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No, you can't shoot your documentary on my porn set

Posted at 15:00 on 19 Oct 2020 by Pandora / Blake

Image is from Oh Joy Sex Toy, who are definitely not who this post is aimed at.

Over the years many journalists, television producers and documentary makers have wanted to talk to me about my work in the sex industry. In the past I did my best to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve spent hours on the phone giving interviews, I’ve helped producers sort out venues and performers for documentary work, I’ve sent backstage content for TV companies to use. I believe strongly in demystifying and destigmatising sex work, and I’ve tried to help when I can.

But I've reached a point where I'm extremely wary when it comes to my dealings with the mainstream media. And I've never once said yes to one of their most common requests: to shoot a behind-the-scenes documentary about ethical pornography on a set where I am the director. 

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Tags: documentary, ethical porn, media, porn, rant

5 comments

Why opt-in filters for "adult content" are misguided and dangerous

Posted at 23:16 on 17 Oct 2011 by Pandora / Blake

Last week, the government unveiled a deal with four of the UK's biggest internet service providers - BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin, collectively comprising about 90% of the market - which will oblige new subscribers to "opt in" if they want to view web content which has been categorised as sexually explicit.

I wrote about this in December last year when the Tory proposals were first publicised. This is part of a large-scale campaign against the so-called "sexualisation of children" which include such regressive proposals as Nadine Dorries' sexist plans for abstinence-based sexual education for teenage girls, and which collectively poses a significant threat to fans of sexual freedom, civil liberties and digital rights.

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Tags: Anna Span, Brooke Magnanti, civil liberties, in the news, Kink activism, Politics, rant, Violet Blue

10 comments

Why the "Horrible Bosses" adverts make me jaw-grindingly angry

Posted at 12:20 on 26 Jul 2011 by Pandora / Blake

I've seen these adverts on the Tube recently (or very similar ones: the London version has the word "nympho" instead of "maneater".) They're for a film which will be showing soon in the UK, and the marketing campaign is aggressive. I'm even seeing promoted tweets about it turn up in my Twitter feed. So far, every ad I've seen has made me angry. My anger is half at the film itself (which is perhaps not fair to judge before I've watched it), and half at the way it's being marketed.

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Tags: consent, Female gaze, films and TV, Gender politics, other pictures, Politics, rant

24 comments

Erotic asphyxiation: treatments of kink in therapy and the media

Posted at 16:45 on 4 Jan 2011 by Pandora / Blake

Just before Christmas, Dr Petra Boynton called my attention to a worrying article in Psychologies magazine (remember, the one which supplied the bad science which has been used to justify the idea of a UK opt-in system for online porn).

This nuanced piece of journalism, entitled "Erotic asphyxiation why do people do it?" springboarded off the unfortunate death of MI6 spy Gareth Williams, who was found mysteriously dead in his flat. As soon as it was "revealed" that he liked to look at bondage websites, speculation abounded that auto-erotic asphyxiation was the cause of death.

Public opinion has a strange relationship with erotic asphyxiation (better known to you and I as breathplay). The stereotype of the solitary version is a sad man in a suit, accidentally hanging himself to death while seeking cheap masturbatory thrills. When I was 15 my dad, aware of The Story of O's presence on my bookshelf and concerned for my moral and physical welfare, had a long Talk with me about the dangers of BDSM. He cited the tragic case of a couple he knew, wherein the gentleman was accidentally strangled during a consensual bondage game, leaving his widow harrowed by guilt.

Psychologies magazine quoted relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam, who explained to the layman reader that this bizarre yet fascinating quirk of human sexuality was "like taking a drug. As with all addictions when youre not doing it you start to fantasise about doing it." Oh dear; that doesn't bode well, for a start. There are all sorts of things I think about even when I'm not doing them. Sex, work, creative projects, music, food, things that made me laugh ... clearly those are all dangerously addictive, too.

As it happens, I enjoy breathplay a lot, but it's neither an addiction nor a core component of my kink. In fact I almost never fantasise about it - it's more about the doing. The actual 'headrush' physical stimulus enhances my orgasms, and the threat of a hand, rope or blade against my throat makes for powerful D/s play.

But never mind that, my experience apparently doesn't count for much - since according to Quilliam, practitioners of erotic asphyxiation are "usually male".

"Because a woman needs to feel safe and secure to orgasm there's a direct contradiction between the high risk of asphyxiation and pleasure."

Problematic? Oh, let me count the ways.

1. A woman needs what? This bogglingly sexist statement might be true of Susan Quilliam, but such inane generalisations are impossible to make of a whole gender, and this one in particular buys into the toxic "men need cheap thrills, women need security and romance" stereotype which damages all of us.

2. Personally, I quite like a bit of danger. In fact a hand around my throat as I'm being fucked can pretty much guarantee me a blinding orgasm. And I'm a woman.

3. Since when did orgasms equate to the sum of sexual pleasure anyway, for people of any gender?

4. Breathplay is edgy! That's sort of the point! My experience and observation strongly suggests that it's something responsible kinksters undertake warily, with trusted partners, not on a first play session with a casual fling. "Safe, sane and consensual" is the watchword of many BDSMers for a reason - everyone has boundaries, and needs those boundaries to be respected in order to enjoy risky play. Trust and security enable a better experience for everyone. It's not gendered, it's just good sense.

So not only were these damaging, incorrect generalisations peddled without comment, criticism or a balancing perspective from someone who actually knows what they're talking about, but the article closed with this gem:

Sexual therapist Simone Bienne says bondage and sado-masochistic fetishes are subconsciously related to childhood trauma. "It's about a struggle with life. They could work through their issues in a normal way, of course, talking to counsellors or using self-help books."

Talking to the kinds of counsellors who will pathologise their sexuality and make insulting assumptions about their childhoods, you mean? Hrm. Psychologists claiming that in order to be "normal" people should spend money on their services and products. Let's just think about that for a second.

Just to set the record straight: BDSM isn't a pathology, studies have provided no evidence that it's linked to trauma. The assumption that a kinky sexuality is a symptom of post-traumatic stress is harmful and outdated. There is no such thing as "normal" or "abnormal" when it comes to the colourful spectrum of human sexuality.

This sort of speculative reporting peddled as science is irresponsible, judgemental and dangeous, and sets psychology back by decades: pathologising kink is so last century. And yet many therapists and medical professionals still receive inadequate training in how to engage productively with kinky patients; and the media is all too quick to reproduce the resulting assumptions and stereotypes.

Therapists and counsellors hold a position of immense responsibility. Particularly when helping people with issues of sexuality, it is vital that they do not let ignorance or prejudice distort their duty of care. A couple of friends have already left excellent comments on the guilty Psychologies article - it would be great to see more. And a complaint or two to the writer Sophie Herdman, or editor Louise Chunn might not go amiss. They and other healthcare practitioners may find the following resources useful in coming to an understanding of kink and BDSM:

A kink in the process - Su Connan (Therapy Today, July 2010)
"Sadomasochistic sex is arguably one of the least understood and most demonised forms of consensual sexuality. How able are we to offer ethical therapy to kinky clients when there is so little awareness of the kink experience?"

Kinky clients, kinky counselling? The challenges and potentials of BDSM - Meg Barker, Alessandra Iantaffi and Camel Gupta, 2007.

Health Care Without Shame: A Handbook for the Sexually Diverse and Their Caregivers - Charles Moser, 1999.

Safe, Sane and Consensual - Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism. Edited by Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, 2007.

(Thanks to Dr Petra Boynton for the twitter chat and links.)

The bottom line is that kink is nothing to be ashamed of, not a symptom of any mental or emotional disorder, and can be a vibrant part of a healthy sexuality. Moreover, kink and BDSM practitioners often come to an enhanced understanding of their own desires through the emphasis on personal boundaries and communicative consent which arises from a responsible approach to power and pain play. All sex is risky; these themes are not exclusive to kink, merely thrown into focus. The vocabulary and discourse of kink can offer meaning to people of any sexuality, and better the sexual discourse of our society as a whole.

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Tags: Gender politics, in the news, Kink activism, Politics, rant, those crazy kinksters

19 comments

UK porn ban?

Posted at 17:59 on 20 Dec 2010 by Pandora / Blake

A month ago, Tory MP Claire Perry called for British ISPs to implement an "opt-in" system for internet pornography based on age verification, to prevent under 18s from looking at sexually explicit content online, because she believed that "British internet service providers should share the responsibility to keep our children safe." Fortunately for us, culture and communications minister Ed Vaizey disagreed. "We believe in an open, lightly regulated internet," he said. "The internet is by and large a force for good, it is central to our lives and to our economy and Government has to be wary about regulating or passing legislation." Mr Vaizey suggested that taking responsibility for what your children see online and how they respond to it is kind of what parenting is all about.

Fine. Except that yesterday, Ed Vaizey made a dramatic U-turn by inviting ISP giants such as BT, Talk Talk and Virgin Media to a meeting to discuss how they might implement such a system. "I think it is very important that it's the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children," he said, in a dramatic reversal of his stance four weeks ago.

This is worrying stuff for a whole host of reasons.

Firstly, there's the practicalities of implementing the scheme:

The plan is to allow parents to 'opt out' of the sites and they will then be blocked at the source, rather than using conventional parental controls.

Adults who wish to view the material would have to choose to 'opt in'.

Following their decision, homeowners would then be able to choose what sites they receive in a cinema style guide, such as U for all ages, or 18 for adults.

Got that? Unlike cinema style age controls, this wouldn't be an individual decision, but a blanket one across a household. In short, it falls into the same trap as the Digital Economy Act. In order to prevent their children from viewing porn, parents would have to give it up themselves. Adults living at home? Forget it - you're under your parents' roof, you follow their rules. Households of shared adults, like most Londoners who don't cohabit with a partner? You'd better have a good relationship with the housemate whose name is on the broadband account. What about students living in halls? Or adults who live with their landlords?

Either the system will impede the freedoms of adults across the country, or it will be so restrictive that no-one will use it. As Tom Scott writes for the Guardian:

Any "think-of-the-children" internet filter has a fundamental problem: if it's effective enough to actually block adult content, it will also be irritating enough that almost everyone will turn it off.

An effective filter would have to censor Flickr, which has a large amount of adult imagery. It has to censor every blogging platform: Tumblr, for example, has a whole swathe of porn blogs, and there are untold numbers of sex bloggers writing reams of explicit text. And it has to censor YouTube, particularly if 4chan decide to flood it with porn again. Facebook could probably be let through, thanks to its strong filtering policies although right now, most mobile providers block it for under-18s anyway.

If an adult content filter allows those sites through, it fails. And if it blocks those sites, then hardly anyone will use it and it fails.

The rest of the article is well worth reading, picking up on a number of reasons such an approach would be impossible to implement effectively.

Secondly, the 'research' and 'studies' cited to justify this idea are problematic at best. Violet Blue reveals how the study from Psychologies magazine quoted in most news repots was in fact conducted on 14-16 year olds from a single North London school - hardly comprehensive data - and Ms Naughty digs into Safer Media, the Christian group who believe whole swathes of modern media are "harmful", and from whom Ms Perry gets her "compelling evidence" that porn is damaging to under-18s.

I've written before about the myth that accessing pornography has a detrimental effect on young people and society in general. Bish Training, a sex ed resource for young people, summarises:

Even the briefest look on Google Scholar will show you that there is not a lot of rigorous academic research in this area. Arguments about porn, such as arguments about sexualisation, are usually values rather than evidence based. There is certainly no consensus in the academic world about young people and porn.

I would encourage you to read what I believe (Im a practitioner, not an academic) to be the most thorough recent paper http://www.springerlink.com/content/c1k7r32gj9q72248/ It points out the lack of evidence of the extent of porn consumption and harms from previous research.

So much for evidence-based policy making. Claire Perry is quick to claim that "We are not coming at this from an anti-porn perspective," but the sketchy nature of the research backing up her proposals suggests that this is an ideological move. Her next remark clarifies this ideology: "We just want to make sure children aren't stumbling across things we don't want them to see." This isn't about the fear of children's sexuality: it's about an angry controlling impulse on the part of parents who cannot bear that their children might like anything they don't like, or have access to anything they don't approve of. To people like this the internet represents an enormous ideological threat. A 'nanny state' approach is the only way they can shut down freedom of speech and information for those who disagree with them.

Whose ideology will inform this proposed 'blacklist' of forbidden sites to be referenced by ISPs? (And who will maintain the list of 'opted-in' households? Bet Wikileaks would love the chance to share that.) 'Hardcore' pictures and video - okay. Text? Usenet groups? Fanfic? Chatrooms? Any site posting user-generated content would find itself at risk unless it implemented strict moderation policies. What about humourous sites which include obscene language? Or sex education sites like the excellent Bish Training, which includes guidance for young people about porn? Queer and trans activists are concerned that any site providing support and information about LGBT issues will be blocked - the mental health effects of which on young people could be far more devastating than those claimed to be caused by porn.

And then there's the civil liberties implications. Once a Great Firewall exists, what's to stop its expansion to include other controversial sites, or anything the government disapproves of? Maybe Maimed has recently argued that the censorship surrounding Wikileaks has always existed around sex. Once porn is banned from the internet, you can bet that other problematic content would find itself caught in the same net.

Every week, I get letters from kinky people who are grateful to me for helping them feel they are not alone. I hear from mature individuals who are only just beginning to discover the vocabulary to think about their desires, or to start to come to terms with them. I am so lucky, they tell me, to have become aware of my sexuality so young, to have accepted it and be able to find so much joy in it, and help other people make peace with themselves. Alongside the self-indulgence of creative work that turns me on, that's why I do what I do, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the internet.

I started having sex about the same time as I got online - when I was 13. By the time I was 15 I'd started using the internet to explore sexuality and kink in a big way, but it didn't take over my life - I had many other hobbies and interests, and most of my online time was taken up with teaching myself HTML and design and creating vanity sites. I had my first serious play relationship when I was 16, which was very informed by the BDSM community I'd discovered online, and I met Tom when I was 19. I am enormously lucky to have been able to streamline my sexual development with the aid of online resources and support. If I hadn't been able to access sexual content at home, I would have made different, less well-informed choices; I might have made some very bad decisions; and I certainly wouldn't have reached a point where I could offer support and reassurance to others by my early twenties.

If you're worried about what your child is looking at online, either install some of the parental control software which is readily available, or sit with them while they browse the internet. Either way, talk to them about what they're seeing; teach them about staying safe online, give them the tools they need to question and critique what they encounter. Unlike our legislators, most UK kids are internet natives - they will easily be able to get around any controls we attempt to put in place. Trying to prevent them from accessing porn will simply increase its appeal. Ultimately, the responsibility for what we look at and how we respond to it is ours, and it falls to parents to teach that responsibility to their children, rather than dumping the hardest and most important parts of parenting onto corporations or the state.

--

All these things remain true, and given my audience I have little doubt that most of my readers will agree with me. Perhaps I didn't even need to write this, since today senior officials from the ISPs themselves have condemned the proposals as unworkable. But this is not the first time this idea has surfaced, and I doubt it will be the last. Thanks to the anti-porn agenda of over-anxious mothers, we have already seen our government ban certain types of consensual porn entirely. When it comes to freedom of sexual expression, we cannot trust our legislators, and we must remain vigilant. I'm willing to bet that the idea of a filtered web will come back, and when it does, we need to be ready with our arguments as to why it will not work, and cannot ever be accepted.

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Tags: in the news, Politics, rant

15 comments

a wee rant about size

Posted at 19:15 on 26 Aug 2010 by Pandora / Blake

As you'll have already gathered, I've put on weight lately, and I have mixed feelings about it. My weight has always fluctuated a lot - I have different jeans for different times of the month - but I've gone from a size 8-10 to a 12-14 in the last few months, and a lot of my clothes no longer fit. Now, I don't know a single woman in our culture who doesn't have issues with weight and food to some extent, or hasn't had at some point in their life, so I'm hardly a special snowflake. I find unpacking this stuff helpful and empowering, though, so bear with me while I do just that.

Trigger warning: I talk below about my history of food issues and disordered eating - please skip this post if mention of the above is going to hinder your own recovery.

Thing 1: For a few years in my late teens and early twenties, I had badly disordered eating, although I was never diagnosed with a disorder. It was a symptom of depression and anxiety; it started after my first attempt to quit self-harm; it was exacerbated by the stress of graduate education and the weird, petri-dish culture of my small university. I calorie-counted obsessively, careened through a self-destructive starve/binge cycle, and for 18 months or so I abused laxatives quite heavily (don't try that at home, kids - my digestive system has never been the same. Seriously unfun). These days I identify as "recovered" rather than "recovering", but I still have to be careful to avoid certain mental habits, and I'm not really capable of dieting or deliberately losing weight in a healthy way. I've steered my control impulses around food into healthier outlets: low-impact, sustainable food sourcing; interesting vegetarian and exotic cooking; planning elaborate meals and compulsively feeding everyone who ever enters my house.

Thing 2: These days, I'm an advocate of fat acceptance. This has arisen from my feminist and gender egalitarian politics, but although I believe fat is a gendered issue, our culture's fatphobia harms people of all genders. (Of course, it's not only women whose bodies are publically scrutinised and criticised - the whole penis size fetish in our culture is totally fucked up, for a start.) At the personal level, all my partners are heavier than me. I've always been attracted to strong, bulky men and strong, curvy women; these days I'm just less conflicted about it. (I used to be attracted to tiny, fragile women as well, but after three flings in a row with selfish, eating-disordered, manic pixie dream girls, I am so over that.)

Thing 3: My size is extremely dependent on my contraceptives. I take hormonal contraception because without it, I have very long, heavy, irregular periods, bad PMT, and bad skin. I suffered from acne from the age of 9, and as an adult, feeling spotty seriously knocks my self-esteem. The pill controls my bleeding and my moods, reduces my androgen levels and keeps my skin under control. Too much oestrogen and my depression, anxiety and moodswings go through the roof; too much progesterone and I get bad breakouts, loss of libido and emotional intensity. Oestrogen makes me gain weight, progesterone makes me lose it. So the balance I'm striking in my hormonal contraception is between all sorts of conflicting things, and my weight is not actually the most important of them. I'm fatter on my current pill than I would be without it, but I'm also happier, saner and more functional.

Thing 4: I still live in this society, I was still raised in it, and it's a lifetime's work to unpick that level of cultural brainwashing. I talk the talk of body positivity, but battling the impulse to slim down is a daily project for me. It weighs on my mind more than I'm happy with. (The mental hook that motivated me to finally start recovering from my fucked-up eating patterns was the realisation of quite how tedious a person I was. When you're malnourished you're incapable of thinking about anything other than food; calorie-counting is quite literally a full-time job. Shit, but I have better things to do with my brain and my time.) I don't like this stuff taking up valuable mental space and energy; and yet it's like a persistent weed, remarkably difficult to kill.

I'm used to battling down the fatphobic impulses that creep into my thinking when I inspect my rolls of fat, my flab and curves. That's second nature now. But I find myself pre-occupied with a whole host of other issues and irritations. Like clothes sizing.

See, a lot of the size small clothes that I've been valiantly squeezing into over the last couple of years officially now no longer fit. Not even a little bit. I still haven't decided what to do with them. Keep them as costumes for my spanking site, to lend to slimmer models? Keep them with the intention of letting them out or getting them adjusted? Keep them in case my weight randomly goes down at some point in the future, because they took me years to accumulate and good clothes are hard to come by? Or sell them, because their presence is a reminder of my weight gain, and every time I try something on that's too small, I feel bad about my size all over again? Sell them, because I can't afford a whole new wardrobe that makes me feel good without making some cash off the stuff I can't wear any more?

While I'm being indecisive, I'm collecting new clothes in bits and pieces, raiding sales and charity shops for things I can afford. It's reminded me all over again how CRAZY women's clothing sizes are. Here are my current measurements:

height: 5'8
bust (fullest part): 93cm / 35"
waist (narrowest part): 74cm / 29"
hips (fullest part): 108cm / 42"

In Primark, I'm a size 8-10, which is just bizarre. In M&S, I'm a 10-14. In Debenhams, I'm a 14-18. In most ranges, I'm two sizes bigger on the hips and bum than I am on top. I never have any idea whether I'm a Small, Medium or Large. My boobs are too small for most dresses that fit over my hips. I can't buy clothes online any more, because the size guides are so wildly conflicting that I just don't want to risk it.

I spent four hours going up and down a big London high street in search of a new swimming costume. I wanted a plain black costume to swim in. Everywhere I looked had a billion bikinis, but only 1 or 2 two full-length suits. Those they had were either horrendously coloured or patterned, far too short for my long body (so that the top didn't even cover my nipples, in a few cases), with narrow shoulder straps that cut into my shoulders and would have made it very uncomfortable to actually swim, or "body shaping". WTF? Since when does a size 12 costume need to be fucking body shaping? This is a weird clothing trend that means "incredibly tight and uncomfortable" in the interests of squeezing your tummy into a more conventionally acceptable shape. Fuck that. I'm going swimming, not walking down a catwalk. I want to be free to use my body, not contorted and squeezed at the cost of my own flexibility and comfort. After trying ten or twelve different mainstream clothing chains I eventually found a size 14 costume that fitted in M&S, by which point I was thoroughly pissed off with the whole clothing industry.

Now, I look like a normal, healthy, pear-shaped weight. I'm bang in the middle of the "healthy BMI" (although as it happens I think BMI is total bullshit). I didn't have these problems when I was smaller; I could be reasonably certain a size 10 or Small would fit. Why has it suddenly got so much worse because I've gained a couple of inches?

So yeah. On the one hand, I have better things to think about and fret about than this shit. On the other, something is seriously broken in our culture in terms of how we think about female bodies and women's clothing, and the only way to deconstruct that is to talk about it. I find myself increasingly fascinated by the semantics of body size and how it relates to gender, sexuality, cultural expectation, the weird and subtle ways in which so many normal body shapes are penalised.

I want to close with some silly photos I took in the bath the other day.



I was fascinated by the way my view changed depending on how I was holding myself. Arch my back and my belly swells into view; push my hips and ribs forward and it disappeared under the water. My boobs are pretty small, but shot from the right angle they look enormous.



Modelling has always allowed me to disengage from the cultural baggage of body shape in this way - it's all about learning to manipulate the camera, which means learning that bodies are subjective, fluid, that people's perceptions can be easily changed. When you can make yourself look fat or thin on demand, it's much harder to take the whole issue particularly seriously.

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Tags: Body positivity, Gender politics, Photos, rant

6 comments

M/m and gender equality in spanking porn

Posted at 16:19 on 18 Jan 2010 by Pandora / Blake

I saw the link to Indy's thought-provoking article on twitter this morning, but didn't have a chance to read it until I took a break from work at lunchtime. In the meantime, however, my brain was already firing up with my own thoughts on this topic - many of which you are already familiar with. Indy writes,

Most of the guys I know in the scene are utterly uninterested in M/M scenes of any kind, and would at a very minimum walk away if they saw one. The less tolerant among those men would be threatened by it and perhaps refuse to attend events sponsored by the organization. F/F scenes, though, are welcome, as these same men are quite happy to watch two women doing almost anything.

This question has been at the front of my mind lately. My original ambition for my new site was to publish high-quality M/m and M/mf spanking porn on the same site as all other orientations, in an attempt to appeal to the female and queer male audience which is so often invisibled by the industry. I have received a lot of strongly-worded advice from people who run their own sites, telling me that this will amount to a death sentence for my project unless the M/m material is partitioned off into its own site. Although it is my aim to produce female-gaze porn, realistically, the majority of paying customers are likely to still be male, and many of them will be put off for good by any whiff of M/m on a site they are browsing.

The tricky balance between idealism and realism is, until I launch and start seeing sales stats, purely speculative. However, my friends seemed likely enough to be correct that I started mentally preparing to separate my boysub material off into a separate site. However strong my ideal of a gender-egalitarian spanking site may be, if necessity dictates it become a gender-egalitarian network of sites instead, that's a compromise I can probably live with.

I am, however, acutely aware of the inequality and homophobia in this industry. I am currently trying to find a youngish, good looking male dominant actor who is willing to work with male subs, to help me realise some of my long-cherished M/m public school prefect fantasies. My first choice, of course, would be Tom - but topping, even on camera, is closely connected to his sexuality, and given he's straight, he's not comfortable working with another man, to my lasting regret.

Here's what I think:

  • Most spanking producers do not pay their male actors. I am a strong advocate of the idea that if you do not treat someone like a professional, you cannot expect professionalism from them (although you may get it anyway, if you have a good working relationship). Men are not paid for their work in spanking films because there is an expectation that they are motivated by personal gratification. Kinky men, statistically, have a far lower chance of finding a play partner than kinky women; men pay spanking professionals for sessions far more than women do. Appearing in a spanking film, it seems, is seen by many of an extension of the same trend. This attitude results in the perceived implication that a man spanking another man in porn must have personal reasons to do so - they must be sexually motivated.

    Or course, women often have personal/sexual motivations for appearing in porn, and everyone has different boundaries. But if most women only wanted to appear in films with people they fancied the industry would grind to a halt, and the women in question would be condemned for their unprofessionalism. There is a clear double standard here, and I think it's bollocks. Acting with someone doesn't mean you fancy them - that's why it's called acting.

    Also, I resent the implication that the men who have topped me on camera did so because it was the only way they'd get to spank me. That is really quite seriously creepy. I like to credit my toppy friends with a little more professionalism than that. I have this crazy idea that people make spanking porn because they are creatively motivated - they want to make something awesome. Most people get something personal out of it as well, but if sexual gratification is your only reason for being involved, you're going wrong somewhere.


  • Straight women are expected, throughout every sector of the adult industry, to act out sexual encounters with other women without this being seen to imply anything about their personal preferences. Why not men?


  • Female/female sex is included in anthologies of "straight" porn. In mainstream porn as in the rest of society, female queer experience is appropriated by straight men. I know when I'm out with a female partner, if we ever dare kiss in public we are likely to attract lecherous men asking if they can join in, or rudely taking photos on their cameras. Ironically, the same men who fetishise male-gaze lesbianism are usually opposed to equal rights and gay marriage.

    The reverse is true in some media, such as fanfiction, where mostly female authors write male/male sex for their own enjoyment. (Although it's uncertain whether this counts as 'appropriation' in the same way; firstly, appropriation implies a position of privilege, which is less clearcut between straight women and gay men than between straight men and gay women. Secondly, about 50% of fanfic writers identify as queer.) Fanfiction is still marginalised; the female gaze is not yet mainstream in visual erotica. While most women enjoy watching M/m, most porn does not yet cater to women.


  • As long as men do most of the buying, the market has no choice but to cater to them. Women are still mostly content to get their online porn for free - a trend no doubt affected by the high proportion of women who prefer written erotica, which is very hard to charge for online. I've heard of a few lesbian or female gaze sites which carefully catered to the demands of their female audience, but struggled when that audience proved unwilling in practice to cough up and pay for the kind of porn they wanted. This leaves sites with a choice between going under, or catering to men. A lot of men are still violently put off by M/m, due to embedded homophobia and lack of understanding in our society - which the porn industry contributes to by expecting men to react homophobically. There is no reason why straight men shouldn't enjoy M/m in the same way that straight women enjoy F/f - identifying as one participant in a non-sexual punishment scenario, or enjoying the scenario in the abstract - but our culture teaches men to close their minds at an early age.


  • One area of crossover which could appeal to both women and men is gay porn. However, in the spanking scene, M/m when produced by and for men often takes on an extreme macho style, with minimal reactions from the spankee. This instantly makes the content less appealing to many women, who are more likely to seek out emotional expression, intimacy and vulnerability in erotica. This means that the M/m content which is out there is unappealing to women, and no-one is producing M/m for women because not enough women are willing to pay for it, and not enough men are willing to do it.


  • Our culture teaches both men and women that looking at female bodies is erotic. Women are taught to find female bodies visually stimulating and desirable regardless of their sexual orientation (consider, for example, the use of female bodies in adverts directed at women). The idea that no-one likes looking at male bodies is a deeply rooted cultural prejudice. It is also clearly bollocks because hello, male bodies can be gorgeous and most women enjoy looking at them in the flesh.

Many progressive individuals are working to change these factors, from talking to people about their ideas, to developing new ways of producing erotica. However, we are still in a minority even within our mostly-liberal little scene. Social inertia is very powerful; even if we are all working together to challenge received ideology and lazy or ignorant industry standards, it is likely to be a couple of generations before we can see true gender equality in visual erotica.

(Many thanks to CP Services London for the images. And a point to whoever recognises the cutie with the freckles in the third picture...)

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Tags: Fairtrade porn, Female gaze, Gender politics, M-M, Politics, rant

20 comments

arousal is not consent

Posted at 21:51 on 13 Jan 2010 by Pandora / Blake

If you're a woman and you're raped in the UK, chances are your rapist will get away with it. Nationally, on average only 5.6% of reported rapes result in convictions. While more rape survivors are reporting their rapes than in previous decades, far fewer rapists are successfully prosecuted.

This morning, this state of affairs reached an all new low. A gang rape case in Manchester was dropped when it was revealed that the 24 year old complainant had previously talked online about having group sex fantasies. Judge Robert Brown ruled that "her credibility was shot to pieces" and ordered the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.

The story doesn't contain much detail, but it seems to me that this is what happened: a 24 year old woman talked to Olatunji Owolabi, an internet friend, about her sexual fantasies, during which she admitted that she had fantasised about group sex. She speculated that if she found herself in a group sex situation "her morals would go out of the window" (her words). She arranged to visit Owolabi with the intention of hooking up with him. Without her consent or knowledge, he arranged a group of mates to come round. When she arrived at his house, they raped her. The judge ruled that it was not rape because of its similarity to her expressed fantasies.

Penny Red eloquently explains exactly why this is total bullshit:

Let's say, just for example, that my boyfriend is a little bit of a masochist. Let's say the idea of being smacked, spanked and hurt in a sexual context excites him; that we've discussed his fantasies and even acted some of them out in bed. Does that, then, mean that I'm entitled to beat him up in the kitchen whenever he annoys me? Can I punch him, cut him, smash his head into the cooker, and know that a jury will acquit me? Does the fact that he has kinky fantasies make it okay for me to physically abuse him in any context, with or without his consent?

No, of course it doesn't make it okay, and because he's a man and it's not a rape case, we all understand that that kind of response is never even close to okay.

Desire is not consent. Consent is consent. You and I know this, because we fantasise about situations which would constitute traumatic assault or torture if they were actually carried out without our consent by people we didn't know or like. Thinking about something, fantasising about something, getting turned on by the idea of it, is not consent. Only consent is consent. Someone who enjoys thinking about sex, and having sex at certain times and with certain people, may not want to enjoy it right this second, right now, with this particular person. That person forcing them to endure it anyway is rape.

This doesn't change when the activity is group sex. It doesn't change when the activity is spanking or punching or kidnap. I am amazed that someone could have the education, intelligence and experience necessary to become a judge without this simple truth being perfectly obvious. Unless, I suppose, they were a woman-hating bigot.

--

Meredith Chivers, a 36-year-old psychology professor at Queens University, Ontario, and editor of a highly regarded journal of sexual research, has been making this point for the last ten years. According to a 2008 article in the Journal of Sex Research, 1 in 10 women enjoy pleasurable fantasies of sexual rape or assault at least once a month. Chivers told the NY Times,

"I walk a fine line, politically and personally, talking frankly about this subject. I would never, never want to deliver the message to anyone that they have the right to take away a womans autonomy over her body. I hammer home with my students, Arousal is not consent.

We spoke, then, about the way sexual fantasies strip away the prospect of repercussions, of physical or psychological harm, and allow for unencumbered excitement, about the way they offer, in this sense, a pure glimpse into desire, without meaning especially in the case of sexual assault that the actual experiences are wanted.

Its the wish to be beyond will, beyond thought, Chivers said about rape fantasies. To be all in the midbrain.

Jezebel magazine followed up the NY Times article with an interesting discussion of the issues. One writer, Anna, asked:

Can we [...] cease to use the phrase "rape fantasy"? The underlying definition of the word "rape" implies not only a lack of power but lack of choice, and for those who fantasize about being dominated, to me [...] there is a lot of power and choice inherent in that fantasy: you get to pick the time, the place, the person.

The other, Megan, replied:

Actual rape isn't about losing control or about giving up control or, one might say, if one were more versed in the language of the BDSM scene, topping from the bottom. Rape fantasies are, as you say, fantasies about submitting to a supposed aggressor with full consent and knowledge that you can be the one ending it. It's a fantasy of domination even as it's a fantasy about what rape really is. But [...] I don't have a problem with the term: unlike one of the commenters on the article, I have no illusions that either of the men that sexually assaulted me did so because they thought I "wanted" it. They might have chosen to justify their actions to themselves or others in that way afterwards, but there was no mistaking what was going on either time.

Rape and sexual assault victims understand very well the difference between fantasy and reality. You and I understand it as well, because our fantasies would usually be violent crimes if they were non-consensually carried out. We understand that fantasies do not diminish our autonomy: that enjoying our own imagined version of an event does not automatically give anyone else permission to forcibly inflict a similar event on us at any time. Unfortunately, that understanding is not yet as widespread as it should be.

Sexual research is still a male-dominated field, and clearly not one that Judge Brown is particularly familiar with. Chivers' analysis might sound like common sense to us, but we have long a way to go before its truth results in cultural change. Until our judges and prosecutors are educated to understand that arousal is not consent, rapes will continue to go unchallenged and unpunished.

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Tags: Gender politics, in the news, Politics, rant

8 comments

bodies and politics

Posted at 14:24 on 25 Sep 2009 by Pandora / Blake

My friend who has spent several years working with urban sex workers pointed me at a couple of heated discussions about sex work lately. Of course, conversations about sex work are often heated, mostly because not enough of the people participating in public debate seem to understand that it's just as unhelpful to generalise about all sex workers as it is to generalise about all women, or all people of colour, or any group defined by the mainstream as Not One Of Us.

However, once you get past Julie Bindel's predictably ignorant hostility, this debate on legislating prostitution contains some surprisingly balanced views. (Oooh, words cannot express how much it infuriates me that Ms Bindel is so often wheeled out to represent "the feminist perspective". Not all feminists think all sex workers are necessarily victims! I'm a feminist, I work in the sex industry, I'm not a victim, and Julie Bindel doesn't represent ME.)

There are some excellent, moderate, well-reasoned arguments in that thread, from a variety of perspectives, including some realistic analysis from a politician and a police inspector, all of whom advocate a balanced approach aimed at helping women who want to leave prostitution, and not persecuting those who don't. I'm not surprised to hear this from a sex worker, but it's affirming to hear it from the HM Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland:

Having led the Operation Pentameter investigation into sex trafficking in Scotland, I know that there is a serious problem around enforced prostitution. But you cant assume that everyone in the industry is there because of coercion, and moralising the argument by saying that no-one working in the industry could be doing so of their own free will detracts from efforts to protect the vulnerable.

Sadly, all this common sense doesn't seem to have got through to Julie Bindel, who continued to make outrageously blanket statements about the victimhood of all sex workers in today's Guardian, in response to Pamela Stephenson Connolly's Agony Aunt letter to a reader "hooked on prostitutes". I found Connolly's initial advice far more sensible than her justification after the fact, which contained several flawed assumptions, but Julie Bindel's closing remarks are so ignorant the stupidity sort of cancels out:

"Next time you're with a sex worker, ask her for some pointers," concludes Stephenson Connolly. Does she really think women having to service punters for a living concern themselves with teaching men how to give pleasure to women? They want to get it over with as quickly as possible and learn how to fake enjoyment rather than actually achieving it. Prostitution is a nasty business.

Why of course Julie, I forgot that you are both omnipotent and telepathic, and capable of speaking on behalf of all women without actually consulting them. Need I mention that, on the contrary, the sex and spanking professionals I know who offer private services consider listening, counselling and offering comfort and support just as much their job as the physical aspects? Most of the sex workers I know would be not only willing, but more than able to offer a client good advice about sex or relationships - especially if that client was a regular.

Yes, I know this isn't true of everyone who sells sex. Guess what? Sex workers aren't a monolithic group of identically hapless victims, and calling them so is just as dangerous and offensive as calling all women sluts or bitches. Sadly, this basic fact seems to have escaped Ms Bindel.

--



The fashion industry finally seems to be catching up with the European spanking scene in its acceptance of a variety of body shapes: size 12 and 14 women recently appeared alongside their thinner counterparts on catwalks during London Fashion Week. Of course, such an outrageous decision was never going to happen without drama, but let's face it: the industry is probably better off without the stylist who flounced out in protest. The show only included three "normal-sized" and even they only went up to size 14 (I think 16 is the average dress size in the UK?) but it's another baby step, to match the success of Beth Ditto's fashion brand, and plus-size model Crystal Renn's "new vogue for women 'lush and sparkly with nary a jutting collarbone in sight'."

Designer Mask Fast showcased sexy minidresses on the models, proving his designs don't just look good on size 0 figures. Fashion, advertising and entertainment still have a long way to go in embracing body-positivity, but it's good to see it gaining momentum.

--

On the topic of fantasy bodies vs. real ones, Natty has written another excellent post about being kinky with a chronic illness, called When Play Is Work. I've already written a lengthy comment in reply, so I won't say much more here. This topic is extra-relevant to me today: my hopes of getting a chance to play with Tom this weekend have just been scuppered by his work again. I'm more worried about him than disappointed: I know if I'm patient we'll find time eventually, and I'm lucky to live so close that we can spend time snuggling and looking after each other instead. But at times like this the contrast between the films I make and real life couldn't be more obvious.

Natty's post is valuable because it highlights the way that even when reality doesn't mirror fantasy, it can still be beautiful, rewarding and memorable. For Tom, like Natty, play is often hard work - and that's one of the reasons it's so intense and rewarding when we do manage it. And when it's just as often me who's too tired to play, it's good to be reminded that play doesn't have to be easy, or perfect, or live up to fantasised expectations. Flexibility, empathy and understanding will go a long way.

But sometimes, working hard just isn't the answer. Pushing myself too hard is often the reason I'm too exhausted to enjoy play, and exerting myself further may not help in that situation. And I certainly wouldn't ever expect Tom to work harder than he does to try and provide what I need - I'm more likely to want to reassure him that it's okay if he can't. It's down to the individual to assess how far they can push their body, and when it's time to chill out and give yourself a break. I can't make that decision for Tom any more than I'd want to make it for Natty.

I am blessed in my relationships in so many ways, and I try to be aware of how lucky I am. But even spanking models have to deal with reality undermining fantasy at times, and none of us are on top form all the time.

In producing my own spanking porn, I already intend to emphasise the agency, desire and personality of my submissive models (male and female), respect their boundaries, and celebrate a variety of body types. But I'm still trying to work out how to make spanking films that deal positively with disability and illness. Domestic discipline scenes dealing with real people's limits with humour and sensitivity are a possibility. And if I work with disabled models I can ask them if they'd like to appear on film with any visible supports they may have, such as crutches or a wheelchair - but not all disabilities are visible.

Fantasy is usually idealised, but I want to try and be as inclusive as possible: I want to make porn people can recognise themselves in. I know too many kinky people with chronic health problems to be comfortable erasing their experience for the sake of a whitewashed, glamorous, unrealistic fantasy world. There must be ways of telling hot stories about real people, making the reality of having a non-perfect body crucial to a kinky narrative in the way that Jacqueline Applebee does in stories such as What I Do For My Pain. I'm still trying to work out the best way to approach this (and I imagine it'll be an ongoing process), so I'd love to hear any input, stories or ideas you may have.

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Tags: Body positivity, Gender politics, health and disability, learning curves, Politics, rant, Sex worker rights

7 comments

Celebrating bisexuality

Posted at 17:37 on 23 Sep 2009 by Pandora / Blake

Today is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day! Ideally, I would celebrate my bisexuality by having kinky sex with a small selection of my favourite bisexual boys, girls and people inbetween, but I'm going out drinking with a big selection of them instead. Which is almost as good.

I first identified as bisexual when I was thirteen, nearly half my life ago. For the two years before that I was very confused: I knew I was utterly smitten with my female best friend, but I also knew, in a naive pubescent way, that there was no reason I might not choose a man as my life partner some day if I met the right guy. Then I discovered the concept of bisexuality (possibly on the Internet, but probably in one of the erotic books for women that my mum failed to successfully hide from me) and everything made much more sense.

When my relationship with my best friend developed into a sexual one, I became swept up in the full flush of first love. Clearly, my love and I were fated to be together forever. Clearly, therefore, I must be gay. I believed this until I entered the sixth form, at which point all the mean, spotty boys I knew started growing into tall, handsome young men. I realised I'd been bisexual all along, I just hadn't ever fancied teenage boys. Which is, you know, fair enough.

Peter from Bi Social News has written an excellent article asking: what is it that bisexuals have to celebrate? He answers his own question:

Bisexuality is an invitation to complexity. There is no coloring in between the lines with bisexuality because there are no lines to color in between. The world is open to us. What matters here then is defining an ethical code of our own. In other words, an invitation to complexity is an imperative to critical thinking and making reasoned choices. ... Bisexuality exists as both potential and realization always, especially if you are monogamous.

Being bisexual is emotionally intense and intellectually demanding, because it requires constant engagement and evaluation as part of the package. When we bisexuals live up to the challenge, we show healthy models for human relations and thats what we should be aiming for.

I am proud to be bisexual. It opens up limitless possibilities and models for relationships, sex, love. I am blessed to be able to enjoy the romantic and erotic company of men, women, and those inbetween. Because my interest is not limited to the cisgendered, I prefer the word queer to describe my own sexuality: I do not consider gender to be a binary, and I am not only attracted to those at the extreme ends of the spectrum. But for today, I'm happy to identify as bisexual, and celebrate that fact.

Today is necessary, not just as a love-fest for those of us similarly inclined, but to challenge the many problems our culture has with bisexual invisibility and prejudice. The LGBT movement has gained increasing force in the last few decades, but too often bisexuals are excluded from the language of LGBT rights, or shunned by individuals trying to reinforce their black-and-white view of the world. While the entertainment industry has started to admit the existence of real gay men and women, bisexual characters are almost never recognised in films and TV. Bisexuality is rarely mentioned in politics or public conversations about LGBT rights. Our culture has very few models for healthy bisexuality, and (perhaps as a result) stereotypes and prejudice abound. We are accused of indecision ('staying on the fence'; 'not making up your mind'), greed ('wanting our cake and eating it'), disloyalty, betrayal and lack of solidarity. We are told we lack self-awareness and emotional maturity ('you'll grow out of it'; 'you're just going through a phase'). Too often, our identity is denied and erased from public perception.

I'm preaching to the choir here: the kink scene is unusually aware and accepting of the range of human sexuality, and I'm sure you all already know this stuff. So I'll get off the soapbox, and finish up my mini-celebration of being queer with some bisexual spanking photos.





This is Leia-Ann Woods, Honey Hardy, Jadie Reece and Stephen Lewis all looking gorgeous in Northern Spanking's recent high-definition film Girls' Night In, beautifully photographed by Billy. The ladies are having fun enjoying each other when Leia's hubby walks in, catching them in the act of admiring and appreciating one another's bottoms. Well, what do you expect the man to do? Spank them, of course!





Happy International Celebrate Bisexuality Day, everyone. To all my fellow queers, I hope you have heaps of fun celebrating your sexuality in whatever way you prefer. Here's to embracing the power of 'and'. :)

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Tags: Leia-Ann Woods, making a scene, Northern Spanking, other pictures, otk spanking, Politics, Queer politics, rant, Stephen Lewis

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