Women’s rights have dominated the headlines since news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October of last year. Its enduring legacy is the #MeToo movement which has inspired millions of women (and men) around the world to call out their abusers for sexual harassment. However, there is one group of people who have largely been excluded from this movement: sex workers.
Recently, there have been a number of deaths in the adult entertainment industry, the most well-publicized of which was that of 23-year-old August Ames in December. She took her own life after being subject to online abuse for refusing to work with a crossover performer (namely, a man who had acted in gay and straight material) out of fear that she could be putting herself at risk of catching an STI. While Ames’ trolls argued that she was being homophobic, they failed to see the bigger picture; even though she was a sex worker, she still had every right to chose what she wanted to do with her body.
Watch the video below for an insight into an alternative and ethical approach to adult cinema:
Ames’ treatment is a reflection of a wider problem in the adult entertainment industry.
Sex workers, particularly women, who are unhappy with the way they are being treated are expected to comply with every demand made of them because it was their choice to become a sex worker in the first place — demeaning the value of this work and dehumanising the very people who provide a form of entertainment that’s watched by the majority of the population.
A testament to this disturbing trend is the fact that 90% of women in the industry want to leave, according to psychoanalyst Steve McKeown.
Dr. Gail Dines, author of Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality, said of this issue:
“Just imagine everyone is telling their stories of rape and assault and being listened to, and you know full well that if you come forward, they’ll just say ‘what did you expect, you wh*re’.”
We recently spoke to Swedish feminist porn director Erika Lust, pictured above, after a screening of her new XConfessions series in Los Angeles to gain an insight into what is like being a sex-positive female in a patriarchal industry and how the adult cinema might change in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Lust is famed for her raw and honest portrayal of female sexuality on screen, and her XConfessions series is inspired by real fantasies of real women, providing a never-before-seen insight into female sexuality through a medium that’s long been dominated by men.
In the video below, Lust eloquently explains why adult films need to change:
How did your experiences as a woman inspire you to voice feminine sexuality through a medium predominately geared towards men?
“My experiences as a woman and my studies inspired me to show [how] my view of female lust and desire counter the mainstream and create adult cinema that has the power to liberate. My studies in Political Science, Feminism and Gender provided me with the language, the tools and knowledge to effectively describe what I had thought about porn, sexism and create an alternative discourse.
When I first watched adult films in my 20s, I saw how much mainstream porn was catering to men to boost their sense of power and entitlement over women’s bodies. As I often say, 'men don’t have sex on screen, what they often do is ‘punish-f**k’ women.' ‘They put them in their place’, ‘They teach them a lesson’... on and on.
It is often about men subjecting women to violent and degrading sexual acts.
This goes along with the common gendered sexualisation of violence in mainstream imagery. It is part of our current sexist culture. As Caitlin Moran stated, ‘Simply seeing people have sex is not inherently misogynist or horrible to women. Pornography isn’t the problem. It’s the porn industry that’s the problem.’
I wondered where is the heat, the passion, the context, the sensuality of sex?”
“Pornography has historically been seen as the purview of men, and, as a result of this male dominance, female sexuality and her pleasure and views on sex have been ignored or neglected in the medium for too long.
We are still missing a meaningful analysis of the way women are represented in adult films as a whole. What it means for women collectively in terms of achieving gender equality and the message we are sending out. We’ve never had a culture which fully encourages women to embrace, explore and experiment their sensuality without censure.
We don’t understand the full potential of uninhibited female sexuality. Even now, in mass media and on social networks, when a woman decides to take ownership over her own body and her sexuality the way she wants, she is then censored. However, all the Dan Bilzerians of the world keep sending their misogynistic message that women are only accessories to their lavish lifestyle alongside with their guns, money and weed.
What message does this give? For me, it means that we live in a male-dominated world that does not want the status quo changed where media allows commodification of women but keeps censoring their bodies when they take ownership of how they present it. What stops any men from doing it in real life if this is the message media and now social media keeps sending out?”
“There seems to be a general consensus made [by men] that women like erotic novels, soft sex, silk sheets and roses. We’ve been given the ‘female friendly’ category on the tube sites and we should be happy with that. But it’s just not true. Female sexuality cannot be pigeonholed into one category. My films show that women have sexual preferences as varied as their personalities and like the sex just as dirty as the men. Whether it’s rough, multiple, vulgar, strange, romantic, modern, or all at once.
The adult industry has always been very male-dominated and as a woman it can be hard to speak up, because men tend to take up so much space. However, explicit films are a discourse on sexuality and most mainstream porn doesn’t reflect any truths about sex, but it expresses ideologies, values and opinions on gender and female pleasure. I wanted to express mine.”