Pornhub reported that women are watching more porn than ever before in their annual review of 2017. Last year, the most searched term on Pornhub’s site was ‘porn for women’, surging by 359 per cent from 2016 to 2017. 28.5 billion people visited Pornhub in 2017, so naturally a large portion of viewers would be female. But in a year that was dominated by female empowerment, there is still criticism of women who watch porn that doesn’t reflect a feminist ideology.
‘’The thing with porn is that there are so many different types of it. We have to look at what are we actually talking about when we say porn. Is it stuff on tumblr? Is it mainstream stuff? Is it feminist porn? Is it gay porn? LGBT porn?So the question is quite simplistic and a lot of the questions in porn studies have been to this day’’ according to Caroline West, a DCU PHD student with an MA in sexuality studies.
Her current research is looking at the experience of women working in the American porn industry and how those experiences are talked about within the feminist debate on pornography. It looks at who’s defining what exploitation is, what empowerment is and all the grey areas in between.
‘Porn for women’ or feminist porn, as it’s often referred to, is more representative of real life and real life sexual practices, according to West.
‘’There’s a lot of feminist porn made these days by a huge variety of people that really look into different body types and different races, by film makers like Erika Lust.’’
Erika Lust is a Swedish film maker who was tired of tacky mainstream porn and decided to direct an indie short film called The Good Girl in 2004. The success of her first film encouraged her to direct three more erotic films and set up a site aimed at women.
‘’There are loads of filmmakers like Lust out there, and from all continents as well. Australia has a really large amount like Miss Naughty and Stardust. It’s just a case of looking for it. It’s more about getting it out there so people know it exists’’ West said.
But Caroline explains that feminist porn doesn’t have to be all rose petals and candles. It can be rough, it can be BDSM or down and dirty. There’s no one way to have good sex so women who enjoy porn that isn’t soft need not be ashamed.
‘’Just because you might fantasize, it doesn’t mean you want it to happen in real life. Sexual fantasy is so personal and individual and related to so many things that might have gone on in your life or you might not have experienced or want to experience or ways that you’re dealing with various traumas or ways that you’re dealing with certain pleasures. It’s all so unique and a mish-mash of a lot things but it’s still quite a common fantasy to be overpowered and stuff. And just because you like that, it doesn’t mean that you want to be overpowered. Maybe in your head you’re more attracted to the role of the person doing the overpowering’’ West said.
With so many different elements to sexual fantasies, West says that we should not take a simplistic approach to understanding them because up until now a lot of research hasn’t taken women into account, particularly their experiences, fantasies and desires.
The same way there is more than one kind of porn, there is no such thing as one particular type of feminist, and when we think like that, we get into problems, West says.
‘’You usually think of the porn discussion as “are they empowered or are they exploited?” and really it’s so much more nuanced than that. Not everyone is empowered all the time by their job and it’s kind of much the same in the porn industry as well.’’
In West’s research of the American porn industry, she says that as an outsider to the industry, it has changed for the better following the revelations about James Dean.
Dean is an adult movie star who was accused of rape and sexual assault by an ex girlfriend and several other porn stars. He denies the allegations that came to light in 2015.
‘’Since the allegations, a lot of the companies have taken steps to try and protect their workers and have conversations about it. Some of my interviewees referenced that the industry has taken a lot of steps and that they were surprised at how well their allegations were received and at how progressive the companies were” West said.
West says the many companies have taken steps to address issues of pay level and racism in the industry, but like any industry, have a long way to go.
Image Credit: Elsa Anderling