Meet the PornograHERs: Annie Sprinkle

Category: Culture

Author: Suzannah Weiss

Porn star, film producer, and sexologist Annie Sprinkle’s work blurs the boundaries between the pornographic, the artistic, and the academic. She began working in porn in the early ’70s, appearing in hardcore sex films (before there was video) that were made by men for men. In the ’90s, she produced some of her own sex films that were simultaneously erotic and educational. Her work has exposed viewers to information about women’s sexual pleasure, LGBTQ identities, and lesser-known sexualities like ecosexuality – desire directed toward the Earth and the non-human realms. Her recent book, co-authored with Beth Stephens and Jenny Klien, Assuming the Ecosexual Position: The Earth as Lover, introduces the world to ecosexuality not just as a sexual orientation and source of pleasure, but as a motivator for environmental and political change.

This month, POV by Lustery celebrates the women+ pornographers who have shaped the porn industry and continue to do so with our micro-documentary PornograHERs: The Women+ Who Make Porn. We spoke with Sprinkle about how she’s seen the adult entertainment industry shift since she got started and why we need to expand our perception of the erotic beyond the cis-hetero norm – and even possibly beyond humans.

How would you define feminist porn?

I like Veronica Monet‘s answer, which was “any porn made by feminists”. And feminists can be of any gender. It can be made by men or women or trans people. It’s films made by people who care about feminist issues – but that said, feminists can have a wide range of interests and fantasies, and there are many kinds of feminists, including anti-porn feminists.

What’s your take on the anti-porn feminist stance?

I just don’t think censoring pornography is a good answer to feminists’ concerns. I’ve said it before: the answer to really bad porn is not no porn; it’s to make better porn. But I think porn is a kind of expression, and every person is an entire erotic universe unto themselves. There’s so much variety in what people want to say or explore through creativity. So I’m a big believer that we need freedom of expression, and that includes stuff I don’t like. I think we can learn a lot from the really bad porn that we don’t like, too.

In terms of the feminist porn wars, there were feminists who called attention to sexual trauma and abuse, they talked about women being murdered by serial killers in their garages and it being filmed, they talked about rape… Whereas the pro-porn feminists were talking about “what’s my sexual fantasy?” and “where’s the clitoris?” and “how can I have bigger, better orgasms?” I think they were talking about really different things, and so I see right now a period of time where the whole picture’s coming together. I’m seeing things like the Museum of Sex having a show about trauma in a sex-positive space, and that’s interesting rather than an all-or-nothing on either side.

How does your own feminism influence your porn?

I prefer the term “post-porn”, which is post-mainstream porn. Feminist porn can fall into post-porn. But post-porn is more on the fringe, or porn that’s more experimental, conceptual, humorous, sometimes more genderqueer – sometimes post-porn doesn’t even have to be erotic. It can be a deconstruction of porn or humorous or a kind of feminist wink-and-a-nod at porn.

“Sometimes post-porn doesn’t even have to be erotic. It can be a deconstruction of porn or humorous or a kind of feminist wink-and-a-nod at porn.”

I think as I became more feminist, my porn became more feminist, and so I would say that means I include a lot more diversity. In 1990, I made a film called The Sluts & Goddesses Video Workshop, and I had a diverse cast, although now there are issues of appropriation with that film, but we did the best we could at the time. Next year will be 50 years that I’ve been making sexually oriented media, so every decade is different. I think what feminist porn is changes year to year, decade to decade. Right now, as a feminist, I want to make work that lifts communities that are out on the front lines of social justice: sex workers, BIPOC communities, trans communities, environmental activist communities.

I made the first of what was at the time called FTM porn. Now it’s called transman porn. So I would do that very differently now. I think as feminists, we learn along the way. The feminist movement has long been critiqued for being a very white, middle- and upper-class movement and not inclusive enough, and you’re seeing that change now.

Why do you feel that ecosexuality is important to represent in porn?

Ecosexuality offers a lot more potential for pleasure. It expands the idea of what sex is and orgasm is. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, it’s new, it’s interesting, it’s questioning, “Where does the body start and end?” It’s questioning, “Why do we only fantasize about people?” My partner and collaborator Beth Stephens and I talk about the ‘ecosexual gaze’ – there’s sex going on everywhere all the time in the non-human realms. However, human sex is ecosex too. We are animals! Our bodies are mostly made of water, and of a whole bunch of other creatures, like bacteria, fungi, viruses – so when two human bodies come together, we’re having sex, but so are a lot of other creatures inside and around our bodies.

We’re asking really deep and fun questions about sexuality and the body and also creating something that feels new, something that brings more sensual pleasure into our lives. We’re also trying to make the environmental movement more sexy, fun, and diverse. I’m interested in making a place in the environmental movement where people who are sex workers, punk rockers, genderqueer, trans, tattooed, freaky, poly, drag queens and kings… people can feel comfortable being themselves, because a lot of the environmental movement is really straight or militant and conservative. We like to have fun, wear costumes, and get naked while we work on environmental issues that concern us.

How has the porn industry changed since you started, and how would you like to see it change further?

I did prostitution for 22 years and have fought for it to be decriminalized since 1985. I’m really disappointed that prostitution has not been decriminalized in the USA. It’s really a tragedy because sex workers can be arrested, jailed, and their lives, families and communities can be destroyed.

Porn has changed so much since the ’70s in 1 001 ways. When I started, you shot and watched porn on film. You couldn’t see it on your TV! You could be arrested if you were caught making it, you needed big hot lights, sex magazines were the internet of the day, the entire industry was pretty much all run by men. Today, we have computers and endless easily accessible porn! You can watch porn at home. You can make porn with a phone, use natural light – there are virtually no magazines left. Some women in porn became millionaires and are running their own porn businesses. There was no feminist porn; now there is lots. Up until the new millennium, there were basically a dozen kinds of porn. Now, there are hundreds of thousands of niche kinds of porn, so there is something for everyone!

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