Girls on top: The rise of feminist porn

Communities who are often underrepresented, stereotyped and fetishised are now making porn on their own terms. Photo / 123RF
Communities who are often underrepresented, stereotyped and fetishised are now making porn on their own terms. Photo / 123RF

Once a director instructed me to wait five minutes and then fake an orgasm. I said, 'give me an additional five minutes and I'll have a real orgasm'. To me, that's feminist porn in a nutshell."

Madison Young is unabashed in her enthusiastic description of life as a porn star. She's sitting in the middle of a Los Angeles café, not lowering her voice - even when talking about anal and kinky sex.

Her name is one that might make some nod their heads in acknowledgement, albeit discreetly. The amiable strawberry blonde, born Tina Butcher, became a pioneer of feminist porn 10 years ago. "Performing was a way to bring my feminist ethos into erotic film," she says of her rather controversial career choice.

Now 36-years-old, Madison has become an integral part of the sex-positive movement that has been on the rise since the Eighties. It believes that sexual images can be a source of inspiration, liberation and empowerment for viewers.

Porn is being watched by women more than ever. In 2015, One of the world's most popular free sites, Pornhub, which is visited by 156 million people every month, recently revealed that women make up a quarter of its global audience. While a study by the University of Western Ontario, in the same year, found that people who watch porn are more likely to have feminist views. And with the success of mainstream books such as Fifty Shades of Grey - 80 per cent of readers were women - it's little wonder that a more female-focused porn industry is rapidly taking shape.

Indeed, April 20 sees the Toronto International Porn Festival - an annual celebration of progressive pornography. Madison has already won several prices there for her work. One way to think about the idea of feminist porn, according to Lynn Comella, professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of Nevada, is as an intervention.

"Feminist porn takes a cultural form that has historically been seen as the purview of men," she says. "It reworks sexual images and conventions in an effort to explore new and more diverse kinds of desires."

For Madison, what defines the type of feminist porn she stars in, is the authenticity of her pleasure. "Being able to talk about what you desire and your real life kinks, that's what matters to me," she says. A real orgasm on camera, however, does not necessarily mean soft sex. Madison's responsibility as a performer is to find something erotic about every moment, she believes. And she has certainly done most things: shoe-sniffing, latex, leather, you name it.

One of the initiators of the Toronto International Porn Festival is Carlyle Jansen. She wants to showcase that the face of porn is changing.

"It's really exciting because now you have trans people and people with disabilities making porn. Communities who are often underrepresented, stereotyped and fetishised are now making it on their own terms."

To Jansen, feminist porn is about inclusiveness. But as someone who has watched a lot of porn, quality is also essential. "We're looking for something that's enjoyable. Are we looking at a 10 minute blow job scene where we got the point after 10 seconds? Is there interesting music? Good acting? Is it well-lit and framed? The theme might not be everyone's turn-on but you have to at least enjoy watching it."

Although the feminist porn industry is thriving, so is its counter-movement, which began to take roots in the Seventies. "The idea of feminist porn makes about as much sense as saying you're a vegetarian carnivore," says Dr Julia Long, author of the book Anti-porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Porn Feminism.

She believes pornography, regardless of the form it might take, is inherently harmful to women.

"I think the argument about feminist porn is indicative of a lack of feminist critique and imagination because it sets the notion that sexuality is about consumption. With porn, you're creating a product, and whatever the nature of that product, it will always be variations of eroticising inequality."

To Dr Long, the new generation of feminists are merely ambling around issues without reaching their core. She is not alone in her beliefs.

Prominent anti-pornography voices such as Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer believe that the "need" to watch porn is a constructed desire under patriarchal capitalism. Dr Long doesn't believe that adding the word "feminist" to "porn" will change the harm done to women in the industry and the way it shapes negative attitudes to sex.

"Everything is commodified, from what you eat to what you wear to what you see. You go into the market you want to change and change it from within," says Anna Arrowsmith. The 44-year-old from London was the first feminist porn director in the UK.

But even within in the sub-genre of feminist porn there seems to be disagreement about what it should entail. Arrowsmith believes authentic pleasure is problematic. "When you go see a horror film you don't expect it to be real, you expect it to be performed. I think it can put pressure on the performers if their pleasure has to be authentic."

To Madison, the most important part of making porn is the message it sends out. "In the same way that some films could give a negative view sex, porn also has the power to make us feel great and teach consent and communication," she says. She strongly believes that feminist porn does make a difference, changing attitudes both outside and within the industry.

A decade in, Madison still loves her job. She does have to deal with her fair share of judgment, especially when people hear she has two children. "There's so much stigma around sex and sexuality. I can be a mother and still be a sex activist."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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