New posts every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday!

Erotic magic (expand, contract)

Annie Sprinkle: the Neo-Sacred Prostitute

It’s too hot for spanking sessions. London in the summer means hot tubes, buses, crowds and sweat. I love the heat if I can spend the day in my cool flat with the patio doors open, or out in the open air, but public transport and busy streets are pretty unpleasant.

The heat makes me lazy. Getting up in the morning before a day of domme sessions, I feel flat and lethargic. It’s a deliberate effort to psych myself up, find my toppy mojo. My usual pre-work grooming rituals help me get into a work headspace – showering, shaving my body hair even if it won’t be visible. An elegant summer dress, matching jewellery, and I feel more prepared to face the world. Presence is assembled slowly, layer by layer.

For me it’s the downtime before work that helps me find my focus – the meditative calm of washing, brushing, dressing, packing my implements. It takes time to muster erotic energy; if I was trying to answer emails or edit video up until the last minute I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Since learning the language of conscious kink this year, I’ve been inspired to introduce certain aspects of my private practice into professional sessions. I’m agnostic/atheist/humanist these days, but in my late teens and early twenties I learned a lot of ritual magic. I’m starting to discover how valuable the skills of grounding and centering, energy manipulation, breath, creating a ritual space and establishing intention can be to mindful spanking play. If I have a client who seems distracted, nervous, self-conscious or not fully present for whatever reason, I can use ritual to bring them into their body and help them open up to me.

I have lots to learn, I know, but even making it up as I go along using my old tantric and neo-pagan knowledge seems to be remarkably effective. A ritual of deliberate embodiment lays the groundwork for unexpected intimacy and erotic connection. It hasn’t failed me yet.

After a session like this, even after taking the time to wind down and disperse the energy, I leave the venue glowing with erotic magic. I walk down the street feeling like I’m floating, like I’m ten foot tall, as if light was shining out of my pores. I feel expanded, wide open, alert to every spark of sexuality. I am hyper-aware of every physical presence I pass in the street. Lust flares as I step towards someone, gaze at them, walk by. Brief moments of eye contact with strangers feel like tiny electric shocks.

Then I remember: this is London, the city of overcrowding and metropolitan blindness and never making eye contact, the city where you have to draw yourself so effectively within the boundary of your own skin that pressing sweaty physical contact with strangers on the tube doesn’t feel intrusive. This is the city where if you were to lie in bed and open your awareness up and out over the streets, rising up as you grow aware of every consciousness flickering below, you would quickly be overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of that many sapient beings squeezed in together and working living eating talking shouting dancing fucking puking running playing laughing crying singing swearing all on top of each other, in dozens of different languages, all the time.

This is the city where you close yourself up, look down, walk on by. It is not a place to walk down the street in rush hour broadcasting sexual energy like a beacon, with your receptors wide open, trailing long feelers of erotic magic that curl outward towards passers-by in search of openings and connections. That is not appropriate metropolitan behaviour.

So I reel it all back in, pull it down and button up the edges. I breathe out, deflate, close the shutters and contract. It takes an hour or so to tuck in every last tendril, but once I’ve finished drawing my energies back into my body and dimming the intensity to usual human operating levels, I’ve settled back down to my normal mundane self. Back to normal, like a good little city-dweller. Until next time.

Hyperkinks: scandalous literature, feminist porn and sex positivity

Kink

  • On Thursday I was lucky enough to be present at my friend Nimue Allen‘s most intense, ambitious scene yet – a forced headshaving fantasy incorporating psychological torture, betrayal, degredation, cold caning, belly punching, water torture and more. It was an ultra-small crew, just me, Nimue, her top (The Boss), and one other camera operator (her partner Rosie), which made the whole thing very intimate. It was one of the most electrically intense BDSM scenes I have ever taken part in, and I was honoured to hold space and bear witness as Nimue pushed herself to her limit.

Nimue Allen before her forced headshaving scene - photo by Pandora BlakeNimue Allen after her forced headshaving scene - photo by Pandora Blake
Twelve cold cane strokes for Nimue Allen from Pandora Blake

Porn

Daily Male Objectification on tumblr

Politics

  • It’s official guys, casual sex IS good for you, according to new study. “When it came to those who were sociosexually unrestricted, having casual sex was associated with higher self-esteem and life satisfaction and lower depression and anxiety.”
  • Some good stuff in this post Identifying As Sex Positive. “To really understand the term sex-positive, it needs to be contextualized in the history of sexual characterization.”
  • A fantastic post from queer porn star Chelsea Poe: Realness. “Like it or not porn is the biggest place in our society where trans people are visible.”
  • A few days ago it was the anniversary of the death of Petite Jasmine, a swedish sex worker who was murdered last year. Social services had taken her children away several years previously because she was a sex worker. Custody was given to her abusive ex who threatened and stalked her on numerous occasions, and refused to let her see her children. After four lengthy trials she finally won the right to access her kids again but she had to interact with her ex in order to do so. He killed her in front of her son. This is a really good post on what happened to Jasmine and why the “Swedish model” is so harmful to sex working women and their families: The Bloody State Gave Him The Power: A Swedish Sex Worker’s Murder.
  • The French Senate Select Committee have recently voted criminalisation of clients out of the bill that will be presented to the French Senate. I hope that other countries follow suit and reject the failed “Swedish model” and follow the lead of New Zealand and New South Wales in adopting the only human rights based approach to sex work: full decriminalisation.

Naturism and public nudity

I am basically a naturist at heart. One of my favourite things to do in London is visit Rio’s, the nudist sauna in Kentish Town. Sitting with friends in the hot tub, chatting with a random cross-section of other Londoners in a completely diverse, body-positive environment. Working up a sweat in a the sauna, then taking a skinny dip in the plunge pool to cool down. If it’s nice out, naked sunbathing in the garden with a cuppa tea and a biscuit – and even better, the tea and biscuits are free.

Pandora Blake - art nude in ivy. Photo by Paul Crusier

I love fetish clubs not only because of the handy dungeon furniture, cool outfits and interesting people, but because they are one of the few nightclubs where I’m allowed to indulge myself and get naked when I start getting hot and sweaty on the dancefloor. The other weekend Ivy and I enjoyed a topless dance at Club Decadence and the grins on our faces told the whole story. It’s not just about feeling sexy or getting attention – although I’d be lying ifI claimed that wasn’t at least part of it. But it’s mostly about the liberated feeling of being able to enjoy my body without shame, without being told to cover up, to “put it away”.

Last week I had a new experience: my first trip to a naturist club. This particular one was like a small village of chalets and cottages surrounded by little gardens, mostly occupied by retired hippies, with a clubhouse, swimming pool and communal lawns in the middle, including a kids’ playground. I didn’t realise it when we were planning the trip, but it happened to be the place fellow spanking blogger Fred is staying at the moment, so I got the insider tour complete with gossip and secluded little pathways (although we missed the naked beekeepers). There is something so freeing about walking around outdoors wearing only a pair of flipflops, feeling the sun and the wind on your skin, naked sunbathing and swimming. On a nice warm day in summer, that is. I imagine it’s less fun during the winter.

Pandora Blake - nude body art at summer solstice

I recently had a little midsummer party at my house and at one point (no idea how that happened) I ended up totally nude with everyone drawing on me with washable markers. I started it – actually thinking back, I believe I announced that everyone had to sign my body, much in the manner of a bossy child.

For some reason nudity just feels right at festivals like the solstice. I was delighted when I glimpsed one of my guests – a certain Seani – indulging in some solo naturism in the garden under cover of darkness. I joined him briefly, but it was chilly out there at 3am.

When a group of us went back outside for a ritual after the sun had risen, we were all fully dressed. My garden is overlooked and I don’t want neighbours to start phoning the police and complaining about public indecency.

Seani Love naked in Pandora Blake's garden at summer solstice

That’s the thing – in the UK, nudity (or even toplessness, if you’re female) is illegal in public, and “public” includes private property if it is visible to others. Indoor private spaces are fine, and outdoor private spaces are fine if no-one can see you – like the high-walled city garden at Rio’s, or a five-acre privately owned space like the naturist club. But most people in the crowded UK can’t afford gardens like that – or if we can, the necessary high walls mean they barely get any sun – and so outdoor nudity is a risky business.

It’s not only the risk of being caught. Consent is important. My whole lifestyle pushes against the edges of social acceptability, all the time -as a queer, a pervert, a relationship anarchist, a pornographer, a sex worker. I’m constantly trying to judge when I should do what I want (if my kissing a woman in public makes you uncomfortable then you can fuck off and take your homophobia with you) and when I should be discreet (if you’d rather I didn’t talk about sex in front of your kid/boss/vanilla friend, well, that’s fair enough).

The way I see it, if you have voluntarily entered a body-positive, sex-positive or kink-positive space, that implies consent to be exposed to a certain amount of bodies, sex or kink. However, if you are simply going about your business in public, you have not consented to be exposed to those things. Generally speaking, I want to be polite to strangers I pass in the street, and not make them uncomfortable by being overtly kinky, sexy or naked in front of them. When someone’s taking their kids to school or just trying to get home from work I it would be the height of rudeness for me to intrude on their boundaries by being overtly sexual in public.

Even within naturist spaces, there are boundaries. The outdoor nudist club had a posters up at reception saying “no overt sexuality”, and if you just want to hang out and be naked at Rio’s, you’re continually having to defend your space against guys trying ineptly to sex it up. Whether being naked is innately sexual or not is a hugely messy question, and even for naturists the lines are often blurred.

So it’s a conundrum. I wish public nudity was more acceptable in our culture, and that exposed flesh wasn’t interpreted as being inherently sexualised. But I also have to live in this society and not be an ass, so since nudity isn’t generally acceptable I don’t want to be totally selfish about it and make people uncomfortable.

This is my big theme at the moment as a gender and sexuality activist – those little judgements we constantly make about the comfort levels of others. If you are made uncomfortable by gender non-conformism I don’t feel the need to take your comfort into account, but if you are made uncomfortable by displays of public kink, well, maybe that’s fair enough, you know? I don’t want to indulge in sexy or kinky behaviour in front of you unless you’ve consented. Everyone draws that line in a different place and I get it wrong more often than I like. But when you live on the edge, making choices – and art – that seek to expand the boundaries of social acceptability, it sort of comes with the territory.

When D and I laid out blankets in my garden for a blissful afternoon nap in the sun, we carefully covered up the areas of our bodies deemed unacceptable for public exposure by society and the law. That’s just the way it has to be. I’d rather sunbathe naked, but it is what it is.

And then a campaign like #FreetheNipple comes along, demonstrating how arbitrary, sexist and ludicrous the taboo against female nipples is, and I remember that it doesn’t have to be this way. In some countries female toplessness is perfectly legal, nudist beaches and baths are common. Cultural mores are not carved in stone. Perhaps legalising female toplessness is within our grasp. Perhaps we can change this, after all.

href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/24/tata-top-free-the-nipple-campaign_n_5525668.html">Free the Nipple campaign

New feminist porn: ‘Instructed’

I made a film, and I’m pretty damn excited about it.

Instructed: an explicit new film by Ms Naughty and Pandora Blake

‘Instructed’ is a collaboration between me and Ms Naughty, which was filmed at the Feminist Porn Awards this year. The shoot was attended by a BBC journalist – and that wasn’t the only way this was a new experience for me. This is my most explicit video to date, exploring themes of remote dominance, anal eroticism, solo spanking and female masturbation.

I’ve written before about how I came up with the idea of keeping D’s instructions a secret, and reading – and obeying – them live on camera. If you haven’t read them already, you can find out more about the shoot in my blogposts Submissive solo shoot with Bright Desire and What will I be told to do? I’m really glad that D got involved so closely with the shoot – both in writing orders for me to follow, and in recording himself reading his instructions for me to use as a voiceover. The result is an intimate, erotic film which is as fresh and exciting for me as it was on the day of the shoot.

Instructed: an explicit new film by Ms Naughty and Pandora Blake

Instructed: an explicit new film by Ms Naughty and Pandora Blake

Ms Naughty and I shared the footage, but we each worked on our own edit, creating two unique perspectives on the story. You can watch her take on the film at her feminist hardcore site Bright Desire, and mine at Dreams of Spanking. If you watch both I would be really interested in hearing your feedback, as we will be collaborating on a joint version which we can submit to future film festivals. (Having finished hers before the deadline, Ms Naughty has already submitted her cut to the Berlin Porn Film Festival on behalf of both of us, which is awesome of her.)

After finishing my edit I was so impatient to show D. When I read his letter live on camera, feeling myself smile and blush when I read the filthy things he had ordered me to do, I felt self-conscious not because the cameras were rolling, but because I knew that he would eventually watch my face as I read it. When I touched myself, spanked myself, obeyed his orders, I did so because I knew that one day, he would be watching. My performance was for him. I reached back and whacked my own arse with the brush as hard as I could because I knew that if I didn’t, when he watched it, he would know that I was slacking. I wanted him to see that I was doing my utmost to please him. I wanted the film to turn him on.

Instructed: an explicit new film by Ms Naughty and Pandora Blake

Instructed: an explicit new film by Ms Naughty and Pandora Blake

The day it came out he was at my place, and I needed to make the trailer before I could put it live on Dreams of Spanking. D was sitting on the sofa, in the same room where I was using the computer. “Can I show you our film now?” I asked. “I want to show it to you properly before I start cutting the trailer, so you aren’t spoilered by hearing it in dribs and drabs.”

“Our film?” he asked. “You mean porns?”

“Yus.”

He smiled. “Okay.”

I pressed play and snuggled up to him. He had already released his cock from his trousers, and with a crooked smile he guided my head towards it. I had been looking forward to watching his face and his reactions as he watched it, but taking his erection into my mouth was even better.

I think he liked it. I hope you do too.

Instructed: an explicit new film by Ms Naughty and Pandora Blake

Wood nymph

I’ve always wanted to be a Pornsaint. A discussion on twitter with Kod about his custom spanking art led to him taking up the challenge. He turned me into a wood nymph of a magical forest, wreathed in ivy. How cool is this?

Pandora Blake - Wood Nymph by @333Spool333

Sadly Pornsaints don’t want it – they prefer handpainted art to digital graphics, I think. So if you like to draw and want to turn me into an icon, there is still time. I’m delighted with Kod’s artwork though – I think it’s the loveliest piece of fan art I’ve received to date.

In other news, I’ve got a new film coming out this Saturday which is rather exciting. Renee Rose has the scoop – Remote Dominance: Feminist pornographers Pandora Blake and Ms. Naughty collaborate on hot new film. There’s more info on the Dreams of Spanking blog and Ms Naughty has posted a free trailer too.

‘Instructed’ will be out this weekend, and the whole world will be able to watch as I do dirty, dirty things to myself on D’s command. Only an exhibitionist would find this as exciting as I do!

Pain, permanence, and laser hair removal

On Tuesday I had my first session of laser hair removal on my lower legs, bikini line and labia – “Brazilian” style, leaving my usual trimmed oval on the mons. The traditional shape to leave is a “landing strip” but I prefer curves to rectangles. I shaved my muff into a neatly trimmed oval, leaving plenty of hair-free space below for long, languid licks that explore every soft fold and curve. In the future, if I want, I can vary my look by trimming it down to a heart, a triangle, a diamond, the classic landing strip or by shaving it off and going completely hairless. The only thing I won’t be able to do is grow back my bikini line and the hair on my outer labia – which I have been shaving on an at-least-weekly basis for over a decade.

The laser treatment hurt less than I was expecting. You’re wearing dark glasses to protect you from the radiation, like in a tanning bed I imagine, not that I’ve ever used one. The machine blows a jet of cold air onto your skin at the same time as the laser, which doesn’t so much feel like burning as pricking like a needle as it encounters each follicle. The machine makes a regular “bip, bip, bip” noise which makes it hard to tell whether the pinpricks of pain are in time with the beeping or not.

Consensual, non-sexy pain like this, or like having a smear test or getting a tattoo (which hurt more than the laser, by the way), is always an interesting experience for a masochist. Without an eroticising context, pain is not enjoyable – but I still find the sensations interesting. The breathing exercises I use to endure a hard caning help me stay calm through the pain, but they aren’t enough to get me high on it.

In this case, I found my mental images made a huge difference to the perceived pain level. If I thought about lasers, zapping, burning, it hurt a lot – whereas if I imagined that someone was dragging a sharp felt tip along my skin, or scratching little dots with the nip of a fountain pen, it hurt much less.

The laser treatment works by the heat being transmitted down the hair to the follicle, which is why you need to shave, but not wax, beforehand – if the hair is too long it will absorb more heat, and burn you; but if there is no hair at all, the laser has nothing to transmit it to the follicle. That’s why the most painful bit by far was around the edges of my muff – every time it caught a longer hair by accident, the pain was excruciating. Even my breathing exercises couldn’t stop me tensing up until it was over.

And I’ve still got five more treatments to look forward to.

I might not have paid for lasering myself. I didn’t have to: it’s a gift from D. He has a strong aesthetic and sexual preference for hairless skin, both on himself and on the people he sleeps with, male and female. He keeps himself shaved too, so as far as I’m concerned that’s fair enough. I like to please him, so I do my best to shave before seeing him. It only gets problematic if I’ve made the effort specially, and we then don’t fuck. It feels like a waste of time. Unless he makes it worth my while by licking all the freshly shaved parts of my body until I shiver with pleasure, I find myself resenting the time I spent in preparation.

It’s not just D, though. I shave for sessions, shoots, fetish nights and, because I seem to have caught his preference for shaved skin, when seeing other lovers.

Sessions in particular have made me aware of the extent to which personal grooming is unpaid labour if we do it for the benefit of others. It’s interesting that since I started doing sessions regularly, I stopped wearing makeup to hang out with friends … but I’m no less likely to shave before sex.

For me hair removal isn’t about fashion as much as sensation. I like the feel of being touched or licked on hairless skin. It makes it more sensitive, more tingly. Personally I don’t have any preference about anyone else’s grooming regime, and will gladly touch and lick my lovers’ bits, hairy or not. On my own body, however, I have grown to love the feel of silky velvety smoothness.

This generous gift from D won’t just save me effort in our sex life. It will save me huge amounts of time and money in general. I will gain more time to spend on interesting things, and more money to spend on books or wine.

I’ve noticed, however, that when I’ve told people I’ve been getting it done, the reactions have been very similar:

“Are you sure?”

“How do you know you won’t change your mind?”

“Mmm, I could never do anything permanent to my body.”

“What if body hair comes back in fashion?”

I’m familiar with all these arguments (except the last one) from when I had my tattoo done in 2005. I’m planning my second tattoo as a 30th birthday present to myself this summer. I still love my first one and don’t regret it in the slightest – even when it has meant a bit of extra work covering it up to shoot Victorian period films.

In general, I think, I’m not afraid of permanence. Every body modification I make – and I’m sure I’ll add to the collection during my lifetime – dates from a period of my life which really happened, and which I still carry with me, which is still part of my whole self. This is true in general, not just about changes to our bodies. Every choice I make, everything that has happened to me, has informed my journey – and implies a multitude of paths not taken. We can never know whether any of those other, alternate choices might have been better or worse.

I learn, I evolve, I move forward – and, yes, and sometimes I make a mistake and hurt someone, and wish I had made a better choice. But it’s all useful data that can inform my future choices. It’s all part of the journey. It’s all part of my whole self, shadow and all.

Unless, through carelessness, I have caused actual harm and should have known better, I don’t regret choices I make along the way. Since they don’t affect anyone else, I make a policy of not regretting choices I make about my own body.

It’s not just tattoos and hair removal. Images of myself on the internet will be there forever. When I chose to follow the path of public porn performance, I chose to accept the future consequences of my decision. Probably one day I will want to stop performing in porn (or maybe I’ll carry on until I’m old and wrinkly and fabulous – you never know) and that’s fine. If I ever want to, I’ll stop. But I doubt I’ll want to undo the past, and regret having done it at all.

All choice is risk. My choices bring me pleasure and new experiences, challenges, opportunities for growth, new friendships, new skills, a sense of achievement, joy. My tastes and priorities will change over time, but I can’t imagine wanting all this intensity of experience to have never happened.

I make choices that will affect my future all the time, and each time I make the choice that seems best to me right now. These choices, and my reasons for making them, represent a valid truth about who I am in this moment. As I age and change, I will continue to carry these past selves with me. They will be part of who I am forever.

Everything leaves its mark. It’s funny – two or three times this week, while all this has been going through my head, people have asked me about the marks on my arms. I never forget they’re there, but I rarely get asked about them these days. They are the faded scars of a decade of self-harm, something I haven’t done for nearly ten years old. I don’t feel bad about it. You can get scars lasered too, but I don’t mind mine. They are part of my journey, an important part of how I got here.

The thing is that my choice to self-harm as a teenager – sometimes through masochistic curiosity, a desire to test my boundaries; other times as a coping mechanism during periods of acute depression and anxiety – was a valid choice at the time. Every time. I really do believe that; I’m not ashamed of myself for doing it. I think it’s a valid coping mechanism in times of need for panic attacks and disassociative episodes, although of course it’s not the only one. Similarly, my desire, aged 11, to explore my physical limits through pain is the same side of my character that now takes pleasure in fitness training and consensual corporal punishment. That urge to push boundaries and find my physical edge is an important part of who I am.

Each mark on my body is part of my story. The thing that put it there might no longer be part of my experience, but that time in my life will still have happened, those memories will still be part of my truth. Our past informs our future. We all carry our histories with us invisibly; why are people so afraid of carrying them visibly as well?

If, in a few years or decades, D and I part ways, or body hair suddenly becomes fashionably sexy, or I get a part in a retro porno, or for some other reason I find myself wishing I could grow a full bush, I will accept that I made this choice, and I’ll shrug it off.

Buy the ticket, take the ride. We make choices everyday. Permanence is unavoidable.

One thing that occurred to me as I was writing this was the double standard we have between pregnancy and other forms of permanent body modification. Of all the ways to change your body forever, that has to be one of the more dramatic; and yet if I was going to have a baby, people who would baulk at a tattoo would congratulate me without hesitation. It seems that some forms of permanence, some risks, some choices, are considered more acceptable than others.

Spanking sessions with Gala Vanting

This year, especially during my trip to the Feminist Porn Awards, I’ve become so much more aware of the work of wonderful fellow pornographers who are making beautiful, sexy art and revolutionising the industry. One such is Gala Vanting, an erotic film producer, sex worker, educator, pleasure activist, and erotic imaginist based in Melbourne. Gala is one half of Sensate Films, a high-end independent, feminist production company which is pioneering the concept of slow porn. You can watch some of her award-winning films at PinkLabel.tv.

Gala Vanting

Gala is visiting the UK for a few days in July, and she is offering 121 and 221 spanking sessions with me and Molly Malone for a short time only. (Or even a 321 with all three of us if you want to really treat yourself!) Gala is a true switch with a love of spanking, power exchange and creative roleplay. She is utterly stunning, very smart and totally charming. If you have sessioned with me I think you will love her. Let’s give her a very warm welcome to the world-famous London spanking scene, and send her home with a sore bottom, aching right arm, and some wonderful new kinky memories!

Gala Vanting

Please contact gala@msgalavanting.net to book Gala for a 121, or if you would like to play with me and her together, send a message to hello@pandorablake.com and let us know the sort of scenario you enjoy.

The Sessions

While I was on the plane on the way to the Feminist Porn Awards I watched The Sessions, a film based on the true story of a paralysed man who seeks the services of a sexual surrogate. A few of my sex worker friends were looking forward to this film when it came out, hoping that it might be a positive representation of sex work – something that is all too rare in film, where sensationalism and objectification are very much the norm.

Nine's Law. Source - @supernowoczesna
(www.jinxremoving.org)

Compared to the usual treatments, then, The Sessions is a good start. It’s not about how sex work is super harmful; it’s about the positive benefit one sex worker had on one individual. But don’t expect miracles. This is still pretty mainstream.

Here’s a plot summary. Warning: spoilers!

In Berkeley, California in 1988, Mark O’Brien is a poet who is forced to live in an iron lung due to complications from polio. Due to his condition, he has never had sex. After unsuccessfully proposing to his caretaker Amanda, and sensing he may be near death, he decides he wants to lose his virginity. After consulting his priest, Father Brendan, he gets in touch with Cheryl Cohen-Greene, a professional sex surrogate. She tells him they will have no more than six sessions together. They begin their sessions, but soon it is clear that they are developing romantic feelings for each other. Cheryl’s husband, who loves her deeply, fights to suppress his jealousy, at first withholding a love poem that Mark has sent by mail to Cheryl, which she eventually finds. After several attempts, Mark and Cheryl are able to have mutually satisfying sex, but decide to cut the sessions short on account of their burgeoning feelings. (wiki)

The story is told from the perspective of a Catholic virgin who has been taught that sex is sinful. That viewpoint is centred and normalised, and sex positivity – the idea that “sex is fun and pleasure is good for you” (ta, Dossie Easton) is presented as a radical concept that needs to be handled with care.

The characters’ expectations about sex – what it means, what consequences it will have, and so on – are pretty basic. The Sessions encounters the idea that sex can be separated from commitment and romantic love, and yet the central storyline is about the flaw in that idea, about sex somehow provoking love. Apparently a story about someone learning to have casual sex in a healthy way without any drama wouldn’t make for an interesting film. I don’t know – I’d watch it.

The sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, has a story arc that will be familiar to everyone who has ever seen a film about sex work ever. Cheryl’s narrative is – surprise surprise! – about professional and personal boundaries, because what other sex work story is there? You can’t have a story about sex work that isn’t about the sex worker getting confused and emotional about a client. After all, it’s not like they’re meant to be an experienced professional or anything.

I am so sick of narratives that are meant to be sex work positive and yet include the following apparently mandatory plot elements:

  1. falling in love with a client
  2. fighting with the boyfriend/husband who is meant to be this awesome partner and yet who fundamentally fails to be supportive or understanding when it actually matters.

Think about Moulin Rouge. The Secret Diary of a Callgirl. And – oh hai – yes, Pretty Woman. It wouldn’t be a sex work story without at scene where the sex worker falls in love, has a “personal rather than professional” encounter with a client, says something she shouldn’t, or otherwise breaks her own clearly stated rules.

Is it me, or are all these stories little more than client wish fulfilment?

I don’t know about you, but I have never fallen in love with a client. In my experience it is not a hazard of sex work. And yet in The Sessions here it is, happening again. Is the idea of a sex worker who is control of their own emotional shit really that threatening?

The dominant narrative seems to be that sex and intimacy are these forces of nature that no-one can resist; that they stimulate raging hormones and seething emotions which no human can resist. Sex is dangerous! There’s no such thing as “casual” sex – in Hollywood, if you fuck have to fall in love, them’s the rules. Even self-described sex “workers” aren’t immune to the all-consuming emotional miasma thrown up by every sexual encounter. Everyone knows that sex can’t be “work” – love is inevitable, and it will make you cry and fuck up your nice simple life. Sex in films can’t ever just be sex – it always has to be emotionally complicated.

The weird thing about this treatment in the film is that at first, Cheryl is almost too aloof – cool, inscrutable, almost medically brisk. In the real-life essay by Mark O’Brien which inspired this film, On seeing a sex surrogate, Cheryl is described as charming and reassuring – but in the film, she didn’t seem to have any of that warmth which would put her client at ease. Was Hunt directed to perform emotional disengagement in such an over the top way because that’s what people imagine sex worker “professionalism” looks like? Is it so hard to believe that someone could be relaxed and affectionate and still in control of their emotional boundaries? The result of this exaggerated detachment is that when Cheryl does become emotionally attached to Mark, it makes it seem like it’s because she was repressing her feelings. As if professional boundaries were somehow inherently undesirable, doomed or flawed. Total disengagement or total vulnerability: that’s your choice, folks. It’s so all or nothing.

For once, can we please have a sex worker on film who is capable of maintaining their boundaries and not getting hurt? Romance might be emotionally risky, Hollywood, but sex work is just a job.

I haven’t even mentioned the whole question of disability and sex work. In the usual conversations about sex work disabled clients are trotted out as one of the few “acceptable” edge cases where sex work is “morally justifiable”. The discussion about sex work and disability is only ever about clients with disabilities, never sex workers; which is strange when you consider how useful an option sex work is for people whose health prevent them from commuting to work, or committing to a 9-5 job. The relative respectability, and accessibility, of different forms of labour is something we need to think seriously about if we want to talk about sex work and disability.

To some extent, I found myself forgiving The Sessions for these flaws. It is, after all, inspired by a true story, and it’s undeniably moving. As a depiction of a person with a severe physical disability I thought it was thoughtful and sensitive. The film treats Mark as a rounded individual with agency, intelligence, strengths and vulnerabilities. Regardless of what kind of body you have, I think many of us can empathise with his sexual anxieties, his guilt and body shame.

A story about a service provider becoming interested in Mark’s case is not, in itself, unbelievable. With his emotional openness, the courage with which he goes after what he wants, his dark sense of humour, his sexual and romantic hunger, Mark is a compelling personality. It’s not beyond belief that a compassionate person, working with him regularly, might become emotionally invested.

What I found frustrating was the idea that a trained, experienced, professional sex surrogate would say “I love you” to an emotionally vulnerable client. That she would say it after deliberately bringing herself to orgasm – at the client’s request – as if that orgasm was somehow so special it exploded all her boundaries. In my admittedly limited experience, many clients want to give pleasure back to their service provider – it’s hardly ground to throw professionalism out of the window. Mark encouraged Cheryl to get herself off and she, wanting him to feel satisfied, obliged. I found it incredibly unrealistic that this would be portrayed as such a mind-blowing, affecting event that she would tell him she loved him.

Even if the timing had nothing to do with it, and Cheryl was just experiencing an emotional quirk, surely it’s the height of unprofessionalism to tell an emotionally vulnerable client you love them; to say it to someone who has never been loved and desperately wants it, someone who would be very easily hurt. I just can’t get behind this portrayal of a sex worker who would either be that uncontrolled with her own feelings, or that cavalier with someone else’s.

According to the article by the real Mark O’Brien, in real life Cheryl and Mark did not develop feelings for each other. He didn’t send her a love poem. She didn’t tell him she loved him. Her husband didn’t get jealous. She didn’t get so distracted by her feels that she forgot to collect her fee. Mark writes that they stopped the sessions because they had achieved everything he was looking for, not because they had “burgeoning feelings” for each other.

In real life, the sessions happened without drama. Cheryl was completely professional, and he respected her professionalism. No boundaries were broken. No-one cried. No-one fell in love. Everything was fine. And it’s still an interesting story.

Why, when it’s translated to film, does the story have to be distorted like this? Sex work narratives in film and TV are full of sex workers behaving unprofessionally – falling in love, breaking their own rules, saying things they shouldn’t, hurting themselves and others. Just once, I would like to see a film about sex work in which everyone respects each other’s boundaries, and no-one gets hurt.

Clips4Sale – how to sell videos online

Cheap cameras and free online tools have democratised porn. Now anyone – performers, their friends, even you – can control the means of production and make and sell videos online. As far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier. The more people produce their own erotic material, expressing their own sexuality and fantasies, the more diverse and representative porn will be. I think that do-it-yourself porn is our best chance of weakening the restrictive, sexist narratives which are all too familiar from mainstream productions. This is the first of a series of blogposts offering tutorials on how to get started selling your own porn online.

Clips4Sale: sell videos online

Clips4Sale.com is a video on demand distributor which specialises in fetish content from independent producers, often made by the performers themselves. They let you sell video online without paying any upfront fees, avoiding the commitment in terms of time and expense involved in running an adult membership site. Unlike other VOD sites, they let the customer buy the film by downloading the video file to their hard drive, rather than renting it by making it available to stream for a limited time.

When you sign up for a Clips4Sale merchant account, they provide you with a storefront (http://yourname.clips4sale.com), file hosting for your video clips, and secure credit card processing, in exchange for 40% of every sale. It’s a large cut, and their content management system is a pain to use, but there are advantages. Not only is it free to get started, and lets you sell video without needing to learn any programming skills, but Clips4Sale have a large regular user base, and they will drive traffic to your store beyond what you would be able to attract by yourself.

You need ten videos to get started, and you can choose the preview image and write the blurb for each one yourself. Although the layout of every Clips4Sale store is the same boxy, 1990s design, you can customise it to some extent by adding HTML to the top and bottom of the page, and adding some styles to the header. This can let you set the background colour/image of your page, choose fonts and colours, and add image banners and text to the header and footer if you wish. Check out my clips store to get an idea of the sort of thing you can do.

You can also use Clips4Sale to accept donations using their “tribute button”. They take the same cut – 40% – but they don’t really mind what you use it for, and it’s the only donate button I’ve found which includes adult sites in its acceptable use policy (unlike, famously, Paypal).

Clips4Sale provide other services too: they offer a camming service and a membership site autogenerated from your clips store which you can then customise further, although I haven’t used either of these. You can also sell photosets (in zip format) through Images4Sale and DVDs through Videos4Sale, but I find the traffic on these sites is very low, and I don’t make enough sales for it to be worth keeping my photo and DVD stores regularly updated.

Clips4Sale’s primary focus is fetish material. I’ve said before that everyone should read the Clips4Sale category list at least once in their life, and I mean it: especially if you are considering setting up shop, you will discover fetish genres you never knew there was an audience for, a lot of which can be shot cheaply as solo scenes at home. In my store, I find that male submissive videos are the most popular; on average my best sellers are M/M films, then F/M.

The key things you need to know about making money on Clips4Sale are:

  1. Update your store regularly. Each time you publish a new video your store link is pushed onto the Clips4Sale homepage, giving you more visitors and more sales. I put a new clip live every week on Friday evenings, but if you can update more regularly than that, do so. Space your updates out – there’s no point putting two clips live on the same day when you could bump your store to the homepage two days that week instead of one.
  2. I get the impression that cheap and cheerful clips sell best. Most customers are looking for a quick fix, a few minutes at most, a video that leads straight into the action and won’t break the bank. I don’t actually do this – I’m too busy to re-edit custom Clips4Sale versions of all my videos, so I put up each film exactly as it appears on Dreams of Spanking – including intro, credits, plot, build up and so on. But if you have time to edit your film down to a quick and dirty five minute piece that doesn’t waste time on long intros and cuts straight to the chase, you’ll probably find you’ll sell more copies.
  3. Some people generate more updates by publishing the same video multiple times in different file formats, but personally I think this looks tacky. One good idea is to offer different lengths of each video – perhaps a full-length version, an abridged version, or a compilation of all the films in a series. Other producers split videos into multiple clips and offer each one for sale separately, although as a consumer I dislike this approach, so it’s not something I do myself.
  4. Spend time on your previews. Good copy makes a big difference. Clips4Sale won’t let you upload your own video trailers (it offers an automated one consisting of the first 30 seconds of your video, which isn’t any use if you have an intro sequence or opening credits), so I make animated gifs for each clip and upload those. The images are all hard-resized to 400px x 226px by Clips4Sale, so create them at that size to avoid them appearing distorted.
  5. Link to your store from as many places as possible. Social media is a good place to start – I tweet links to new clips (there’s an option to do this automatically in the Clips4Sale interface, but it doesn’t always work). I also drive traffic from my membership website by adding a “Buy now” VOD button for each film, which provide an option for non-members to buy individual films using the Clips4Sale payment processor.

Pandora Blake's Dreams of Spanking - clips store

Spanking Library offers a similar service – here’s my store with them – and has the advantage of being connected to SpankingTube. You will have the same login across both sites, and when you upload free videos to SpankingTube (I post all my trailers), the site automatically adds a banner link to your SpankingLibrary store. So that’s good for exposure, but I find that the sales volume is consistently lower than through Clips4Sale – perhaps a quarter of the volume – and the payouts are less regular as well, with late payments being a fairly frequent occurrence. Female submissive material is the bestseller on SpankingLibrary, so if most of your content is M/F, F/F or solo-F, you might find it’s more worthwhile.

I’ve heard a number of producers saying that the membership/subscription model of selling porn is reaching the end of its viability. Paul Kennedy suggests in this podcast that most customers don’t want that level of commitment – having to spend a certain amount of time downloading and watching videos in order to get their money’s worth – and recommends that new producers embrace the video-on-demand model, selling individual clips instead of site memberships. Feminist porn is moving away from downloads and memberships and towards streaming and video-on-demand, such as with the new VOD site PinkLabel.TV.

Have you tried producing and selling your own clips? Are there any other video on demand sites you would recommend? If you have any tips to add, questions to ask, or disagree with anything I’ve written here, feel free to add them in the comments!

Sinful Sunday – Fetch!

Ordered to fetch the paddle so he can use it on me. See, I can be a good girl … sometimes. Full photo story here.

Sinful Sunday

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