Michelle Shnaidman, founder of Bellesa, has found a way to bring women porn they’ll actually enjoy without draining their bank accounts.”

Madison Young on MILF-hood

photo by Malia Schlaefer

Porn performer, director and sex educator Madison Young is busier than ever. Her company, Madison Young Productions, plans to release three films by the end of the year, she has a new live performance piece in the works, and a handful  of upcoming sexuality workshops to teach. For almost 10 years now, she’s been running Femina Potens, a San Francisco multimedia art gallery dedicated to work from queer, transgendered and female artists. She also maintains (and is currently expanding) the Feminist Porn Network, a collection of sexy, queer-friendly and sex-positive porn sites. I’m sure I’m forgetting a half dozen other groundbreaking projects—but Madison’s main gig these days is raising her daughter Emma, who was born in early March.

“I definitely have my hands full and sticky with the goodness of art and sex … along with a little breast milk and baby spit up,” she tells me. With Mother’s Day this weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to chat with one of the most inspirational mamas around. 

Two Excerpts From Coming Out Like A Porn Star

(Photo by Alexa Vachon)
(Photo by Alexa Vachon)

Coming Out Like A Porn Star is an anthology edited by award winning indie porn talent and author Jiz Lee consisting of essays by porn performers and industry workers on privacy and disclosure. It was featured by Reason’s‘ Elizabeth Nolan Brown as one of the best sex work books of 2015. Foreworded by renowned Black porn scholar Dr. Mireille Young, the book includes pieces by celebrated porn mainstays such as Stoya and Annie Sprinkle, as well as work by Tits and Sass’ own contributors and interviewees such as Kitty Stryker, Conner Habib, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and Cyd Nova. The collection spans a wide array of porn experiences from writers of color, trans and queer authors, and performers from every branch of the industry. With Lee’s permission, we excerpt two exciting essays by authors who are new to us, “Queen Beloved” by Milcah Halili and “Even Someone Like Me: How I Came Out As A Smut Starlet” by Betty Blac. They both feature stories of the authors communicating with their sex worker writer idols, so we were immediately hooked.

The Imaginary Choice Feminist

 

afeminismmeansWhen I make porn I find it to be a positive experience. That is based on a wide range of factors that I’ve spoken and written about in depth over the past eight years. For one, trans women’s sexuality is greatly misrepresented in media and it’s important to me to be able to create representations of sexuality on my own terms. I also take great care to address and incorporate ethics into every level of production. My porn includes Audre Lorde references. My porn has been nominated for and won several feminist awards. My porn includes complex discussion of police violence, immigration politics, post-traumatic stress, and other social issues.

Yet, inevitably, I encounter individuals who point at my work and declare that it is objectifying on face—typically without having even watched it. Then they demand that I come up with a thesis worthy defense of my claim that making my porn is a positive thing. Anything I’ve already said or written in defense of my work is ignored. Any reasoning or argumentation about my informed decision to work in porn is lost. My argument is simply represented by my detractors as “because I chose it.”

Choice feminism is the idea that anything that any woman personally chooses to do is a feminist act. The most commonly given example of this argument is that choosing to do sex work—or to take pole dancing classes, be in porn, sext, fill in the blank—is empowering simply because a woman has chosen to do it and criticisms against perpetuating objectification are irrelevant.

The problem here is that in most cases women are simply trying to point out that they know their own lives and are making an informed decision. They are not claiming that any woman’s exercise of her agency is by definition a feminist act, but that denying a woman her agency is an inherently un-feminist act— especially coming from someone who doesn’t have a shared understanding of the context of that decision in her life.