Why is the queer pleasure of fisting censored in porn?

Fisting day

Fisting is not obscene. Quite the opposite: it is a natural sequitur to finger-banging, when the fingers curl in and you tuck the thumb inside. You’ll be surprised how similar the shape of a half-formed or fully-formed fist is to a vagina. It’s gentle if done at the right time (as with all kinds of penetration) and invigorates even the hardest to find G or P spot. Fisting can lead to multiple orgasms, and epic squirting.

It is particularly significant for women, cis and trans, in queer communities because you can do it vaginally or anally so it’s not gender-specific. It doesn’t require a flesh cock or a phallus-shaped toy, so lesbians looking to exclude the phallic association may gravitate towards hand sex. Hand sex, which isn’t exclusively queer, is used more by queer people. So, gay male porn aside, why do you never see it represented in porn?

In 2001, adult industry lawyer Paul Cambria created a list — The Cambria list — of things that could be in danger of inviting obscenity lawsuits which can be triggered by any person in the US against a piece of media.

Similarly, in the UK, a 2016 draft of the Digital Economy Bill was considered in parliament that would ban people from viewing porn that included “non-conventional sexual acts” — a vague list of criteria that film producers and academics suspected might cause offence, such as female ejaculation, or inserting more than four fingers into an orifice.

Things like fisting, menstrual blood, squirting, and peeing are all regulated alongside heavy regulations for how trans women or people of color can be shown. Casting is still heavily racialised and gendered. Queer-friendly, feminist, trans-inclusive intersectional porn is crucial.

As Charles Taylor reports, porn site Penthouse stopped featuring cum shots in response to the Cambria list. Larry Flynt, president of the American publishing company that owns the porn title Hustler, said that it was only a matter of time before the newly elected Bush administration would strike back at porn.

In 2001, an obscenity case was brought to LA’s Supreme Court against Adam Glasser — a porn producer known as Seymore Butts — for the obscenity of showing female fisting in a film called “Tampa Tushy Fest”. Big publishers like Hustler helped to create and enforce the self-censorship that inevitably followed, but were also just trying to protect themselves against any potential court case.

The guidelines of the Cambria list are limiting and exclusionary. In no particular order, it mandates that wax dripping, bisexuals, and transsexual people stay out of porn and off of box covers. On this list, fisting, squirting, sharing a dildo, blindfolds, bondage toys, transgender people, bisexual sex, and menstruation feature alongside underage fantasies, rape and molestation role plays, necrophilia, incest, and bestiality — with no hierarchical structure or taxonomy of offence.

This equates anything outside the accepted, mainstream rubric of sexual expression and pleasure with, at best, immorality, and at worst, criminality.

How I’ve Navigated Fisting Censorship

I’ve always been an independent porn-maker, but I have worked for others. Working for myself I have been able to work within my own bounds, but when I work for others I am always asked to not include fisting. For my first for-pay porn-making gig, there was a concern by the producers that fisting was on a list of potential obscene sex acts, so it couldn’t appear in films whether they were explicitly labeled as consensual or not. It didn’t occur to me that fisting would be an issue in lesbian porn or queer porn when I started making it professionally, but even my ‘groovy’ distributor disallowed me to include fisting, menstrual blood, or urine.

This great opportunity quickly became an editing gig, where I was always attempting to nudge in a little more of what happened than they’d allow. I get it. People don’t want to take risks. My saving grace, The Center for Sex and Culture (CSC) reached out to me during my last round of post-production for them, and I was able to make a film called Live Sex Show, shot at their annual Masturbate-a-thon, that financially benefited the CSC and to allowed me to start a label for myself: TROUBLEfilms.

The film had a scene in it, with stars Jiz Lee and Nina Hartley, where the only way you could see Lee’s orgasm was in the fisting footage in the final scene. There was no way around it, and I made no effort to edit it out. I was fed up of censoring what is, essentially, an iteration of queer pleasure. So I left it in, and prepared myself for mass rejection. Some VOD companies didn’t take it and I couldn’t get the film distributed on DVD. But I did sell it online through my own store and made enough money to eventually put together another film.

Working for myself I have been able to work within my own bounds, but when I work for others I am always asked to not include fisting. For my first for-pay porn-making gig, there was a concern by the producers that fisting was on a list of potential obscene sex acts, so it couldn’t appear in films whether they were explicitly labeled as consensual or not.

Fisting is still on the Cambria list of course, but then so is female ejaculation, and porn that features menstrual blood. Sex involving urination is there too. Why most of these sex acts or themes have been allowed back into the mainstream adult showcase while fisting remains as taboo as some of the more serious acts is baffling.

Except it’s not baffling at all; it’s because the powers that be feel ‘proper’ porn should lack vaginal pleasure, anal pleasure, and feature a lack of agency in non-phallic penetration and pleasure. Many of these prohibited, or at least self-censored, things, such as transgender people, bisexual sex, menstruation, and squirting identify a larger problem within the community of adult industry lawyers that mandate these guidelines, and the filmmakers and producers that perpetuate this list’s power over our work: the adult industry at large is misogynist and homophobic. I should mention here that gay porn does not have a fisting ban.

Ironically, since 2001 companies have slowly ventured into the Cambria list for marketing ideas. This anti-Cambria ‘taboo’ market is huge. In the past few years, underage taboo fantasies and incest have become common top-shelf porn subjects, and performers are making complaints about abusive rough sex and degrading dialogue. (content warning: this video describes sexual assault). So, it’s not like everything on the list is still banned, in fact, most of it is what’s popular in the industry.

It is essential that marginalised groups create their own sexual images and retain creative control over them. This is why in 2011, Jiz Lee and I got together to create International Fisting Day. As Jiz Lee mentions on their website: “For the circles I run in, the act of making porn is a brave, powerful, and righteous thing. We’re representing marginalized communities, taking power through creating our own images of desire.”

Things like fisting, menstrual blood, squirting, and peeing are all regulated alongside heavy regulations for how trans women or people of color can be shown. Casting is still heavily racialised and gendered. Queer-friendly, feminist, trans-inclusive intersectional porn is crucial. Sex can be a unifying language; I find that porn mostly just brings people together. Self-censorship only leads to less understanding and fewer available production resources. I am advocating that fisting porn continue to be made, but for that to happen indie porn needs to be made. We must still be willing to take the risks of making it for each other.

The reaction from lesbians and queers when seeing something they love to do normalised and celebrated in porn is positive and life-affirming. What aren’t we seeing of queer pleasure in the porn world that could be useful to sexually active, queer-identifying adults? What does the erasure of their pleasure from mainstream porn tell them about how the world sees, values, and accepts them?

Courtney Trouble

Courtney Trouble has an MFA in Photography and is currently studying for a MA in Visual Critical Studies. They started NoFauxxx.Com in 2002, and have worked at On Our Backs, Lusty Lady, and virtually any other place that has a suggestive, alliterative name since moving to the Bay Area in 2005.

View more