Friday, April 22, 2011

my very brief guide to feminist porn, part two

(This post was originally published online at Good Vibrations Magazine)

In the first part of my very brief guide, I responded more directly to questions about feminist porn. I offered criteria to help viewers analyze the quality of porn, with the intention of broadening our language for talking about this. Yet I emphasized that these criteria are not meant to be definitive but rather have worked for me as talking points. This second part will respond to more personal questions I hear about using porn.

There’s no telling how you will watch and react/interact when faced with porn. Here I shall relate my own experiences, with the belief that hearing people speak openly about this topic is an important positive step in breaking down dated taboos, inspiring others to listen constructively and look at porn with open minds. Until society has re-evaluated often misguided preconceptions about porn, it’s likely that, for most, watching porn at all will feel a bit awkward.

– “Sometimes watching porn with others, including my husband, makes me feel awkward and silly. Other times it really turns me on to watch something sexy with him.”

Anne G. Sabo (Photo: Agnete Brun)
It was a former boyfriend that first introduced me to porn. I didn’t care much for the kind of porn he wanted to share with me, because it was very mainstream: featuring a stud who, sought out by women, provided them with sexual release by coming all over their bodies. I remember feeling grossed out—even somehow forced upon.

When finally I started watching porn of my choice, I preferred to watch it alone at first. While on sabbatical and researching feminist porn at the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Oslo, I remember colleagues sheepishly asking if watching porn turns me on. There’s somehow something incorrect for a scholar to be turned on at work, but as film scholar Linda Williams points out in her historical analysis of porn, HardCore (1989), the intention of porn is to stir a physical reaction, just as tragedies strive to induce tears, and horrors goosebumps (5). In the updated version of HardCore (1999), Williams encourages us to think more about such visceral viewing (289-92).

The answer is yes; I do often get turned on when watching porn. During my sabbatical, I preferred to watch it at home, after I’d returned from my office. I would watch it on the television or my laptop when working more intently, sometimes taking notes, other times just absorbing it, and on occasion masturbating.

It was shortly after my sabbatical that the man who is now my husband moved in with me. You know how it’s so exciting to share everything about yourself in those first intoxicated days, weeks, and months of love? Well, for me, that included good new porn by women. Since my earlier experience watching porn with my ex had been so awkward, with my husband I started out by casually passing on to him a few films. Not feeling myself judged and noticing his positive reaction, I began to hang around on the couch while he was watching. My husband is really good at talking film and has a good eye for style, so we began discussing what we were watching. Just listening to him could turn me on. And he even began to find stuff that he’d pass on to me, or invite me to watch with him.

We’ve since become parents of a toddler daughter who is not fond of sleep, so we don’t have time to watch much of anything together, that is to say not just porn. In fact, since my daughter was born, I have watched a lot of porn at the college library where I go to write. Perhaps at home when she naps. I like finding short vignettes online or new trailers from some of my favorite porn makers, because I can actually squeeze those into my limited time.

If my husband and I have time together at night after our daughter is asleep, we often sit next to each other on the couch working on our laptops. Sometimes one of us will find a sexy short video that we can watch together, perhaps to consider featuring it on our online resource center LOVE, SEX, AND FAMILY or in my work online at NEW PORN BY WOMEN. Sometimes my husband will take a look at and comment on a film I’m writing about for my book on new porn by women. And now and then this leads to more. In our case, though, the point is that we are able to integrate porn into our daily lives, in a way that is meaningful to our work and to our sexual lives in general; we do not section it off as something that is forbidden or taboo, or in any way limited to utility and thus brought out of the closet at necessity. The kind of porn we watch is capable of inspiring us in a multitude of ways. This can be true for you too.

I was recently filling out a new survey on the everyday uses of porn. One of the questions was about
what I would miss if I were not to watch porn in the future. I responded that I would miss the opportunity to see sexual imageries that can inspire new ways of thinking about sex, broadening our minds and liberating more space to define our sexuality. And truly, one of the things that I find stimulating about new progressive porn is how it has that potential. The inspiration I have received from what I have watched of re-visioned porn is with me, even in those periods when I’m not watching a whole lot of porn.

I encourage you to fill out this survey too, which is part of a major international research project conducted by three British scholars who are well established in this field. As they explain:
“Our project is concerned with the everyday uses of pornography, and how the people who use it feel it fits into their lives. Pornography is of course a highly topical issue, subject to many opposing views and ‘strong opinions’. And we are not saying that there are no moral or political issues. But we are saying that the voices of users and enjoyers have been swamped. In fact, there is very little research that engages with the users of pornography, asking how, when and why they turn to it.”
The survey is anonymous, though you have the option of leaving your e-mail for follow-up questions. To complete it, click here.

And for more practical advice about porn, sex columnist Violet Blue (The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn) and feminist porn producer Erika Lust (Good Porn: A Woman’s Guide) have both published porn guides catering to women, which include information about what to expect in terms of the content of porn and suggestions for how to use it. Blue has detailed information about how to search safely for porn online and how to watch and talk about porn with your partner.
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