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The Other Porn: Feminist, Ethical, Independent

The Other Porn: Feminist, Ethical, Independent

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There was a time when visual explicit, pornographic contents lived in the dark corners of the newsstands – printed on skin mags covered in provocative ladies, future hotbeds of uncontrollable gushing of organic fluid, or taped on R-Rated VHSs, then DVDs – or in the motion pictures, travelling via cathode-ray tube at night hours, meandering through private networks.

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Then came the internet, that churned out the geeks, that cranked out Fabian, who went shopping at the porn market.

Fabian Thylmann is the pale-faced hooded bespectacled nerd who back in 2006 started to buy out both free and pay porn sites, including PornHub, YouPorn, RedTube, and what has become the largest adult entertainment operator in the world (MindGeek), and brought the world free internet porn, allowing users to upload and watch porn videos on YouTube-style porn websites.

The result: monumental erections, impetuous penetrations, bursting breasts, bouncing booties, all only one click away from anyone.

podcast The Butterfly Effect
British writer Jon Ronson’s podcast The Butterfly Effect, delves into the unexpected consequences free porn has had on the lives of both people in the porn industry and porn viewers. The first episode opens with the man who started it all: Fabian Thylmann.


Free porn has revolutionized the fruition of explicit contents and generated astronomical numbers that made people worry about the hypersexualization of society and the pornification of culture.

World’s largest distributor of adult entertainment Pornhub releases over 4 million videos per year, enough to plan a 115-year long porn marathon.

Because of the exponential proliferation of contents, there are always more and more diverse sexual fantasies portrayed, divided into the famed categories, as well as many different types of stars performing in front of the camera and before voracious users’ eyes, varying in gender, race, age, identity and sexual orientation.

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However, we’re still far from a porn that’s truly inclusive and diverse, and mainstream porn imaginary keeps serving us with tired clichés: stereotypical bodies – young, firm, flexible, tanned, waxed figures pouring an excessive amount of seminal fluid and female ejaculate; standardised performances – focused on male speed, hardness, strength, duration, power; and, above all, a dominant male perspective – informed by machismo and targeted to male viewers, perpetuating the penis-owner domination on the vagina-owner, the latter seen as a sheer sexual object for men’s gratification. A perspective that echoes not only in the product fed to the public but also in an industry which remains radically sexist and (white) men-dominated.

Feminist porn

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Over recent years, this homologated pornography was flanked by a more inclusive and more egalitarian alternative reshaped in all its phases, from production to distribution of the porn product. It’s a pornography defined as feminist, but also ethical or independent or all the things together, depending on its purpose.

It’s ethical in the sense that it protects and supports workers rights and provides equal opportunity, equal pay, sexual protection, valuing consent and respect as crucial components. It’s feminist because it portrays female pleasure as a free and self-determined pleasure which doesn’t exist for male pleasure and ego and is not subordinate to them, and because it makes room for women to be directors, producers, distributors. It’s independent as it’s not created with big money, big companies, big productions.

Inclusivity allows this kind of porn to give visibility to practices, bodies, people that are usually left out from the mainstream industry. This scenario gave birth also to queer porn, which covers all the spectrum of sexuality and gender.

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Back to the origins of feminist porn

Feminist pornography originated back in the 1980s, around the time when former porn star Candida Royalle founded the production company Femme Productions, intending to bring a female and sex-positive perspective and a more realistic, less demeaning, depiction of women and sex to mainstream porn, and to create films for women and couples.

She also created her line of ergonomic, not phallic vibrators in the late 1990s, called Natural Contours.

Porn feminist pioneer Candida Royalle in her New York office

Porn feminist pioneer Candida Royalle in her New York office

natural contours vibrators by Candida Royalle

Natural Contours, ergonomic vibrators by Candida Royalle

Those were also the years of Annie Sprinkle, pioneer of experimental sexually explicit material – mostly known for inviting people to look at her cervix helped by a speculum and a flashlight, during her best known performance art piece Public Cervix Announcement – and the activist-oriented post-porn movement that subverts the traditional pornographic tropes and challenges conceptions of normative femininity and sexuality and gender binarism making political use of pornography.

Annie Sprinkle performance Public Cervix Announcement

Annie Sprinkle during her Public Cervix Announcement performance

Feminist porn has been silently on the rise until the 2000s, when it started to come out of the niche and underground movements and to contaminate the mainstream culture.

2009 was the year of Dirty Diaries, a collection of 12 widely differing feminist porn shorts produced by Swedish director Mia Engberg (already known for the lesbian erotic film Selma & Sofie) and directed by a group of young female artists, directors and activists from different backgrounds and experiences in queer, lesbian and feminist pornography. Dirty Diaries uses alternative pornographic images to liberate women and feminists and sparked controversy in Sweden as it was partly financed through public funds from the Swedish Film Institute. Dirty Diaries emerged from another short film by Mia Engberg, Come Together, featuring women filming themselves on their mobile phones while masturbating. (Here’s the ten-point manifesto the film was based on).

scene from porn short films Dirty Diaries

Scene from Flasher Girl on tour – one of the short films in Dirty Diaries

In 2006 Canadian women-run sex toy store Good For Her launched the Feminist Porn Awards, that recognise, endorse and celebrate pornographers from across the globe whose groundbreaking works celebrate the diversity of human sexuality. The symbol of the Awards is a butt plug, as it can represent everyone’s sexuality, regardless of sex, gender, orientation. The first awards were called “the Emmas” in honour of the pioneering sex-positive feminist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) who rejected control over women’s bodies and sexuality. “To us, feminism is beyond gender. It is about recognizing the multi-facetedness of every individual and the complex struggles that they may face.”

Feminist porn by Erika Lust

Today, you cannot talk about feminist porn without mentioning Erika Lust, Swedish film director, screenwriter and producer who directed over 100 shorts, 3 multi-awarded erotic films (Five Hot Stories for Her, Life Love Lust, Cabaret Desire) and the experimental documentary Barcelona Sex Project, and wrote several books.

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Erika Lust (born Erika Hallqvist) started making pornography in 2004 with The Good Girl, her indie short debut film flipping the pizza delivery guy cliché with a female perspective, which was uploaded for free on the Internet receiving two million downloads in just a few months.

The main website ErikaLust.com lists the values on which her work is based, aimed at encouraging users to choose ethical porn over mass-produced mainstream pornography the same way they are choosing to consume organic produce instead of fast food. The values focus on women’s pleasure, diversity, equal pay, a safe sex environment and consent.

Today Erika Lust Film runs three online streaming platforms (Lust Cinema, Erotic Films and XConfessions).

XConfessions was started in 2013 and it’s probably her most popular and ambitious project, as it’s a collection of erotic short films that bring fantasies of real people to life. All the shorts are based on the anonymous confessions of real fantasies submitted to the site by real people.
In 2016 XConfessions opened its doors to fund Guest Directors, allowing more women to be part of the series.

Scene from Tease Cake - short film directed Poppy Sanchez for XConfessions

Scene from Tease Cake –  XConfessions short film directed by Poppy Sanchez

XConfessions is also part of Netflix’s docuseries Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On about the intersection of romance and technology. Last year, the project became also a web series “that includes your favourite XConfessions films while exploring the impact of more frank and honest discussions around female sexuality and desire in the age of millennials, gender and sexual fluidity and Drumpf”. Ultimately, Erika Lust released also the XConfessions App, designed to help couples discussing their fantasies.

The porn conversation progetto Erika Lust

Erika Lust is not only involved with adult entertainment but also with adult education. In 2017, together with her husband, she launched a non-profit project called The Porn Conversation, an online platform intended to provide parents with tools to open the conversation about online pornography with their children and help them make smart and informed decisions about it.

Feminist porn in Italy

One big step for feminist porn in Italy was the launch of Le Ragazze del Porno (Italian for The Girls of Porn), a collective of Italian directors, writers and artists, ranging from 25 to 70 years old, founded with the intention to produce 10 author porn short films and bring a new point of view on sexuality and pornography in Italy.

PROMO RDP nor+sub from le ragazze del porno on Vimeo.

So far, they produced two shorts, Queen Kong, starring the Italian “porn queen” Valentina Nappi, and Insight, that won the best short film prize at the Hacker Porn Film Festival in 2017 and is an introspective depiction of female masturbation starring Slavina, Italian post-porn activist and co-writer of the film.

Slavina on the set of Insight feminist porn film

Slavina on the set of Insight

Here’s where all the dots connect. Insight is also the first Italian movie distributed by Erika Lust’s platform, and Lidia Ravviso today is one of the Guest Directors creating short films for XConfessions.

Her last work is La Fantasia di Beba, that captures the atmosphere and clichés of the Italian erotic movies from the 70s and 80s and re-writes the old narrative of the sex worker, where the character is reborn in a woman who’s aware and empowered of her choices and entitled to self-determination.

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I went to London to interview Lidia and I’ll soon post the naked interview.

Feminist porn around the world

Pink and White Productions is an American pornographic production company based in San Francisco, known for honest and cinematic depictions of queer and trans sexuality and for The Crash Pad, 2005 groundbreaking award-winning feminist queer porn film.

The Crash Pad film

The Crash Pad, directed by Shine Louise Houston (2006)

The film is about “a clandestine San Francisco apartment where lucky queers share its key to rendezvous for wild sex”, “The only rule? You need a Key to get in, and once you’ve used it seven times, you have to pass it on”. What was named as the ‘best dyke sex film’ inspired the CrashPadSeries, a series portraying “realistic queer sexuality” that continues in the apartment, telling the adventures of people of all gender, race, skin colour, shape, size, (dis)ability. The actors get to choose what to do on camera, so it’s common for viewers to see them practising safe sex and open communication. The production company owns also PinkLabel.tv, a platform supporting and distributing the work of emerging and independent adult filmmakers.

CrashPad Series queer porn series

Scene from CrashPad Series

Other queer porn platforms known worldwide are NoFauxxx.Com, “the oldest running queer porn site on the Internet”, and QueerPorn.TV.

Perception of feminist porn

While feminist pornography is currently on the rise, its perception is still informed by some misconceptions based on prejudice: people often think of it as a porn either lesbian or man-hating or for-women-only or soft. Ironically, it looks like it’s taking something away from mainstream porn, while it’s actually adding something, including what mass porn leaves out.

Real porn, real sex

Mainstream porn is currently being criticised for portraying fake sex, too performative and theatrical.
Beyond feminist porn, there are websites trying to show what real, everyday sexuality looks like.

Bright Desire is an Australian adult pay site that aims to depict sex in a smart, positive, artistic and joyful way, featuring primarily heterosexual sexuality of real-life couples. It was launched by a mysterious Ms. Naughty who is writer, director, producer and filmmaker. The focus is on realism and the scenes are shot in collaboration with the performers, so on the site you find also interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

makelovenotporn logo

MakeLoveNotPorn takes realism to a new level as the first “user-generated, human-curated social sex video-sharing platform”, founded by former advertising executive Cindy Gallop with the aim of celebrating sexuality and #realworldsex as a counterpoint to porn, and “socializing sex – making it easier for everyone to talk about, in order to promote good sexual values and good sexual behaviour”. The project was launched in 2009 with a TED talk that went viral, where the founder explained how her own personal sexual experience with younger men made her realize that porn was becoming the new sex education shaping their sexual behaviour, and this inspired MLNP.


MLNP wants not only to entertain and arouse but also to inspire people’s sexual life by giving new ideas for communication and experimentation. Anyone 18 years old and over can submit its own video. The videos have to be exclusive to MLNP and the sex has to be real and spontaneous (not all genital close-ups and Oscar-worthy fake orgasms, so to speak).

Porn on paper

Porn printed on paper has evolved too and we can now choose within a quite wide range of quality independent erotic magazines, like Math Magazine, feminist porn magazine seeking new perspectives on love, lust, and sex and intersections of art and sex, featuring the diversity of genders, bodies and desires.

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Others international indie magazines reaching the porn narrative are Suspira (sexy, horror and not light at all), PC Erotic (surrealist and disturbing), Fluffer Everyday (inspired by everyday casual eroticism), The Anonymous Sex Journal (illustrated and based on personal sex stories submitted by readers in secret), Phile (sociological) and Extra Extra (multidisciplinary and contemporary).

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Cover image: Sleeping Venus, Giorgione, c. 1510


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