Can feminism and porn coexist?

By Nikko Snyder, Bitch Magazine
Posted on April 7, 2008, Printed on April 8, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/81655/

Venus Hottentot defines pornography as sexually explicit material designed to titillate, and because the intention of her film Afrodite Superstar is to tell a story that happens to involve sex, she prefers the term “sex film.” She explains, “I wanted people to engage in an intellectual manner, in an entertaining manner, and then if it was going to titillate that was going to be, quite honestly, the third thing on my list.” Tony Comstock, too, finds the term “pornography” troubling. Comstock works with his wife, Peggy, to produce explicit documentary-style features about real-life lovers, and he laments that, “pornography is, in large measure, about what sex looks like, without exploring everything else that sex is. If you want to try to reach beyond that both physically and metaphysically, the word “porn” becomes very limiting.”

According to Audacia Ray, director of the The Bi Apple as well as a sex educator and sex workers-rights activist, “Feminist porn is, for me, much more about the production end of things than it is about what is actually onscreen. It’s about the ability of the people performing the porn to negotiate what they’re doing.” For Ray, producing feminist porn involves paying performers above the industry standard, using condoms and covering the costs of HIV testing (neither of which are industry standards), getting input from her cast about what they want to do before they arrive on set, and avoiding surprising actors with last-minute requests.
But even with all the context and consent in the world, some sex acts are just more contentious than others. Perhaps the best example is the “facial,” the ubiquitous mainstream porn moment in which a man ejaculating onto a woman’s face or into her wide-open mouth. Some argue that if you’re going to peddle facials in your film, you might as well forget about calling it feminist. Others argue that facials reflect the authentic sexuality of some women, and that in fact it’s impossible to call any sex act inherently nonfeminist. Says Ray, “It makes me angry when people makes lists like, ‘Oh, a woman receiving cunnilingus is feminist, but a woman receiving a facial is not feminist.'” Taormino felt strongly enough about the image to leave facials out of her Expert Guide to Oral Sex instructional sex videos, but subsequently decided that her performers’ ability to make their own choices and contextualize them onscreen was more important than axing any one image, and thus facials make an appearance in her reality series. Whether specific sex acts can be considered feminist or nonfeminist is, simply, murky territory. As Gallant puts it, “[For] every single piece of porn ever made, there’s a woman who will like it.”

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