Francis Riendeau for Les 3 sex*/Infographics by Marion Bertrand-Huot

Article • XX(X) Movies: A Look at Feminist Pornography

20 April 2020
Michelle Bergeron Deschênes | étudiante M.A. clinique en sexologie à l’UQAM; Alexandra Fournier | candidate M.A. en sexologie à l’UQAM et Myriam Pomerleau | sexologue et psychothérapeute

The text below is from the Avant-garde magazine from Les 3 sex* published in paper format in april of 2019 and then in electronic format in may of 2019. For more information on the magazine or to get a copy, click here.


☛ Cette chronique est aussi disponible en français [➦].

Translated by Audrey Morabito

Swollen breasts, wet vulvas, panting. Ejaculation. Full mouths, hungry tongues, luscious lips. Ejaculation. Dilated anus, oiled butt cheeks, spanked ass. Ejaculation. On all fours, on your knees, bound. Ejaculation. Teacher, schoolgirl, cowgirl. Cumshot.

Shocking? For most, this scenario is nothing new. Whether we accept it or not, sexuality is slightly coded and stereotypical (Boisvert, 2017). In fact, for the past fifteen years, pornography has been part of the Western sexual norm. That is to say that it has become an important cultural influence in the lives of many in this society (Lavigne, 2009; Paveau, 2014). How does feminist pornography fit into this taboo yet ubiquitous phenomenon? How can the feminine impose itself in a universe created by men and for men (Williams, 1989)?

Straight Mainstream Pornography

Straight mainstream porn looks to sell ‘real’ sex, as opposed to simulated sexual relationships found on TV. It aims to generate quick arousal responses by showing the “best angles” and the “best positions” so that spectators can see everything (Lavigne, 2009). A lot of emphasis is put on penetration close-ups and the visibility of male ejaculation, as an indication that a sexual act has indeed taken place (Williams, 1989). This means that porn has been  built around a very limited sexual script, in which the male orgasm is principal, relegating female pleasure as  a mere  afterthought. Boisvert (2017) appropriates the concept of the cumshot to the idea that sexual desire is first and foremost something that originates from man to be thrust onto woman. As porn is a cultural scenario prescribing certain sexual acts (Gagnon, 2008), the representation of heterosexual encounters would encourage that female desire stay within the limits of sexual stereotypes (Boivert, 2017). 

Regardless of the scenario, this type of pornography constrains its protagonists to their sexual function: it puts foward a sexuality that is stripped of social relationships (Wadbled, 2012). 

The proposed script is so rigid that it leaves very little room for spontaneity and for the development of intimacy between the actors (Taormino, 2013a). Everything is orchestrated: actions and reactions interact and are chosen based on the nature, gender and social role assigned to the characters (Wadbled, 2012). Penetration being the ultimate goal of the scene, foreplay intended for female pleasure is usually neglected (Taormino, 2013a). This type of pornography tends to remain indifferent to sexual diversity and is usually limited to heteronormative scripts (Smith, 2015).

What About Feminist Porn?

The feminist movement in pornography responds to the desire of promoting positive female sexuality that transgresses the dominant male system (Kurnet, 2014; Laprade, 2016; Paveau, 2014). It is in the mid 80s that pornographic film actresses like Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera, Candida Royalle, Gloria Leonard and Veronica Hart proposed to reclaim and revolutionize the scripts of mainstream straight pornography, in order to create an alternative and feminist genre (Penley et al., 2013). Feminist porn became a critique of the pornography made for men and by men, and a militant act of resistance that seeks to have women regain power over their sexuality (Glick, 2000).

Behind the staging and production of feminist videos, are erotic and political motivations (Lavigne and Le Blanc, 2017). The Feminist Porn Award (Kunert, 2014; Penley et al., 2013) recognizes three criteria for judging the feminist nature of a film:  

  1. A women’s implication in the creative process 
  2. An authentic representation of female pleasure 
  3. Challenging the stereotypical representation of sexuality and gender as proposed by mainstream straight porn

Feminist porn therefore becomes a genre that recognizes the existence of a female audience, but also of anyone that does not feel represented in mainstream straight porn (Penley et al., 2013). To do this, it wishes to show sexual scenarios, bodies and erotic experiences that are too often ignored (Lavigne and Le Blanc, 2017) without stigmatizing practices responding to more traditional scripts. Feminist pornography is said to put forth more manifestations of sexual agency than straight mainstream porn (Fritz and Paul, 2017), which in turn contributes to reinventing sexual scripts of passive women into liberated and positive female sexuality (Kunert, 2014). Amongst the other key factors of the genre, great importance is given to consent, desires, chemistry between the actors and actresses, better working conditions as well as the representation of both exciting and educational scenes (Taormino, 2013b). This industry promises women in control of their fantasies, authentic desire, and real female orgasms (Penley et al., 2013).

Ultimately, feminist pornography is a type of critical commentary of an industry originally produced by and for heterosexual men (Kunert, 2014). The objective, however, remains the same: to show real sex that involves showing a specific vision of its multiple expressions and configurations.

The Sex Wars

Until the mid 80s, the feminist movement was largely against pornography (Lavigne, 2014). The dominant discourse maintains that pornography is not only a symbol or an illustration, but the very foundation of female oppression (Segal, 1998; Williams, 1989). In that sense, it is imperative to oppose and censor its different representations (Segal, 1998).

Faced with this position, dissident voices of feminist activists raise the controversial idea that pornography may be, on the contrary, an opportunity to defend the rights of women (Laprade, 2016). This is the beginning of the ‘sex wars’, in which  an ideological gap exists between anti-pornography feminists and anti-censorship feminists (Kunert, 2014). If the desire to “decolonize women’s sexuality” (Lavigne, 2014, p.37) is a shared interest by both groups, the means to achieve it are not unanimous.

The Point of View of Anti-Pornography Radical Feminists

The critiques from these feminists are based on the belief that pornography seeks above all to subordinate, objectify and dehumanize women (Dworkin, 1981; MacKinnon, 1985). They see pornography as a representation of coercion and sexual violence which, in the form of propaganda, incites men to use violence against women (Dines, 2010; Dworkin, 1981; MacKinnon, 1985). The words of activist Robin Morgan illustrates this point well: “Pornography is the theory, and rape the practice” (cited in Williams, 1989). Faced with the inherently bad nature of pornography, these feminists try to abolish it through legal means. However, the injunctions submitted to some supreme courts in the United States have been rejected or judged unconstitutional (Bourcier, 2011). In this legislative battle, anti-pornography radical feminists create an unlikely alliance with conservative and religious lobbyists, as their common goal is to condemn and censor pornography using the power of the law (Kunert, 2014). 

What do Anti-Censorship Feminists Think?

This movement was first led by lesbians as well as former pornographic film actors (Glick, 2000; Kunert, 2014). For members of the anti-censorship movement (or sex-positive movement), the anti-pornography discourse reinforces the basic concept that female sexuality is “soft”, non-violent and stripped of power dynamics, which only has the effect of maintaining stereotypical gender roles that encourage the subordination of women (William, 1989). Expression and creation in pornography are seen as preferable to legal remedies aimed at censorship which only regulate and confine female sexuality more (Segal, 1998; Williams, 1989). This is why they propose showing female pleasure as an alternative way to incite social change (Glick, 2000). They promote sexual scripts that have been rethought and reinterpreted (Kunert, 2014).

Today, the critiques formulated by the Queer movement take certain ideals from the sex-positive movement which aims to reclaim this pornographic genre. Indeed, these critiques invite us to reflect on the symbols, the agency, the performance, and the deconstruction of sexual norms, as well as question the various identity categories (Laprade, 2016). In fact, Judith Butler’s works on feminism has inspired feminist pornography in the search for this type of change (Laprade, 2016). According to Butler (2005), it is not possible to free yourself from power, but only possible to destabilize it. According to this theory, the political transformations desired by feminist pornography can only take place in a subversive repetition of the dominant categories of mainstream straight porn. It is in this context, that pornography can aspire to be diverse and offer a better representation of sexuality to sexual subcultures (Lust, 2010).

Is Porn for Women the Same Thing?

Without being mutually exclusive to feminist pornography, pornography for women only responds partially (sometimes not at all) to the criteria for feminist work. In fact, many films identified as “porn for women” are essentially directed and marketed by the same production companies that share the mainstream straight market (Smith, 2015). The films are usually addressed to women and heterosexual couples and show actors and actresses that respond to the habitual codes of the industry, but in a context where the sexual practices are usually less aggressive, more sensual and romantic (Feminist Porn Award, 20118). In those very specific cases, the expression “porn for women” refers to a sub-category of mainstream straight porn (Fritz, 2015), which, rather than varying the representations of female sexuality as does feminist pornography, reaffirms the principles of its most popular form. The expression “porn for women”, however, can be used by feminist platforms, hence the confusion and the interchangeable use of both terms.

Let the Pleasure Begin…

Limited to mainstream straight pornography, feminist pornography invites itself to the bedroom. It calls on marginalized communities, but also all of those who don’t identify with mainstream straight pornography, to rethink the norms and dominant conventions of the industry. The new directors and actresses argue that it is possible, by repetetively broadcasting new videos, to progress towards a deconstruction of social codes and conventions of mainstream straight pornography. Regardless of its motivations, whether political or erotic, the fact remains that pornography’s main essence is to arouse the person who watches it.



Feminist Pornography Sites
By Alexandra Fournier (inspired by:

    Located at the crossroads between pornography and art, this independant project aims to explore the aesthetic and conceptual potential of porn. 
    The original content of producer Ms Naughty, named Indie Porn Icon in 2017, in diverse formats : films, photographs, documentaries, fiction, articles and more.
    Large selection of films focusing on aesthetics and visual quality. The XConfessions series shares testimonies from members who share their deepest fantasies.
    A platform allowing couples to share their amateur videos. It focuses on emotions and intimacy by showing real partners. 
    A go to reference in terms of independent genres, this platform proposes one of the largest collections of feminist, indie and queer films.

One of the authors of this text, Alexandra Fournier, is currently recruiting participants for her master’s thesis on adult women’s experiences with feminist pornography. For all the details click here or contact Alexandra here



To cite this article:

Bergeron Deschênes, M., Fournier, A. and Pomerleau, M. (2020, April 20). Films XX(X) : regard sur la pornographie féministe. Les 3 sex* 

porn, feminism, stereotypes, sexual norm, taboo, sexual desire, excitation, heteronormative sex script, sexual diversity, sexual agency, consent, oppression, censorship, decolonization, propaganda, sex wars


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