BOSTON – It was called “Pioneers of Feminist Porn,” but in retrospect a better name for the event might have been “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Porn, But Were Afraid to Ask.”

In a wide ranging conversation expertly moderated by sociologist Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, multitalented directors Candida Royalle and Jacky St. James addressed some of the most controversial and difficult questions surrounding adult entertainment, as well as the roots, evolution, and future of what has come to be called “feminist porn.”

Produced by the award winning erotica site, Sssh.com, the goal of the ongoing Mindbrowse.com discussion series is to “bring together experienced and respected thinkers from within the adult industry to talk about where we are, where we came from and where we’re going, particularly with respect to women in the industry,” said Sssh.com founder Angie Rowntree.

“While all of our shows have been incredible, this one was particularly compelling” Rowntree said. “Candida, Jacky, and Dr. Chauntelle did an amazing job breaking down some very complicated and nuanced topics and not shying away from controversy.”

You can watch the entire show embedded below or on YouTube right here.

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(pictured: Candida Royalle, me, Jacky St. James)

The latest Mindbrowse show began with Royalle providing a brief synopsis of her remarkable career, from her start as a performer to her fateful decision in the early 80s to move around to the other side of the camera.

“Around ’83 or ’84, I started to think ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be interesting to do movies from a woman’s point of view, movies women could relate to and couples could watch together?” Royalle said, noting that at the time, the very idea of women wanting to watch porn was considered absurd.

“The naysayers said [porn] was a boys’ club, women aren’t interested in porn,” Royalle recalled. “But I persisted, and the rest is history.”

The subject then turned to the notion of “feminist porn” and “porn for women,” with both directors acknowledging the difficulty of defining such terms.

“You can’t box in a woman’s fantasy and say it has to be a certain way or it’s not ‘pro-women’ or it’s not ‘for women,’” St. James said. “There are plenty of women I know, and I’m one of those women, who like harder-core pornography. Although it’s not really what I shoot, I certainly think a woman can take a feminist perspective to something hardcore; if you look at Dana Vespoli, that’s a perfect example.”

Right around the halfway point of the discussion, the conversation began to trod on potentially thorny territory when the directors were asked to reflect on the kind of challenging questions which have come up during the process of making their films.

“I remember we had a lot of very long and intense discussions in the 90s about what kind of fantasies you could portray on film where you were ‘crossing a line,’” Royalle said. “The most obvious one being the proverbial ‘rape fantasy.’”

Noting it has long been known the rape fantasy is one of the most popular fantasies among viewers, Royalle offered her analysis of why this is so.

“I think it’s really because women are still so burdened by this double standard and so afraid of coming off as a woman who’s too sexual, who knows too much, and so she needs to find some kind of permission, some way of letting go enough to really allow herself to be pleasured, and to have an orgasm,” Royalle said. “Sometimes that involves fantasizing you’re with someone who won’t take no for an answer. It does not mean you really want to go out and be raped in a dark alley somewhere…. The whole point of fantasy is that you are in control.”

Ultimately, the question Royalle struggled with was as someone whose goal is in part to turn on her viewers “how do I show this ‘rape fantasy’ without sending the wrong message to people and letting people think she really wants to be raped?”

“Of course, there’s always the thought you can show them having the discussion and she says ‘It’s OK: You can rape me,’” Royalle said. “Well, that kind of takes the heat away, doesn’t it?”

Royalle’s description of her director’s dilemma resonated with St. James, who is known in part for her “faux-cest” movies – fantasy presentations of incestuous scenarios – another fantasy many consider beyond the pale.

“It’s not that people really want to have sex with a family member,” St. James said, “they just want the fantasy. But then we have all these rules we have to follow – you have to say ‘step,’ you have to show consent,” St. James said.

Just as with the presentation of the rape fantasy, St. James said with these restrictions there’s the risk the depiction “loses that luster.”

“You think: ‘Now I’m just watching porn that’s following rules,” St. James said, which can have the effect of killing the fantasy for the viewer, thereby undermining the point of creating the movie in the first place.

With consistent thoughtfulness and eloquence, Royalle and St. James tackled other potentially explosive topics as well, including what it means to make “ethical porn,” resistance they have (or haven’t) faced from men in the adult industry, and what they see coming in down the road in porn’s future.

“We need to legitimize the industry,” Royalle said. “We need to get adult entertainment out of the gutter, out of the extreme fringes and make it another form of art entertainment, so it will be place people want to work, people who have talent. We will end up with a better product as a result.”

For her part, St. James closed with a thought which is likely quite common among porn entrepreneurs these days, given the overall state of the adult industry and the ubiquity of free porn sites.

“Please pay for your porn,” St. James said. “We’re not working for free.”

You can watch the entire Mindbrowse show here – Enjoy!

 

 

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Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

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