Discovering Feminist Porn

When one of my male college friends found out I watch porn, his jaw literally dropped.

“What’s so weird about that? You think men are the only ones who watch it?” I asked–and I wasn’t sure what I was expecting him to say, but it wasn’t what he did say.

“Don’t feminists think porn is bad?”

Did feminists think porn was bad? I did shy away from certain types of pornography, and I also expressed distaste when previous partners expected me to act and perform like an actress from a bad porn film. I hadn’t always been as comfortable about certain genres of porn I was into; that was more based on my personal feelings regarding the material than the content itself. But I never thought that the overall concept of pornography was bad, and I definitely identified as a feminist. Porn is a form of media that has been present in cultures for years, and this platform is more openly discussed than ever before, due to the more mainstream discussion of sex. A lot of people had sex and a lot of people enjoyed sex! There were certain aspects and genres of porn that were not my cup of tea, but that was probably true for anyone who did like watching porn.

So why was my friend so surprised at me being open about watching porn? Particularly, why did he think feminists thought porn was bad? He didn’t know about the history of anti-porn feminism, which was where I initially thought he might have gotten his ideas from. Starting in the late 1970s, porn was more accessible to the public and became discussed more openly; there were a wide variety of opinions and voices on porn, but not all were positive. Fronted by Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, the movement claimed that porn encouraged sexual violence against women and that porn itself was sexual violence against women. This movement considered the sexual agency of women in pornography to actually hinder their civil rights; instead of viewing the open sexuality of the female performers as liberating, it was seen as objectifying them. There was significant pushback against this ideology from other feminists, especially in the early 1980s, when sex-positive feminism really surfaced. The sex-positive feminist movement could also be called “pro-porn feminism” as they embraced the sexual nature of pornography and resisted the idea of porn only objectifying women.

My friend, again, did not know anything about the history of feminism and porn. Looking back, he could have been projecting his own beliefs on how he thought women reacted to porn or how he viewed porn. I was also not very open with my personal life in regards to romance and sex, and it was entirely possible that he was shocked at my blatant admission to watching porn. There were a lot of reasons why he could have been surprised, but it came down to that he had his own assumptions about what feminism meant and how feminists viewed porn. These were assumptions that I had never even thought of, or really heard of, until his baffled accusations got me thinking. One of the many layers of feminism was accepting the choices women wanted to make and to give them the agency to make their own decisions. This could also be applied to porn; there were some aspects of mainstream porn that I did not enjoy, but who was I to say what other women could or could not enjoy?

My first ever attempt at watching porn was brief and honestly, a little scarring. Of course, I should have been a bit more specific in my search for material; I had entered “porn” into a search engine and clicked search. Not the best way to go about it. My brain instantly short-circuited as my bulging eyeballs took in countless shots of veiny penises and graphic threesome scenes. I couldn’t click out of that browser fast enough, and once my heart decided to go back to beating normally, I cleared the last week of the browsing history on my family’s computer–just to be extra safe.

I did eventually return to searching for porn, especially after attending countless sleepovers where my friends giggled and whispered about how their boyfriends wanted to try something from “a video he saw online.” The scandalous nature surrounding porn as well as the seemingly world-ending frustration at having crushes not reciprocate my feelings drove me to sit in front of the computer again. This time was not nearly as traumatic, but the videos I stumbled upon were still not what I was looking for. I did, not wisely, look up what 17-18 year old boys were into, based off of what my friends and their boyfriends were trying, so that contributed to the lack of interest and mild unease at what I was seeing. I didn’t have a lot of sexual experience; I didn’t have any experience, really, but I had experimented with my own sexuality before I tried watching pornography. I experimented and knew my body well enough to the point where I knew what I was watching, albeit great for others, was not what I wanted. Watching porn was giving me permission to embrace and acknowledge my sexuality and desires, but while it was refreshing to see female sexuality and genitalia without censorship, I still wasn’t finding anything I wanted. I wanted to watch porn that showed variety, wasn’t just focused on heterosexual couples, and showed women being authentic with their sexuality and feelings; I wanted to see the kind of sex my horny queer 18-year-old brain dreamed of. After several failed attempts to locate a type of video that I was interested in–and I typed in a lot of different terms–my general and sexual frustration got the better of me. I typed in “feminist porn goddamn it,” not really expecting anything to come from my search, but I was wrong. Very wrong.

A golden light emitted from my computer with angels singing as hundreds, thousands of videos and images listed under “feminist porn” appeared (“goddamn it” was ignored by the search engine). This is what I had been looking for this whole time–feminist porn! I looked at a variety of websites that day, not even to engage in masturbatory time, but just to see what I had uncovered. While my friends had spoken quietly and quickly about porn behind closed doors, it was almost always in the context of their boyfriends and their sex lives with them. Our conversations rarely went to the mention of masturbation, and never in the direction of masturbation connected to watching porn. Feminist porn was an entirely new concept to me, and I was determined to find out what it really consisted of, for both me and for the idea of feminism in porn.

My experience with partners at that point was little to nothing, and there certainly wasn’t any experience with sex or sexual activity. With how little my friends talked about it and the emotional immaturity of the boys I hung out with, I kept my lips zipped up whenever it came to my sexuality. Porn was exciting to me because it showed women displaying their sexuality and sex lives, and feminist porn was even more exciting to me because it showed the depth of porn and that I was free to enjoy what my desires were. Feminist porn is a platform where the desires and sexuality of everyone involved are fully embraced, and no person is left behind. After I discovered feminist porn the first time, I spent a significant amount of time poring over the countless kinds of videos I found. There were videos featuring the kinds of sexual activities that I thought about, and I also discovered other kinds of sexual tastes that I had never thought of before, but other women were clearly into. While I did not find everything I discovered pleasing to my sexual desires, feminist porn was showing me that were types of pornography for everyone. The performers also were very into what they were doing, which was all the more empowering to me. It was really engaging and satisfying for me, especially as a young woman, to see porn where sex was treated in a positive manner and the performers had agency over their boundaries.

As the years went by and both my sexual experience and interests broadened, the variety of feminist porn I watched also changed. My friends in college and I were much more open about talking about our sex lives and our sexuality; porn was also a topic talked about more openly, but still, only certain kinds. There was much talk about soft, sensuous films that featured romance and doting, dark-eyed smoldering fellows, and some of my friends stubbornly refused to call their choice of viewing pleasure pornography.

“I only watch erotic films,” my friend sniffed haughtily over her mug of tea–“pornography is so degrading.”

I was not one to judge anyone for what they preferred to watch, but I knew that my friends and their refusal to publicly acknowledge anything beyond “classy and tasteful” pornography came from a deep-rooted fear–one that was still lurking in me, not as present at it was, but it would occasionally rear up when I clicked on a video that was not quite as vanilla as the rose petals and silk sheets feel of the videos my friends claimed to only watch.

“I guess I am into spanking, and crops are hot,” one friend admitted when we were drinking ciders in my dorm room, “but nothing much besides that.”

“I’m kind of into the pain, but only on my nipples. I like watching people using nipple clamps in porn, too,” another friend disclosed over pizza and a borderline steamy movie, “but nothing too hardcore.”

Even my friend who proclaimed she only watched “erotic films” confided in me that she and her girlfriend started incorporating handcuffs into their bedroom. My friends were having a hard time accepting certain aspects of their sexual desires due to the fear of backlash and because they knew the stereotypes surrounding watching pornography. They were all women who were in control of their agency and their sex lives, but they still had issues with those certain aspects because they felt like it conflicted with their overall beliefs. Seeing some of my friends struggle to accept their sexual tastes was disheartening, but I also understood where they were coming from. According to a 2015 survey by Marie Claire, 56% of women participating in the survey felt conflicted about watching porn, even though they were turned on; their reason was concern about how the industry [can] treat women and/or how it [can] enforce negative stereotypes. My own frustrated attempt to find porn that did not make me feel uncomfortable or a video that turned me on resulted in me discovering feminist porn. Feminist porn consisted of all sorts of genres, and there were plenty of BDSM oriented films, where the line between pain and pleasure was blurred or intertwined, and the women involved in those films enjoyed and embraced their pleasure. I do not know if my friends ever came to terms with their sexuality and their pleasure or if they recognized that they could still be a feminist while enjoying the many layers and genres of porn there are to offer.

I hope they did.

Sexuality is a complex, often changing part of someone’s identity, and that is one of the most beautiful aspects of sexuality. Everyone is different and has different sexual desires, and feminist porn is a platform for sexualities to be explored and embraced. Feminist porn does not assume that there is one specific viewer who is watching, which is why there are so many different genres in the feminist porn sphere. Not only are the viewers and the genres of feminist porn diverse, but the performers are as well. I noticed it when I first started watching feminist porn, and continued to appreciate the many individuals who participated in filming and performing in feminist porn. LGBTQIA folks and people of color have a strong presence in feminist porn, as do performers of all sizes and body types. The inclusion of diverse performers can further entice viewers to approach feminist porn, as they are seeing someone who can represent them as well as representing their desires. The wide representation of groups maybe not as well represented in mainstream porn is a refreshing aspect to feminist porn, which fits in well with the idea of feminism.  Feminist porn reflects the ideals of feminism, and that includes equality and agency for all. The ethical treatment of women and the performers carries over to the real world as well; part of feminist porn is treating their performers well on and off screen, and that includes safe spaces and being able to set their own boundaries even when they are not filming.

Feminist porn can be seen as a way for women to freely express their beliefs in sexuality and in pleasure, and fully enjoy their sexual desires. Verbal consent is extremely important in feminist porn, and women are more active participants and in total control of their agency; any of the performers who are in feminist porn are treated ethically and equally. Consent has always been a huge part of feminist porn, as viewers often are exposed to the agency of the performers.  Films show different ways on how consent is given and displayed, such as the performers discussing their boundaries before the sexual part of the piece begins or by using safe words in the film itself, but consent is always present and clear to both the performers and to the viewers. The authenticity of the performers’ depictions of sexuality and pleasure is also one of the frameworks of feminist porn; feminist porn is not focusing on just one, simplistic form of narrative, but rather covering a wide spectrum of desires and perspectives, which is how women are in their everyday sex lives. A lot of women have felt conflicted about or criticized for their sexual desires, but feminist porn is available as a safe platform for women. In an article on USA Today, erotic filmmaker Erika Lust had a great bit to say: “’I agree with what [Owen Gray] told me in an interview, which is that being a feminist means that a woman should have the power to pursue her own desires without the criticism of others-including other women‘” (USA Today 2017), and this quote reflects the struggle of my friends and me at one point. There was a fear in us that our friends, our female peers, would look down on us for participating in the viewing of porn, and we kept our passions and desires to ourselves. The center of feminism is striving for equality for all women, and this is reflected in feminist porn. Every woman is different and every woman has different sexual desires and preferences, and feminist porn makes all varieties available for women. There is porn for women who want soft, sensual films and there is porn for women who want to see women who look like them. There is porn for women who like rough sex and for women who love handcuffs and spanking. There is porn for women who love women, who love men, who love everyone! Feminist porn is there for the women who looked through pages and pages on a free porn site, with a knot in their stomach as they wondered if there was something wrong with them because none of what they saw turned them on. Feminist porn is there to let women know there is nothing wrong with what turns them on or what they like to watch; feminist porn is there to let women take agency over their own pleasure. Feminist porn is there to offer anyone a chance to feel the freedom to enjoy the variety of porn available; feminist porn makes sex a political act by encouraging viewers and performers to embrace their sexualities and their desires.

“Don’t feminists think porn is bad?”

I looked at my friend, his jaw still slightly ajar, and I smiled.

“Feminists think porn is great.”


Here are some resources about feminist porn that are great for more information, education, and access to feminist porn!

The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure Edited by Tristan Taormino, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young (available for purchase at any Good Vibrations store!)

Feminist Porn: An Introduction by Tristan Taormino (featured on the Good Vibes Blog!)

Feminist Porn VOD (available on Good Vibrations VOD)


Works Cited

De Cadenet, Amanda. “Women and Porn Habits- How Females Watch Porn on the Internet” Marie Claire. N.p., 19 October 2015. Web. 12 September 2017.

Ryan, Patrick. “Can porn be feminist? These female directors say ‘yes’” USA Today. N.p., 6 June 2017. Web. 13 September 2017.

Dani Rubinstein-Towler

Dani Rubinstein-Towler received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College and her BA in Creative Writing/Women and Gender Studies/Sociology from Ohio Wesleyan University. Rubinstein-Towler is the Assistant Manager at the Good Vibrations Polk Street location, and she is dedicated to spreading the sex education Good Vibrations strives to provide, as well as the overall message of Good Vibrations. She has identified as a feminist since she was thirteen and been passionate about sex education and sex positivity since high school, and will continue to speak and write about those topics as well as many more.

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