We erase women’s agency by assuming all violent porn is degrading

Woman in bondage sex play

Pornography has a bad rap.

It’s often thought of as an all-consuming monolith, oozing with unrealistic body standards, fake orgasms, and over-enthusiastic female performers who never really convince us that they are actually enjoying themselves.

Fifth wave feminism has given way to fat acceptance and sex positive movements that can conflict with what comes to mind when we think of ‘mainstream porn’. Porn can play into unrealistic sexual performance standards, where women are expected to orgasm quickly, often, and repetitively. In reality, the majority of women rarely respond that way during penetrative sex.12

And then, there’s porn that depicts violence and rape fantasies. It’s easy to see how this may be read by the anti-porn narrative as degrading to women, playing into sexist and racist stereotypes, and very much made for ‘the male gaze.’ Yet, by stigmatising BDSM and any sex media that plays out aggressive or violent sex acts as something that’s not for women, and is always to their detriment, we ignore their role, agency, and pleasure in enjoying porn.

Denying women’s aggressive desires is censorship

Director, producer, and performer at homemade porn channel Lustery, Paulita Pappel says stigma is painting BDSM and other alternative sex lifestyles in a negative light.

“It needs to be consensual, and what both adults are comfortable with needs to be clear,” she says. “But pretending that aggressive and violent tendencies are not part of a woman’s reality is counterproductive. Women talk about enjoying rape fantasies and BDSM, and that’s in dominant and submissive roles.

“Pornography is fiction. As adults we should be able to understand that. In a porn film, people are usually playing a role even if they are enjoying themselves. While consent should absolutely always be a part of the production process, consent can’t be a part of the film narrative in the case of say, a rape fantasy.”

Paulita highlights the influence conservative ideals have on the way the porn industry is framed, pointing out that a long-held belief that women want sex for reasons other than pleasure, and never just for pleasure, such as for validation, love, companionship, and commitment, is pervasive.

Lustery's Paulita PappelProducer, performer, and director at Lustery, Paulita Pappel. Photo courtesy of Paulita Pappel

“We should all be talking to more women and trying to understand that power play and pain play are part of human sexuality,” she says. “To deny that women enjoy this type of sex or porn is reductive, forbidding, and stigmatising. Reflect on your gender bias.”

Business consultant and founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, Cindy Gallop says that while she has no problem with women making porn that depicts violence or rape, she feels differently about how the ‘male lens’ considers sexual violence.

“Any industry that is dominated by men at the top inevitably produces output that is objectifying to women”

“The male lens is dominant within the porn industry,” says Cindy. “Any industry that is dominated by men at the top inevitably produces output that is objectifying to women.

“It’s white guys talking to other white guys about what to create,” she adds. “Men have no idea what it’s like to be a woman watching a rape scene, and that’s evident across all TV and film.”

Cindy talks of an experience she had watching a male-dominated group sex scene involving one woman and becoming uncomfortable, because it felt “redolent of gang rape”. She strongly disagrees that all violent porn is degrading to women, but points out that the “dominance of the male lens isn’t benefitting anyone”.

“I’d love to take the homepages of popular porn sites and recreate them, flipping the gender with snapshots of men with vaginal secretions all over their faces and a giant pussy looming in the foreground,” she says. “Just to illustrate how ridiculous it is that the male equivalent dominates their homepages.”

Cindy Gallop Founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, Cindy Gallop. Credit: Constance & Eric

Gender bias dictates what porn women ‘should’ enjoy

Paulita wants people to reflect on why they think people of different genders find certain things pleasurable or arousing. More often than not, gender stereotypes and societal conditioning influence our views on sexuality, even if just at a subconscious level. Paulita refers to this limited view of female sexuality as “an infantilisation of women”.

“To push the idea that women don’t or shouldn’t enjoy more aggressive-leaning porn is restricting our exploration of sexuality in a way that men would normally be encouraged to explore,” she says. “This plays into stereotypical gender roles, like the ‘hypersexualised man’ and the ‘passive woman’ who’s always a victim.”

Cindy says referring to a sex film as “feminist porn” does a disservice to those who created it, forcing it into a niche when a much broader scope of people are likely to enjoy it. Gendering porn content is a step in the wrong direction.

“I have a huge issue with [the labels] ‘feminist porn’ and ‘porn for women’,” she says. “The moment you describe porn as that, you’ve marginalised it — men won’t watch it, and they should.”

Submissives hold all the cards

The BDSM dynamic is something that those outside of the lifestyle often misunderstand. Popular TV, film, and novel fiction have painted the idea of women playing the submissive role as shy, meek, and most notably, completely at the will of their ‘master’. Paulita says this framing of BDSM is false.

“The one playing the submissive role is actually in control,” she says. “Because ‘giving up control’ in a consensual BDSM scenario means you’re the one calling the shots and deciding how far things go.”

Boundaries and clear cues for expressing discomfort are typically established beforehand in sadomasochism, dominatrix, and top and bottom situations.

Those in the submissive role are having their needs met through pain play in a way that’s pleasurable for them.

“The submissive is the star of the show in a porn and real life context,” says Paulita. “Power dynamics between two consenting adults are not always clear cut, so playing with those dynamics is interesting.”

“In a rape fantasy, you are actually in control while appearing not to be. That is entirely different to ‘wanting’ to be raped and nothing to do with real life sexual assault”

Consent is integral to BDSM play, and Cindy refers to this as “consent with a capital C”, expressing that “the BDSM camp is more focused on consent than anyone else.”

When it comes to rape fantaisies, the fantasy element is core to the act. Within the context of this, the woman is painting the picture, influencing the outcomes and setting the backstory.

“In a rape fantasy, you are actually in control while appearing not to be”, explains Cindy. “You manage the conditions and how you want the fantasy to play out. That is entirely different to ‘wanting’ to be raped and nothing to do with real life sexual assault.”

Pay for the porn you want to see in the world

Feminist, sex-positive spaces have vocalised support for the workers within the sex industry, yet the issue of people not paying for porn gets less attention. This creates a negative feedback loop where pornmakers with money are pushed harder to vie for our attention.

“Sex-positive feminists should be supporting the porn they want to see financially,” says Paulita. “Women do need to be more conscious about the ways they are consuming content from female performers.”

We should be paying for our porn, especially if we want to see porn made for us, that empowers and enables us. Performers who are trailblazing and innovating can’t do so without financial backing. Plus, low payment or none at all gives clout to the camps that think sex and porn work is not ‘respectable’ work.

“Society just doesn’t like the idea of women having sex for money — because women are ‘meant’ to have sex for marriage and commitment”

“There are many powerfully articulated women that are sexperts and experts in other fields that are being silenced because they are porn performers. Feminists should want to amplify these voices and support them,” says Paulita. Paying for sex content is an element of what this support should look like.

The argument that women in porn are being exploited and therefore the industry isn’t deserving of support is flawed. It’s a tired cliche that all women within the industry are victims, ‘forced’ into it by others or unfavourable circumstances.

Consensual aggression and violence in porn Femdom humiliation porn places women in the dominant position

“Society just doesn’t like the idea of women having sex for money — because women are ‘meant’ to have sex for marriage and commitment,” says Paulita.

The porn industry has also been marginalised in a wider business sense too, which deters investors and hinders innovation. Cindy claims that “savvy business minds have no interest in investing in porn, though they should”.

“Everybody in porn is competing with each other by doing exactly the same thing as each other,” she explains. “Porn’s business model is failing.”

Its failed business model drives the “explosive growth of extremely violent porn”, as directors scramble to find new ways to entertain their audience by ‘one-upping’ each other. Cindy doesn’t feel this is reflective of consumer demand.

“Those porn producers are scared shitless because they aren’t making any money,” she says. “That’s what drives sex content that is becoming more and more extreme.”

Consumer insight is essential for the growth of any industry. The social stigma surrounding porn prevents many women from casually discussing their porn habits, which makes it difficult to drive social and industry change. When setting up her social sex video sharing platform, Cindy struggled to even be approved for a business account due to the nature of her work.

Aggressive sex play can be empowering

There’s a huge potential for empowerment, exploration, and reclaiming your own sexuality when it comes to weaving power play and pain play into your sexual landscape.

“Analysing power dynamics is such an important part of feminism and challenging structural discrimination,” says Paulita. “Women have been ostracised and discriminated against for years in regards to sexuality.

“Exploring your own boundaries and playing with power dynamics within a safe setting can be transformational for women.”

There are “millions of men who enjoy being dominated”, or even humiliated by women within a consensual sexual setting

Turning the spotlight on the dominatrix sector, Cindy points out that there are “millions of men who enjoy being dominated”, or even humiliated by women within a consensual sexual setting.

The women who enjoy porn that depicts this type of sex play are also being forgotten within the ‘porn degrades women’ narrative.

“I’d encourage all women to start talking openly about enjoying porn,” says Cindy. “It isn’t until women really start articulating this that the porn industry will sit up and take note, recognise us as an economic force, and start creating content that reflects this.

“Recommend the porn you like to your friends, and even create your own. Make the porn you want to see in the world.”

The featured header image shows a woman face down on a bed with her wrists bound together with rope, depicting a BDSM, pain and power play scenario that serves the submissive’s [her] pleasure needs

References

1. Alzate, H. (1985). Vaginal Eroticism and Female Orgasm: A Current Appraisal. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 11/4: 271-284.

2. Kontula, O., & Miettinen, A. (2016). Determinants of female sexual orgasms. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 6/1: 31624.

Rachel Mantock

Deputy Editor, The Femedic

A feature writer who started out in lifestyle and wellness, Rachel joined The Femedic after becoming frustrated with the way women’s bodies and intimate health were being reported on. She wanted to talk about the good, the bad, the ‘ugly’ and the ‘really ugly’, with no topic too taboo to investigate. From conversations with the women she meets everyday to speaking with doctors, she’s constantly surprised by the amount of misinformation and lack of research around women’s health issues. She’s determined to raise awareness of the female health issues that are prominent in minority groups and to get more women talking shamelessly about their bodies and experiences.

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