Notes on The Feminist Porn Book | Take 1

I recently read The Feminist Porn Book by Tristan Taormino. It is such a great book, and Taormino, as well as all the other authors who contributed essays to it, have amazing brains.

I love talking about porn with people and listening to their opinions. This book definitely helped me in polishing and re-conceptualizing my own, and has equipped me with more information and perspectives to be able to help and guide others in their journey through porn & porn critique.

I decided to write a series of (shorter than usual) blog posts about different quotes from the book that are thought-provoking, fun, and/or great to talk about. Please comment, add to, disagree with, and share through the comments, on social media or wherever you feel like bringing up porn (hey, Easter is coming up!). Communication is what keeps us learning and growing!

I will start with a quote from the Introduction which I think is VERY relatable to many, and I think speaks to one of the reasons I love feminist porn.

“Feminist porn does not shy away from the darker shades of women’s fantasies. It creates space for realizing the contradictory ways in which our fantasies do not always line up with our politics or ideas of who we think we are.”  – Constance Penley, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Mireille Miller-Young, Tristan Taormino

It is very simply put here, which I love about the quote, but really it speaks to a complex, ongoing process of deconstruction, critique and mindfullness that feminism has always dealt with in different ways with different phenomena.

The internal battle between desire & politics, fantasy & activism, the personal as political, is not exclusive to porn, of course. For decades certain currents within and outside of feminism have criticized femme identity of being internalized misogyny, sex work of being a weapon and a victim of the patriarchy, fetishism as being just another form of female objectification, to name a few instances. Hell, even being attracted to cis men is sometimes subject to feminist, queer criticism. Ask bisexual communities.

The thing about porn, and about sex & sexuality at large, is that we do not pick and choose what turns us on. Sure, desire is to an extent malleable, but it is hardly voluntary. Either something has orgasmic potential or it doesn’t. What we protest against during the day may very well be what we ask our partners to (consensually!!) act out with us at night.

Think about BDSM, abduction fantasies or rape (role)play, D/s relationships, maid/slave/schoolgirl role-play. These are all things for which (primarily people raised as) women who enjoy them, in particular when these women want to play out the submissive role, often face external and/or internal criticism, shame, accusations of betrayal to the movement. “Am I perpetuating rape culture?” “Why do I want a man to be physically/verbally violent with me in bed?” “Am I furthering the stereotype that (all) women WANT to be submissive (outside of bed too)?”

My answer would be NO, people whose desires take them to submissive roles, feminine attitudes, and/or ANYTHING ELSE for that matter, are not perpetuating anything. They are (consensually, duh) enjoying their sex lives, which is awesome, healthy and empowering. And they are acting upon their own bodies as they please. Isn’t choice and self-determination what feminism is all about?

Now, we – the book & I both, I mean – aren’t saying that fantasies, BDSM, porn, etc should be exempted from intersectional feminist critique. Feminist porn is about allowing that critique to happen – in front and behind the camera, as well as in the audience & under the sheets, there should be discussion & reflection of why and how and when these things are happening, ways to be ethical & humane about them, etc.

But feminist porn – and sex-positivity in general, I would say – is about acknowledging that our politics are no less valid because we don’t get off on them. It is also about being mindful that our desires are just as big a part of us as our ideologies, and that paying attention to both is not an impossible contradiction but rather a useful tool in knowing ourselves and others better.

Feminist porn does not pretend these “darker shades of women’s fantasies” don’t exist, nor does it judge & police them. It exposes them, is highly aware of them, comments on them, and ultimately allows them to be. This is something to love and admire and try to bring to our lives: feminist porn allows (or tries its best to allow) all shades of human emotion & sexuality to just be.


If you are looking for this mighty book on your local (buy local pretty plz) bookstore or library, here is the bibliography:

Taormino, Tristan; Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young (eds). The Feminist Porn Book: The politics of producing pleasure. The Feminist Press: New York, 2013.

Related bits (re: fantasy, feminism, BDSM):

Laci Green’s vid on Female Sexual Fantasies

The Pervocracy: “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?”

Feminist Halestorm: Consensual Non-Consent. Trigger warning for discussion of rape.


What do YOU think about fantasies, feminist porn & the politics of desire?

What sexy word starts with a P and ends with an N? POPCORN!

Let’s take a moment to talk about porn, okay? Okay.

Some feminists argue that the porn industry is just another way the world exploits women, objectifies them, sells them. The same feminists, probably, that say those same things about other forms of sex work – another topic for another day, buddies. They say that it is bad for sex and bad for body image and bad for feminism. I am oversimplifying their somewhat valid case, but I seriously do not want to get that much into that viewpoint.

Yes, some women are exploited into and by the sex industry (by sex industry I mean pornography, street-based prostitution, escorting, hotlines, etc). But as with sex work, viewing all pornography as exploiting women ignores the vast majority of cases in which, with more or less degree of choice, women opt into the industry. Their experiences are equally valid. Moreover, it reduces women in the industry to passive victims instead of actors in their own lives, it strips them of any sort of credit and agency. It also implies that women could not possibly WANT to work in such an industry, morally judging it. Unequal working conditions, agency within the workplace and pay, furthermore, are (sadly) true to any profession and any industry. Which is to say, you are still marking a difference and morally judging it. Not very feminist-sounding, IMHO.

Yes, porn, as most form of media nowadays, objectifies women. BUT it also objectifies men, albeit in a different, possibly-less-degrading manner. Most mainstream porn does in fact portray women as receiving, dying-to-get-some-from-whomever, furniture. Sure. But it reduces men to their penises, and they are only as good of a man as the lenght and girth and endurance of their ever-ready, ever-pleasing, sex machinegun.

One could argue – as many have and will – that it objectifies women more, or in a more negative way. Maybe, I don’t really know. But even then, doesn’t every form of media do that same thing? Then the problem is not pornography, but pervasive sexism and patriarchy. This is to say, STOP HATING ON THE SEX INDUSTRY. Feminism has bigger things to worry about, you guys..

Porn tells us both, too, to expect unrealistic – and lets face it, not even that pleasurable – things from sex and from our partner. It tells us both what we should want and what we are supposed to get out of sex.

Where the similarities stop, and my main charge against porn, is where point of view is concerned, and diversity is ignored in every possible aspect in which diversity exists.

The point of view, the gaze, in mainstream porn is clearly that of a man. The pleasure it seeks is that of a man. The fantasies it portrays are those of a man. It absolutely reiterates that sex and pleasure are GUYS STUFF. And that what women want is either secondary and optional, or supposed to be only to please a man. Visit any major porn site – what a cool homework I am giving you, eh? – and look at the videos in the homepage. How many women orgasm? How many men? How many show a man who is hotter – by mainstream standards, anyway –  than the woman (we like ’em good looking too, y’know?!)? How many gay couples (although there is the lesbian fetish that men have..)? How many end with the guy cumming in the girl’s face – the absolute grossest thing for a gal, if you ask me?

In sex as in life, furthermore, variety and diversity are what makes it awesome. There is no such variety in mainstream porn. Look at that same homepage. How many gay couples are there? How many radically different sexual experiences are portrayed? How many have prostate stimulation? You’d think that if it is supposed to be the most pleasurable thing for men, they’d include it, but because it is related to homosexuality and OMG EW LEAVE MY BUTT ALONE it is not. How many gender non-conforming people do you see? How many include foreplay which does not directly include genitalia? How many include toys (and I do not meen strap-ons in lesbian vids BECAUSE WHO COULD NOT WANT A PENIS)? In how many is the woman the “agressor”? How many of the penises are not irrealistically huge? How many women are unshaved? How many vids feature women are not skinny but the vid does not revolve around their large breasts? How many transgender people?

A very controversial thing that I do not often talk about is snuff porn, rape fantasies, etc. It is a very contested area for feminists, for women in general (why aren’t these groups the same people? another topic for another time..), for activists. Sure, the fantasy of rape or abduction is a real one for many women – many more than most feminists would like to admit, probably. While, true, it is largely due to how women are socialized into being passive receptors, into being submissive, into wanting protecting and strong and powerful and dominant men. It is also true that it could be partly due to the fact that women sexuality and sexual desire is still a taboo and that, through a rape or abduction fantasy women are free of responsibility – and therefore guilt or shame – for what happens.

Thing about these fantasies many women have is that the rape or abduction happens with a man the woman already desired. With a man the woman was playing hard-to-get, or was feeling unsure but his irresistible moves made her change her mind mid-act, as much of this type of pornography would have it. And let’s remember it is a FANTASY, not to be confused with a desire to be translated into reality. Other times, outside of porn and often when it is acted out with a partner, rape fantasies are possible only in a previously agreed-on space and time and manner, with a trustworthy partner women already know and desire and feel safe with.

The problem is not with the women in this type of fantasy, but in men. Because men are the ones at which mainstream pornography is targetted, because men are statistically more likely than women to be the rapist in real-life situations, because men have this fantasy too but it does not translate to the same thing necessarily. Because men are receiving other ideas from mainstream pornography that, together with rape fantasies, can be extremely dangerous and problematic. From most porn, as I already discussed, they learn and internalize that women are passive receivers, always ready for some action from whomever wants it: the plumber, the teacher, the doctor, the neighbor, the brother, the grand-father even. She always wants you and if she seems to not, she just needs some convincing (#MaliciousAdviceMallard: don’t convince her with words and open communication and charm. convince her waving your dong at her instead). Many men, then, internalize that a woman is only playing hard to get, but your ever-ready machinegun non-consensually inside her will change her mind for sure.  A rape fantasy played out is only cool if an explicit, verbal, consensual, safe conversation happens before – and by before I mean a fully-clothed, un-pressured, calm kind of before.


I guess that is what I want to say about porn. That in itself it is not a problem, that it should probably try to take on a bit of variety, that it should embrace the radical, unthinkable notion that women want orgasms too and that it could do away with so much violence against women, so much rape fantasies from a male gaze, so much “Oh you were just a plumber but now that you’re naked you are my ideal stud” (how about some where the woman really wants to and the guy plays hard to get? let’s at least switch roles from time to time, man!), but that porn by the mere definition of porn is not the problem.

I would also like to reiterate that stigmatization of the porn industry and the sex industry at large is totally uncool. They are performing, they are making a living, they are selling a product. All else that you add to their definition is your own moral judgment and lack of understanding of the many dimensions of sex industry. Sex workers are not criminals nor are they victims. They are people who happen to work in something that is considered taboo in this day and age. Hey, at some point doctors had to dig up corpses illegally to do a filthy thing called science, so drop it.

[Also, those whose charges against porn are that it is missinforming our youth: you should start by giving youth appropriate, comprehensive, inclusive sex education. That is one big reason why people look to porn when searching for info and some sort of truth about sex – porn was there when sex ed was not. Don’t get me wrong, porn can teach you stuff – sure as hell taught me a thing or two -, but if unaccompanied by science and facts and support from a community, it deeply impairs and limits you sexual identity and experiences.]
sex ed

Cool? Cool.

For further porn-related goodness (sorry! no porn here, dudes and dudettes, that is what Google is for):

A Feminist Defense of Pornography

What makes feminist porn feminist?

Children and the culture of pornography

Feminist Porn: Sex, Consent, and Getting Off

Kids turning to porn for sex education: study – The Globe and Mail