Feminist pornography

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Feminist pornography is a genre of film developed by or for those dedicated to gender equality. It was created for the purposes of encouraging women in their pursuit of freedom through sexuality, equality, and pleasure.[1]


Feminists have debated pornography ever since the women's movement commenced. The debate was particularly vehement during the feminist sex wars of the 1980s, which is when feminist porn originated. It acquired momentum in the 2000s because of the Feminist Porn Awards, originated by Good For Her in Toronto in 2006. These awards spread awareness amongst a broader audience, extra media exposure, and assistance in uniting a community of filmmakers, performers, and fans. Many third-wave feminists are open to seeking freedom and rights of sexual equality through entering the adult entertainment workforce.[2] However, many second-wave feminists believe that the oppression and/or sexual objectification of women is inherent in all pornography involving them. The conflict between the two waves causes many struggles between these different feminist views of pornography.[3]

Tristan Taormino, who is a sex educator, feminist pornographer, and co-editor of The Feminist Porn Book, defines feminist pornography as dedicated to gender equality and social justice.[4] Feminist pornography is porn that is produced in a fair manner, where performers are paid a reasonable salary and treated with care and esteem, their consent, safety, and well-being are vital, and what they bring to the production is appreciated. Feminist porn seeks to challenge ideas about desire, beauty, gratification, and power through unconventional representations, aesthetics, and film making styles. The overall aim of feminist porn is to empower the performers who produce it and the people who view it.[5]


Theoretical origins (c. 1975–1983)[edit]

From the mid-1970s up until 1983, it was mostly a theoretical discussion amongst feminists (including some self-identified feminist men) whether making feminist porn was even possible. Some feminists, later known as sex-positive feminists, argued that it was, but it still had to be made, sometimes giving a rough sketch of what that should or would look like (for example, Ann Garry's plot in 1983).[a] Others in the middle said it may be possible, but they had not seen any examples of it yet (1981). A third group, the anti-porn feminists, maintained throughout the 1980s that it was in principle impossible, because 'feminist pornography is a contradiction in terms'[7][8] or 'an oxymoron',[9] and that whatever was feminist but appeared to be pornographic should instead be labelled 'erotica'[10][11] (although some of them such as Andrea Dworkin claimed that even 'erotica' was too much like pornography to be considered feminist[b]).

The majority of the feminist debates on pornography were initiated by events such as the 1976 presentation of the film Snuff, in which a woman was shown being mutilated for the audience's sexual satisfaction. Two of the first American feminists to suggest the development of feminist pornography were Deb Friedman and Lois Yankowski (members of the Feminist Alliance Against Rape) in a 1976 article in Quest: A Feminist Quarterly. Claiming that the oppression of and violence against women portrayed in pornography had gone too far (citing the recent controversy around Snuff), but considering that censorship may not be the proper tactic to deal with it, they wrote:

Finally, there is the possibility of developing our own "feminist pornography," that is, non-sexist erotica. We have set out some guidelines for determining what forms of explicit sex should be portrayed as alternatives to the current violence and sado-masochism. Although it may sound far-fetched, developing feminist pornography would help demonstrate what some of these alternatives could be.

— Deb Friedman & Lois Yankowski, "Snuffing Sexual Violence" (1976), Quest: A Feminist Quarterly[13]

The Friedman-Yankowski essay became very popular and was widely reprinted.[14] On the other hand, erroneously believing that its scenes of eroticized torture were real,[citation needed] Andrea Dworkin organized nightly vigils at locations where the film was being shown. She became the main theorist of the U.S. anti-pornography campaign. Well-known feminists, including Susan Brownmiller and Gloria Steinem, joined her to establish the campaign group Women Against Pornography. The anti-porn campaign escalated with Take Back the Night marches around locations such as Times Square, which contained ‘adult’ book stores, massage parlors (a euphemism for a brothel) and strip clubs. Dworkin and other feminists arranged conferences and lecture tours, showing slide-shows featuring hard- and soft-core porn to women's awareness groups.[citation needed]

Rise of feminist pornography (1984–1990)[edit]

Femme Productions was founded by Candida Royalle in 1984.

In the United States, production of explicitly feminist pornography began in 1984, initiated by two independently formed groups. Dissatisfied with working in mainstream male-centred porn, Candida Royalle founded her own adult film studio Femme Productions and hired performers from the porn actresses support group 'Club 90', which originated in 1983 when they started informally talking about what they wished to change about the industry. Separately, in reaction to the 1983 Dworkin-MacKinnon Ordinance, lesbian feminists founded the sex-positive lesbian sex magazine On Our Backs (in reaction to feminist magazine off our backs, which had been campaigning for banning porn in preceding years) and started producing erotic videos the next year under the leadership of Susie Bright. Others including Annie Sprinkle followed in the years thereafter, and by 1990 a small group of feminist pornographers, some of them united in the Manhattan-based Club 90, could be distinguished. Between 1984 and 1990, sex-positive feminists claimed these directors and producers had made feminist pornography a reality, increasingly referring to their works as examples of it.[15] Anti-pornography feminists remained adamant in their opposition, claiming that these productions were either still following the patterns of 'mainstream' or 'male-dominated' porn, or were in fact erotica, a legitimate genre that was separate from pornography.[9][11]

Public discourse[edit]

In the 1990s and early 2000s, many feminists have become disillusioned with Dworkin and her anti-porn perspectives, perceiving them as excessively polarized and anti-sex. Feminists continue to debate the extent to which pornography is harmful to women. Some feminists have emphasized the way cybersex encourages its participants to play with identity, as users are able to take on diverse characteristics (e.g. gender, age, sexuality, race, and physical exterior). They point out a number of other benefits from new technologies, such as enhanced access to sex education and ‘safe’ sex, and opportunities for women and minorities to make contact and to manufacture and allocate their own representations.[16]

Mireille Miller-Young researched the porn industry between 2003 and 2013. In addition, Miller-Young also interviewed a vast amount of performers and encountered several positive aspects of pornography in women's lives. According to Miller-Young, "For some performers, pornography is a path to college and out of poverty. For others, it is a chance to make a statement about female pleasure."[17] Miller-Young states that the women she interviewed were excited to enter the pornography industry and viewed it as a profitable opportunity as well as an accommodating job that would grant them independence. Women who had worked in retail or in nursing discovered that pornography gave them more control over their labor and greater respect in the workplace. Some women believed being part of the pornography industry had granted them the ability to escape poverty, provide for their families and attend college. Others stressed the inventive features of pornography and stated it grants them the ability to boost their economic mobility while also creating a strong statement about female sexual pleasure. Miller-Young claims that according to the performers she interviewed, the most difficult challenge they dealt with was social stigma, as well as gender and racial inequality.[citation needed]

At both large and small pornography studios, men typically marginalize the viewpoints and concerns of women. The studios placd more emphasis on what men wanted because they felt that their products would sell more. Furthermore, these companies often created a competitive environment which pit women against each other. Black performers often received only half to three-quarters of what white performers are paid. Just as in other industries, women and men of color face discrimination and disparities in structural and interpersonal forms. Porn industry workers are striving to get more control over their labor and the products they create. The Internet was by far the most efficient and rapid way to democratize the porn industry. There are a range of women from diverse backgrounds who enter the pornography business, such as soccer moms, single mothers, and college students, who filmed themselves and presented their own pornographic fantasies. The majority of women in pornography felt strongly that society should not treat porn as problematic and socially immoral. However, women in the industry highlight that conditions could be improved, particularly with regard to workers’ rights.[17]

Royalle argues that viewing pornography is not intrinsically damaging to men or women. However, she claims that there are people who perhaps should not view porn, for example, those with poor body image or those have experienced sexual abuse. Royalle states that some individuals may develop impractical ideas about sex or what people enjoy, and how they may be expected to perform. She adds that watching porn with another individual requires permission. Counselors at times will advise it to assist people in becoming comfortable with a certain fantasy they or their partner may have. Pornography may re-energize a couple's sex life. It can offer stimulating ideas, or assist individuals and couples to get in touch with their personal fantasies. Porn can supply individuals with great satisfaction or at worst, disgust. Royalle emphasizes that this all relies on what couples or individuals decide to view. She adds that porn is not the issue when it comes to unhealthy sexual behaviors, but rather the compulsive personality of an individual.[citation needed]

With regard to the performers, Royalle explains that there are some women who prefer to be in porn because they enjoy sex and deem it to be a great way of making a living. On the other hand, there are some who approach porn as a mode of acting out or coping with psychological issues, such as searching for their father's love or receiving punishment for being an immoral woman. For some women, it may be a bit of each.[citation needed]

I’m not sure the male performers get out completely unscathed either. While they may not be judged as harshly as the women, ultimately they’re viewed as freaks who make their living with their anatomy. John Holmes’ fate is the ultimate cautionary tale. Perhaps if we weren’t still so consumed with guilt and shame about sex, neither watching nor performing in these films would carry the weight it does. But then, perhaps we wouldn’t be so interested in them, either. If the fruit were not forbidden, would anyone care to take a bite?

— Candida Royalle[18]

Tristan Taormino has stated that pornography created by women for women can give women control over what is being presented about female sexuality and how it is represented and distributed. She argues that feminist pornography allows women to have a voice in a male-dominated industry.[19]


Although challenging, it is not impossible to be a feminist in the artificial environment of mainstream pornography. Nor is it impossible to disrupt the inauthencitiy of this staged environment through acting upon one's feminist ethos.

Madison Young, 2014[20]

Feminist pornography is less likely to be filmed due to a lack of audience demand since a majority of pornography viewers are male.[21] The scope of the adult entertainment industry depends on the preferences of the majority of their viewers, which creates the need for female actresses to be young and overtly sexualized.[22] The increase in this mainstream mass-produced media puts both actresses and producers of feminist pornography at a disadvantage.[23] But the rise of on-screen appropriations, such as items like a strap-on dildo used by and for the pleasure of females during sexual intercourse, has allowed for more agency for women within the industry.[24] Annie Sprinkle is one example of a woman who chooses to partake in many forms of feminist pornography in order to counter-appropriate patriarchal mainstream pornography.[25] Films in which Sprinkle stars contain scenes of her having orgasms instead of her male on-screen partners.[25]

Director and writer Ms. Naughty says "feminist porn seeks to take back the landscape of sexually explicit media, offering a more positive and inclusive way of depicting, and looking at, sex."[26] According to Tristan Taormino, "Feminist porn both responds to dominant images with alternative ones and creates its own iconography."[27]

Some pornographic actresses such as Nina Hartley,[28] Ovidie,[29] and Madison Young are also self-described sex-positive feminists, and state that they do not see themselves as victims of sexism. They defend their decision to perform in pornography as freely chosen, and argue that much of what they do on camera is an expression of their sexuality. It has also been pointed out that in pornography, women generally earn more than their male counterparts.[30] Hartley is active in the sex workers' rights movement.[citation needed]

Festivals and awards[edit]

Since 2006,[31] the Feminist Porn Awards have been held annually in Toronto,[32] sponsored by a local feminist sex toy business, Good for Her. The awards are given in a number of categories and have three guiding criteria:[33]

  1. A woman had a hand in the production, writing, direction, etc. of the work.
  2. It depicts genuine female pleasure.
  3. It expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges stereotypes that are often found in mainstream porn.

In Europe since 2009, the best films are nominated with the PorYes-Award every other year. [34]

Feminist artist Jasmin Hagendorfer and her team are organizing the Porn Film Festival Vienna, an event dedicated to feminist and queer approaches to pornography.[35]


  • Andrea Torrice (1990), Peril or Pleasure? Feminist-Produced Pornography.
  • Becky Goldberg (2002), Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography. [36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Ann Garry has suggested that it is possible to walk this fine line and to produce a feminist pornography which would not need to be censored. She has been kind enough to suggest a possible plot (1983: 77–78)'.[6]
  2. ^ "Erotica is simply high-class pornography: better produced, better conceived, better executed, better packaged, designed for a better class of consumer."[12]


  1. ^ Snyder-Hall 2010, pp. 255.
  2. ^ Snyder-Hall 2010, pp. 256.
  3. ^ Snyder-Hall 2010, pp. 257.
  4. ^ The feminist porn book: the politics of producing pleasure. Taormino, Tristan, 1971-. New York, NY: Feminist Press at the City University of New York. 2013. ISBN 9781558618190. OCLC 828140733.CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. ^ Breslaw, Anna. "So, what is feminist porn? Find out from a woman who makes it". Cosmopolitan. Hearst Corporation. Archived from the original on 2013-06-07. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  6. ^ Schwartz, Martin D. (1 May 1987). "Censorship of Sexual Violence: Is The Problem Sex or Violence?". Humanity & Society. Association for Humanist Sociology: 217. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  7. ^ Raven, Arlene (1984). "Star Studded: Porn Stars Perform". High Performance Magazine. Astro Artz. 7 (4): 24–27, 90–91. Retrieved 27 September 2020. But feminist pornography is a contradiction in terms – specifically the terms in which feminist activist author Andrea Dworkin and attorney Catharine MacKinnon have legally redefined pornography.
  8. ^ Stratton, Jon (1987). The Virgin Text: Fiction, Sexuality & Ideology. Harvester. p. 99. ISBN 9780710811516. Retrieved 27 September 2020. The conclusion of this argument is that feminist pornography could not exist in bourgeois society. It is a contradiction in terms. That some pornography appeals to some women is indisputable. However, I would argue that these are the women who have most accepted the dominant (male) sexual ideology with its positioning of 'women' as object and, in turn, as fetish.
  9. ^ a b Lucas, Christee L. (June 1990). "Feminists & Porn". Mother Jones. 15 (4): 2. Retrieved 27 September 2020. Feminist pornography really is an oxymoron if you go with even broad definitions of feminism as it relates to pornography.
  10. ^ Steinem 1983
  11. ^ a b Pip Christmass (November 1996). "Anäis Nin's Erotica: Written for the Male Voyeur?". Outskirts: feminists along the edge. University of Western Australia. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  12. ^ Dworkin 1981, Preface p. 10
  13. ^ Friedman, Deb; Yankowski, Lois (Fall 1976). "Snuffing Sexual Violence". Quest: A Feminist Quarterly. Washington, D.C.: Quest, a feminist quarterly, Inc. 3 (2): 24–30. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  14. ^ Bronstein, Carolyn (2011). Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976–1986. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 97. ISBN 9781139498715. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  15. ^ Fraser, Laura (February–March 1990). "Nasty Girls [The New Feminist Pornography]". Mother Jones. 15 (2): 32–35, 48–50. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  16. ^ Ciclitira 2004.
  17. ^ a b Miller-Young, Mireille. "Empowering to the Women on Screen". International New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 2013-03-27. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  18. ^ Royalle, Candida. "Great potential for great fun". International New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 2013-02-22. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  19. ^ Clark-Flory, Tracy. "The feminist pornographer". Salon. Archived from the original on 2013-05-14. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
  20. ^ Young, Madison (21 March 2014). "Authenticity and its role within feminist pornography". Porn Studies. 1 (1–2): 186–188. doi:10.1080/23268743.2014.888250. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  21. ^ Ciclitira 2004, pp. 297.
  22. ^ Corsianos 2007, pp. 867.
  23. ^ Ciclitira 2004, pp. 295-297.
  24. ^ Corsianos 2007, pp. 873.
  25. ^ a b Corsianos 2007, pp. 869.
  26. ^ Naughty, Ms. (September 2011). "Fabulous Feminist Porn". Schnitt. Archived from the original on 2012-11-30. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  27. ^ Vogels, Josey (21 April 2009). "Female-friendly porn". Metro. Toronto, Canada: Free Daily News Group Inc. Archived from the original on 26 March 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  28. ^ Hartley, Nina (1998), "Confessions of a feminist porno star", in Delacoste, Frédérique; Alexander, Priscilla (eds.), Sex work: writings by women in the sex industry, San Francisco, California: Cleis Press, pp. 142–144, ISBN 9781573440424.
  29. ^ Ovidie (2004). Porno manifesto [Porn manifesto] (in French). La Musardine. ISBN 9782842712372.
  30. ^ Faludi, Susan (2000). Stiffed: the betrayal of the American man. New York: Perennial. ISBN 9780380720453.
  31. ^ Taormino, Tristan (6 June 2006). "Political smut makers". Village Voice. Peter Barbey. Archived from the original on 2012-09-25. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  32. ^ Walker, Susan (4 April 2009). "Women behind the camera for new breed of adult film". Toronto Star. Torstar. Archived from the original on 2012-07-20. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  33. ^ "Feminist porn awards". goodforher.com. Good For Her. Archived from the original on 2011-11-08. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  34. ^ "{{Cite web|url=https://pinklabel.tv/on-demand/poryes-2013-feminist-porn-film-award-europe/}
  35. ^ Mühlparzer, Hannah. "Porn Film Festival Vienna: Festival multipler Höhepunkte". Der Standard. Archived from the original on 2018-11-28. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  36. ^ "{{Cite web|url=https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0796819/}


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