Good Porn: A Woman’s Guide

*Note: I realize pornography can be a touchy subject in feminist circles (and in general); some feminists feel that feminism and pornography are mutually exclusive. I’m not going to engage any of those arguments in the review (though I do point you in the direction of some pornography-related feminist theory towards the end, and you’re more than welcome to leave recommendations for further reading in the comments). Whether you believe feminist pornography can exist or not is besides the point here; the author self-identifies as a feminist, and feminism is a running theme in the book, so that’s the terminology I’m using in this review.

Good Porn: A Woman’s Guide is written by feminist porn director/producer Erika Lust. In her introduction, Lust  discusses one of her biggest qualms with mainstream porn: “the women in those movies existed for one reason alone–to pleasure the men.” In response, Lust offers readers a feminist alternative, discussing the porn industry from a female porn director’s  perspective and offering suggestions so that people can locate women- and LGBTI-friendly pornography.

The book starts out strong. The first few chapters are witty and slightly sarcastic, comparing the differences between porn made for men (“girls are always in the mood; deep down, women enjoy rape”), as opposed to porn made for women (“sex has to be earned–she doesn’t spread her legs just because he asks her to–and it has to be consensual”). She even has a couple of pages comparing the covers of pornographic films made for men, versus those made for women (as you can probably guess, the biggest difference is the prevalence of BOOBS!). Accompanying many of the chapters are funny graphics that help illustrate her point.

Two of my favorite parts of the book were the FAQ section and the Dictionary of Porn. The FAQ section features questions like Why do men always ejaculate outsideWhat’s the difference between eroticism and pornography, and How much money do performers usually make for a shoot or a scene? Though she uses a little humor in answering a couple of the questions, Lust is mostly straightforward with her answers  (it is important to note, however, that Lust is European, so many of her answers refer to the European porn industry). Likewise, the dictionary section was also enlightening. I was already familiar with most of the terminology, but I definitely learned a new thing or two (especially with the Japanese words)!

One of the words that did jump out at me, though, was her inclusion of “hermaphrodite,” which hasn’t been acceptable terminology for a while now (I remember when Middlesex first came out, Eugenides’s use of the word cause some backlash). I was taken aback seeing it used in a feminist publication. I don’t know if it’s a North American thing (Lust is based in Spain), but the preferred term is “intersex.”

The book starts to lose a little of its momentum when she gets into the history of porn. The content itself is fascinating; I just wish that she’d gone into more detail. Lust attempts to cover centuries of history in one very short chapter. While I realize that the history of porn is not the focus of the book, and fully examining the history of porn would could easily fill an entire book, I do wish the chapter had been longer.

I also questioned a couple of her video recommendations, one of which was Deep Throat. Though I’ve never seen the film, I did see Inside Deep Throat, a fascinating documentary about the film. Regardless of Deep Throat‘s impressive impact on popular culture, nothing about the movie strikes me as remotely feminist. Instead, I came away from watching that documentary feeling nothing but sadness and anger over the ways that the film’s star,  Linda Lovelace, was exploited.

The other thing I didn’t get was her inclusion of Bang Bus, a “reality” porn website, in her reality porn recommendations, particularly since she described the site as:

an online business founded by…two misogynist buddies. […] Each Bang Bus video features a girl who is picked up on the street and persuaded to enter a van that is completely outfitted for sex…Afterward she’s usually cheated out of the money she was promised and is dropped off naked at some random spot along the highway, far from home, at which point the van takes off, with the driver and cameraman laughing.

Everything she says about that particular site is negative, yet she lists its it with several other reality porn websites under the heading, “If Reality Porn Turns You On, Don’t Miss These Sites.” Although I realize that some people–women included–might get off on this type of porn, I really don’t follow the logic of including a blatantly misogynistic site in a guide that’s supposed to be about women-friendly pornography.

That’s the weird thing about this book: all of her summaries clearly state why she feels something is/isn’t woman-friendly. In the case of Bang Bus, she even makes a disparaging comment after listing it in her recommendations. I just don’t see why she bothered making the recommendation in the first place.

Still, it is obvious that Lust is passionate about alternatives to mainstream porn. The last  chapters of the book are filled with recommendations on alt-porn films and websites. She also has an impressive list of women- and LGBTI-friendly adult boutiques in Canada, the U.S., and Europe where one can purchase sex toys or take a workshop with their partner.

Lust ends the book with a manifesto calling for women to start demanding–and creating–feminist pornography. In it, she writes:

I don’t plan to sit around waiting for a response from the pornographic film industry, and I’m not waiting around for the industry to reevaluate its fundamental, deeply rooted beliefs about female sexuality. If we don’t do that ourselves, the industry certainly won’t do it for us.

If you’re looking for a critical analysis of gender and pornography, I’d look elsewhere (Feminism & Pornography, part of Oxford’s feminism series, is an excellent resource that offers both pro- and anti-porn feminist perspectives). However, if you just want some woman-friendly pornography and don’t know where to start looking, this book will help point you in the right direction.

4 comments

  1. amymckie

    Interesting Melissa. Sounds like the book has some issues (I don’t understand why she would recommend Bang Bus, especially after commenting on how horridly misogynistic it is), but still an interesting read for a few reasons. I recently read XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography by Wendy McElroy that had some really great discussions about the industry and the women in it, and why porn is good. It was really interesting and a different perspective than I had usually heard!

  2. Jenners

    This was an interesting review to read … not a topic I ever thought much about. I didn’t realize there even WAS porn for women to be honest!!!

    Having read Middlesex this year, I was interested to learn that “hermaphodite” was a “no no” word.

    And it doesn’t seem to make sense listing that “Bang Bus” site (which sounds really really awful). It makes you wonder if it was a misprint or something.

  3. Melissa

    @amy: Oooh! Sounds like an intereting read. I’ll have to check it out!

    @jenners: Neither did I until a couple of years ago. I was skeptical at first, but apparently there’s quite a market for it!

  4. Cass

    I love that you mentioned the misuse of language in the book re: intersex instead of hermaphrodite. I drives me craaazy when people who know hermaphrodite is outdated still use the word. (Relatedly annoying: “transgendereds” or “transgenders” or “transgendered”) It’s nice to see someone calling that out on a book blog. 🙂

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