Progressions in Porn
by Julie MacManus
It used to be something a man hid from his wife or girlfriend, tucked away in places she rarely looked. It was something to feel ashamed about. People were warned they would become addicted, or begin to treat the women in their lives the same way the actors did.
Now, though, pornography of all sorts is discussed, and even sent-up, in Hollywood movies such Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and no one really cares. Similarly, in 1999's American Pie, Shannon Elizabeth played a character named Nadia, whose casual enjoyment of Hustler and Playboy magazines didn't seem to shock audiences. Even 10 years ago, our attitude towards watching others have sex was changing.
In particular, porn has become more acceptable to female audiences. Greater accessibility and a wider variety of materials have brought it a whole new set of fans. Of course, pornography wouldn't have evolved in this way had it continued to portray women in the same submissive roles it did in the '70s and '80s. Adult entertainment has learned to involve them in new and more creative ways.
In turn, many women have gone from being cautious viewers (or overexerted actresses) to taking on a production role. Entrepreneurs like Candida Royalle, Annie Sprinkle, Estelle Joseph, and Erika Lust have begun catering to female audiences, and viewers are eating it up. Increasingly, films produced by female pornographers feature enhanced storylines and more romance — closer to an explicit Harlequin novel than yet another series of money shots.
Natalie Mitchell (not her real name), a 27-year-old living in Nanaimo B.C., enjoys watching pornography the most when she is by herself. "It's weird and doesn't turn me on at all when I'm watching it with friends," she says. "I've watched with partners too, though, and that's good." Mitchell adds that she's as likely as her partner to add porn to foreplay, though she has met one or two guys who felt weird about watching with their girlfriends. "I've suggested it with some and it's just never happened," she says.
Mitchell watches porn mainly because it's a turn-on. "I guess you could learn techniques too, but that is not really the reason I watch,". She's attracted to both the men and women in the videos, even though she doesn't have any interest in being with a girl in real life. "It's more of a fantasy," she says. "I prefer men."
Over the years, Mitchell has noticed more movies geared towards women, in which the content puts greater focus on the girls. "I like it when they show her getting off too, not just him." Mitchell says she will sometimes skip the part when the male climaxes, since that is one of the least exciting elements of porn videos for her.
Janine Hunter, 23, recently suggested to her boyfriend that they watch an adult video together. She was surprised to learn that he had never watched porn with his previous partner. He said it just wasn't necessary, or even an option. But Hunter, who is much younger than her 35-year-old boyfriend, and has done her research, knew where she could find suitable videos. She has grown up in a generation where sexual imagery abounds.
When pornography first hit mass markets, it seemed to cater to a male audience. Women in the videos were depicted as objects, servants, and whores. They were rarely caressed, barely enticed, and always suspected of over-dramatizing their enjoyment. Early pornography simply cut to the chase, cue the music.
Sandra Leiblum, Ph.D, a leading authority on sex therapy, and Judith Sachs, a health educator, co-wrote the book Getting the Sex You Want: A Woman's Guide to Becoming Proud, Passionate, and Pleased in Bed. They write that pornography "has classically been the province of men - a slimy, degrading, obscene, look at sex. The old hard-core porn films are a meaningless collection of crotch shots, huge penises entering tiny vulvas, breasts bigger than melons with nipples to match. No people, no plots — just disjointed sexual acts." They add that this traditional pornography "is not only not sexually stimulating to a lot of women, but can be repellent, as it implies that the female body is simply a collection of orifices to be used and abused."
But times have changed, and Leiblum and Sachs, both past middle-age, say female-oriented pornography can be used to waken a woman from sexual doldrums.
It helps that it's no longer necessary to spend huge bucks for enticing images. Partners either make their own sex tapes, Paris Hilton style, or log on to free websites or late night cable TV (Fridays Without Borders on Showcase, anyone?)
Much of the pornography industry's progress can be credited to Betty Dodson, a sexual therapist who has been writing about female eroticism since the 1970s. One of the first women to openly write about masturbation, Dodson found an eager audience. Sex for One (1987) was followed by Orgasms for Two (2002), in which she wrote for the first time about the benefits of onscreen pornography.
"Despite the efforts of the religious right to censor explicit sexual images, porno has become so much a part of American culture that it is being taught at the college level as a legitimate course," she writes. Dodson's first experience of porn mirrored that of a lot of women. "When I watched my first X-rated video, everything turned me on because sexual images were new." But she quickly became bored by the uninspired imagery of the day, though she was never offended by it.
"My constant criticism of the heterosexual formula in most pornography interfered with my sexual arousal," she writes. Then Dodson switched to watching gay male porn. "Looking at men's muscular bodies . . . was more interesting than watching a woman being passive while a man fucked her."
Porn now offers more combinations that cater to women. Scenes involving group sex, lesbians, role-playing, fetishes, and extended foreplay are geared to females who happily admit their fascination with tantalizing images.
In an interview on her website, Candida Royalle explains how she came to be a Triple-X producer and entrepreneur, and in the process provides a quick history of female-friendly porn. "Looking at whether adult movies were actually bad for society I concluded that sexually explicit art and movies were not necessarily bad and could in fact be informative and inspiring," she says. "It seemed to me that most porn was sex-negative and did not present a woman's point of view or show what women liked sexually. At the same time I could tell women were becoming more curious and felt permission to explore their sexuality due to the woman's movement of the late '60s, early '70s. With the advent of home video they had a safe place to look, but there was nothing out there for them. I also sensed that men wanted to share the experience of watching a sexy movie with their woman and again, there was little they felt comfortable bringing home to her. I saw a challenging new market that no one was paying attention to and I felt I would be a perfect person to provide content for it."
She was, and an ever-growing number of women enjoy better sex lives as a result — not to mention much more entertaining programming on Saturday nights.