Feminist pornography

Feminist pornography is a genre of film developed by or for those dedicated to gender equality. It was created for the purposes of encouraging women in their pursuit of freedom through sexuality, equality, and pleasure.[1] Many third-wave feminists are open to seeking freedom and rights of sexual equality through entering the adult entertainment workforce.[2] On the contrary, many second-wave feminists often have a solidified belief that the oppression and/or sexual objectification of women is inherent in all pornography involving them. The conflict between the two waves causes many struggles between these different feminist views.[3]

Feminists have debated pornography ever since the women's movement commenced. The debate was particularly vehement during the feminist sex wars of the 1980s. Although there is no specific production considered the primary paradigm of feminist porn, feminist porn originated in the 1980s. The contemporary feminist porn association acquired momentum in the 2000s because of the Feminist Porn Awards (FPAs) by Good For Her in Toronto in 2006, which introduced feminist porn to society. The FPAs spread awareness about feminist porn amongst a broader audience, extra media exposure, and assistance in uniting a community of filmmakers, performers, and fans. Feminist porn has various ideas and definitions.[4]

Tristan Taormino is a sex educator, feminist pornographer, and co-editor of The Feminist Porn Book, who defines feminist pornography as dedicated to gender equality and social justice.[5] Feminist pornography is porn that is produced in a fair manner, where performers are paid a reasonable salary and treated with care and esteem, their consent, safety, and well-being are vital, and what they bring to the production is appreciated. Feminist porn seeks to challenge ideas about desire, beauty, gratification, and power through unconventional representations, aesthetics, and film making styles. The overall aim of feminist porn is to empower the performers who produce it and the people who view it.[6]


Women in the industry

The 2012 study "Why Become a Pornography Actress?"[7] analyzed female pornographic film actresses and their reasons for choosing the occupation, finding that the primary reasons were money (53%), sex (27%), and attention (16%).[8] Respondents also stated the aspects of their work which they disliked. These included industry-associated people, e.g., co-workers, directors, producers, and agents, whose "attitudes, behaviors, and poor hygiene [were] difficult to handle within their work environment" or who were unscrupulous and unprofessional (39%); STD risk (29%); and exploitation within the industry (20%).[9]

Rise of feminist pornography

Feminist pornography is less likely to be filmed due to a lack of audience demand since a majority of pornography viewers are male.[10] The scope of the adult entertainment industry depends on the preferences of the majority of their viewers, which creates the need for female actresses to be young and overtly sexualized.[11] The increase in this mainstream mass-produced media puts both actresses and producers of feminist pornography at a disadvantage.[12] But the rise of on-screen appropriations, such as items like a strap-on dildo used by and for the pleasure of females during sexual intercourse, has allowed for more agency for women within the industry.[13] Annie Sprinkle is one example of a woman who chooses to partake in many forms of feminist pornography in order to counter-appropriate patriarchal mainstream pornography.[14] Films in which Sprinkle stars contain scenes of her having orgasms instead of her male on-screen partners.[14]

Director and writer Ms. Naughty says "feminist porn seeks to take back the landscape of sexually explicit media, offering a more positive and inclusive way of depicting, and looking at, sex."[15] According to Tristan Taormino, "Feminist porn both responds to dominant images with alternative ones and creates its own iconography."[16]

Some pornographic actresses such as Nina Hartley,[17] Ovidie,[18] and Madison Young are also self-described sex-positive feminists, and state that they do not see themselves as victims of sexism. They defend their decision to perform in pornography as freely chosen, and argue that much of what they do on camera is an expression of their sexuality. It has also been pointed out that in pornography, women generally earn more than their male counterparts.[19] Hartley is active in the sex workers' rights movement.

Femme Productions

In 1984, past adult performer (and Club 90 member) Candida Royalle established Femme Productions to construct films from a woman's perspective. Even though Royalle did not brand or advertise her films as feminist, she identifies as a feminist, her aspirations surely can be viewed as feminist, and she is often considered to be one of the pioneers of feminist porn. She is also viewed as a founder of the genres of porn for women and couple's porn. Royalle started Femme Productions in 1984 with the aim to give adult movies a woman's voice and provide couples with video entertainment which they would be able to view together. She expressed that before 1984 the concept of couple's movies was mostly unheard of and the majority of distributors told her that women were not interested in pornographic films, which irritated her and motivated her to prove the distributors wrong. Since 2007, Royalle has produced 18 movies, and directed 13 of them.[20]

Royalle began her pornographic career by writing and producing, while her partner, Lauren Niemi, directed. Niemi and Royalle established Femme Productions together with the support and financing of her ex-husband's family, who were producers and distributors in Europe. Royalle's ex-husband, Per Sjosted, was a producer and assistant director who contributed to the Femme project with Royalle and Niemi. Their first two movies were FemmE and Urban Heat.[21] It was not until the production of the film Three Daughters, in 1987, that Royalle began directing. Royalle has stated that this production was one of the most expensive films she had worked on, with a $75,000 budget. Three Daughters soon became the largest seller for Royalle, and it received an award for the soundtrack, which was produced by a British musician, Gary Window, who worked with Pink Floyd and the Psychedelic Furs. Window was also the husband of the lead actress of Three Daughters, Siobhan Hunter.

I created Femme in order to put a woman’s voice to adult movies and give men something they could share with the women in their lives. You’ll find them to be less graphic, and you’ll also find story lines, good original music and real characters of all ages.

Candida Royalle[22]

Royalle soon after produced a three-volume set, Star Director Series, and Revelations. Revelations had a more political message on the perspective of how life would not be life if we did not have the right to freely express ourselves artistically and sexually. Royalle explains that it was her way of retaliating against society's hostility towards the adult industry and the indifference of clients purchasing and renting adult movies, but not fighting for their rights to do so.

In 1995, Royalle became determined to fully return to production and signed on with Adam & Eve to fund and produce more Femme productions. My Surrender, released in 1996, won AVN's Best Actress award for Jeanna Fine. Other films that Royalle directed included The Gift, starring McCullough and Mark Davis, Bridal Shower, which featured Nina Hartley, One Size Fits All: A Sex Comedy In Five Acts, starring Nina Hartley, Missy, Shanna McCullough, Mark Davis and Tom Byron in Eyes of Desire, parts one and two.

In 2005, Royalle presented Caribbean Heat, which was shot in Panama and introduced Manuela Sabrosa. The film was produced by Italian writer/film-maker Michele Capozzi. Additionally, in 2007 Royalle produced a new sex comedy titled Under the Covers, that featured a mixture of new performers from New York and Los Angeles. Royalle also presented Afrodite Superstar, which was the beginning of a new era of a mix of talented actors and actresses from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Royalle said that this line was being labeled as Femme Chocolat. She expressed that her main aspiration with this project was to educate new young female directors.[22]

Annie Sprinkle

Annie Sprinkle began working in the conventional porn business in the mid-1970s, and slowly shifted to directing her own pictures, such as "Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle". In the 1990s, Sprinkle became involved in creating films, performances, and publications that were openly feminist. The majority of Annie Sprinkle's works are self-help style videos, such as Annie Sprinkle's Amazing World of Orgasm (U.S., 2004) and The Sluts and Goddesses Video Workshop (U.S., 1992), in which Sprinkle is portrayed as a skilled “sexpert”, encouraging the audience to experiment with elements of their own pleasures and fantasies. In the 1990s Annie Sprinkle switched from conventional porn to a feminist performance practice that combined live shows, writings on sexuality and instructional videos. Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle, the first film that Sprinkle both starred in and directed, incorporated an autobiographical emphasis: she displays to the viewer photographs of her youth at the beginning of the film. Unlike Sprinkle's later productions, Deep Inside was marketed to conventional porn viewers, and sold well, becoming the second leading grossing porn film of 1981.[23] Sprinkle became well known in the queer art movement for being the first to promote the term "postporn", and because she co-signed the Post-Porn Manifesto in 1989. Postporn became a niche term in the 80s and 90s, and continues to be an influential praxis in the transfeminist and queer movements, specifically in the fields of contemporary video and performance art.


Feminist porn directors include Courtney Trouble, Candida Royalle, Tristan Taormino, Madison Young, Shine Louise Houston, Jincey Lumpkin, Ovidie, Erika Lust, Jacky St. James, Marit Östberg and Poppy Sanchez, Anoushka, Olympe de G., and Lucie Blush. Some of these directors make pornography specifically for a female or genderqueer audience, while others aim for a broad appeal across genders and sexual orientations.

Doris Wishman was one of the earliest female pornography film directors. She began by producing a series of nudist films without sex scenes, including Hideout in the Sun[24] (1960), Nude on the Moon[25] (1961) and Diary of a Nudist[26] (1961). Years after it she also produced a series of sexploitation films.

Directed by Abiola Abrams in 2006, Afrodite Superstar is regarded as the first erotic film to be both directed by a black women and marketed at black women. Other black female directors in adult film include Shine Louise Houston, Diana Devoe, and Estelle Joseph, director of the award-winning City of Flesh series.[27]

Swedish filmmaker Mia Engberg along with twelve different directors produced a collection of feminist pornographic short films titled Dirty Diaries which was released in September 2009. The financing, for the most part, came from the Swedish Film Institute.

Festivals and Awards

Since 2006,[28] the Feminist Porn Awards have been held annually in Toronto,[29] sponsored by a local feminist sex toy business, Good for Her. The awards are given in a number of categories and have three guiding criteria:[30]

  1. A woman had a hand in the production, writing, direction, etc. of the work.
  2. It depicts genuine female pleasure.
  3. It expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges stereotypes that are often found in mainstream porn.

In Europe since 2009, the best films are nominated with the PorYes-Award every other year.

Feminist artist Jasmin Hagendorfer and her team are organizing the Porn Film Festival Vienna, an event dedicated to feminist and queer approaches to pornography.[31]

U.S. anti-porn feminists’ activities

In the 1970s, Andrea Dworkin, a feminist activist, became the main theorist of the U.S. anti-pornography campaign. The majority of the feminist debates were initiated by events such as the 1976 presentation in the U.S. of the film Snuff, in which a woman was shown being mutilated for the audience's sexual satisfaction. Erroneously believing that the scenes of eroticized torture in Snuff were real, Dworkin organized nightly vigils at locations where the film was being shown. Well-known U.S. feminists, including Susan Brownmiller and Gloria Steinem, joined Dworkin to establish the campaign group Women Against Pornography (WAP). The anti-porn campaign escalated with ‘Take Back the Night’ marches around locations such as Times Square, which contained ‘adult’ book stores, massage parlors and strip shows. Dworkin and other major feminists arranged conferences and lecture tours, showing slide-shows featuring hard- and soft-core porn to women's awareness groups.

Feminism and the proliferation of pornography for women

In recent years, many feminists have become disillusioned with Dworkin and her anti-porn perspectives, perceiving them as excessively polarized and anti-sex. Feminists continue to debate the extent to which pornography is harmful to women. Some feminists have emphasized the way cybersex encourages its participants to play with identity, as users are able to take on diverse characteristics (e.g. gender, age, sexuality, race, and physical exterior). They point out a number of other benefits from new technologies, such as enhanced access to sex education and ‘safe’ sex, and opportunities for women and minorities to make contact and to manufacture and allocate their own representations.[32]

Pro-pornography feminists

Mireille Miller-Young has researched the porn industry for the last ten years. In addition, Miller-Young has also interviewed a vast amount of performers and has encountered several positive aspects of pornography in women's lives. According to Miller-Young, "For some performers, pornography is a path to college and out of poverty. For others, it is a chance to make a statement about female pleasure."[33]

Miller-Young states that the women she interviewed were excited to enter the pornography industry and viewed it as a profitable opportunity as well as an accommodating job that would grant them independence. Women who had worked in retail or in nursing discovered that pornography gave them more control over their labor and greater respect in the workplace. Some women believed being part of the pornography industry had granted them the ability to escape poverty, provide for their families and attend college. Others stressed the inventive features of pornography and stated it grants them the ability to boost their economic mobility while also creating a strong statement about female sexual pleasure. Miller-Young claims that according to the performers she interviewed, the most difficult challenge they dealt with was social stigma, as well as gender and racial inequality.

At both large and small pornography studios, men typically marginalize the viewpoints and concerns of women. The studios place more emphasis on what men want because they feel that their products will sell more. Furthermore, these companies will often create a competitive environment which pits women against each other. Black performers often receive only half to three-quarters of what white performers are paid. Just as in other industries, women and men of color face discrimination and disparities in structural and interpersonal forms. Porn industry workers are striving to get more control over their labor and the products they create. The Internet is by far the most efficient and rapid way to democratize the porn industry. There is a range of women from diverse backgrounds who enter the pornography business, such as soccer moms, single mothers, and college students, who are filming themselves and presenting their own pornographic fantasies. The majority of women in pornography feel strongly that society should not treat porn as problematic and socially immoral. However, women in the industry highlight that conditions can be improved, particularly with regard to workers’ rights.[33]

Royalle argues that viewing pornography is not intrinsically damaging to men or women. However, she claims that there are people who perhaps should not view porn, for example, those with poor body image or those have experienced sexual abuse. Royalle states that some individuals may develop impractical ideas about sex or what people enjoy, and how they may be expected to perform. She adds that watching porn with another individual requires permission. Counselors at times will advise it to assist people in becoming comfortable with a certain fantasy they or their partner may have. Pornography may re-energize a couple's sex life. It can offer stimulating ideas, or assist individuals and couples to get in touch with their personal fantasies. Porn can supply individuals with great satisfaction or at worst, disgust. Royalle emphasizes that this all relies on what couples or individuals decide to view. She adds that porn is not the issue when it comes to unhealthy sexual behaviors, but rather the compulsive personality of an individual.

With regard to the performers, Royalle explains that there are some women who prefer to be in porn because they enjoy sex and deem it to be a great way of making a living. On the other hand, there are some who approach porn as a mode of acting out or coping with psychological issues, such as searching for their father's love or receiving punishment for being an immoral woman. For some women, it may be a bit of each.

I’m not sure the male performers get out completely unscathed either. While they may not be judged as harshly as the women, ultimately they’re viewed as freaks who make their living with their anatomy. John Holmes’ fate is the ultimate cautionary tale. Perhaps if we weren’t still so consumed with guilt and shame about sex, neither watching nor performing in these films would carry the weight it does. But then, perhaps we wouldn’t be so interested in them, either. If the fruit were not forbidden, would anyone care to take a bite?

Candida Royalle[34]

Tristan Taormino has stated that pornography created by women for women can give women control over what is being presented about female sexuality and how it is represented and distributed. She argues that feminist pornography allows women to have a voice in a male-dominated industry.[35]


  • Corsianos, Marilyn (September 2007). "Mainstream pornography and "women": questioning sexual agency". Critical Sociology. 33 (5–6): 863–885. doi:10.1163/156916307X230359.
  • Ciclitira, Karen (August 2004). "Pornography, women and feminism: between pleasure and politics". Sexualities. 7 (3): 281–301. doi:10.1177/1363460704040143.
  • Griffith, James D.; Adams, Lea T.; Hart, Christian L.; Mitchell, Sharon (July 2012). "Why become a pornography actress?". International Journal of Sexual Health. 24 (3): 165–180. doi:10.1080/19317611.2012.666514.
  • Liberman, Rachael (July 2015). "'It's a really great tool': feminist pornography and the promotion of sexual subjectivity". Porn Studies. 2 (2–3): 174–191. doi:10.1080/23268743.2015.1051913.
  • Snyder-Hall, R. Claire (March 2010). "Third-wave feminism and the defense of "choice"". Perspectives on Politics. 8 (1): 255–261. doi:10.1017/S1537592709992842. JSTOR 25698533.
  • Whisnant, Rebecca (April–June 2016). ""But what about feminist porn?": examining the work of Tristan Taormino". Sexualization, Media, and Society. 2 (2): 237462381663172. doi:10.1177/2374623816631727.

See also


  1. Snyder-Hall 2010, pp. 255.
  2. Snyder-Hall 2010, pp. 256.
  3. Snyder-Hall 2010, pp. 257.
  4. Sprinkle, Annie. "The Sprinkle Story". anniesprinkle.org. Annie Sprinkle. Archived from the original on 2011-02-23. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  5. The feminist porn book : the politics of producing pleasure. Taormino, Tristan, 1971-. New York, NY: Feminist Press at the City University of New York. 2013. ISBN 9781558618190. OCLC 828140733.CS1 maint: others (link)
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  8. Griffith et al. 2012, pp. 170.
  9. Griffith et al. 2012, pp. 173.
  10. Ciclitira 2004, pp. 297.
  11. Corsianos 2007, pp. 867.
  12. Ciclitira 2004, pp. 295-297.
  13. Corsianos 2007, pp. 873.
  14. Corsianos 2007, pp. 869.
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  17. Hartley, Nina (1998), "Confessions of a feminist porno star", in Delacoste, Frédérique; Alexander, Priscilla (eds.), Sex work: writings by women in the sex industry, San Francisco, California: Cleis Press, pp. 142–144, ISBN 9781573440424.
  18. Ovidie (2004). Porno manifesto [Porn manifesto] (in French). La Musardine. ISBN 9782842712372.
  19. Faludi, Susan (2000). Stiffed: the betrayal of the American man. New York: Perennial. ISBN 9780380720453.
  20. Taormino, Tristan, ed. (2013-02-01). The feminist porn book: the politics of producing pleasure (1st ed.). New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York. ISBN 9781558618190.
  21. Street, Sharan (September 2013). "Editor". Adult Video News: 18.
  22. Royalle, Candida. "About Femme Productions". candidaroyalle.com. Candida Royalle. Archived from the original on 2013-05-13. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
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  31. Mühlparzer, Hannah. "Porn Film Festival Vienna: Festival multipler Höhepunkte". Der Standard. Archived from the original on 2018-11-28. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  32. Ciclitira, Karen (August 2004). "Pornography, women and feminism: between pleasure and politics". Sexualities. 7 (3): 281–301. doi:10.1177/1363460704040143.
  33. Miller-Young, Mireille. "Empowering to the Women on Screen". International New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 2013-03-27. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
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