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Is there actually a porn "for women”?

How the concept of "female" has changed in the pornography

Is there actually a porn for women”? How the concept of female has changed in the pornography

King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes is a book that manages to match being raped with the sexual fantasy of rape, feminism with sex-work, punk with porn. Among the various ideas that she offers, at a certain point, Despentes writes: "I'm sure many women prefer not to masturbate, claiming they don't care, rather than finding out what turns them on". 

Bear in mind that King Kong Theory was first published in 2006 and the conversation about female sexuality wasn't as developed at a mainstream level as it is today, so the focus is no longer on how and whether girls avoid masturbating, but rather how they find out what turns them on. Girls, teens and women still grow up in a society that has long excluded the concept of female pleasure, both from a cultural and medical point of view, and gender stereotypes are still strong. Sex education has not made great strides forward, but it must be said that at the same time many realities have emerged on social networks that deal with sex and deepen sexual practices. For better or for worse, mainstream pornography also helps to understand what one's interests might be. 

 

Pornhub and vanilla sex

nss G-Club has already reported on the latest statistics released by Pornhub on female porn consumption. It is in 2012 that the Female Friendly category appears on Pornhub. It had more or less 500 videos mostly of vanilla porn. Traditionally, the more conventional sex is defined as “vanilla”, made up of few foreplay and positions like that of the missionary. Just like vanilla is a pretty simple and common flavour of ice cream. According to Hallie Lieberman, historian of sex and sexuality, the origin of the expression "vanilla sex" is to be linked to the kink movement of the 70s, in particular to the Gay Leather subculture, whose participants were attracted to extreme forms of sexuality (for an overview on the subject you can refer to Larry Townsend, who wrote The Leatherman's Handbook). These were the years of the sexual revolution, of the politicization of pre-AIDS sexuality, but also of the second-wave feminist discussions. Therefore a distinction was created between classic sex and those sexual practices, practised and claimed by the BDSM community, which were considered extreme, but above all deviant.

There is nothing wrong with preferring vanilla sex (and porn). It becomes problematic, however, when we are taught that that is "normal" sex, and even if “vanilla" is automatically associated with “women". This last connection is the result of the most deleterious gender stereotypes that see women as a passive, prudish subject and, deep down, reluctant to explore sexuality. Vanilla sex is often the rule of thumb for a girl. It is the distinction that distinguishes the angel of the hearth from the whore. This dichotomy, on one hand, has led some girls to feel ashamed of expressing what turns them on, for fear of being considered bad or easy, on the other hand, it has incentivized others to make people believe they are very sexually open, to attract the attention and get out of the stereotype. Both groups fear the judgment of others because what is exciting can also be socially embarrassing. 

 

What “for women” means

In 2020 even the last lines written above are a generalization. More and more women proudly claim their sexuality, experience it, explore it and, yes, they watch different types of porn. Pornography has also changed, and from this post-porn was born, a movement that is intertwined with philosophy, art and politics. In Hardcore from the Heart (2001) Annie Sprinkle, a leading exponent of post-porn writes that "pornography is like a mirror in which we can look at ourselves. Sometimes what we discover is not a pretty sight, and can make us very uncomfortable. But what a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other, to get closer to the truth and to learn". 

So, how has “female” porn changed? Still remaining on Pornhub, the symbol of mainstream porn, in 2014 the category changed its name to For Women to Friendly with Female and again, in 2017, to Popular with Women. By clicking on it, Pornhub presents the other searches associated with this category: Lesbian, Threesome, Rough Sex (violent sex), Pussy Licking, Big Dick, Amateur, Teen, Creampie (that is a video in which the man ejaculates inside the vagina or the anus, without a condom, and after that, there’s often a close-up of the sperm dripping out), Double Penetration, Gangbang. It isn’t very vanilla, is it? Videos that are categorized as "Popular with Women" are actually nothing more than videos of any other type. And if you look at the videos most viewed by women in general, you can easily see that these are the ones with the highest number of views without distinction of gender, because they are practically always on Pornhub’s home page. Basically, there is porn for women only and exclusively if we refer to the gender stereotype that establishes what a woman's interests should be. But when every woman has her personality, her fantasies and, in fact, her interests, it would be like wondering if there is food for women. Is there a dish associated with the feminine? And if so, why the salad? 

 

Dirty Diaries Manifesto

There is another porn that wants to be an alternative to mainstream porn, and which aims to bring a female point of view to an industry historically dominated by the male gaze and designed for a male audience. Even if briefly, we have already heard of Erika Lust, but there are many other pornographic directors such as Anna Span, Petra Joy, Knud Vesterkiv, Lisbeth Lynghoft, Jessica Nilsson and Mia Engberg. The latter produced Dirty Diaries (2009) with fellow Swedish feminist directors and activists. It is a collection of thirteen short films that explore, each in a different way: queer sex, masturbation, close-ups and much more, all from a feminist and "feminine" point of view. This type of porn often coincides with experimental and artistic cinema, so it is very different from what we might expect if we talk about “online pornography”. The goal is to ensure that the woman is transformed from a sexual object to a subject of pleasure, in a more real narrative (also but not only in terms of represented bodies). Mia Engberg, Swedish director and producer, in the early 2000s wrote a manifesto to tell the political and cultural vision of this movement and to guide the other directors in the production of Dirty Diaries

The pornographic representation of what seems to interest women has changed and is changing on at least two levels. Firstly, the practices shown in the videos have increased. Vanilla is no longer associated with women by default, and mainstream porn is also doing its part to differentiate the proposals from a content point of view. Secondly, in addition to the content, the container is also changing. And this is not necessarily a good thing. Distribution sites like Pornhub have long been criticized for being sexist, racist, unethical and unsustainable, so pornographic storytelling is generally being rethought (video style, shooting techniques, plot). However, this is leading to a clear opposition between pornographies, creating completely different products, aimed at two types of consumers to be kept well separated. It is not necessarily positive precisely because it reaffirms a binary view that segregates cis-straight men on Brazzers, while women and the queer world are brought into a niche that creates a totally different consumer experience. It will take a while for feminist, or female, pornography to establish itself for the general public, so, in the meantime, if some people like to consume the first type of porn, aware of the problems it carries with it, they must know that this does not make them any less valid.