May 1997
s m u g
by Emily Way

In Search of Some Decent Porn

I like messing with people's stereotypes. I'm a feminist, and I like sex. I think sex and depictions of it are cool. I think adults should be allowed and even encouraged to seek out representations of stuff that turns them on, and use these words or images to liven up their own sex lives, alone or with a consenting partner. The world would be a much better place if more people got laid regularly and well, and fewer people tried to control how everyone else gets off.

I know this subject is a minefield among feminists, who are (surprise!) a diverse group - some would probably deny that I am one because I don't think that a picture of a woman having sex is somehow inherently demeaning to all women. But I've read as much Andrea Dworkin as I could stand, as she seems to be some sort of hero to the anti-smut types, and I just can't get my head around her wild generalizations about how women are inherently victims because of the way our parts are shaped, and how it's in men's nature to treat women as objects. I know a lot of good, kind, decent men - I live with one and I was raised by one, for starters - and claims like "Men are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimized by it" and "pornography is the orchestrated destruction of women's bodies and souls" just reek of self-serving oversimplification and victim culture. Yeah, some men are pigs, some are sadists, some are assholes who have a big problem with women, but most of them are just regular people who are smart enough to know the difference between a picture and the real thing.

I find that the feminism of people such as Canadian writer Donna Laframboise and ACLU president Nadine Strossen feels a whole lot more right to me than anything coming from someone who tells me what kind of sex I should like. I get a kick out of seeing Laframboise's catalog of dirty scenes from women's romance fiction, proving that women can be just as kinky and turned on by power games as men, and I think it's great that she shows how the Canadian government wastes time and tax money censoring issues of Penthouse magazine on their way into the country. Penthouse isn't my thing, but who am I to tell another adult what's an acceptable turn-on and what isn't?


After digging around in lots of porn-related theory for a while, I decided it was time to find something that turned me on. So my sweetie and I went to the local video shop, the one with the opaque windows, and looked around for a flick or two to rent. You'd think that in a place full of hundreds of videos, we'd be able to find something to get us hot, no?

But - and here's the bummer for us pro-porn, relatively straight feminists - mainstream porn rots. It wets its nest. It stars vacant-looking big-haired women wearing cheap ridiculous lingerie and spike heels, their faces (and nipples!) caked in makeup, their breasts replaced by big ugly spherical rocks, most of their pubic hair shaved and the rest trimmed meticulously into shapes that too often resemble racing stripes. The costars are mostly slack-jawed, scrawny, dorky-looking guys with big dicks and all the sex appeal of the assistant manager at KMart, and they don't even bother to take off their baseball caps or gym socks. Yummy. Ron Jeremy is one of porn's most famous "actors" - in case you don't know of him, he's this disgusting little man with a furry potbelly. A Web page dedicated to him tells me that his nickname is "the Hedgehog," that he's charming and amusing, and that he's made more than 1,000 films. Well, he might be the nicest guy in the world, but I'd have died a bit happier if I'd never seen him naked.

And not only are the people in porn movies generally pretty skanky, but the production values stink in many of them, too. The camera is shaky, the lighting is terrible, the sound quality is nonexistent, the editing is jerky and abrupt. We rented one supposedly artistic collection of short European flicks, in which the subtitle "Turn around, you bitch" stayed on the screen through the last third of the Hungarian segment and well into the French one that followed. There are some production houses such as Vivid and Wicked that can be counted on for well-made movies, but their stuff has mostly the same people and the same kind of sex as all the other porn flicks, just with better sound and lighting. ("Improved Malibu Stacy! Now with a NEW HAT!")

And then there's the sex. Sex in porn films reflects the fantasies of some horny virgin teenage boy who wouldn't know what to do for a real live woman if she sat on his face. It's all hopelessly vanilla, with a discouragingly predictable sequence: he licks her, she licks him, she mounts him, pump pump pump, he mounts her, pump pump pump, they change position again, pump pump pump, they change position again, maybe he takes her up the bunghole, pump pump pump, yippee, and then he pulls out of whatever orifice he's in for the sake of the inevitable cum shot. I hate the cum shot. I know there are some guys out there who like to pull out Mr. Happy and squirt jiz all over everything (are they marking their territory?), but I hate seeing it so much that I gag. Literally. Does it have to be every single guy, every single time? Oh yeah, and hardly anybody in porn movies uses condoms. Maybe I'm too much a child of the '80s, but unprotected sex does not turn me on, it freaks me out.

And the presentation, and the marketing! These things are so obviously made by and marketed toward men it's almost comical. Even in the higher-quality films, the camera almost never shows the sex act from the woman's point of view. The women are the HOTT BABEZ; cute men are the exception, not the rule (and you know the cute ones would rather be making gay flicks, anyway). And the titles of so many of these videos just make me laugh. Cum Sluts 13. Girls Who Like to Fuck Other Girls. Backdoor Babysitters. Dildo Debutantes. I saw one all-girl video for rent the other night that advertised itself as "ball-draining." I guess it never occurred to you that your viewers might want some female companionship when watching your masterwork, huh boys? Or even (heaven forbid) that a woman might want to watch it alone to get herself off? Nah, I didn't think so.


I visited Amsterdam last summer. I'd been hearing for years about how much smut there is there, and I had really been hoping that a difference in quantity would mean a difference in quality, or at least that there would be stuff with real-looking people actually communicating about sex ("I like it [moving hand] here") and not pulling out for the cum shot. Maybe even something shot from the woman's perspective. Girl stuff. Not some "Cinemax After Dark" gauzy backlit fantasy, but real porn for real chyx.

Amsterdam is indeed stunningly blatant about sex. In the Red Light District, there are big porn shops everywhere. They are usually painted hot pink and black, and inside there are a lot of mirrors, which don't help make the space feel any less cramped. Every shop has floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall sex toys and magazines and videos, videos, videos catering to a much larger audience than smut merchants in the US and Canada do. There are sections for straight and gay vanilla stuff, bondage, watersports, bestiality (I did not need to know that there was a film out there called Two Men and a Cow), and and and. Yet I got exactly the same message I get in North American porn shops: this stuff is for men, not for you. Even worse, the clip I saw when I went into one of the little video booths and dropped some Dutch change into the box was just the same as the worst stuff I've seen in North America - I could almost hear the director saying, "Okay, enough of that position, Tawnee, you get on top now." I don't think my reaction was the one the moviemakers intended.

All was not lost, however, as I realized when I found the few sex shops run by women. Notably, they were all outside the Red Light District. They didn't look like sex shops from the outside. They didn't on the inside, either, except that the products that were so artfully arranged in neat, well-lit displays were vibrators and dildoes and paddles and leather bras and latex bodices. The videos - there were only a few of them - were discreetly displayed on a bookshelf. Most of them were by Candida Royalle, who used to perform in porn movies but now writes and directs them. Royalle is known for making "couples" movies that have a sense of humor and don't always have a cum shot. I'd have bought one, but they were expensive, and I didn't know how much trouble I'd have getting it through Customs when I got home. I haven't seen any of her stuff since. Sigh.

Amsterdam made me feel both relieved and sad. Relieved, in that there's a place on Earth where women's sexuality is accepted and marketed to, if only on a small scale, where it's easy to talk to salespeople about sex toys and not impossible to find sexually explicit material that doesn't assume a male audience; and sad that most of it is still so male-dominated and the stuff that isn't is so far away from where I live.


Not being able to find dirty movies that I like yet hasn't completely discouraged me. I'm going to keep looking for those Candida Royalle videos, and reading Susie Bright, and poking through the Adult Video News and the FAQ for rec.arts.movies.erotica to try to make the trips to the video store a little more useful, and doing what I can to convince the pornmaking Boys' Club to quit screwing over women like Brandy Alexandre when they try to make porn movies too.

So what do I want when I rent a porn video? I want well-made movies with attractive, real-looking people who turn each other on. I want real scenarios ("Gee, I don't have enough money for the pizza" isn't good enough). I want good music and a sense of humor. I want real breasts and crotches that have never seen a razor. I want the woman's perspective. Sometimes I want the woman to dominate. I want condoms and lube. I want to see sex that looks like the sex I have.

Hey, boys, I'm a target market. Market to me.



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