GOOD PORN VS. BAD PORN
I remember when I came out to my parents as a porn performer. It's a classical coming-out narrative. I sat down with my Mom and announced with a solemn voice, "I've got something to tell you". Then I burst out, "I'm doing porn". I immediately noticed the sorrow darkening her expression, so I hurriedly added, "but it's not the kind of porn you're thinking about, it's good porn". I said it partially in hope that the disclaimer would support my cause, but also in part because back then I really did believe there was such a thing as good porn and bad porn.
Like most people in any place in the world, I was raised to believe that porn was inherently wrong and exploitative. There is a simple reason why it is commonly accepted that pornography is bad, and that is that most of our societies are rooted in sex-negative cultures. Sex negativity is a general opposition to sexuality and sex as a free and self-determined choice of individuals. Thus any kind of sexual expression that deviates from the norm is shamed, stigmatized and persecuted. A clear example is the discrimination against all forms of gender and sexual identity that don't fit in the heterosexual gender binary. It is the same ideology that demonizes all kinds of sex work.
Sex-negative thoughts are pervasive, especially since the topic of sex in general is such a taboo and clichés are seldom questioned. When I differentiated between bad and good porn, I hadn't even watched much porn myself, and still, I felt entitled to talk about it in those terms. What I believed was that most or all mainstream pornography shows unrealistic images of sex with extreme beauty standards and reproduces sexist and racist values.
Now if you think about it, the same criticism could be uttered about any other media, take as an example the music industry, Hollywood or fashion. Yet pornography is judged as a whole, its mere existence condemned and held responsible for society's problems. Why this special treatment? Because anything related to sex is considered under a different light, criticized with shame and fear. This is the mindset we must liberate ourselves from.
Recently there has been a wider acceptance of sex-related issues in media, and a growing interest in pornography. This is a positive change and I embrace and celebrate it. It seems to me, though, that many journalists praise alternative pornographers in opposition to mainstream pornography. Just like me, coming out to my mother, they seem to have the need to justify themselves when reporting on pornography, arguing that this is different, this is good porn.
After years working in the industry as a performer, director and producer and experimenting with other kinds of sex work, after experiencing and understanding the scope of the discrimination against sex workers, after watching thousands of porn films as a curator for the Porn Film Festival Berlin, I find this undifferentiated categorization into good porn vs. bad porn extremely problematic.
It doesn't question sex-negativity, instead, it reinforces the base ideology in which it stands, reproducing sexist thought and ideas. It stigmatizes sex workers and encourages norms on what is right or wrong when it comes to sex and sexuality. If we want to change society, we must examine our own internalised prejudices, recognize them as such, and fight them.
These are some points we should consider:
PORNOGRAPHY IS MANIFOLD
Talking about 'porn' or 'mainstream porn' as a monolithic entity, as a homogeneous product and industry, ignores its reality and marginalizes its existence. When we accept pornography as a cultural format, and analyse it as such, like we do with cinema or music, we come to realize and acknowledge the diversity and variety of its expression. There are historically and culturally many different genres of porn.
Pornography classified officially as such in the cultural canon encompasses films from the beginning of the 20th century, the black and white stag films, to today's experimental, feminist and post-porn, it includes big and expensive productions like the feature films from the Golden Age in the 70s and 80s, Gonzo productions of all kinds, genres specific to countries and media formats, like Japanese animated porn, and it represents all possible sexualities and fetishes. Stating that "all porn looks the same", therefore, is simply wrong.
BLAMING PORN FOR SEXISM IN SOCIETY DISTRACTS FROM THE ACTUAL PROBLEM
Any article on porn and sexuality will quote statistics and 'demonstrate' that porn is the main source where young people learn about sex, and 'prove' that it has a bad influence. I grew up in Spain, and when I move to Northern Europe I noticed a huge difference between the sexual standards in the heterosexual male community. Surely the kind of porn people watch in Spain and Germany is similar, so how can there be such a difference? The answer is that porn is not the only way people learn about sex. It's everywhere.
It is well known that the porn industry has long been a male-dominated space, and many companies still focus on catering their products to male consumers. These problems exist in any other industry as well. Racist and sexist standards in the porn industry are the symptoms of a sexist and racist society, not the cause. Blaming pornography for sexism and holding it responsible for wrong sexual values only deviates from the much-needed analysis of our society and excuses institutions and media producers from their accountability. We should be denouncing a lack of a positive, healthy and inclusive sexual education, a lack of diversity in general and the persistence of sexist and racist standards in all spaces and industries.
REINFORCING THE IDEA THAT PORN IS INEVITABLY EXPLOITATIVE OF WOMEN REINFORCES SEXISM
The underlying assumption when we think of porn as exploitative of women is that women's sexuality is passive, always a token for other purposes such as love or commitment and never self-determined. This outdated sexist stereotype shows its perseverance when it comes to people's ideas of porn.
The situation where women would have sex for pure pleasure, for money, or both, still seems to be disturbing, and some would rather believe that women are forced or exploited when doing so. In order to fight sexism, we need to fight for the right to self-determination of women in all aspects of life, especially sexually. Respect and acknowledgement of the decision of women to shoot any kind of porn is a crucial part of it. The cliché that all mainstream porn companies are unethical and exploit women is just not true.
THERE ARE IMPORTANT VOICES IN MAINSTREAM PORN TO BE HEARD
When we denigrate mainstream porn as bad porn, we are de-legitimizing and silencing the voices of many women. Their experiences, their ideas and their discourse are not only legitimate, but a most valuable contribution to fighting sexism, sex-negativity, and are therefore an important part of feminism. If we don't acknowledge their work we are negating their legacy and positive influence in society and their position as role models. They should be rather quoted and made visible. I hereby make a plea for the work of Annie Sprinkle, Nina Hartley, Ashley Blue, Asa Akira, Stoya to be correctly acknowledged and appreciated, just to name a few.
WE CAN SUPPORT DIVERSITY IN PORNOGRAPHY WITHOUT REINFORCING SEX-NEGATIVE IDEAS
Pornography, like any other cultural medium, should be diverse. Porn producers can only create diverse content as long as it is profitable. Some of the main problems porn productions face are piracy, the fact that many consumers don't want to pay for it and state and corporate censorship that affects its distribution and marketing. All of these problems are related to sex-negative culture and disrespect towards pornography in general. When we come out as pornographers, consumers or supporters of pornography, we will face the same stigma.
Reproducing the negative judgements on pornography doesn't benefit us – talking about bad porn and positioning ourselves as something better will not fundamentally change the general views on sexuality and porn, so in the long term, it is counterproductive. We can all profit from expressing solidarity with all kinds of sexual expression and sex workers. There's no bad porn, only bad laws. If we want to change anything, we need to change the paradigm first.
While I'm writing this article, my Mom is sitting in front of me on the sofa, watching TV, and at some point, she asks me what I'm doing. I doubt for a second, then I answer: I'm writing about porn. She nods. She stands up and kisses me good night on the forehead.