In the midst of an era where sexuality is very much out in the open, when young girls wear skirts up to their thighs and pop icons are idolized for their overt sexual overtones, it is not surprising to find that pornography is one of the nation's most booming industries. It comes in almost every form imaginable: print materials such as Playboy or Penthouse, videos and interactive DVDs, numerous triple X websites, even television such as the Playboy channel. It seems that everywhere we turn we are inundated with breasts and huge pectoral muscles glistening with dewy sweat, writhing bodies, gyrating hips ... and all of these images say one thing: Sex sells. Big time.
Given the notion that porn in America is thriving, it is also not surprising to find that men consume a large percentage of the porn whole (no pun intended ... maybe a little bit). In fact, when one thinks of porn consumption, their minds often go toward the image of a man in the adult section of a video store, not a woman. According to the survey taken by Queendom.com, 28 percent of the men surveyed claimed to be exposed to porn on a daily basis. This is in a harsh contrast to the 6 percent of women that admitted to having daily porn romps, too.
However, while the percentage of men who are exposed to porn several times a week or month (27 and 24 percent respectively) goes down, the number of women in similar categories begins to skyrocket. According to this survey, 23 percent of the women surveyed are exposed to porn several times a month, while 33 percent get into it several times a year. While this doesn't necessarily prove that women are consuming anywhere near as much porn as men, it does confirm that women are definitely paying attention.
The problem is that it just doesn't seem like there's a whole lot for women to pay attention to. Great deals of us are tired of seeing the picture perfect blonde bombshell getting it on with the long-haired hunky stud. We're a little sick of the idea that piping-hot sex involves absolutely no foreplay. And we're certainly bored to tears with the skin flicks that involve endless amounts of fucking, but zero human interaction.
Some porn enthusiasts say "save that for the soft-core." Most of the time, those enthusiasts are men. The porn-loving women of the world are singing a different tune: We want the best of both worlds, and we want it now.
Pornography hasn't been around forever. In fact, its inception is pretty recent. The term "pornography" was first coined when the city of Pompeii was excavated and hordes of sexually graphic paintings and sculptures were found. Now, these types of materials were nothing but normal to the Ancient Romans (remember that perv Plato?), but the 19th Century archaeologists who found them were beyond shocked at the blatant display of human sexuality. To avoid reaping any consequence, the archaeologists stamped the seal of sin on the materials and quickly hid them from the public's eye.
Despite the hush-hush nature of any sexually explicit material in the early 19th Century, pornography was not legally outlawed until much later into the Victorian Era, when the general consensus on sex was resoundingly negative.
It's a thoroughly studied sociological fact that people usually want something when they aren't allowed to have it anymore. This being the exact case with the outlawing of pornographic material, an underground porn industry began to flourish. Magazines and movies of a sexual nature were made available through underground presses and porn soon became an issue of much controversy. Although most people felt that pornography was blasphemous and morally wrong, the underground presses began to thrive, and slowly more and more pornographic materials were made and distributed.
This was the beginning of something huge.
Historically, porn has been aimed at men. It makes perfect sense, really. Those underground presses were thriving at a time when women were viewed as fragile, innocent, and quite subordinate to men. Sexually explicit materials were not suitable for a proper lady's eyes. Given that fact, the pornography that was produced was made for men about women.
And the women who were involved in the production of this pornography were not viewed favorably, even by the enthusiasts of the era. The general view of women as subordinate to men slowly changed throughout the years. There has been a considerable loss of innocence and, basically, society has evolved.
There in lies the main problem. Women, as a whole, are not afraid of pornography anymore. In fact, growing percentages of us want to see it. With some exceptions, we are no longer uncomfortable with our sexuality. We want to embrace it, and for some women, porn holds the key to that embrace.
It just doesn't seem like the big boys of the porn industry understand that. They are absolutely dead-set on portraying perfect blonde women, overly made up lesbians, and controlling studs. They are still giving men what they want, but half of the population is left hanging in the balance, angered and frustrated by what is being offered them, but having few other options.
Except to take matters into their own hands.
Candida Royalle is a former porn star. During her years of acting in porn films, she noticed an extreme gap between women's needs and the workings of the porn industry. She became very aware that the subtle aspects of lovemaking were missing from most porn productions, the "non-intercourse forms of expression", as she calls them.
In 1984, Royalle launched Femme Distribution Inc. in an effort to bridge that gap. Since then, she has been a major part of several productions, including the widely popular Femme.
Femme Distributions' films could very well be considered soft-core; they incorporate several of the dim-light-saxophone-music elements that one might see on Cinemax or HBO at around 3am. However, while the late night movie channel porn flicks aren't showing the juicy bits simply because they can't, Femme Distribution's films aren't showing the juicy bits because they choose not to. It just isn't as crucial to the importance of the content.
Femme Distribution's films operate on a very simple policy of portraying the sensual as opposed to the sexual. Kissing, fondling and even cuddling receive first billing in these films, and the downright business of getting it on actually comes second. That's not to say that the sexual isn't important. Of course it is. Royalle just doesn't want to portray a couple having sex without showing what really goes in the bedroom, such as the act of putting on a condom. For a lot of women, those aspects are a hell of a lot sexier than the real deed.
The intimacy depicted in these films is very hard to rival. It comes from, perhaps, the absolute realness of the characters as opposed to the flat actors that porn films often employ. It also comes from the presence of gobs of mutual pleasuring, foreplay and afterplay, and absolutely no cum shots. Cum shots have come to have such a filthy connotation; why dirty such a pleasant moment with something of that sort?
For the women who live in a romantic fantasy world, Royalle's films are a wet dream. According to Queendom.com, 30 percent of women prefer soft-core porn, and what could be better than soft-core porn that is focused on the needs of both the man and the woman?
Of course, there are among us, the women who don't want to deal with the soft-core. They want it quick and to the point with no frills or lace. In fact, the percentage of women who prefer hardcore porn is even higher than those who don't.
That's where S.I.R. Productions enter.
S.I.R Productions is company based in San Francisco. It is owned and operated by Jackie Strano, a former sex educator for Good Vibrations, and Shar Rednour, author of The Femme's Guide to the Universe. This company (which stands for Sex, Indulgence, and Rock and Roll) was founded on the same basic principles as Femme Distribution: To provide women with quality pornography that is not degrading or insulting to their intelligence. However, the approach with which they create their films is entirely different. Where Femme Distributions is all about sensuality and subtly, S.I.R. is shaking it up with pure fantasy and dirty talk.
Oh, and S.I.R. deals mainly in lesbian porn.
It doesn't necessarily seem that lesbian porn would be all that different from heterosexual porn. That's primarily because "traditional" lesbian porn is not ... well, real. S.I.R. may deal with fantasy, but they've got one fact straight: Butch lesbians are a definite part of fantasy. This isn't your daddy's lesbian pornography. This is the real deal.
S.I.R. is trying to dispel the myth that in order depict hot lesbian action, one must only show made-up girls who would never, ever be viewed as butch. They aren't showing all that girl-on-girl stuff that men want to see, they're telling it how it really is. Butches have sex. And they have sex with femme girls, sometimes. And they're just as sexy as any other female on the screen.
Among S.I.R's film roster is the double feature Hard Love and How to Fuck in High Heels, Sugar High Glitter City, and the Bend Over Boyfriend series, all of which share a few common characteristics with Femme Distribution's flicks: 1) characterization is not a dirty word, 2) subtleness is key, even when its just a gentle flick of a dildo, 3) safe sex is very, very important, and 4) even the steamiest of porn flicks can be just a little educational.
The last thing anyone expects a porn flick to be is educational. Femme Distribution and S.I.R. break that expectation. No, there isn't a teacher with a metal pointer, guiding us through the sexual process. But there are subtle references to safe sex, and there are definite overtones of a sense of realness, a realness that many of us don't get to experience in daily life. A lot of women aren't used to mutual pleasuring or lesbian sex that defies all notions. By allowing us to glimpse inside a world where fantasy and reality merge, we, as viewers, are learning a little more about a realm that we don't often get to see.
Annie Sprinkle takes this education idea a little further. A former prostitute, porn star, and sex performance artist, Sprinkle is getting right up in the faces of porn enthusiasts and literally helping them through the process of sexual self-discovery. Aside from her extensive list of credentials, Sprinkle holds a doctorate in Human Sexuality from the Institute of Advanced Sexuality, located in San Francisco.
And she puts that doctorate to use.
During her years of work in the sex industry, Sprinkle noticed a gap very similar to that which Royalle became aware of. However, Sprinkle was not satisfied with just bridging the gap between women's needs and modern pornography. She wanted to bridge the gap between women's needs and their knowledge of their bodies and comfort with their sexuality.
Sprinkle has, for years, been creating sex positive performance art (as well as video) that is designed to act as live pornography that benefits both men and women. Her work includes Fire in the Valley, a guide to female genital massage, and the Masturbation Memoirs, a two-video set that traces the origins of masturbation through the experiences of women from different cultures and locations. These works, while not traditionally classified as porn, are vitally important to any "feminist porn" regime.
The Feminism and Free Speech Organization makes an important point: "Sexual images that do not meet women's needs should not be restricted. Better images should be made."
There is no one right way to approach pornography. Some people, even women, prefer to watch traditional porn, rife with those yawnful images of bombshells. Some people, even women, prefer to see lesbians that may or may not be real.
This is an inevitable fact of the porn industry.
But the fact remains that when something needs to be done, there are people out there who are doing it. This is the case with women's needs in relation to pornography. It took awhile for women to get riled up about it, but they did, and look at all that fantastic porn we have now to show for it. We can, if we so choose, go to the local video store and pick up a classic Debbie Does Dallas-esque movie. We can also grab an S.I.R. or Femme Distributions flick. It's like choosing between comedy and action.
That choice is oh so precious.
So, maybe criticizing the problems with modern pornography isn't even relevant anymore, because there are more options than anyone could ever have imagined. The ropes of tradition just aren't tied so tight now, and we can feel them getting looser every day. It's just a matter of time before porn is positive for everyone, everywhere. And then what will we do?
Flip on the VCR, grab your significant other (or just stay alone, why not?) and maybe some chocolate syrup, and settle in for an evening with the ladies.
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