Can porn be feminist?

Industry upstarts challenge male-centric view of sexuality and desire
Photo: BlueGoaॐ☮

Despite the common but misguided belief that feminism and female sexuality are somehow incompatible, women fighting for equal rights enjoy sex. Feminist porn is not an oxymoron. If it stands that feminism is the fight for women to make decisions about their own lives and bodies, then enjoyment of their sexuality on their own terms is inherently feminist.

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For many, sex is one of the greatest pleasures of life. Feminists aren’t opposed to sex; they’re opposed to the objectification of women’s bodies as tools solely for men’s pleasure. Feminist porn offers a much-needed and vital counterpoint to all that.

A study conducted last year by Pornhub revealed that 24 per cent of porn users around the world are women. That’s a quarter of the market and growing. The overwhelming favourite categories for women viewers were “lesbian” and “gay (male).”

Although these findings may initially seem surprising, they reveal what mainstream porn is sorely lacking. Over 70 per cent of women need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm, yet this is often neglected in pornography. Lesbian scenes provide a focus on female pleasure that is simply absent in many heterosexual scenes produced for male-centric porn sites.

Since the mainstream porn industry was created by men and for men to respond to male desires and fantasies, is it any surprise that women find it so dissatisfying?

Gay male porn is popular among women because it allows them to see a man pleasuring someone and being pleasured, depictions of which are absent from stereotypical Pornhub offerings, where you hardly see the man and all the action is shot from a male point of view. Since the mainstream porn industry was created by men and for men to respond to male desires and fantasies, is it any surprise that women find it so dissatisfying?

“When you go on mainstream porn sites and see ads to grow your penis by five inches plastered everywhere, you just know these sites aren’t for you, and many women feel like they’re intruding in a space where they’re not supposed to be,” says Michelle Shnaidman, CEO of Bellesa, a Montreal-based adult entertainment website catering to women.

The limitations of mainstream porn go beyond simply failing to satisfy women — they affect how all people see sex, establishing potentially damaging gender-based expectations.

Women’s sexuality can be just as wild, uninhibited, complicated, diverse, and voracious as men’s. But society stifles women’s sexuality, policing and moderating it. Women are slut-shamed, body-shamed, fat-shamed, and told they need to act a certain way, look a certain way and pleasure a man a certain way. Teenage boys growing up without the benefits of adequate sex education often get their cues from porn films, and can form dangerous ideas of how women should appear, act and be treated during sex. These notions can severely damage their future relationships by altering their perception of sexual reality and standards.

Consent is key

There are women who enjoy rough sex, who like to be dominated and to dominate, to role play, to perform a variety of sexual acts for their pleasure and their partner’s. But the magic word in all of this is consent. Contrary to the male-centric porn most of us are familiar with, feminist porn always emphasizes mutual consent and mutual pleasure.

Feminist porn always emphasizes mutual consent and mutual pleasure.

Simply criticizing questionable porn isn’t enough. The objective is to change the game and offer something women want. As they have become more vocal about their sexuality, the market has started to respond to their demands, usually with women leading the way.

Erika Lust, a Swedish director and CEO and founder of Lust Films, a company making feminist porn, isn’t merely concerned with what’s in front of the camera. She makes sure actors are well treated, well paid and engaging in acts with which they’re comfortable.

“Erika’s message is clear,” wrote Fiona Cowood in a profile of Lust for Grazia Daily. “If you’re someone who regularly signs change.org petitions and buys organic veg, there’s absolutely no excuse for not ensuring that your porn is ‘fair trade’, too.”

Though not as numerous as their mass market competitors, feminist porn sites do exist. Examples include Lustery, which features amateur couples engaged in unscripted sexual acts without objectifying women, and Make Love, Not Porn, a user-generated video-sharing platform that celebrates real sex.

Meanwhile in Canada, Bellesa is set on changing the male-dominated paradigms that have defined sex on the internet.

Subjects of pleasure, not objects of conquest

“Adult entertainment, in many of its forms, is derogatory and exclusionary towards women,” explains Shnaidman. “We believe sexuality on the internet should depict women as they truly are — as subjects of pleasure, not objects of conquest.”

“We believe sexuality on the internet should depict women as they truly are — as subjects of pleasure, not objects of conquest.”

The idea for Bellesa came about organically, according to Shnaidman.

“I was looking for a video to watch,” she explains. “I had to sift through all this other terrible, abrasive, violent, hurtful content to get to the good stuff, and once I did, I’m just supposed to be automatically turned on? The next day I was talking to a friend who watches a lot of porn and she [said], ‘Yeah, it sucks, it’s just the way it is.’ And that prompted me to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Shnaidman also bemoans the lack of authenticity in mainstream porn.

“Women see through the bullshit. They see the fake bodies, the fake nails, the fake boobs, and the fake orgasms. We see through that and we’re like nah. Not to mention how dangerous it is that it sets up these unrealistic expectations for what sex looks and sounds and feels like. It’s dangerous for men and it’s dangerous for women.”

The interest for something different exists. Bellesa had more visitors in the first week than Shnaidman thought it would receive within a month.

“Women want to see storylines and realism. They also want to see the camera angles include the male body. We barely see men’s bodies or their pleasure because men don’t want to see that. And it’s important to emphasize that porn for women isn’t soft, fluffy, pink porn. This is such a misconception.

Women like all kinds of porn so our site has three sections, Sensual, Passion and Rough, because a lot of women like watching rough sex. The difference is that you see that it’s consensual and she’s not being assaulted and she’s not leaving the scene crying. And the man is focusing on her pleasure even though they’re having rough sex.

I wanted to create a site that people don’t feel compelled to delete from their browser history. We’re trying to turn the dial forward.”

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