We can continue believing the stereotype that says women don’t watch porn and that they are only victims of it, but the truth is that one in three women watch pornography, thousands of women participate in creating porn (being actresses or even producing their own videos at home even if they are amateur) and some are even professional filmmakers.
Erika Lust, a famous erotic and feminist filmmaker, says she started making adult movies because she “struggled” to watch mainstream pornography where women behaved “as vehicles” for male pleasure. Each month, she chooses two personal accounts or fantasies from the many anonymous submissions she receives through her website, and then transforms them into adult movies.
“My viewers like the realistic aspect to my films as they can see themselves in them, their partners, that guy or girl on the street, or in a bar”, she explained. She also states that for her, porn felt stereotyped and centered on the man's pleasure, and that she hopes her films will not only normalize sexual pleasure for women, but also shatter the view of men in pornography as “penetrative sex machines”. You may think, what can be more feminist than that right? She creates feminist pornography erotic films where women can have real pleasure and feel represented in the stories, while also dismantling stereotypes that perpetuate toxic masculinity and put unnecessary pressure on men.
Many studies have shown that women are equal if not more sexually aroused than men. Because of all of this, it makes sense that women want to participate in how we show and teach sex in this society. “The notion that women’s sexuality is somehow lesser than men’s is actually quite new. Before the 1700s we regarded both sexes as obscene, passionate and immoral. This meant we believed women and men were equally sexual and that sexual pleasure wasn’t just a male priority.”, writes sex therapist Leigh Norén.
For a long time now, pornography was one of the main ways of learning about sex and sexuality for children and young adults (the average age to start porn consumption is 11 years old). Luckily today, there are more and more schools that are trying to improve the sex education they impart and there are also more sex educators who teach that porn is a movie and whilst you can get ideas from it or learn a thing or two, it’s not the best way to learn about sexuality in a healthy way.
This is so important, since it has been proven that pornography use can shape sexual practices and is associated with unsafe sexual health practices such as not using condoms and unsafe anal and vaginal sex. Moreover, it can increase levels of self-objectification and body surveillance in teenagers and can produce "sexual uncertainty" about sexual beliefs and values and may also be related to sexual dissatisfaction, anxiety and fear (to mention a few examples).
In that sense we could say that responsible filmmakers like Erica Lust, who besides creating empowering and ‘sex positive’ feminist pornography films, also make sure to pay the actors and actresses a fair wage and to treat them with respect (which is not seen very often in the erotic film industry), thus helping create a more equal and respectful society.
However, we can’t and shouldn’t shut our eyes and pretend that the porn industry is mostly an inclusive and healthy place. Sadly, Erika Lust is less than the exception in the general pornography industry that exists. We can’t ignore that there is abuse, rape, kidnapping, trauma, racism and misogyny found in probably a grand majority of porn websites, and not a lot is being done about this. Documentaries and docuseries like ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’, ‘Over 18%’, ‘The Most Hated Man on the Internet’, ‘Beyond fantasy’ and more show the reality there is behind this huge industry. There are also countless of “porn stars” that have bravely put their stories in to the light to show how much they suffered working as an actress in porn such as Mia Khalifa, Lana Rhoades, Bree Olson and many more.
There’s even studies that prove that domestic violence is connected to pornography. An article written by Haley McNamara, explains how pornography sets expectations of violence and abuse, how many abusers use couple-made pornography/ nude Images to manipulate victims and that pornography use by domestic abusers increases the odds of sexual assault.
It is therefore understandable that many people wonder how it could be possible to be a feminist whilst participating in an industry that is known to often rape, abuse, degrade and underpay women. This topic, like most, is not a black and white situation. In many other institutions like private and public education, politics and even sports there have always been horrid stories of women becoming victims of many kinds of abuse and porn is not the exception. I believe that since we exist in a patriarchal system and society, everything that gets produced inside of it can and mostly will be influenced by patriarchal values and will therefore lead to women and minorities being abused.
What do we do now?
We can call it feminist pornography or plain healthier porn content and consumption. This means instead of creating films focused on the objectification and often abuse of women, we create films that are focused on mutual respect and mutual pleasure. There’s no denying that watching pornographic movies is arousing, and that’s not a bad thing. As long as everyone involved is treated with respect, paid fairly, they participate voluntarily and the film transmits clear messages of satisfaction and pleasure, there should be no problem. The problem is what most current websites teach people and make them think this is what sex looks like and this is how everyone should behave.
It’s quite clear that porn consumption will continue for many years to come, and that’s ok, but we should try to create better content, ethical content, much like that of Erika Lust. This involves paying for a quality content, just like any other films or courses we watch online, where the people who created them are fairly rewarded. Everybody should try to make others aware of the reality of the porn industry since everyone can have an impact on someone. This is not a job for sex educators solely, but that of all of us, and this starts by giving our own example first. This way we can begin to promote a healthier influence on everyone watching (feminist) pornography, especially the younger generations to come.