Feminist Studies

The Feminist Porn Book is the first collection to bring together writ-ings by feminist porn producers and feminist porn scholars to engage, challenge, and re-imagine pornography. As collaborating editors of this volume, we are three porn professors and one porn direc- tor who have had an energetic dialogue about feminist politics and por- nography for years. In their criticism, feminist opponents of porn cast pornography as a monolithic medium and industry and make sweep- ing generalizations about its production, its workers, its consumers, and its effects on society. These antiporn feminists respond to feminist por- nographers and feminist porn professors in several ways. They accuse us of deceiving ourselves and others about the nature of pornography; they claim we fail to look critically at any porn and hold up all porn as empowering. More typically, they simply dismiss out of hand our abil- ity or authority to make it or study it. But The Feminist Porn Book offers arguments, facts, and histories that cannot be summarily rejected, by providing on-the-ground and well-researched accounts of the politics of producing pleasure. Our agenda is twofold: to explore the emergence and significance of a thriving feminist porn movement, and to gather some of the best new feminist scholarship on pornography. By putting our voices into conversation, this book sparks new thinking about the richness and complexity of porn as a genre and an industry in a way that helps us to appreciate the work that feminists in the porn industry are doing, both in the mainstream and on its countercultural edges.

So to begin, we offer a broad definition of feminist porn, which will be fleshed out, debated, and examined in the pieces that follow. As both an established and emerging genre of pornography, feminist porn uses sexually explicit imagery to contest and complicate dominant represen- tations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, ability, age, body type, and other identity markers. It explores concepts of desire, agency, power, beauty, and pleasure at their most confounding and difficult, including pleasure within and across inequality, in the face of injustice, and against the limits of gender hierarchy and both heteronormativity and homo-

Introduction: The Politics of Producing Pleasure


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normativity. It seeks to unsettle conventional definitions of sex, and expand the language of sex as an erotic activity, an expression of identity, a power exchange, a cultural commodity, and even a new politics.

Feminist porn creates alternative images and develops its own aes- thetics and iconography to expand established sexual norms and dis- courses. It evolved out of and incorporates elements from the genres of “porn for women,” “couples porn,” and lesbian porn as well as feminist photography, performance art, and experimental filmmaking. It does not assume a singular female viewer, but acknowledges multiple female (and other) viewers with many different preferences. Feminist porn makers emphasize the importance of their labor practices in production and their treatment of performers/sex workers; in contrast to norms in the mainstream sectors of the adult entertainment industry, they strive to create a fair, safe, ethical, consensual work environment and often cre- ate imagery through collaboration with their subjects. Ultimately, femi- nist porn considers sexual representation—and its production—a site for resistance, intervention, and change.

The concept of feminist porn is rooted in the 1980s—the height of the feminist porn wars in the United States. The porn wars (also known as the sex wars) emerged out of a debate between feminists about the role of sexualized representation in society and grew into a full-scale divide that has lasted over three decades. In the heyday of the women’s movement in the United States, a broad-based, grassroots activist struggle over the proliferation of misogynistic and violent representations in corporate media was superceded by an effort focused specifically on legally ban- ning the most explicit, and seemingly most sexist, media: pornography. Employing Robin Morgan’s slogan, “Porn is the theory, rape is the prac- tice,” antipornography feminists argued that pornography amounted to the commodification of rape. As a group called Women Against Pornog- raphy (WAP) began to organize in earnest to ban obscenity across the nation, other feminists, such as Lisa Duggan, Nan D. Hunter, Kate Ellis, and Carol Vance became vocal critics of what they viewed as WAP’s ill- conceived collusion with a sexually conservative Reagan administration and Christian Right, and their warping of feminist activism into a moral hygiene or public decency movement. Regarding antiporn feminism as a huge setback for the feminist struggle to empower women and sexual minorities, an energetic community of sex worker and sex-radical activ- ists joined anticensorship and sex-positive feminists to build the founda- tion for the feminist porn movement.1

The years that led up to the feminist porn wars are often referred to as the “golden age of porn,” a period from the early 1970s to the early 1980s,


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marked by large budget, high-production-value feature films that were theatrically released. A group of female porn performers who worked during the golden age—including Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera, Can- dida Royalle, Gloria Leonard, and Veronica Hart—formed a support group (the first of its kind) called Club 90 in New York City. In 1984, the feminist arts collective Carnival Knowledge asked Club 90 to participate in a festival called The Second Coming, and explore the question, “Is there a feminist pornography?”2 It is one of the first documented times when feminists publicly posed and examined this critical query.

That same year, Club 90 member Candida Royalle founded Femme Productions to create a new genre: porn from a woman’s point of view.3 Her films focused on storylines, high production values, female plea- sure, and romance. In San Francisco, publishers Myrna Elana and Debo- rah Sundahl, along with Nan Kinney and Susie Bright, co-founded On Our Backs, the first porn magazine by and for lesbians. A year later, Kin- ney and Sundahl started Fatale Video to produce and distribute lesbian porn movies that expanded the mission that On Our Backs began.4 In the mainstream adult industry, performer and registered nurse Nina Hartley began producing and starring in a line of sex education videos for Adam and Eve, with her first two titles released in 1984. A parallel movement began to emerge throughout Europe in the 1980s and 90s.5

By the 1990s, Royalle and Hartley’s success had made an impact on the mainstream adult industry. Major studios, including Vivid, VCA, and Wicked, began producing their own lines of couples porn that reflected Royalle’s vision and generally followed a formula of softer, gentler, more romantic porn with storylines and high production values. The growth of the “couples porn” genre signified a shift in the industry: female desire and viewership were finally acknowledged, if narrowly defined. This provided more selection for female viewers and more opportunities for women to direct mainstream heterosexual films, including Veron- ica Hart and Kelly Holland (aka Toni English). Independent, lesbian- produced lesbian porn grew at a slower pace, but Fatale Video (which continued to produce new films until the mid-1990s) finally had some company in its micro-genre with work by Annie Sprinkle, Maria Beatty, and Shar Rednour and Jackie Strano. Sprinkle also made the first porn film to feature a trans man, and Christopher Lee followed with a film starring an entire cast of trans men.6

In the early 2000s, feminist porn began to take hold in the United States with the emergence of filmmakers who specifically identified themselves and/or their work as feminist including Buck Angel, Dana Dane, Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble, Madison Young, and


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Tristan Taormino. Simultaneously, feminist filmmakers in Europe began to gain notoriety for their porn and sexually explicit independent films, including Erika Lust in Spain; Anna Span and Petra Joy in the UK; Emi- lie Jouvet, Virginie Despentes, and Taiwan-born Shu Lea Cheang in France; and Mia Engberg, who created a compilation of feminist porn shorts that was famously funded by the Swedish government.

The modern feminist porn movement gained tremendous ground in 2006 with the creation of The Feminist Porn Awards (FPAs). Chanelle Gallant and other staffers at sex-positive sex toy shop Good for Her in Toronto created the awards, which were open to films that met one or more of the following criteria:

(1) A woman had a hand in the production, writing, direction, etc. of the work; (2) It depicts genuine female pleasure; and/or (3) It expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and chal- lenges stereotypes that are often found in mainstream porn. And of course, it has to be hot! Overall, Feminist Porn Award winners tend to show movies that consider a female viewer from start to finish. This means that you are more likely to see active desire and consent, real orgasms, and women taking control of their own fantasies (even when that fantasy is to hand over that control).7

These criteria simultaneously assumed and announced a viewership, an authorship, an industry, and a collective consciousness. Embedded in the description is a female viewer and what she likely wants to see—active desire, consent, real orgasms, power, and agency—and doesn’t want to see: passivity, stereotypes, coercion, or fake orgasms. The language is broad enough so as not to be prescriptive, yet it places value on agency and authenticity, with a parenthetical nod to the possibility that not every woman’s fantasy is to be “in control.” While the guidelines nota- bly focus on a woman’s involvement in production, honored filmmakers run the gamut from self-identified feminist pornographers to indepen- dent female directors to mainstream porn producers; the broad criteria achieve a certain level of inclusiveness and acknowledge that a range of work can be read by audiences, critics, and academics as feminist. The FPA ceremony attracts and honors filmmakers from around the world, and each year since its inception, every aspect of the event has grown, from the number of films submitted to the number of attendees. The FPAs have raised awareness about feminist porn among a wider audi- ence and helped coalesce a community of filmmakers, performers, and fans; they highlight an industry within an industry, and, in the process, nurture this growing movement. In 2009, Dr. Laura Méritt (Berlin) cre-


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ated the PorYes campaign and the European Feminist Porn Award mod- eled on the FPAs. Because the movement has had the most momentum in Europe and North America, this volume concentrates on the scholar- ship and films of Western nations. We acknowledge this limitation: for feminist porn to be a global project, more would need to be done to include non-Western scholars and pornographers in the conversation.

The work we do now, as scholars and producers, could not exist without early examinations of the history and context of pornogra- phy, including Caught Looking: Feminism, Pornography and Censorship by FACT, the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force. Linda Williams’s groundbreaking 1989 Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” opened the door for feminist scholars to productively examine pornography as film and popular culture, as a genre and industry, tex- tually, historically, and sociologically. Laura Kipnis’s 1996 Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America made the strongest possible case that “the differences between pornography and other forms of culture are less meaningful than their similarities.”8 Jane Juffer’s 1996 At Home with Pornography: Women, Sex, and Everyday Life urged us to pay close attention not just to the hardcore porn typi- cally consumed by men but to the uses of pornography in the daily lives of ordinary women. Since 1974 the film magazine Jump Cut has pub- lished more original scholarship on porn from a pro-sex, anticensorship perspective than any other media journal and by leading figures in the field, including Chuck Kleinhans, Linda Williams, Laura Kipnis, Rich- ard Dyer, Thomas Waugh, Eithne Johnson, Eric Schaefer, Peter Lehman, Robert Eberwein, and Joanna Russ. More recently, Drucilla Cornell’s Feminism and Pornography, Linda Williams’s Porn Studies, and Pamela Church Gibson’s More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography and Power cemented the value of porn scholarship.9 The Feminist Porn Book seeks to further that scholarship by adding a significant, valuable component: feminists creating pornography.

In this book, we identify a forty-year-long movement of thinkers, viewers, and makers, grounded in their desire to use pornography to explore new sexualities in representation. The work we have collected here defies other feminist conceptions of sexuality on screen as forever marked by a threat. That threat is the specter of violence against women, which is the primary way that pornography has come to be seen. Claim- ing that explicit sexual representations are nothing but gender oppres- sion means that pornography’s portrayal of explicit sex acts is a form of absolute discipline and subjugation for women. Within this frame, women who watch, study, or work in pornography bear the mark of


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false consciousness—as if they dabble in fire while ignoring the risk of burning.

The overwhelming popularity of women’s erotic literature, illustrated by the recent worldwide best seller, Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, and the flourishing women’s fan fiction community from which it emerged, proves that there is great demand among women for explicit sexual rep- resentations. Millions of female readers embraced the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy—which follows a young woman who becomes the submis- sive sexual partner to a dominant man—not for its depiction of oppres- sion, but for its exploration of erotic freedom. Women-authored erotica and pornography speaks to fantasies women actually have, fantasies that are located in a world where women must negotiate power constantly, including in their imaginations and desires. As with the criteria for win- ning a Feminist Porn Award, these books and the feminist porn move- ment show that “women are taking control of their own fantasies (even when that fantasy is to hand over control).”

With the emergence of new technologies that allow more people than ever to both create and consume pornography, the moral panic-driven fears of porn are ratcheted up once again. Society’s dread of women who own their desire, and use it in ways that confound expectations of proper female sexuality, persists. As Gayle Rubin shows, “Modern Western societies appraise sex acts according to a hierarchical system of sexual value.”10 Rubin maps this system as one where “the charmed circle” is perpetually threatened by the “outer limits” or those who fall out of the bounds of the acceptable. On the bottom of this hierarchy are sexual acts and identities outside heterosexuality, marriage, monogamy, and repro- duction. She argues that this hierarchy exists so as to justify the privi- leging of normative and constricted sexualities and the denigration and punishment of the “sexual rabble.”11 The Feminist Porn Book showcases precisely these punishable sex acts and identities that are outside of the charmed circle and proudly sides with the sexual rabble. Spotlighting the numerous ways people confront the power of sexuality, this book paves the way for exploring the varieties of what were previously dismissed as perversities. At the same time, feminist porn can also expose what passes for “normal” sexuality at the center of that charmed circle.

One of the unfortunate results of the porn wars was the fixing of an antiporn camp versus a sex-positive/pro-porn camp. On one side, a capital P “Pornography” was a visual embodiment of the patriarchy and violence against women. On the other, Porn was defended as “speech,” or as a form that should not be foreclosed because it might some day be transformed into a vehicle for women’s erotic expression. The nuances


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and complexities of actual lowercase “pornographies” were lost in the middle. For example, sex-positive thinking does not always accom- modate the ways in which women are constrained by sexuality. But the problem with antipornography’s assumption that sex is inherently oppressive to women—that women are debased when they have sex on camera—ignores and represses the sexuality of women. Hence, for us, sex-positive feminist porn does not mean that sex is always a ribbon-tied box of happiness and joy. Instead, feminist porn captures the struggle to define, understand, and locate one’s sexuality. It recognizes the impor- tance of deferring judgment about the significance of sex in intimate and social relations, and of not presuming what sex means for specific peo- ple. Feminist porn explores sexual ideas and acts that may be fraught, confounding, and deeply disturbing to some, and liberating and empow- ering to others. What we see at work here are competing definitions of sexuality that expose the power of sexuality in all of its unruliness.

Because feminist porn acknowledges that identities are socially situ- ated and that sexuality has the power to discipline, punish, and subju- gate, that unruliness may involve producing images that seem oppressive, degrading, or violent. Feminist porn does not shy away from the darker shades of women’s fantasies. It creates a space for realizing the contradic- tory ways in which our fantasies do not always line up with our politics or ideas of who we think we are. As Tom Waugh argues, participation in pornography, in his case as spectator, can be a “process of social identity formation.”12 Indeed, social identities and ideas are formed in the act of viewing porn, but also in making and writing about it.

Strongly influenced by other social movements in the realm of sexu- ality, like the sex-positive, LGBT rights, and sex workers’ rights move- ments, feminist porn aims to build community, to expand liberal views on gender and sexuality, and to educate and empower performers and audiences. It favors fair, ethical working conditions for sex workers and the inclusion of underrepresented identities and practices. Feminist porn vigorously challenges the hegemonic depictions of gender, sex roles, and the pleasure and power of mainstream porn. It also challenges the anti- porn feminist interpretive framework for pornography as bankrupt of progressive sexual politics. As a budding movement, it promotes aes- thetic and ethical practices that intervene in dominant sexual represen- tation and mobilize a collective vision for change. This erotic activism, while in no way homogeneous or consistent, works within and against the marketplace to imagine new ways to envision gender and sexuality in our culture.

But feminist porn is not only an emergent social movement and an


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alternative cultural production: it is a genre of media made for profit. Part of a multibillion dollar business in adult entertainment media, feminist porn is an industry within an industry. Some feminist porn is produced independently, often created and marketed by and for underrepresented minorities like lesbians, transgender folks, and people of color. But femi- nist porn is also produced within the mainstream adult industry by fem- inists whose work is funded and distributed by large companies such as Vivid Entertainment, Adam and Eve, and Evil Angel Productions. As outliers or insiders (or both) to the mainstream industry, feminists have adapted different strategies for subverting dominant pornographic norms and tropes. Some reject nearly all elements of a typical adult film, from structure to aesthetics, while others tweak the standard formula (from “foreplay” to “come shot”) to reposition and prioritize female sex- ual agency. Although feminist porn makers define their work as distinct from mainstream porn, it is nonetheless viewed by a range of people, including people who identify as feminist and specifically seek it out, as well as other viewers who don’t. Feminist porn is gaining momentum and visibility as a market and a movement. This movement is made up of performers turned directors, independent queer producers, politicized sex workers, porn geeks and bloggers, and radical sex educators. These are the voices found here. This is the perfect time for The Feminist Porn Book.

In this book, we place academics alongside and in conversation with sex industry workers to bridge the divide between rigorous research and critique, and real world challenges and interventions. In Jill Nagle’s semi- nal work Whores and Other Feminists, she announced, “This time .  .  . sex worker feminists speak not as guests, nor as disgruntled exiles, but as insiders to feminism.”13 As in Nagle’s collection, here those working in the porn industry speak for themselves, and their narratives illuminate their complicated experiences, contradict one another, and expose the damaging one-dimensional rhetoric of the antiporn feminist resurgence. Like feminist porn itself, the diverse voices in this collection challenge entrenched, divisive dichotomies of academic and popular, scholar and sex worker, pornographer and feminist.

In the first section of the book, Making Porn, Debating Porn, feminist porn pioneers Betty Dodson, Candida Royalle, and Susie Bright give a grounded history of feminist porn as it emerged in the 1980s in response to the limiting sexual imagination of both mainstream porn and anti- porn feminism. Providing a window into the generative and deeply con- tested period of the sex wars, these feminist pornographers highlight the stakes and energies surrounding the birth of feminist porn activism in


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the face of an antiporn feminism that ignored, misunderstood, or vilified them and their efforts. Bright’s account of watching her first porn film, sitting among suspicious men in a dark adult theater, sets the stage for how the invention of the VHS player shifted women’s consumption of porn and dramatically changed the marketplace.

In the last decade, a new war on porn has been resurrected and rede- fined by Gail Dines, Sheila Jeffries, Karen Boyle, Pamela Paul, Robert Jensen, and others. Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith show how this resurgent antiporn movement resists theory and evidence, and tenden- tiously reframes the production and consumption of porn as a mode of sex trafficking, a form of addiction, or a public health problem of epi- demic proportions. Attwood and Smith’s work powerfully exposes how feminist porn remains challenged and often censored in contemporary popular discourse. Lynn Comella focuses on the consequences of por- nography going public. She examines one of the most significant ele- ments of the emergence of feminist porn: the growth of sex-positive, women-owned-and-run sex shops and a grassroots sex education move- ment that create space for women to produce, find, and consume new kinds of pornography.

Watching and Being Watched examines how desire and agency inform pornographic performance, representation, and spectatorship. Sinnamon Love and Mireille Miller-Young explore the complex position of African American women as they watch, critique, and create repre- sentations of black women’s sexuality. Dylan Ryan and Jane Ward take up the concept of authenticity in porn: what it means, how it’s read, and why it is (or is not) crucial to feminist porn performance and spectatorship. Ingrid Ryberg looks at how public screenings of queer, feminist, and les- bian porn can create spaces for sexual empowerment. Tobi Hill-Meyer complicates Ryberg’s analysis by documenting who, until very recently, was left out of these spaces: trans women. Keiko Lane echoes Ryberg’s argument of the radical potential of queer and feminist porn and offers it as a tool for understanding and expressing desire among marginalized communities.

The intersection of feminist porn as pedagogy and feminist pedago- gies of porn is highlighted in Doing It In School. As porn scholars, Con- stance Penley and Ariane Cruz grapple with teaching and studying porn from two very different perspectives. Kevin Heffernan offers a history of sex instruction in film and contrasts it with work from Nina Hartley and Tristan Taormino in educational porn movies. Hartley discusses how she has used porn to teach throughout her twenty-five-plus years in the industry, and Taormino outlines her practice as a feminist pornographer


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offering organic, fair-trade porn that takes into account the labor of its workers. Performer Danny Wylde documents his personal experiences with power, consent, and exploitation against a backdrop of antiporn rhetoric. Lorelei Lee offers a powerful manifesto that demands we all become better students in order to achieve a more nuanced, discerning, and thoughtful discourse about porn and sex.

Now Playing: Feminist Porn takes up questions of hyper- corporeality, genderqueerness, transfemininity, feminized masculinity, transgressive racial performance, and disability. Jiz Lee discusses how they14 use their transgressive female body and genderqueer identity to defy categories. April Flores describes herself as “a fat Latina with pale skin, tattoos, and fire engine red hair,” and gives her unique take on being (and not being) a Big Beautiful Woman (BBW) performer. Bobby Noble explores the role of trans men and the interrogation of mascu- linities in feminist porn, while renowned trans male performer Buck Angel explodes sex/gender dichotomies by embodying his identity of a man with a vagina. Also concerned with the complex representation and performance of manhood in feminist pornography, Celine Parreñas Shimizu asks how race shapes the work of straight Asian male performer Keni Styles. Loree Erickson, a feminist pornographer and PhD candi- date, represents not only a convergence of scholarship and sex work, but one of the most overlooked subjects in pornography and one de-erot- icized in society: “queer femmegimp.” Emerging to speak from group identities previously missing or misnamed, the pieces in this section are by people who show the beauty of their desires, give shape to their reali- ties, reject and reclaim attributions made by others, and describe how they create sexual worlds that denounce inequality.

Throughout the book, we explore the multiple definitions of feminist porn, but we refuse to fix its boundaries. Feminist porn is a genre and a political vision. And like other genres of film and media, feminist porn shares common themes, aesthetics, and goals even though its parameters are not clearly demarcated. Because it is born out of a feminism that is not one thing but a living, breathing, moving creation, it is necessar- ily contested—an argument, a polemic, and a debate. Because it is both genre and practice, we must engage it as both: by reading and analyzing its cultural texts and examining the ideals, intentions, and experiences of its producers. In doing so, we offer an alternative to unsubstantiated oversimplifications and patronizing rhetoric. We acknowledge the com- plexities of watching, creating, and analyzing pornographies. And we believe in the radical potential of feminist porn to transform sexual rep- resentation and the way we live our sexualities.


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Notes 1. Robin Morgan, “Theory and Practice: Pornography and Rape,” in Take Back the

Night, ed. Laura Lederer (New York: William Morrow, 1980), 139. On the porn wars or sex wars, see Carolyn Bronstein, Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Antipornography Movement, 1976–1986 (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Lisa Duggan and Nan D. Hunter, Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Politi- cal Culture (New York: Routledge, 1995); Carole Vance, ed. Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (Boston and London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984); Pamela Church Gibson and Roma Gibson, eds., Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography and Power (London: British Film Institute, 1993); and the documentary film by Har- riet Koskoff, Patently Offensive: Porn Under Siege (1991).

2. Annie Sprinkle, Post-Porn Modernist: My 25 Years as a Multimedia Whore (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1998), 149–51.

3. Annette Fuentes and Margaret Schrage, “Deep Inside Porn Stars,” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 32 (1987): 41–43, http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/ onlinessays/JC32folder/PornWomenInt.html.

4. Susie Bright, Big Sex, Little Death: A Memoir (Berkeley: Seal Press, 2011) and Susie Bright, “A History Of On Our Backs: Entertainment for the Adventurous Les- bian, The Original: 1984–1990,” http://susiebright.blogs.com/History_of_OOB.pdf. See also, “About Fatale Media,” accessed September 5, 2011, http://www.fatalemedia. com/about.html.

5. Feminists in Europe who used sexually explicit photography and film to explore themes like female pleasure, S/M, bondage, gender roles, and queer desire include Monika Treut (Germany), Cleo Uebelmann (Switzerland), Krista Beinstein (Germany and Austria), and Della Grace (England). In 1998, Danish film produc- tion company Zentropa wrote the Puzzy Power Manifesto that outlined its guide- lines for a new line of porn for women, which echoed Royalle’s vision: their films included plot-driven narratives that depicted foreplay and emotional connection, women’s pleasure and desire, and male and female bodies beyond just their genitals. See Laura Merrit, “PorYes! The European Feminist Porn Movement,” [unpublished manuscript] and Zentropa, “The Manifesto,” accessed January 29, 2012, http://www. puzzypower.dk/UK/index.php/om-os/manifest.

6. In addition, we must acknowledge the early work of Sachi Hamano, the first woman to direct “pink films” (Japanese softcore porn). Hamano directed more than three hundred in the 1980s and 90s in order to portray women’s sexual power and agency, and challenge the representation of women as sex objects only present to fulfill men’s fantasies. See Virginie Sélavy, “Interview with Sachi Hamano,” December 1, 2009, http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/features/2009/12/01/interview- with-sachi-hamano/.

7. Feminist Porn Awards, accessed September 5, 2011, http://goodforher.com/ feminist_porn_awards.

8. Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (New York: Grove Press, 1996), viii.

9. See Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force, Caught Looking: Feminism, Pornog- raphy and Censorship, 3rd ed. (New Haven, CT: LongRiver Books, [1986] 1992); Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (Berke- ley: University of California Press, 1989); Jane Juffer, At Home with Pornography: Women, Sex, and Everyday Life (New York: NYU Press, 1998); Jump Cut: A Review


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of Contemporary Media, eds. Julia Lesage, Chuck Kleinhans, John Hess (http://www. ejumpcut.org); Drucilla Cornell, ed., Feminism and Pornography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Linda Williams, ed., Porn Studies (Durham, NC: Duke Uni- versity Press, 2004); and Pamela Church Gibson, ed., More Dirty Looks: Gender, Por- nography and Power (London: British Film Institute, 2004).

10. Gayle Rubin, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexu- ality,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance (Bos- ton and London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), 279.

11. Rubin, “Thinking Sex,” 280. 12. Tom Waugh, “ Homoerotic Representation in the Stag Film 1920–1940: Imag-

ining An Audience,” Wide Angle 14, no. 2 (1992): 4. 13. Jill Nagle, ed., Whores and Other Feminists (New York and London: Routledge,

1997), 3. Emphasis in original text. 14. Lee’s favored gender-neutral pronoun.


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Artist, author, and sexologist Betty Dodson has been one of the prin- cipal advocates for women’s sexual pleasure and health for over three decades. After her first one-woman show of erotic art in 1968, Dod- son produced and presented the first feminist slide show of vulvas at the 1973 NOW Sexuality Conference in New York City where she introduced the electric vibrator as a pleasure device. For twenty-five years, she ran Bodysex Workshops, teaching women about their bod- ies and orgasms. Her first book, Liberating Masturbation: A Meditation on Selflove, became a feminist classic. Sex for One sold over a million copies. Betty and her young partner Carlin Ross continue to provide sex education at dodsonandross.com. This piece is excerpted from Dodson’s memoir, My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir.

When it comes to creating or watching sexual material, women are still debating what is acceptable to make, view, or enjoy. The porn wars rage on while most guys secretly beat off to whatever turns them on. Meanwhile, far too many feminists want to control or censor porn. Most people will agree that sex is a very personal matter, but now that sexual imagery has become prevalent with Internet porn available on our computers 24/7, I’d say—like it or not—porn is here to stay.

The fact that pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry and the engine that first drove the Internet proves that most people want to see images of sex whether they admit it openly or not. After women’s sex- ual liberation got underway in the sixties and seventies, women turned against each other to debate whether an image was erotic or porno- graphic. Unfortunately this endless and senseless debate continues today.

My first attempt at drawing sex was a real eye opener. In 1968, I had my first one-woman show of erotic art titled The Love Picture Exhibition. The experience raised my awareness of the many people who enjoyed seeing beautiful drawings of couples having intercourse and oral sex.

Porn Wars


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With my second show—of masturbating nudes—all hell broke loose. The show not only ended my gallery affiliation, but it was then that I became aware of how ignorant most Americans were about human sex- uality. My six-foot drawing of a masturbating woman holding an electric vibrator next to her clitoris—an erect one at that—might have been the first public appearance of the clitoris in recent history. It was 1970—the year I became a feminist activist determined to liberate masturbation.

In 1971, I had my first encounter with censorship when Evergreen magazine published images of my erotic art. A Connecticut district attorney threatened to issue an injunction if the magazine was not removed from the local public library. My friend and former lover Grant Taylor drove us to Connecticut to meet with the DA. His main objection was my painting of an all-women orgy. He pounded his fist on the page spewing out the words, “Lesbianism is a clear sign of perversion!”

When the meeting ended, the press descended on me. I don’t recall what I said except that sex was nice and censorship was dirty and that kids were never upset by my art, but their parents often were. A few peo- ple complimented me on my words and art. One woman said she found my art “disgusting and pornographic,” but that I had a right to show it. Her comment was the most upsetting. Driving home, I remember ask- ing Grant how anyone could call my beautifully drawn nudes disgust- ing: “Why can’t people distinguish between art that’s erotic and art that’s pornographic?”

“Betty, it’s all art,” he said. “Beauty or pornography will always be in the eyes of the beholder.” He went on to warn me against making the mistake of trying to define either one. It was an intellectual trap that led to endless debates with no agreements in sight. After thinking about it, I knew he was right! That night I decided to forget about defining erotic art as being superior to pornographic images. Instead, I embraced the label “pornographer.” All at once, I felt exhilarated by the thought that I could become America’s first feminist pornographer.

The next day, I got out my dictionary and found the word pornography originated from the Greek pornographos: the writings of prostitutes. If society treated sex with any dignity or respect, both pornographers and prostitutes would have status, which they obviously had at one time. The sexual women of antiquity were the artists and writers of sexual love. Since organized religions have made all forms of sexual pleasure evil, no modern equivalent exists today. As a result, knowledge of the esteemed courtesans was lost, buried in our collective unconscious, suppressed by the authoritarian organized religions that consistently excluded women.

The idea of reclaiming women’s sexual power by creating pornogra-


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phy was a heady concept. Feminists could restore historical perspectives of the ancient temple priestesses of Egypt, the sacred prostitutes, the Amazons of Lesbos, and the royal courtesans of the Sumerian palaces. Sexual love was probably what people longed for, so I gave myself per- mission to break the next thousand rules of social intimidation aimed at controlling women’s sexual behavior. I did just that and continue to do so to this day. In order for women to progress, we must question all authority, be willing to challenge any rule aimed at controlling our sexual behavior, and avoid doing business as usual, thereby maintaining the status quo.

After I fully enjoyed the United States’ brief outbreak of sexual free- doms that began at the end of the 1960s, my glorious group sex par- ties allowed me to realize how many women were faking orgasms. So in 1971, I designed the Bodysex Workshops to teach women about sex through the practice of masturbation. It was sexual consciousness-rais- ing at its best as we went around the circle with each woman answering my question: “How do you feel about your body and your orgasm?” We also eliminated genital shame by looking at our own vulvas and each other’s. Finally, we learned to harness the power of the electric vibra- tor with the latest techniques for self-stimulation during our all-women masturbation circles.

The Bodysex Workshops continued over the next twenty-five years. They took a lot out of me; I ended up sacrificing my hip joints to women’s sexual liberation! These groups also offered unique fieldwork in female masturbation, a subject rarely researched in academia, and I ended up with a PhD in sexology.

In 1982 at the age of fifty-three, I joined a support group of lesbian and bisexual women who were into consensual S/M. Perhaps I had avoided this small subculture because I suspected there was something unhealthy about mixing pain with pleasure. Instead of finding sick, con- fused women, I discovered a group of feminists who were enjoying the most politically incorrect sex imaginable. One of our first big mistakes as feminists was to establish politically correct sex, defined as the ideal of love between equals with both partners remaining monogamous.

For heterosexual women, politically correct sex put us in the age old bind of trying to change men by getting them to shape up and settle down. That meant men had to also practice monogamy—a project that has consistently failed for centuries. Most men are hardwired to have multiple sex partners while women who want children need a more last- ing and secure relationship in order to raise a family. Those of us who remained single also wanted multiple sex partners. Our efforts to expand


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the idea of feminist sex were censored by mainstream feminists and the media at every turn.

The night of my first S/M meeting, I entered the small apartment and as I looked around the room, I didn’t see one familiar face among these younger women. My internal dialogue was like a broken record: “They’re probably all lesbian separatists and the minute they find out I’m bisexual, they won’t let me join.” I’d been discriminated against so many times in the past that the chip on my shoulder weighed heavily. As I sat there wallowing in my anticipated rejection, I visually fell into lust with every woman there. What a marvelous variety from stone butch to lipstick les- bians. When the meeting began, each woman introduced herself, then stated whether she was dominant or submissive, and said a few words about how she liked to play. The closer they got to me, the faster the butterflies in my belly fluttered. When all eyes were on me, I defensively said, “I’m a bisexual lesbian who’s into self-inflicted pleasure!”

Several women smiled. One asked how I inflicted my pleasure, and when I said it was with an electric vibrator, the room broke up laughing. A group of lesbian and bisexual feminists who were willing to explore kinky sex was my fondest dream come true and within no time, I was right at home.

Gradually I began to understand that all forms of sex were an exchange of power, whether it was conscious or unconscious. My focus had been on the pleasure in sex, not the power. The basic principle of S/M was that all sexual activity between one or more adults had to be consensual and required a verbal negotiation, followed by an agreement between the players. All my years of romantic sex, when we tried to read each other’s minds, were basically nonconsensual sex. Romantic love is one of the most damaging concepts on the planet for women—little girls raised on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty are taught to wait for a prince to awaken them.

By the time I was in my midthirties and sport fucking, I learned to take control and be a top as a means of getting what I wanted. But none of these sexual activities were ever discussed or agreed upon openly. As I looked at sexuality in terms of this power dynamic, it felt like I was wak- ing from a deep sleep.

That spring, Dorothy, the founding mother of our group, invited me to join her at a conference organized by Women Against Pornography (WAP). Her commitment to feminism was contagious and she was aware of all the current happenings in the movement. By then I had dropped out of feminism so I was learning a lot from Dorothy, a thirty-year-old radical lesbian who had been trashed by other feminists because of her


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S/M sexual preferences. As a post-menopausal hedonist in my fifties, I looked forward to my first public feminist forum dressed as a leather dyke.

The two of us trooped into the WAP conference arm in arm, wearing boots and jeans with large silver studded belts under our black leather jackets—high-visibility leather dykes sitting in the front row just to the left of the podium. The women glared at us, signaling that we were out of place, while we wore our political incorrectness like a badge of honor.

At the time, I had difficulty taking this group seriously. After femi- nists had fought against censoring information about birth control, abortion, sexuality, and lesbianism, the idea that there was now a group that wanted to censor pornography seemed absurd. Surely WAP was only a small percentage of feminists, but Dorothy said they were gain- ing strength and growing in numbers. Ms. magazine had contributed money to WAP, and under pressure from members, NOW (National Organization for Women) had approved a resolution that condemned pornography without defining it. Several local NOW chapters actively supported WAP. Censorship was coiled like a rattlesnake ready to strike at our freedom and poison people’s enjoyment of masturbating while looking at pictures of sex. Unbelievable!

The large meeting room at NYU was packed with women only— nearly a thousand had assembled. A red cloth banner with big black letters stretched across the back of the stage: WOMEN AGAINST PORNOG- RAPHY. That had to cost a pretty penny. There was also a first-rate sound system, along with expensive printed flyers—all done very profession- ally. This was no makeshift feminist conference where we had mimeo- graphed handouts. Dorothy leaned in close and asked, “When have you ever seen a conference dealing with women’s issues that had this kind of money behind it?” We both agreed that WAP most likely had been secretly funded by the CIA, the Christian Right, or both. The Good Old Boys were setting us up again—divide and conquer!

Drifting into a reverie, I thought about the 1973 NOW Sexuality Conference. I remembered how brave we’d been, questioning sex roles and sexual taboos, exploring female sexual pleasure, and daring to create better sex lives for women with information and education. We’d been so sex positive and filled with excitement that we would change the world. How, in just ten short years, could we have ended up against pornog- raphy, which put feminists in the same bed as Christians preaching the gospel?

The WAP conference featured many speakers. Each gave a brief, per-featured many speakers. Each gave a brief, per- sonal history, and nearly every one had a horror story of sexual abuse at


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the hands of a father, brother, husband, lover, or boss. There were stories of rape, battered wives, child abuse, harassment, and forced prostitution. Dorothy was busy taking notes while I sat there stunned by the realiza- tion that I was in the midst of an orgy of suffering, angry women. Each speaker’s words and tears were firing up the group into a unified rage. Emotionalism without intellect from victims without power was how lynch mobs and nationwide hate groups were formed—the basic strat- egy of fascism, I concluded with a shiver.

It saddened me to hear how these women had suffered, and I would never deny that their pain was real. For most of them, sex had truly been a misery or a violent trauma. No sane person was for rape or incest, but this one-dimensional attack on images of sex was totally unacceptable. Blaming pornography as the sole cause of women’s sexual problems was ludicrous. Why weren’t they going after big problems like war, poverty, organized religion, and sexual ignorance due to the total absence of decent sex education in our school system?

An attractive blonde in her midthirties stood at the mic. With her rage barely controlled, she described her childhood sexual abuse. Every Saturday when her mother pulled out of the driveway to do the grocery shopping, her father got out his “disgusting, filthy pictures” and forced her to perform an “unnatural act.” She didn’t say what it was, but the audience was surely fantasizing an adult penis penetrating an eleven- year-old girl. The whole room was emotionally whipped up into a rage with their own private images of child rape, while at the same time, rev- eling in the awfulness of it.

The speaker went on to blame the entire incident on pornography! There was no mention of society’s denial of sexual expression, especially masturbation. Maybe the father was a devout Catholic who knew he’d go to hell if he took hold of his own penis. How about the nuclear fam- ily taking some of the blame with its restrictive sexual mores? But none of these other possibilities occurred to her. She was adamant that “dirty pictures” had been the sole cause of her incest.

The WAP meeting ended with an open mic session, and within moments, emotional chaos broke loose. Women were crying and screaming hysterically, so we got out fast. Once outside, we took a deep breath to release our own tension. We both felt drained. Although we disagreed with WAP, they had a right to their opinions even though they didn’t respect our rights. We remained sexual outlaws.

The 1980s also ushered in AIDS, and the Reagan government was slow to respond to this looming crisis. How perfect: AIDS ended casual sex and sent the population back into committed relationships and


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monogamy—the glue that binds. Child sexual abuse was rampant and getting national attention, while no one paid any attention to how pov- erty was really hurting our kids. Finally women were being heard, but it was only half the conversation. We were not getting ahead by avoiding central issues—and we certainly were not liberating our sexualities.

During this time, women showed up at my workshops and broke down in tears as they began to talk about being sexually abused. Each time, I would ask them to leave, with the explanation that my groups were about exploring pleasure, not sexual abuse. They needed to see a therapist and then come back for a Bodysex Workshop later on. Some women accused me of having a hard heart, but I simply stayed on mis- sion of liberating women’s independent orgasms so we could come back to life—actually and fully.

My Bodysex Workshops were well received, so I decided to film one. You just can’t beat the moving image; it’s an opportunity to give people images of what sex might be. The best way for us to learn is to find out what’s going on with everyone else. My girlfriend and I used a home video camera, and it took me two years to edit it on two clunky tape decks. My films were automatically labeled porn, because if you see a pussy or a penis, it’s porn. But you can’t teach sex without getting explicit, so, again, I found myself embracing the role of pornographer.

Before the Internet, every time I said “masturbation,” it either sent folks into gales of laughter or provoked embarrassed looks as they quickly changed the subject. My articles for magazines were canceled and interviews for television ended up on the cutting room floor. The bottom line of sexual repression is the prohibition of childhood mastur- bation. This humble activity is the basis for all of human sexuality. The Internet was the first place in my long career that I was not censored.

My old lover Grant ran my first website. At the end, he was classified as legally blind, and held a magnifying glass, with his nose an inch from the screen. When I joined forces with law school grad and cyber geek Carlin Ross, we created a new website. I believe that once Grant met Carlin, he was able to leave his disintegrating body. He made it to his eighty-sixth birthday and died proud with his boots on, with the next upload for my website sitting on his hard drive. I miss him terribly to this day. We had the most passionate love/hate affair of the century.

Carlin and I offer free, accessible sex information, both visual and written, to women and men. We call the clips where we show sexual skills, “The New Porn.” Sex education must be entertaining, not aca- demic, dry, boring, or stilted. I’m not afraid of the word porn. If people


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are going to call my explicit sex education porn, then I say embrace the word. Be the new porn, be the porn you want to see. While it’s true that a lot of pornography out there is shitty for the most part, it still works: it gets people hot. The biggest turn on for me is to have a fully orgasmic partner, not someone pretending or playing. We all know the real deal when it’s happening—authentic orgasms are unmistakable. I’m a sex- positive feminist, liberating women one orgasm at a time.

Our site represents a new feminist sexual politics that’s well beyond any victimhood of rape and sexual abuse. We represent orgasmic feminism—a new movement of women who have taken control of our sex lives, and who dare to design them in any way we choose whether we’re straight, bi, lesbian, or a combination, and we can enjoy our bodies in any way we desire.

Recently, I love answering sex questions for free from all kinds of young, middle-aged, and older women, as well as boys and men. I’m learning about the concerns and sexual problems of Americans and people from around the world. Let me tell you: sexuality is in a lot of trouble. Young women today do not know what, when, where, or how to have an orgasm. Many of them have grown up without childhood mas- turbation, thanks to the growing influence of religion and the censor- ship of sexual information. Without access to proper sexual information, porn has been their primary form of sex education. The issue here is that the most readily available porn is basically entertainment for men. One young woman said she was sure she’d never had an orgasm because she’d never ejaculated. Unfortunately, the G-spot has become the new name for vaginal orgasms. It’s unfortunate because a very small percentage of women squirt when they experience an orgasm. I wrote my first book to help those few women know that this response was natural. Now we have a nation of young women trying to learn how to ejaculate.

Well-meaning friends suggest that I should drop the word “feminist,” and perhaps the entire concept, because feminism is so “old hat.” Young women today have lost interest in feminism because they believe it’s antisex and that all feminists are man haters. Let me tell you something, girlfriends. That’s exactly what the powers-that-be want us to think and do. Feminism has become a dirty word, and I want to save it, to revive it. I want feminism to signify a woman who knows what she wants in bed and gets it. Guys will be saying, “I’ve got to find me a feminist to fuck!”

At eighty-two, I’ve decided to make a documentary based on the Bodysex Workshops. In a sense, I’m going back to the beginning, to document the heart of my work. The all-women’s masturbation circle is


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my sewing circle. “How do you feel about your body and your orgasm?” is a question still worth asking and the resulting conversation is one still worth having. We are there to listen to and honor each woman’s personal story. We celebrate our independent orgasms without a partner or with one.

This time around, it will be captured professionally with a film crew and better quality lighting and sound. I want to document this with the esteem it deserves, so I can leave the planet happy in the knowledge that this incredible workshop, designed by the early women who first attended, will be captured for all to see. It will be my most brilliant work of art, my Sistine Chapel. Now I have to have the courage to be an old Crone on film. I’m willing to set an example for seniors who are giving up on sex way too soon. After all, my ageing body can still see, hear, eat, drink, laugh, talk, walk, sing, dance, shit, masturbate, fuck, create, draw, write, and have orgasms!

In my heart, I believe that women and girls will not be self-motivated and self-possessed if they cannot give themselves orgasms. If they rely on someone else for sexual pleasure, they are potential victims of whatever society is pushing as “normal.” Masturbation is a meditation on self-love. It is essential. Sex-positive feminism is alive and well and we will change the world. It’s just going to take a bit longer than expected. Viva la Vulva!


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