Some Thoughts on LadyPornDay

I wonder if there are any guys out there muttering to themselves that it’s LadyPornDay, jeering, “Why do the ladies get all the porn days?”

Well, of course there’s a simple answer, plus then a complicated one. The simple retort: Dude, every day is FellaPornDay.

More complexly: Not all guys, like not all ladies, appreciate the porn they see around them, or maybe even bother to go out and explore it. (Some men feel just as unrepresented in porn as most women — is that a surprise?) The thing is, whenever women’s fraught and frisky relationships to porn are revealed and dissected, there will always be fellas coming out of the woodwork making similar comments, having comparable responses. Here’s another thing (on a whole long list) that can’t be simply understood by gender, though it’s hardly true, either, that gender is irrelevant.

If it were relevant, there’d be as much porn for women as for men, as much made BY women as men — and as much made by heterosexual ladies, to boot. There’s porn made by all flavors of people — but the more you move away from “mainstream” and fella-focused porn, the less of all the varying diverse types you find. So this is a valuable effort, talking about women’s response to porn, seeking the good stuff, learning from the varying kinds of things women themselves like. Because you just can’t say that what one lady likes, all ladies will like¦ and as a range of women-made and women-appreciated porn will show you, some of these ladies ain’t no ladies.

But let me take you back in time and tell you a bit about my own history with porn. I’ve studied it and been on both sides of the camera, so maybe this is somehow significant (or will at least illustrate that our discussions about porn go back quite a long time). True, my main genre is explicit sex ed — I call it Ex-Ed for short — and that’s not really porn. But it’s explicit, as porn is, and often very hot, as porn is — and tell me that many people, especially younger porn viewers, don’t watch because they hope they’ll learn something about sex. Of course they do. So some Ex-Ed is indubitably used the same way porn is — and some, maybe most, porn  sometimes serves a sex ed function, even when it does a terrible job and was never intended for that purpose.

I started reading sex mags when I was about fourteen — I didn’t just babysit for the money, but for access to other people’s libraries. I saw porn movies as soon as I turned 18. That was the 70s, when big-screen sex movies were the norm (even if the big screen was in a super-skanky theatre, as was sometimes also the case), and the ones I saw were on campus and at the indy theatre’s Midnight Movies series. I was attracted to them and hated them. They were totally too much for me and I was highly critical of them, as well as interested in seeing more. I used to accuse porn of “insulting my intelligence, my politics, or my sense of the erotic” — OK, yes, and sometimes all of the above — and the fact is, I often see porn clips now that do the same. But as I came to terms with what I wanted from erotic movies, and began to see more of them, and got more in touch with my own sexuality, I began to be able to take this medium more on its own terms.

I still think plenty of porn fails to aim high — but have you seen a Hollywood comedy lately? I still think most porn is, at best, problematic sex education, but that isn’t an agenda item when porn producers, scriptwriters, directors, performers, and all the other pros who have to kick in to make a movie come together to achieve the amalgamation of art, commerce, and moderately-disciplined party that a porn shoot can be.

But I’ll tell you why LadyPornDay is important, to my mind. First, it’s because women — especially lady-women!– are still not truly encouraged by the culture to explore sex and porn, to know what they like and go get it, to be engaged and entertained by something other than the person they’re in love with. Exploring sex and sensation for themselves is not, even now, a value most women are given permission and encouragement to embrace.

And second, it’s because there simply isn’t enough clear discourse — maybe even information enough to fuel that discourse  — about the kinds of porn that will please and entertain women best, that will help open doors of exploration or simply fuel a great fantasy. Partly, of course, that’s because women aren’t all the same, don’t all like the same things, and many times don’t even consume the kind of porn you’d think they would if you knew anything about their sexual interests. As Susie Bright has argued, women often take what’s there and subject it to an alternative reading: pomo smut for gals, if you will. Women watch gay male porn (for the sexy men and the gender-free fuck), sweet story-line and character-driven porn made just for them, AND wall-to-wall fuckfests where we might get wetter over the hunt for real orgasms than watching how many cocks go into whose pussy. Or maybe that is exactly what rivets us.

We don’t all like each other’s taste. I recently watched a movie by a prominent woman director and was deeply put off because I couldn’t, in a rough and intense scene, see the woman performer’s pleasure in what she was doing; a rape fantasy wound up looking enough like a real rape that I didn’t want to watch it. But it was a consensually-made movie complete with one of those mini-interviews with the stars, where they say what they like about the scene; the end result wasn’t bad porn, but porn I didn’t like. Conversely, good porn won’t even be porn everyone likes — because even the best and most expressive performers having the hottest sex won’t float everyone’s boat. If we can all get to a détente where we respect the efforts of ensembles putting on a show that’s not our show, maybe that’s as good as the discussion will get for a while — and of course, with the anti-porn gals in the woodwork, insulting the intelligence of porn’s greatest stars and newest ingénues, that won’t be the state of things any time soon. Soooo feminist! No, the feminism I want to tout is the one where women let each other make art and make love (and appreciate sexual entertainment and all that implies) and are happy to learn about each others’ inexplicable, so-different thrills. LadyPorn lovers, let a thousand flowers bloom!

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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