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“Can feminists watch pornography?”

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In theory, I would say yes, because people having consensual sex, consensually on camera, for the pleasure of consensual viewers, should be in the same box as all other consensual sex acts. I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it, but why not?

Sexual prudery is to be shunned, and sexual deprivation leaks out in nasty ways – from pinched bums and unlived lives, all the way to sexual assault and rape. I do not place pornography and prostitution in the same moral place. The first, at best, is joyful exhibitionism; the second, I think, is all about money.

Except something dark happened to pornography, probably in the Eighties, which means that it is impossible for most women to watch it and not hate themselves and the people who make it. What would have once been considered sado-masochism is now the mainstream. You will not see affection on any mainstream porn site – violent misogyny is everywhere. The ordinary porn film now features acts too revolting to describe here and they are the main event. It is Barbie splattered onto the lens, and it is horrible; less sensuality than battery.

The victims of bad porn are many. There are the actors – to call a mainstream porn performer a “star” is a bitter joke – who are pressed into ever more extreme scenarios. It is normal for an actor to agree to one thing, only to turn up and be cajoled into another. There are women who feel they have to copy porn actors, who might think that without Brazilians and fake boobs sex is not sexy. There are men who feel that tenderness is not allowed, and they need to be dominant and aggressive to please women. And, worst of all, there are teenagers who watch and think that this is how sex should be: angry, visceral, with all the love stripped off.

But pornography is not going anywhere. It is hard to estimate exactly how much revenue it generates globally, because so much of it is underground, and hidden. One study estimated the global porn industry is worth $57billion a year. So, what to do?

You will not see affection on any mainstream porn site – violent misogyny is everywhere

Allow me to introduce you to feminist porn, a phenomenon that includes two words to make you tremble – feminism and porn.

I first became aware of feminist porn three years ago, when I went to a symposium at the ICA in London. I was done with watching porn, because the actors looked so despairing. And there I met Petra Joy, a feminist pornographer, who was showing her porn parody, in which a pneumatic blonde lies naked on a desk and sucks her fingers, while laughing. Afterwards, I explained my disgust with mainstream porn to Joy. “Either we look like the porn stars,” she said, “or we make them look like us”.

There is a small international group of feminist pornographers and their porn has an entirely different ethic and aesthetic to the mainstream junk. They have back-stories that involve people in a relationship expressing tenderness – even kissing! There is a focus on female pleasure, and even contraception. There is male bisexuality, which is a no-no in “proper porn” where all women are bisexual, but men never are. It is, essentially, like sex. Joy and the other feminist pornographers will not use performers without meeting them and establishing that they are mentally healthy and actually want to do it, for the pleasure of the act itself. I met some of the actors. They love the act of being filmed and watched while having sex.

And yet, 700 words in, I still feel the fingerprints of blame; the residue of 2,000 years of Judeo-Christian sex guilt that says I should wrap myself in a Cath Kidston teapot and never have a dirty thought again. Can women watch – or even debate – pornography? Should we be the silent, sexless figures on the edge, or the screwed-over actresses in the films, so others can make money? Or can we participate in the $57billion industry, of which we are half a part and admit that, under certain circumstances, making and watching porn is an enjoyable part of the sexual swamp? There is good porn and bad. Make your choice.

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