If you read the UK left-wing newspapers, you may already have seen yesterday's article by Zoe Williams on ethical porn. If you haven't, go read it - it's positive, intelligent, and rather prominently features Dreams of Spanking.
Journalist Zoe Williams contacted me about a year ago to ask if I'd be willing to be interviewed. She came over for tea, and we set up a mic on the coffee table and sat in the lounge, talking for about an hour. She really wanted to come along to a shoot and talk to cast and crew, but I didn't have any shoots planned soon - and besides, inviting a journalist along is hardly the best way to provide a safe, comfortable space for your performers on set. (One of those instances where convincing the media you are an ethical pornographer and actually being one tend to clash.) Instead, I suggested that she come along to the start of the Dreams of Spanking cast and crew party, and invited a select few who are closely involved in the site to arrive earlier if they wanted to chat to her. Nimue, AJ and D all sat down and answered questions, and as ever I was impressed with how articulate and politically aware my friends and co-workers are. Nimue has already blogged about the interview and her take on the porn she makes here.
When the article didn't come out in January as intended, I thought it had been axed - but I got an email from Zoe on Monday to tell me that it was coming out this weekend. I was delighted to discover how positive it is - and how heavily Dreams of Spanking is featured.
Zoe isn't writing for people who are already guilt-free porn fans - or for people who are firmly convinced that all porn is inherently exploitative. She's writing for people like herself: educated, open-minded people who support gender equality and have always got the vague impression that that meant disliking porn, but doesn't really watch it and doesn't have an informed opinion. As such, she acknowledges and responds to some of the classic reservations about porn - that it is inherently male gaze, artificial, bad sex education, and that it promotes male violence - and ends up agreeing with the feminist porn principle that the answer is not no porn, but better porn.
I cannot agree with deciding women are being exploited unless they say they are. And, much more trenchantly, I cannot agree with adjudicating what someone else gets off on. Even if she is turned on by a fantasy that traduces your political beliefs (and her own), sexual fantasy is a sacred thing; you can’t argue it away, and nor should you want to. And the key argument, that it causes male violence, I don’t buy; what we watch might influence the way we behave, but not in obvious ways that you can map.
The article contrasts Dreams of Spanking with the sort of porn the audience might already be aware of in a number of ways, but the primary quality it picks out is "realness". The fact that I, and the other feminist pornographers mentioned in the article - including Ms Naughty, Nimue Allen and Madison Young - are expressing our own authentic sexuality through our work; the absence of gymnastic sex positions that afford the camera a better view; even the low-budget aesthetic - are all mentioned as desirable traits. The fact that my fantasies include some extreme BDSM and corporal punishment didn't seem to faze her - in fact that partly makes my work seem more credible, as I'm clearly pursuing my own sexual interests rather than trying to be "mainstream".
Makers of ethical porn believe you can have a violent fantasy, of any kind, and that can be a legitimate part of your sexual identity, one that you have a right to explore. This is the point at which anti-porn campaigners stick. There is a chasm here, between people who think that all violence in sex is the result of a patriarchal culture and will lead to violence in real life, and should be stamped out; and people who think that all fantasy is legitimate, and almost all of it can be legitimately met by porn.
I love that CrashPad Series was mentioned, and I love that my comment about the Clips4Sale categories list was kept in:
There is an interesting side point, about what happens to porn when it is democratised, how instantly it explodes into a thousand different kinks. “As an exercise,” Blake says, “look at a Clips 4 Sale list. [...] They’ve got 500 categories. You have no idea of the beautiful variety of human sexuality until you’ve cast your eye over this list. Eyeball licking… snot” (the only time I was too squeamish to hit “enter” was the subheading “Cats”). It’s interesting because that site was originally conceived to host regular user-made porn, and just got colonised incredibly fast. It seems that the more the sex industry tries to hammer us into one sexual identity, the more we rebel with riotous weirdness.
I don't love the headline, which I suspect was added by an editor (I'm so over headlines asking if porn can be ethical/if porn could appeal to women/if porn can be feminist - yes, yes, yes, it can, and a lot of it has been, for nearly twenty years in fact. Stop dismissing the existence of the radical work being done to revolutionise the porn industry, and do your research!) but overall, I'm delighted. It's amazing to see the Guardian finally offering a counterpoint to the sex-negativity of a lot of their feminist opinion pieces over the last few years. I had no idea Dreams of Spanking would be featured so heavily, and I'm very grateful to Zoe Williams for approaching a thorny topic with sensitivity and nuance.
The site has seen a lot more traffic than usual this weekend - if you are a new visitor, welcome! There's been a nice little boost in sales too, including a higher proportion of female members than usual, which is wonderful.
If you want to read more about my take on ethical porn, here are a few blogposts that might be of interest:
- My tentative definitions of fairtrade porn and feminist porn, which mostly haven't changed since I started producing it. The difference between these two definitions will explain why I think porn can be ethically produced without having a feminist ideology, and how I strive to make Dreams of Spanking both ethical and feminist.
- A blogpost on what makes porn ethical for me, written in 2012.
- My take on the issue of equal pay for male and female porn performers, written to celebrate the launch of another all-too-rare F/M site which pays its male spankees - Sarah Spanks Men.
- For the Feminist Porn Awards 2013, a brief overview of how I go about making porn in a feminist way.
- Two director's statements written for Cinekink Film Festival, which go into some detail about my approach to creating feminist spanking porn, especially when depicting edgy, not-entirely-consensual fantasies.
Thanks to Zoe Williams for writing such a positive article about my work, and to the Guardian for having the gumption to print it. There are 768 comments already (I haven't read them) so hopefully the editors will be reassured that this is a topic they can get away with tackling. And with any luck, the article will get people thinking, and perhaps spread the idea that yes, porn can be ethical, and a lot of it even is - even porn about dominance, submission, punishment and spanking!