14 Intimate Photos Show The REAL Faces Of Female Pleasure

Photographed by Lauren Crow.
Photographer Lauren Crow is pissed off at porn. As she explains, "it often gives people the wrong idea of what it really is to see a woman in a state of pleasure.”

And so began The Little Death, a photo series conceived by Crow a few years ago that captures a diverse set of women all doing something that they’ve been socialized to keep very much off-camera: masturbating. What started out as a self-portrait taken out of sheer curiosity turned into a study on subverting the stereotypical male gaze.

Since their 2013 debut, the photos have made quite a splash on Tumblr, a platform Crow credits for her large following. Crow remains intensely grateful for each and every subject of her series, sharing that the most meaningful part of shooting was “the openness and willingness of these women — of letting me into this part of their life that not many get to see."

The hope for the series is simple: to inspire all female-identified people to shed some self-consciousness surrounding losing themselves in pleasure. Crow views it as a higher calling of sorts: “I felt...part of something bigger.” Praise the masturbation goddesses.
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
How was this series born?

"I was in an alternative processes class, and at the time we were doing tintypes, and I had always had an interest in sexuality and exploring my own sexuality. I think adult films are...in the forefront of things relevant or happening within sex and society right now. And I think I’ve always been sort of frustrated with, number one, not seeing women who look like me [in porn], and just the lack of knowledge I feel and maybe some of my own self-consciousness of, Am I doing this okay? Or Do I look okay?...even though, obviously, there’s no wrong way to enjoy yourself."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
What was the shooting process like?

"It was just either me at their space or them at my space, and we would set up a bed or a couch or something. They would be nice and covered, because one of the main things...is that I’m always trying to make people feel safe...reminding people, 'This is about you' and 'You’re in control...anytime you don’t feel safe, just let me know, and you can stop.' So I provided this space and covered them up and was like, 'Okay, you can take as long as you want, as short as you want,' and I had a camera set up above that I would just set off periodically."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
"It was funny; I thought my remote was going to work, but of course, equipment likes to not work when you need it to. So I ended up having to be on a chair above them looking through the lens. It was really intimate and kind of special to get to be involved in that kind of moment. But then, I’m also trying to make myself part of the background, so they’re not distracted and uncomfortable. I felt really special that they would share in this moment with me."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
You are one of the people in the series. Was there an increased connection to the women because you had done what they were about to do?

"It was helpful for them to see what I’m thinking of producing. I don’t know if the project was fully realized until I shot it with myself and then was like, Oh, this would be so great with other people too! When recruiting people for projects, it’s helpful to have a visual aid."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
So tell me about these women you were shooting.

"A few of them are my friends; I used to do burlesque, so women I know through that. A couple are other students, because I was in school at the time. Some are just people that were like, 'Oh, this sounds cool,' and we literally met that day, and they were willing to do this for me. I also posted on Craigslist. I like to do that because I find that the people who respond to those ads are, for lack of a better word, regular people."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
"They’re between their 20s and 40s. I know one of them was a social worker, one’s an actress, one’s a cook. One teaches dance. Someone works in the biology field... One of them was a UC Berkeley student. I mostly was traveling around San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland...so all [of them] are from there."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
Can you talk a bit about the contrast of the antique tintype treatment of digital and the modern message behind the series?

"It was actually shot digitally, and then I made negatives and put those onto tintypes, so that made it easier than having a tintype-able camera in that situation. I tried to have plenty of options [so I] wouldn’t have to fidget around as much while the women were doing their thing. I thought an antiquated, alternative process, although alternative processes are being used by many people, made sense to go with an antiquated view of what women are 'supposed' to look like and how they’re 'supposed' to behave."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
Any notable post-shoot responses from the women?

"A lot of the women were really excited to see the end product. I think a lot of people felt liberated and excited about being involved. Liberated is the best word because how often are you going to...perform in front of someone who isn’t, you know, intimately involved? [Who's] sort of just there with an objective eye?"
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
"After they were done, they were able to remove themselves from the image and look at it with an objective eye as well. And among all these other pictures of other women, too, and realizing there’s no normal and no right way, and everyone...is beautiful in the way they do it."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
"People feel good about this project. A lot of female-identified people. I try to make this clear — that not everyone is a cis-female in this project. And I’m trying to diversify my work as well. Because as a white artist, I don’t want to just have white people."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
What do you personally think the media can do to remedy its treatment of women?

"With mainstream media, our bodies need to be desexualized to a certain extent. It’s not always sexual, you know? I know people in the adult industry and like, they’re great; I’m not against pornographic films. But definitely...with young people watching...we have to remind young people that this is not necessarily real and not necessarily the only way to do it."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
Do you think we see male "O faces" enough?

"A part of me is like, men have enough space! But then a part of me is like, men need their pleasure normalized as well. You know, they have these sort of fake faces bringing them back down...in real life, it’s not always choking or slapping or a cumshot on someone’s face. Granted, if you’re into that, do you. But I think we have such idealized and crazy sorts of situations in these films. It’s show biz, so you [can] have a little of that, but when [porn is] a man’s main viewing platform for sex, maybe they need some help, too."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
What's next for you?

"I did an interview earlier in the year, and they were like, 'What are your dream projects?' and I told them I’ve been thinking about doing a project on intimacy — with myself, with partners...platonic, romantic, sexual. And [at first], I was like, I’m not dating anyone; I can’t do it! but then I sort of was like, Yeah I can do it! So I’ve been working on it, and it’s been really exciting to watch it grow and change and to explore these relationships, because sexual relationships are more than platonic intimacy."
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Photographed by Lauren Crow.
So what have you learned from this series?

"This project [has] not only helped me, but helped other people gain some ability to really let go and enjoy themselves. Anything you do is fine — there’s no wrong way to enjoy yourself and no right way to look while doing it."
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