Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Picture this, if you will. It is a Saturday night on campus like any other. Pregaming debauchers wander about, waiting for the weekend’s promised party to kick into gear. A few students are sitting sadly in a Kohlberg classroom, trying to convince themseves that studying for Monday’s orgo exam is the best use of their time. Somewhere on campus, your intrepid columnists have snuggled into a dorm room bed, swilling gin and tonics and academically critiquing cinema. “Oooh. He’s sexy.” “Uh! Me next!” “Oh my god, look what she just did with her her leg!” Alright. Full disclosure: In an attempt to mine for inspiration for our column and spare Marianne’s partner the guinea pig status afforded him in the last column, we had decided that tonight was the night to snuggle up and watch some skin flicks. Warning: this entire event was pretty comical and lent itself to a high degree of innuendo. Our description, for better or for worse, reflects that.
Neither of us were ever huge porn buffs—Ginger was scared by it and Marianne spent one day watching hours of it, never to return again. Only recently have we both discovered its wonders. As was touched on in the last column, porn has actually been hugely helpful in both of our sex lives. Watching it with partners, and by ourselves, has lead to increasing openness and comfort with sex and also some inspired moments. Ginger began to watch porn out of a desire to achieve an orgasm, as well as several other sexual feats. For Marianne, watching and enjoying porn has been a deliciously and self-aware act of naughtiness. Not to mention quite the turn on for her oft surprised partners.
Obviously, it should be noted that not all porn is necessarily good porn. There inarguably exisits a high degree of exploitation in the porn industry. The opportunities for abuse abound in a landscape of questionable safer-sex practices, exploitative contracts, and real misogyny. Given these realities, it can sometimes be hard to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good wank. Thankfully, there are a few ways of navigating your way to a more ethical diddle-sesh though. Certain companies, such as kink.com and its affiliates, publish all of their policies and contract information on their websites, outlining such statutes as model’s rights to condoms, safe-word establishment, and commitment to consent. Another option is to explore the blogosphere. Certain sex-worker’s rights activists publish rundowns of various videos, websites, and production companies.
Just as with rough sex, reconciling a love of porn and a strong feminist conviction can be tricky. Frankly, we’ve found that sometimes what we hate about porn is, simultaneously, what we love about it: the naughtiness factor, the (unfortunately) subversive act of being female and enjoying it. In an attempt to resolve our love of a good blue movie with our feminist sensibilities, we decided that, with our maiden voyage into paying for porn, we would vote with our dollars! We’d watch feminist pornography! We chose only from films nominated for Feminist Porn Awards, pre-screened for guiltless viewing pleasure (e.g. female involvement in production, depictions of female pleasure, challenging of typical roles/stereotypes of mainstream porn). This still left us with a far-too-wide range of possible videos, so we decide to watch “how-to” porn, balancing enjoyment and education. While we will always have a place in our heart for the free stuff on the internet, this was the best porn either of us had ever seen.
We began our evening with Penny Flame’s Expert Guide to Rough Sex, a topic near and dear to our hearts (and sex drives). Settling in, we sipped our beverages and read a few disclaimers. From the start it was made explicit that all of the sex discussed was to take place within a context of sanity, safety, and consent. And by explicit, we mean bold white text hovering on a black background for far too many of our scant pre-paid minutes . Soon thereafter, Penny appeared. She was clad in sexed-up business attire and put us immediately at ease with her unique mix of smoldering sexuality and wacky (whack-y?) humor. She established some preliminary guidelines, and then introduced her teaching assistant: a lingerie clad porn star. Together, they established boundaries (no butt biting, only slap me if you choke me first, nipple pinching is a-okay) with grace, ease and, remarkably, a whole lot of sex appeal. This caressing, pinching, hair tugging and slapping was instructional, natural, and hot. Penny then ran through the safe places to hit someone, three types of spanking and appropriate hair-pulling techniques, and few more do’s and don’ts.
The rest of the film is comprised of vignettes of couples in various rough sex scenarios beginning with interviews with each scene’s stars on what rough sex meant to them. In the interest of time—and the precious few minutes we had purchased on this particular website—we agreed we would watch only one of the vignettes. And what luck! The first scene featured Penny herself and a muscled Adonis engaged in some of the hottest sex we’ve ever seen. We promptly decided that it was time for another drink, and that this time, it should be a stiff one (nudge, nudge). By the end of the scene, we were drooling, squirming, and feeling that we would most definitely be purchasing this DVD.
Everything we loved about the porn we watched that night was evident in this video: sexy consent, realistic orgasms, human participants, and ladies in control (even when they weren’t). We watched a few others, starting with Tristan Taormino’s Expert Guide to Anal Sex. Taormino’s production company was responsible for the Penny Flame romp we had just delightedly consumed and the two of us had both read her Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women before our respective forays into backdoor business, so we had high hopes. Sadly, our hopes were quickly squelched (there has to be an immature joke here somewhere…): Something about this felt awkward and clinical, and not just because we were discussing the colon. Another bummer (tee hee!): the vignettes that capped of the video were also pretty stilted. That said, we cannot recommend her book highly enough.
Finally, looking for a way to spend our remaining prepaid minutes and the diminishing time before we went to a later social engagement (because, hey, how much time can you spend sitting in a dorm room, getting drunk, and watching porn with a friend without feeling like you’re wasting your youth) we sought out a final film. Ultimately, we chose the work of infamous porn MILF (that’s Matriarch I’d Like to Fuck) Nina Hartley, on the subject of foot fetishes, which, though sexy, didn’t really do it for us either— perhaps because of our great success earlier in the evening with Ms. Flame.
Our experience with feminist pornography was certainly a mixed bag. Like any other porn, some of it turned us on, some of it didn’t. Generally, though, we left for our nighttime adventures feeling buoyant. Aside from the beverages and evening of innuendo, we had found ouselves some damn-hot just-guiltless-enough pornography. In each film, the actors were definitely afforded a high degree of humanity and agency, a refreshing shift from the fare availible for free on youjizz.com. Consent was stressed, but also really sexy. And the women seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves. There were none of the head-tossed back, “Yes! Yes! Oh! That’s right! You’re the man!” so-clearly-feigned-it-hurts-to-watch orgasms on the screen. Case in point? After her partner had left the scene, Penny proceeded to masturbate for herself and herlself alone. It didn’t feel like a tease or a build-up or foreplay, but like a woman enjoying herself and the hot sex she just had. Yes!
For me [Marriane], the porn was revelatory! In all my hours of porn watching, I had never before seen something and thought, that is what I want sex to be like. Even better? My next thought was, “And I can totally make that happen!” I realized that this is the first porn I’ve watched that I wouldn’t be twinge embarrassed to watch with a partner. Why? I felt these films were speaking as much to me as to my hypothetical male partner. Unlike a lot of pornography that I had watched previously, this felt as though the actors and scenes weren’t specifically catering to the male gaze. I was invited too! Somehow, it felt like Penny and Tristan and Nina were all friends beckoning me to the promise of better sex, not brainless, large-breasted femme-bots who I should construe as my sexual competition. These women and the sex they were having weren’t the embodiment/enactment of what I/sex was supposed to be like, but rather what I/it could be like if I wanted it to. And it was glorious!
So, what did we conclude after our night of assiduous and selfless nudie watching? A few observations spring to mind. First and foremost, Penny Flame is a sex goddess. Rather obviously, actually paying for porn opens up a world of options, good and bad. We found some serious good. Lastly, and perhaps most surprisingly, porn, friends, and a bottle of hard alcohol are the makings of a ridiculously fun and startlingly non-awkward evening. You’ll learn something, and it sparks laughter, conversation and a healthy dose of openness about sex. Certainly, this is not for everyone—some people like to keep their sex lives and preferences private. But we do wholeheartedly endorse talking about it. The comfort and confidence that can come from talking about it with people you trust is immeasurably valuable, and porn can get you there. It’s worth a shot—if it’s too weird, turn it off, shake your heads at that two-bit idea those columnists had, and put on Bridget Jones. You’ll have a hilarious story to always cherish about that time you tried to watch porn together. Happy watching!