Posted at 11:00 on 4 Mar 2017 by Pandora Blake
I recently gave an interview to fellow feminist porn producer, the fabulous Erika Lust, which is now available on her website, complete with some pictures and sexy gifs! We talked about how I make my porn ethical; how Dreams of Spanking is at risk from the Digital Economy Bill here in the UK; how many of the fetish acts which seem to have been highlighted as “unacceptable” are those specific to female domination porn; feminism and submission; BDSM in the mainstream, and more. It had to be cut for length, but just for you dear readers here is the interview in full:
Hi Pandora! It's so great to talk to a woman on the same mission as myself to change the face of porn, *virtual high five* :) Now down to business. Your work has been described as "ethically produced fetish content" on your site Dreams of Spanking. Can you explain a little what this means?
Hi Erika! First of all, let me say that it's an honour to speak to you - I've been an admirer of your work ever since the first film of yours I ever saw, which was "Handcuffs".
Dreams of Spanking is all about fetish. It's a BDSM site specialising in spanking and corporal punishment, with scenes ranging from real life couple spankings, to fantasy stories and scenarios. Because the content deals with pain and, in some cases, fantasies of non-consensual situations, ethical production is of utmost importance.
I am a porn performer myself, so I understand that the working conditions on set is what makes a company ethical, more than the nature of the fantasies expressed on film. So my shooting process is very performer-driven; I give performers creative control over their scenes, and they can choose who they want to work with and what they want to do. On set, I try to create a positive atmosphere, without stress or awkwardness. I provide lots of non-alcoholic drinks and tasty, nutritious food! And I try to direct in a way that gives my performers the best experience possible. Everyone on set has the right to cut whenever they want to, for any reason, and no-one will ever be made to feel bad for doing so. I also have a policy of equal pay for performers of all genders.
Beyond that, my ethics manifest in working with a diverse range of performers, including performers of colour, performers with visible disabilities, performers of all body shapes and sizes, and transgender performers. For me feminist porn means shooting bodies of all genders with an erotic gaze - not just letting the camera focus on the women.
I also think it's important to communicate my production ethics to the viewer. So yes, I prioritise consent and communication on set, but I also reveal that consent to the viewers through performer interviews, out-takes and behind the scenes videos. And wherever possible I link to their blogs and social media accounts and let the performers speak for themselves, rather than putting words in their mouths.
Fundamentally, I aim to shoot my performers in a way that respects and represents their whole personhood, rather than just treating them as a stereotype or sex object. When the fantasy narrative involves simulated coercion or non-consent, it becomes even more important to reveal the real consent behind the scenes.
You won your court case over the new UK porn laws last year. Congratulations! Have these laws affected your work since?
Thank you! It was a long struggle, and Dreams of Spanking was offline for ten months. I was so relieved when I heard I'd won my appeal and was able to re-open the site - I'd always known that the laws were unjust.
Since then, sadly, I haven't quite been able to business as usual. Firstly it turns out that having your site offline for ten months is bad for your traffic, so in terms of sales I've had to start building it up again again from scratch, which is disappointing - before the censors got me, the site was thriving. But the main problem is that only a few weeks after my triumphant re-opening, a new law was presented to the UK parliament which will bring in even worse regulations.
The Digital Economy Bill - which looks set to become law in a couple of months - will require porn site owners to pay for age verification checks for every user who visits their site. For me and most other small sites, this cost would add up to way more than our total income. It's just unaffordable and will put me and other niche producers out of business. Not only that, but the law will require a new porn regulator to assess and classify every video online, and if it wouldn't be legal to publish on DVD in the UK, it won't be legal to publish online if UK viewers can see it. You will have to comply with these rules even if you have age verification installed, so only adults can view it; and even your site is not in the UK. If you don't have age verification set up, or your content would not be allowed on DVD, then your site will be ISP blocked by the UK government - an incredibly blunt and repressive instrument.
Can you explain a little why the UK porn laws are sexist, rather than just prudish?
They are indeed! Okay, so firstly, the film classification guidelines are totally out of date. One of the acts which would cause a film to be refused classification is squirting - female ejaculation. So in the name of "cleaning up porn" they are going to ban depictions of genuine, authentic, unfakeable female orgasm (and other vulva-owning folks)! It's totally ludicrous. The classification rules are out of touch with current social standards about what is acceptable, and they're even out of step with the case law they are meant to be based on.
Not only that, but many of the fetish acts which seem to have been highlighted as "unacceptable" are those specific to female domination porn - so many sites owned and operated by women will be criminalised because they contain femdom material, whereas the sort of porn traditionally made by men will be fine. For instance, facesitting is banned as it might cause asphyxiation, but deep-throating is fine - even though there's just as much risk of breath restriction!
Can you also explain why the UK porn laws seem so geared towards BDSM content? (For example, "vanilla" practices like double penetration or deepthroating weren't highlighted, when I'd argue they are just as dangerous (or not) as facesitting and squirting)
It's funny isn't it? I mean, double penetration and deep throating are fetishes, aren't they - there's nothing wrong with them, but they're quite extreme, and the sort of thing that takes a bit of practice and commonly involves an element of humiliation or power play, just like facesitting or fisting. But those kinky acts involving dominance by a person with a cock have somehow found themselves being accepted as "mainstream" or "traditional", perhaps because they are so popular with the cock-owning people who historically made and bought the most porn. Now that women (and other cunt owners) are becoming more sexually liberated, and more financially independent, and are able to make and buy porn for ourselves, we are finding that acts of involve cunt pleasure and cunt dominance are being defined as "extreme fetish porn", whereas acts of cock pleasure and cock dominance are seen as normal and default. So part of it is that in our social scripts around sex, cock dominance is seen as an "acceptable" kind of kinky power play, whereas cunt dominance is seen as abnormal or extreme.
Besides these factors stemming from our patriarchal culture, there is a lot of BDSM stigma and misinformation behind these laws. One assumption that they are based on, for instance, is that it is impossible to consent to BDSM. The idea is that a "violent" scene (for instance, spanking) is just as bad whether the performers consented and enjoyed the experience, or whether it was genuinely assault. Can you believe it? The UK law treats a recording of an actual assault, and a simulated BDSM play scene, exactly the same! This is incredibly insidious. By erasing the consent of the performers, the law is upholding a stigmatising view of BDSM and suggesting that consent is irrelevant. And the idea that consent doesn't matter is part of rape culture.
So this misunderstanding of the basic principles of consent, negotiation and responsibility that underlie good BDSM practice have led to a whole load of consensual activities being criminalised, on the basis that they look a bit like things that aren't consensual. It's ridiculous.
Are you a feminist?
I identify as a feminist, yes! My feminism is intersectional, and trans and sex worker inclusive.
Why do you think people have trouble associating feminism with submission?
I think it stems from the second-wave feminist ideology that has done an analysis of the oppression of women, and has developed all of these suspicions that some ways that women behave is the result of patriarchal indoctrination - particularly around sex. There's this idea of "false consciousness", that if a woman complies with patriarchal expectations and claims to enjoy it, she must be brainwashed and not know her own mind. It's a really simplistic analysis that erases individual agency; and it's historically been used to oppress women at the intersection of multiple marginalisations, such as women of colour, women with disabilities, sex workers and trans women.
It's true that the sexual image of a man dominating and a woman submitting has been centered under patriarchy. It's seen as a lot more normal and sexy than the other way around. And for many women all over the world, male abuse is still a genuine and horrible reality. But if we are trying to reform our understanding of sex, and reclaim our sexual desires, we have to accept ourselves for who we are. And in reality, many people eroticise pain, power play, helplessness and coercion. That doesn't mean they want to be abused or assaulted for real. It means it's an erotic fantasy to be enjoyed only within very safe bubbles - such as in our imagination (totally safe!), in fiction, or as a consensual game with a trusted partner.
Consent is what makes the difference. But for many people, the nuances of consent, fantasy and roleplay are too messy for them to try to untangle. It's easier just to dismiss the whole arena of erotic pain and power play as "problematic" rather than getting stuck into the complexities of how these things can be pleasurable, empowering in certain consensual circumstances.
Is there a difference when it's a man dominating, or in a lesbian pair for example? (I.e. is the issue with submission only rooted in patriarchal ideas that men must always be strong and dominating, and that women exist to be 'taken' and 'penetrated' like Simone de Beauvoir argues we have been taught, making them purely an object to be acquired rather than having agency over themselves)
For some people, lesbian pairs might be less concerning than a man dominating a woman; but others might argue that lesbians are simply mimicking the problematic power relationships of men and women, so from a second-wave feminist perspective it might not help you!
Personally, I think the thing that makes female submission a feminist thing to do is personal agency and freedom of choice. And I don't mean individual choice within a coercive structure; someone "choosing" to do the easiest thing that will gain them the most social legitimacy and help them fit in with a sexist society. I mean free choice within a genuinely liberated structure of equality. So my work aims to build that new, liberated structure - and that means that men dominating women can't be the only story we see. We have to see queer couples too, and trans and non-binary people, and women dominating men, and men dominating men! You can see all these pairings on Dreams of Spanking.
Only when all of these varieties are seen in our whole society to be equally sexy, equally normal, and equally appealing, is the choice to do one or the other truly free. We aren't there yet. But we are working on it! And the more visibility queer BDSM, female domination and trans BDSM gets, the easier it will be to know that a choice to submit to a man is truly that - a choice, and not just conforming to social expectations.
Has BDSM infiltrated the mainstream, and is this a good thing?
I think perhaps it has, a little, but not as much as I'd like. 50 Shades of Grey is the obvious example; you can buy paddles and handcuffs on the high street, and BDSM erotica is increasingly normal, particularly in the fanfiction community which 50 Shades grew out of (mostly written by women, for women!). But the 50 Shades view of BDSM is still very problematic; Christian is abusive and manipulative towards Ana, he ignores her when she asks him to stop, and she doesn't really enjoy it - she just wants him to like her. So if this is still our most visible representation of BDSM, I'd say we have a long way to go.
There's a lot of concern around young people, and children, stumbling across internet pornography by accident or otherwise (myself and my partner have started a non-profit called The Porn Conversation to address this). A lot of teen girls are "camming" and it seems fashionable in the younger generations to be openly kinky or fetishistic. Do you think this is just a trend? Have young people always been like this? And is it a good thing?
I think young people have always been curious about exploring their identity, trying out different personas, and pushing boundaries. Fifty years ago the social norms and available avenues to do this were different, so the behaviours looked different. Nowadays, many young people express themselves and try out different identities online, as part of their journey to find out who they are.
Sexual awakenings happen at different ages, but for many people their eroticism starts to develop long before the age of consent for sex. I think it's natural for children to be curious about bodies and sexuality. What we need is an environment where young people can choose how, if and when they want to explore their sexuality. If they are free to explore when they are ready, and not before, then I think young people experimenting with ways to sexually express themselves is healthy and natural.
The problems come when we have children being exposed to sexual situations before they are ready, which can leave them feeling violated and confused, and can cause real harm. So it is important to help keep children safe from violation both online and in the physical world, so they don't have to deal with any unwanted sexual situations before they are ready to seek them out for themselves.
As for camming... well, there's an argument that our culture's fetishisation of women's bodies, with skinny bodies presented as desirable and appealing all over the place in advertising, TV and films, does encourage young girls to measure their worth by their desirability. And camming can be an amazing way to feel desirable! But I don't think that's a problem with camming itself. It's a problem with an unequal society that considers female bodies to be innately more sexual, and more desirable, than male bodies, and that produces imagery primarily to appeal to a heterosexual male gaze. If we can liberate ourselves from unequal objectification of female bodies (perhaps by creating and normalising erotic imagery of sexy men, and people of other genders...) then young people can be free to explore their sexual self-expression without pressure.
What's coming up for you in the adult cinema world? And where can we find your work!
The next step for me is going to be a transition for Dreams of Spanking - I am trying to find a way it can survive the changes that are threatened by the Digital Economy Bill. Once again it will rise from the ashes like a phoenix! In the meantime the site is currently up and running - the only legal spanking site in the UK, and totally uncensored - so check it out while it lasts!
I'm screening a film at La Fete du Slip in Switzerland next month, and I'm hoping to go back to the Berlin Porn Film Festival again this year. I will continue to work for other producers as a performer - I have a scene coming up onBright Desire that I am excited to see! Other than that, I have a million ideas for new adult cinema projects, but I have to wait and see how the legal situation in the UK will shake down before I can start to bring them to life. Wish me luck!
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