The XBIZ and AVN Awards are annual ceremonies that honour the adult film industry and are commonly referred to as the Oscars and the Golden Globes of porn. For more than 10 years, less than a fifth of their best director nominations have been female, but this year, that’s all changed with more than half of the XBIZ’s, and just under half of the AVN’s, best director nominations being women. Compare that to the Academy Awards who have nominated just five women directors since 1929, with the only winner being Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker, in 2009. Such comparisons may appear impertinent at first glance, but then consider the uber-liberal leanings of the Hollywood crowd versus the widely accepted chauvinism of the porn industry.
Secrecy—and embarrassment—around the adult film industry makes it hard to put a price on porn, though most experts agree that in the US alone its revenue is comparable with that of Hollywood’s, while some argue it may be even turn over as much as the likes of Amazon or Apple. Studies have shown that women make up a significant percentage of that adult film audience, and in the case of website YouPorn, they account for around a quarter—half of which are single, more than a quarter are dating, and a fifth are married. Nine out of ten admit to preferring to watch porn sans partner.
But it’s not just the viewing numbers that prove surprising (at least to the male half of the population), but the viewing habits, also. YouPorn found more women than men search for lesbian videos, while research by Pornhub discovered them to be twice as likely to watch group sex footage (and, at the other end of the spectrum, romantic clips) than the guys, too.
“In their fantasies, women want to be taken aback,” sexual therapy psychologist Laurie Betito tells Vice. “This is interesting because, in reality, women are stronger, and ‘in control’ of their sexuality, while in their fantasies, some of them return to more traditional gender roles.”
Dig a little deeper, however, and it’s clear that women also certainly yearn for porn that’s, well, a little deeper. More than a third of female YouPorn viewers select videos with actors that they can relate to, while just over a quarter want women playing the dominant role. Forty percent desire videos that feature actors in their own age group.
“Pornography directed by stereotypical horny males, there’s a lot of that, and a lot of it’s not that good,” multi-award-winning director—and a vocal supporter of women directors in the industry—Mike Quaser, tells the Daily Beast. “To bring in a female perspective, even if it’s an incredibly perverse female perspective… is good.”
In 2017, the Journal ofSex Research published a study that spanned 1999-2016 concerning women’s experiences of viewing erotic films. Among the findings were: that women experience empathy for the performers, noting such things as facial expressions and the realism of their pleasure—the more realistic the performances, the greater the watching women’s enjoyment; that women compared their own bodies to those of the performers’, often leading to insecurities; and that some women felt conflicted about being aroused by something considered by some to be socially unacceptable (this syncs with further data from YouPorn showing that although 51 percent of women agree it’s equally acceptable for women to watch porn as men, 51 percent would also be embarrassed for their friends to discover that they did so).
And so ‘feminist porn’ (sometimes referred to as ‘ethical porn’), sets about addressing such issues.
Feminist porn is political and all inclusive, a place where, according to pornographer and transgender man, Carey Gra, “people with alternative sexualities can explore their sexualities”.
“You get to see more of people’s bodies, more of people’s faces,” feminist pornographer Tristan Taormino tells the BBC, “and there’s less of an assumption of one person or one gender being the focus over another.” Jennifer Lyon Bell, founder of award-winning erotic, ethical film makers, Blue Artichoke, believes it to be “important to women’s liberation”.
Last year in Germany, a proposal was put forward by the SPD, junior coalition partner to Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union party, for the government to fund feminist pornography for educational purposes to combat youngsters’ “unrealistic imaginations of sexual life”. According to UK kids’ charity, the NSPCC, 65 percent of 15- to 16-year-olds, and 28 percent of 11- to 12-year-olds have viewed pornography, while other research has found that up to 90 percent of the most viewed pornographic scenes to contain acts of violence or derogatory behaviour towards women.
Such concerning statistics inspired five British mothers to make their own feminist porn movie, their project filmed for documentary mini-series, Mums Make Porn. “We were shocked by the stats about the impact of free mainstream porn online on the younger generation,” says executive producer Emma Morgan. “It was clear that a lot of young people were accessing porn and being influenced by it.”
The series begins with the women watching porn from the top-trending search terms while sat around a laptop at a kitchen table. “If my son ever treated a girl like that,” protests one of the mums, Sarah Louise, “I would kick his arse to kingdom-come!”
Another of the mothers, Sarah, says they “need to show kids that there’s something else than the horrible s**t we see on the internet”. The group travel to Barcelona to meet up with feminist porn film maker Erica Lust for tips on how to approach their feature, centred around two couples, one girl-boy, and one girl-girl.
“If young people are going to watch erotic movies, I want them to see feelings, connections, and love-making.”
“There are certain things we want to get in as mums because that’s the whole point,” says Sarah Lousie. “If young people are going to watch erotic movies, I want them to see feelings, connections, and love-making.”
Her fellow film maker, Anita, believes they’ve made a porn movie that will “challenge the industry”.