Female porn - Petra Joy
All images © Petra Joy

Meet the women making porn, for women

How do you change an industry that is so obviously geared towards men, to one that women can like too? We meet two women who've tried to do just that

If you think of straight porn, you probably think of women. If you think of the people who make porn, you probably think of men. Traditional porn is (mostly) films made by men, for men, with women in.

But research shows that 17% of American women now go online to watch porn and one in every four dollars spent on porn in the US (including movies, sex toys, and phone sex) is spent by a woman. And why not? Women are, after all, just as sexual as men, there just hasn't been the industry to cater for them.

Since the late 80s and 90s, feminist porn producers have been trying to turn the male-dominated industry on its head. The feminist porn movement has gained a lot of momentum in the past 10 years. We meet two of its veterans.

Petra Joy – come together

Selling sex to women

Anna Arrowsmith started making porn in the 1998, under the name of Anna Span. She used to be “anti-porn”, she says. “That was just the default feminist position.”

“I remember walking down Old Compton Street in Soho (London), and seeing all the sex shops. And I realized that my anger wasn’t anger at all, it was envy.”

There was a whole industry for male sexuality, but nothing for women.“They tried to bring Playgirl to the UK but it bombed, that’s just not what women want.”

Almost twenty years after Anna began producing porn, there is clearly a market for her work. But how do you know how to appeal to that market, when there’s nothing there to compare yourself to? The answer wasn’t market research, Anna says.

“If I’d gone round asking women if they wanted porn, of course they’d have said no if all they had to compare it to is what they’d already seen at the time. None of what was out there was very attractive or appealing to women.

“If you want to invent something totally new, you have to just make the jump and give it to them. It’s like going out and asking people if they want a vegan burger that looks like it’s bleeding. Of course they’re going to say no.”

 

If you engage the head and the emotions too much you take it away from the groin

-Anna Span

 

Petra Joy started making porn about 15 years ago, her first film was knocked back by the first porn distributor she approached.

“The problem with the market,” Petra says, “is that the industry is in men’s control. They think they know what sells. We were doing something different than that.”

But after feminist porn producers started getting some media attention, and Petra was featured in a TV documentary, the distributor who turned her down had a change of heart and contacted her.

“We made 200 copies. I was putting the films together at home, putting the covers on the boxes and stuff. It sold. And so we printed more.”

Feminist porn - Petra Joy

A female perspective

For Anna, feminist porn is all about showing sex from a female perspective. Often literally.

“In a non-porn shoot where someone is being interviewed, for example, you’d set up three cameras. One camera looking at the woman, one camera looking at the man and then one camera looking at both of them.

Most porn takes away the camera looking at the man. What I did was put that camera back in.”

So what does porn for women look like? There’s an assumption that showing female sexuality will be all about romantic storylines and sexual awakenings – think 50 Shades. Like all assumptions, says Anna. It’s not always true.

 

If I was producing from the perspective of what is most profitable none of my films would exist

- Petra Joy

 

“I never made anything vaguely romantic. I had story lines that are enough to interest you, but you can’t make something that is too intellectual or emotional because if you engage the head and the emotions too much you take it away from the groin. It’s still all about the porn aesthetic.”

For Petra, the key difference in her films is a focus on production quality and artistic merit.

“Somebody once said Pure Fantasies, which was my big breakthrough film, looks so good they want to lick the screen. That’s what I want to live up to with every film I do.”

Money

But all that takes money. The highest profit margins are in quick turnaround films made and edited over the course of a weekend in a cheap location.

“But that’s not me,” says Petra. “I’m an independent filmmaker wanting to tell stories. I wouldn’t want to publish something and give my name to something that I don’t think is exciting, authentic, erotic all of those things.

"If I was producing from the perspective of what is most profitable none of my films would exist."

A commitment to producing porn that isn't only of a high quality, but also ethically made – where performers are properly treated and supported. Is something that all feminist porn producers have in common, says Anna.

But this is under threat from free streaming sites, says Petra. "If you want something for free then it’s likely to be the kind of stuff that can be produced for next to nothing and working conditions won't be good.

If you don’t pay for porn you are, in a way, supporting cheaply-made porn that might not be ethically made – where the performers aren’t paid well, aren’t treated well or aren’t getting good breaks and nice food or their health test or anything."

Petra’s films mostly made a loss, she says. Something which eventually caused her to stop producing.

Both women have moved on from the porn industry, Anna’s gone into academia, and Petra has returned to film work, although her films are still available through her streaming service, cinemajoy.

The decision to stop, says Petra, was largely financial. The cost of production, combined with the difficulties in getting distribution deals in the UK – with its strict film classification and licensing rules – made making money from her art virtually impossible.

“I never set out to get rich with this. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved. I’ve helped put porn from a female perspective on a map. I’ve given something to the female voyeur, something for women to enjoy, something to turn them on and something to inspire men to learn about female sexuality.”

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  • Shit Break

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