#ladypornday: Porn as a public service

Posted at 23:47 on 22 Feb 2011 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Anna Span, Gender politics, Lady Porn Week, Politics

Today is Lady Porn Day, a new initiative organised by sex blogger Rabbit Write to encourage and empower women to share and discuss porn. Rabbit describes the project to the Huffington post as follows:

Lady Porn Day is essentially to celebrate porn and masturbation. I'm inviting everyone to talk about their porn experiences, share stories and to ultimately share their porn recommendations. This is about not only opening up a dialog about how porn is good, but also how porn is hard, how it can be an issue for women, in terms of dealing with guilt or body image or their sexuality.

I haven't really participated in the twitter conversation, which is still going strong if you want to pitch in, but I'm thinking of using the excuse to write a few blogposts this week about what the concept of "porn for women" means to me (actually I'm quite liking the coinage 'ladyporn', I might start using that more regularly). The page on Rabbit's site seems to be acting as a hub for contributions, and her interview with Jiz Lee today (the most recent post as I type this) is well worth a read. Jiz talks about the positive social contribution ethical and queer porn can make and has made, emphasising its role in education (for example in normalising safer sex practices) and in personal affirmation and validation, reassuring people that their sexuality and orientation is normal and okay.

This is obviously very close to my own relationship to porn. Looking at porn gave me the vocabulary and courage to think about - and come to accept - my own queerness and my own kink. Working in fetish and spanking porn has expanded the way I think about my kink, improved my relationship with kink and my body, helped me make more sense of what I like and how I like it, introduced me to more and more things that it turns out I like, improved my confidence, my physical fitness, my professional skills, my writing, my self-knowledge and self-belief. My relationships have benefited. My mental and physical health have benefited.

My inbox is a testament to how valuable what I do is to other people. This is pretty amazing given that what I do is essentially self-indulgent. I like performing, I like recording experiences through creative media, and I like spanking, D/s and BDSM. I've been writing scene reports for as long as I've been playing. The urge to record, share and discuss my sexual and kink experiences is not a commercial one - it's an essential component of those experiences. The fact that I can get paid for performing my fantasies on camera, and the fact that men and women across the globe find those performances affirming, reassuring and empowering continues to baffle - and delight - me. It feels like the biggest stroke of luck in the world that doing this thing I like doing can bring pleasure and validation to other people. But after receiving countless emails from people who have been affected by watching me reflect their own fantasies, who have been helped to understand that those fantasies are normal, healthy, less unusual than they feared, I'm no longer in any doubt that porn can have enormous social and personal benefits, particularly to people with alternative sexualities.

To my surprise, the Cambridge University Student Union recently agreed with me. The House voted in favour of the motion that "pornography does a good public service" by 44 votes. Feminist pornographer and former Parliamentary candidate Anna Span led the team debating on behalf of the motion, and feminist anti-porn writer Gail Dines spoke in opposition. I can recommend Anna Span's write up of the debate for AVN News. The BBC World Service invited Span and Dines to recreate the debate on air, and you can listen to a six minute excerpt from the show here.

Anna Span's initial answer to the question of how pornography does a good public service was that "it democratises the body" - otherwise known as the Rule #34 Social Benefit (list that one under phrases I never thought I'd type). If you don't like an aspect of your body or sexuality, she says, Google it plus 'sex', and you'll discover sites which think this is the most attractive thing about you. Anna Span argues that porn is much more varied when it comes to body type, gender and types of beauty and sex appeal than mainstream advertising, films, TV, fashion photography and the other images we are surrounded with in public spaces. It is also broader in its representation of alternative sexualities. There is porn for everyone, if you care enough to put a little effort into finding it.

Span cited the recent UK study Comparison by crime type of juvenile delinquents on pornography exposure, which found no correlation between exposure to pornography and sexual violence. Both USA and UK governments have funded extensive studies into the social harm of porn, with no conclusive findings.

Gail Dines responded that mainstream porn isn't varied, and is often violent, dehumanising and debasing to women. To which of course the answer is: support indie, queer, feminist and alternative porn! As Lynn Comella writes for Las Vegas Weekly,

Dines takes a slicethe world of hard-core "gonzo" porn, which, according to her, is porn that depicts hard-core, body-punishing sex in which women are demeaned and debasedand presents it as emblematic of an entire industry. This is akin to talking about Hollywood while only referencing spaghetti Westerns; or making sweeping glosses about the music industry when what you are really talking about is hair metal. Its an approach that makes for neither a sound argument nor good sociology.

When Gail Dines says "porn" she means the stereotype of porn, the sort of thing you get in top shelf magazines or if you type "porn" into Google; big-busted, narrow waisted female bodies; big cocks; shaved genitals; simplistic storylines and limited dialogue; straightforward, vigorous penetration; cum shots; unconvincing expressions of pleasure.

When Anna Span says "porn" she seems to mean what I mean - a broader spectrum of possibilities including all representations of human sexuality; incorporating indie, alternative, amateur, kinky and feminist porn. Mainstream porn might be easiest to find, and, statistically, the thing new viewers are likely to see because there's more of it and it's been the 'norm' for longer. But that doesn't mean it's sensible or useful to assume that all porn should be judged by the same standard, or to ignore the ever-increasing range of alternatives which are available.

Instead of railing against the evils of sexually explicit imagery in general, anyone dissatisfied with mainstream porn is better off creating or supporting better, healthier alternatives; porn that's more ethical, interesting, humane, respectful and egalitarian. Which is exactly what Anna Span - and I, and the long list of positive porn projects endorsed by Lady Porn Day - are trying to do.

Comments

It's actually quite hard to have a discussion with people whose basic definition are different from yours, particularly in a subject such as this. If somebody's definition of porn is "mainstream stuff with dubious record of treatment of women", it's hard to fault them for being against it.

However, along the same lines I could say that I'm against diets because they are regimes that promote unhealthy relationships with food. Which some do, I'm sure, but that's not to say there's no such thing as sensible nutrition advice.

All porn does not come from Californian conglomerates. At all.

I saw a suggestion recently, in response to the latest Jaqui Smith escapade, that a woman ought to go on Question Time and ask "Do women have the right to watch pornography?"

I'm sure they'd accept it if it were topical. Any volunteers?

Adorei tudo o que vi aqui.

Adele: Absolutely. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't make more sense for the first ten/fifteen minutes of a debate to be spent defining your terms.

But then, I've ended up in arguments about sex work where I tried to convince them that all sex work was not exploitative/non-consensual, and even after they accepted that that might be the case, they told me that my right to enjoy consensual sex work did not outweigh someone else's right not to be abused, therefore abolition was still the only option. Which left me a bit speechless (What? That's not a transaction anyone can make! Also MOST sex work is consensual, within the economic limits that apply to all work) but I can easily see an anti-porn activist making the same argument.

Michael - it'd be an interesting question, for sure! I think I'd need to come out before I'd be prepared to do something that public though :)

melissa - :) obrigado!

[...] appears the connection between kink, geekery, photography and recording of one’s experiences far pre-dates the Internet. I suspect many of us would find Grainger’s mentality more [...]

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