Why make porn?

Instead of being viewed as a trailblazer, many of my sisters view me (at best) misguided and brainwashed or (at worst) as a traitor and rapist. (Hartley 60)

Nina Hartley’s articulation of the response of some feminists to her work as a porn performer fits with what I have encountered in many discussions of porn and the people who make it. I have personal feelings (I have All The Feelings!) about this topic, but before I get into those, I wanted to give voice to a small range of feminist pornographers who have articulated why they do what they do. If we believe their stories (and I feel that we must, because there is no evidence to suggest they are lying or deluded and I believe that honouring the personal story is necessary to creating understanding and compassion in our interaction with those we might consider “other”) then there are many, many reasons to be involved in making porn that are not “misguided” or “brainwashed” or worse.

Nina Hartley is a registered nurse (and graduated with her B. Sc. magna cum laude (Hartley 59)) and one of the most highly recognized porn performers. She has used her work to “promote sexual literacy and tolerance” (Nagle 275). She says, of her reasons for being in pornography:

I believe that sensual pleasure (self-generated or shared) is a meditation, opening a direct path to the life force, i.e. “God.” I do not find it particularly demeaning to make a living with my body, because I don’t think sex is intrinsically bad. I don’t think vulvas and penises are dirty, and I don’t think that lust is horrible or anti-love. Nonconsensuality and self-destructive behaviour are the evils. (Hartley 62)

And:

My life is richer and more rewarding for having chosen a sexually oriented occupation. The main rewards have been increased self-awareness and self-confidence, as well as the pleasure I bring to others. (Hartley 58)

Her essay, “In The Flesh,” is an articulate expression of her own journey, her feminist values, and the process of consciously entering the pornography industry after consulting with her two life partners. She speaks about her long-held fantasies of being watched, and about the benefits she has experienced because of her career choice. She also speaks candidly about some of the problems that new performers can face, such as the temptation to spend the money as quickly as it comes it, and the fact that the industry can be brutish.

Ann Renee was a teenage sex worker, and is now a counselor, writer and mother, and an advocate for women’s sexual rights (Nagle 278). On that issue of protection of sexual rights, she writes:

I am an advocate for shifting the locus of control. I vehemently protect women’s rights to choose how they employ their sexuality. By the blood and bruises of sexual violations that I have suffered, I advocate protection for consensual sexual expressions of all kinds. For all genders. I advocate amnesty for all manifestations of sexual rapture. I willingly offer myself as an instrument for the dissolution of systems of shame. (Renee 56)

I found her piece, “A Sex Protector/Pervert Speaks Out” particularly powerful, because she manages to articulate why allowing women to work as consensual sex workers is so important to ending the culture of shame that enables so much silence around nonconsensual sex trafficking. The two issues are linked, and not because they are the same thing. In her piece she talks about how it can go wrong, and why that means that we must “shift the locus of control” so that it can also go right.

Marcy Sheiner, a well-known writer and editor of erotica and written pornography, as well as a phone-sex operator writes:

Contrary to the opinions of the conservative antisex faction of the women’s movement, I no longer doubt that I am a feminist. Ironically, this “F” word has fallen into almost as much disrepute as the original “F” word, but I consider feminism a core part of my identity as well as an honorable philosophy to espouse. To me, feminism means a belief in a very basic goal: full equality of women. I don’t see pornography or sexual pleasure as undermining that belief or that goal. Like everything else, it can certainly be used destructively – but it isn’t an inherently negative force.

Au contraire. Writing and reading pornography has been, for me, fun, exciting, creative, illuminating, empowering and lucrative. And I feel no qualms or contradiction when I say that I am both a feminist and a pornographer. (Sheiner 43)

Justin Jones, writing in a different book (the above quotes come from “Whores and Other Feminists,” Jones is anthologized in “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys”), offers a different perspective:

Ok, I admit it. Even before I plug it in, that smooth little ball-camera made my dick jump. Turns out I’m not only a closet homosexual but a budding exhibitionist to boot. And thirty minutes after rubbing my junk into the little glass eye, my inbox is clogged with guys around the world telling me that I am hot. (Jones 250)

He writes about the glamour and affirmation that he finds in the lifestyle, and the way he fell into it and why he stays in it. I appreciate the reminder that performance appeals to people of multiple genders, and that sometimes wanting the affirmation of being told “you’re hot” is okay.

The reason I think these sex worker voices are so necessary in any discussion of pornography, and the reason I am pro-porn and pro-sex worker is partly because I am a sex radical and activist first, and my engagement with academia is a result of my activism and flows from it. I’m only here because I was already interested in queer theory and feminist theory, and I believe that activism and academia can be linked together to create more effective activism and more accurate academic engagement. I do not believe that we can understand an issue without engaging with the people impacted by it.

I agree wholeheartedly with Carol Queen when she says;

Sex radicalism means to me that I am automatically on the side of the minority sexual viewpoint or behaviour; because our culture carefully and narrowly circumscribes what is acceptable, much of the sexual world gets left on the wrong side of the fence. Sex radicalism also means that when I hear the voices of those who have been left out of the discussion, I choose to believe what they tell me about their own lives, even if it contradicts some “expert’s” opinion; it also means that I maintain my own sexual integrity, if not cultural popularity, when I follow my own desires and trust where they lead. (Queen 127)

What she said.

Works Cited:

Hartley, Nina. “In The Flesh.” Whores and Other Feminists. Ed. Jill Nagle. New York: Routledge, 2010. 57-65. Print.

Jones, Justin. “Casting Shadows.” Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys. Ed. David Henry Sterry and R.J. Martin. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2009. 248-252. Print.

Renee, Ann. “A Sex Protector/Pervert Speaks Out.” Whores and Other Feminists. Ed. Jill Nagle. New York: Routledge, 2010. 55-56. Print.

Sheiner, Marcy. “Odyssey of a Feminist Pornographer.” Whores and Other Feminists. Ed. Jill Nagle. New York: Routledge, 2010. 36-43. Print.

Queen, Carol. “Sex Radical Politics, Sex-Positive Feminist Thought, and Whore Stigma.” Whores and Other Feminists. Ed. Jill Nagle. New York: Routledge, 2010. 125-135. Print.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s