My Boyfriend & I Have The Same Taste In Porn

Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
This shouldn't feel like a confession, but it does. I'm a feminist, and when I watch porn, it's never "feminist porn."

It's not that I dislike the adult entertainment marketed this way. It's that I find much of it, well, boring. You could describe the porn I watch as shot from the male gaze, or as the fulfillment of (my) fantasies of objectification; my male partner and I do happen to have similar tastes, and I don’t just mean when we’re watching together. Neither of us is much for plot or "production value," and I look for rougher sex and definitely more BDSM than he does. I prefer gonzo porn to feature films — the "gonzo" drawn from gonzo journalism and its involvement of the journalist (viewer) in the story (scene). It's the style that dispenses with the exposition and skips to the rising action and climax(es); it's also the style that the media, sex educators, and many feminists — even sex-positive ones — have taught us is inherently misogynistic, exploitative, and wrong. You might conclude from this that enjoying it is, too.

And, while considerable research and my conversations with women indicate otherwise, a glance at how the media covers women's adult entertainment preferences might lead you to believe that I am an outlier. "If you’re a little freaked out by porn, you’re not alone," begins a story Glamour ran on literotica on Monday. "After all, we tend to associate it with the stereotypical low-rent internet videos with terrible plot lines." But I find many of those videos hot — oh god, does that make me complicit in the tyranny of the heteronormative patriarchy?

"I feel for most women out there, a good 20 minutes of foreplay is the very least we need before anything even enters us, which is where the porn industry, and pretty much all men, are getting it wrong," opines a writer for The Huffington Post. "The majority of the clips I found online were just that, clips that lasted anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, with only a few going over the half hour mark." If I skip ahead to the penetrative sex, am I kicked out of the "most women" club? Is there a group meeting I can attend? Hi, my name is Hayley, and I like stereotypical, low-rent internet videos with terrible plot lines.

Empowered Women Who Watch Porn, the mainstream narrative continues, turn to one genre when they're feeling frisky, and one genre alone. "For those who prefer their smut served with a side of ethics and empowerment" — and you do, don't you? — "feminist porn is a dream come true," proclaims a Bustle article from last year.

Except this dream is often not one I can masturbate to — and its label implies that other categories of porn are un-feminist, lacking in ethics and whatever the word "empowerment" means anymore. The collateral implication is that by watching these other categories, so am I.

"Feminist porn" isn't monolithic, however, and as I've learned more about the diversity it contains, I've realized that my issue with it is one of branding more than content. Definitions of the category vary, but the Feminist Porn Awards (which have been called off for 2016) have sought porn "made by women or marginalized people" that "depicts real pleasure" and "challenges stereotypes." Soft focus and romantic lighting may be motifs, but they are not requirements, and indeed, some films that bill themselves as "feminist porn" also depict BDSM and even rough sex (NSFW link, unsurprisingly).
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Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
If the label "feminist porn" is meant to describe how porn is made more than the acts it depicts, then, did we have to call it that? I ask Kelly Shibari, CEO of a PR group for adult entertainment companies who has also modeled for Penthouse and performed in many a porno.

"A lot of mainstream porn is actually feminist, so trying to create this sub-genre of 'feminist porn' kind of fell flat eventually," she tells me. "Even if scenes are perceived as misogynistic, on the production end, they do respect a performer’s boundaries... I think that [feminist porn] could have been called 'humanist porn' or 'inclusive porn.'"

Shibari knows firsthand that acts many would dismiss as misogynistic can be hot for both female performers and female viewers. "One of the projects that I was proud of was a blow-bang film I made roughly five years ago with a group of male fans," she says. "I marketed it as a 'feminist blow-bang,' because it was my decision and my fantasy, rather than something I was simply hired to do by a studio — and it was nominated for a Feminist Porn Award."

What I am looking for in porn is exactly this beautiful Venn diagram overlap in which performers enjoy good working conditions and exercise agency, as Shibari describes, while engaging in intense sex, including acts I find sexy but don't necessarily want to try in my own life. For me, the problem with watching those stereotypical videos with terrible plot lines is not the content; it's that it's hard to know whether performers are, in fact, working in good conditions (especially if you're not paying for any of the porn you watch — more on how that affects performers here).

That consideration, though, doesn't evaporate when you're watching "feminist porn," and labeling porn as such doesn't automatically mean that all performers were treated with respect or compensated fairly. These should be the markers of feminism in entertainment, not whether it includes a woman being tied up and slapped in a dimly lit room.

The stigma of watching "porn for men" as a woman lingers, though. Women whose enjoyment of rough sex in porn I've discussed with them in the past clam up when I air that I'm writing about the diversity of women's porn preferences. "I don't think I want to tell you what I look up," one usually open friend laughs when I ask.

Shibari is more forthcoming about her tastes. "My personal barometer for pornography is, 'Can I masturbate to it?,' and there certainly are different things that different people masturbate to," she tells me. "My personal preferences lean towards viewing penetrative sex acts, including group sex and rougher scenes."

"Does that make me 'not a feminist'?" she continues. "Absolutely not! Distinguishing between fantasy and reality is extremely important. Not every woman wants her own sex life reflected in [her] porn... I really feel it's a feminist act to own what you fantasize about, even if, in reality, it may appear misogynistic."

As Gia London wrote for SNEAKY, "The concept of female friendly porn is amazing in theory, but most of it operates from the basic assumption that female sexuality is centered on the themes of romance, eroticism and sensuality" — which isn't what all women are looking for late at night, because, gasp, we're not all the same.

So please, kindly drop the "porn, gross, amiright ladies?" throwaway lines in your articles, and maybe, if it's not too much too ask, let's ditch the "feminist porn" label altogether. If the label "feminist porn" means that a video was produced ethically, then all porn should be feminist, and we shouldn't need the label at all. Yes, look for companies and performers you know and trust — Shibari cites Evil Angel, the pioneer of gonzo porn, as a company with which she has especially enjoyed working. But let's also enjoy domination and submission and hair-pulling and shibari and consensual non-consent and double penetration and more, and rest in the knowledge that what's really feminist is knowing — and celebrating — what you like.
The Bed Post is a series that explores what holds us back from sex and love with whom we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want — because we all deserve sex and love lives that are not only free of evils, but full of what is good. Follow me on Twitter at @hlmacmillen or email me at hayley.macmillen@refinery29 — I’d love to hear from you. Find all of The Bed Post right here.
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