Porn that fights back against the patriarchy... now that’s hot
By Ana Maria Leal
“Pornography is a sin,” said my youth group leader during one of the full-day youth seminars I frequented as a teenager. The message was clear, direct and left no room for questions. At my Catholic high school, we were taught about morality and how pornography was immoral, yet no one ever explained why. At my Catholic elementary school, we were taught about the anatomy of heteronormative sex and the reproductive systems in males and females. To my mother’s credit, she told me once that sex was a healthy and natural part of falling in love. Her outlook seemed harmless enough, but my debilitating shy personality prevented me from asking any further questions.
With a “good Christian girl” image to uphold and a newly maturing sense of curiosity, I was left to my own devices when exploring my sexuality as a teenager. I was given the luxury of the internet from a young age and distinctly remember typing out the letters “S-E-X” into the browser, which opened up a world of information that promised to answer all of my questions. Websites upon websites appeared on my screen that, although explicit, were not exactly informative.
“The internet is such a beautiful, wonderful and terrifying place,” says Tynan Rhea, a Toronto-based sex and relationship expert. She adds that the downside of growing up in a town or place that doesn’t have proper sex-ed resources could result in porn becoming someone’s only reference. “That's when it starts to get more dangerous, when we don't have porn literacy.”
According to Rhea, porn literacy is the ability to think critically about what we are watching and to understand it as something that is fabricated— not as an example of what real sex should look like. “It’s like watching a Disney movie with kids and explaining that all the bullshit of the prince saving the princess is all fantasy and irrelevant to real life,” Rhea says. “No one has these conversations about porn.”
For a long time, the shame and guilt of my sexuality kept me away from having honest discussions with people in my life about sex and I usually ended up seeking answers on the internet. The problem, however, is that mainstream, easily-accessible porn was oozing with toxicity and very few answers. It kept me away from actually exploring sex because porn made the act look intimidating and like something I didn’t have a place in.
A 2017 study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health found that degrading and violent pornography desensitizes viewers to violence against women and could lead to unhealthy sexual habits if consumed by children and youth.
Rhea says that, among many other psychological effects mainstream porn has on viewers, it normalizes areas of society that are already toxic, such as violent sex— which is different from BDSM and power dynamics in which all parties participating are experiencing consensual pleasure.
It also distorts who and what is considered “sexy.”
As if the world didn’t already cater to straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, white men, mainstream porn was telling me that I had to cater to them as well. It really wasn’t until I started experimenting in my own sex life that I began thinking about what I liked and why I liked it.
For Gladys Bridge, a queer Ryerson alumna, her own experiences brought more insight than the mainstream porn she considered far too produced to enjoy.
“In the case of lesbian porn, the super produced part that irked me was the long artificial nails and all the toys. No queer woman uses acrylics and fingerbangs another woman like that. I discovered my sexuality through my relationships. I didn’t resort to porn to educate me,” Bridge says.
She came across pornography that peaked her interest when she found organic, ethical porn that women were uploading themselves. Much of what can be found on popular porn websites are heavily produced, furthermore produces for the straight male-gaze. According to Bridge, organic porn featuring performers that are genuinely enjoying themselves is much more interesting.
While exploring her options online, Bridge stumbled upon prominent porn star, Stoya, who has her own website and sells her own videos..
“Through her stuff I found other queer porn producers making porn for women to consume,” Bridge says. “It’s just her filming with her friends in the porn industry and they make it look like they are all having a great time and it looks effortless.”
Like Bridge, 20-year old Ryerson student Breanna Schnurr also relied on her own sexual experiences to inform her idea of pleasure and womanhood.
Breanna took a pole-dancing class at Brass Butterflies in Waterloo and was later part of a burlesque show. She says that the problematic nature of mainstream porn drew her to find woman-centred adult content online. Breanna recently switched from Pornhub, which has a toxic history of revenge porn and exploiting sex workers, to a website called Bellesa, which focuses on women’s sexuality and pleasure.
While actively seeking out and consuming ethical porn is one way to fight back against a toxic mainstream porn culture, Australian-based indie erotic film producer Ms. Naughty has another idea when it comes to popularizing sexy, ethical porn. “The only way to change porn is to do it yourself,” she says.
Ms. Naughty began making her own content in 2000 to rebel against mainstream porn’s sexism. She produces erotic films out of her home office where she is directly involved in every aspect of production, from the conception of a new idea in her notebook, to the casting, filming and editing.
She has an ethics statement on her website, BrightDesire, in which she details the code by which her production company, consisting of herself and her husband, created to ensure ethical treatment of everyone involved. These standards include upfront payment and negotiating a fair wage with performers.
“I [know of] a few directory sites like FemalePornDirectors.com and FeministPorn.org that list directors and performers who are creating their own alternative/feminist/queer/ethical porn,” Ms. Naughty says. “If you financially support indie porn, you are paying sex workers properly for their work and encouraging alternative porn creators to keep making more of the good stuff.”
“OnlyFans is also a good way for individual sex workers to seize the means of production and directly put their work out there without a third party,” she says.” So it's great that sex workers can make custom videos for fans and be paid.” Ms. Naughty also named Peep.me as a website led by sex-workers that will give performers control over their own content and wages.
For Kai Spring, a 21-year-old OnlyFans content creator, her experience on the platform has allowed her to control her time, but the platform is not without its own challenges.
Spring began creating content during her first year in college. It was something she realized she could do to fit into a busy schedule as a full-time student on her own terms. She says that sex work is something she is comfortable doing, but it’s not for everyone.
“There is a misconception that sex work is ‘easy,’ but it truly is not what people make it out to be,” Spring says, adding that sex work is hard work and there is a personal process that people have to go through before they can start doing it.
Spring says people act entitled to her body because she is comfortable physically showing herself off on OnlyFans. Despite the hardships, she has learned a lot from her work, such as the importance of advocacy for comprehensive sexual health education and a deeper understanding of consent.
Spring says that making content has made her more comfortable with her sexuality, owning pleasure and more open to talk about sex-related topics. “I support other sex workers by sharing thier content and engaging with them. It really is like a work place, they are my co-workers.” In turn, Spring says the support from other sex workers has helped her get where she is and she is grateful to be part of an accepting and understanding community.
Through my own experiences and by listening to the experiences of the women around me, I have come to understand that porn should reflect real people having real sex.
If real sex is about the pleasure of everyone involved, the porn we consume should be as well.. It should include the sexual pleasure of performers as well as them getting paid a decent wage and feeling safe. It should include the pleasures that come from feeling empowered and sexy in our own bodies while defining what turns us on for ourselves, outside of what society tells us should turn us on.
Whatever gets us going, nothing is sexier than being ethical.