Saturday, August 26, 2006

A long post on sexual vanguardism

Wow, this turned into a long one:

A couple weeks ago, Greta Christina had a particularly nice blog entry about Girls Gone Wild. Specifically, it was not about Joe Francis (now regarded as a scumbag by practically everyone); rather, it was about the girls of Girls Gone Wild, and taking on the idea of whether what they're doing is inherently degrading and exploitative. (She also links to a longer "think piece" she wrote for the "Everything You Know About Sex Is Wrong" anthology about the content of GGW, and finds some of their XXX-rated stuff surprisingly sexy.)

Even though I like porn, particularly girl/girl porn, I have always disliked GGW, even before the recent Joe Francis scandal. Christina seems to dislike many of the same things I do about GGW (the whole retarded screaming frat-boy aspect of it is pretty repulsive), but seems to find the idea of regular girls doing stuff they wouldn't normally do to have a high erotic charge.

She's a bit overly dismissive of the exploitation and consent issues around the videos – the girls may not be so drunk that they can't consent to sex, sure, but the fact that they're not only drunk, but also ambushed and pressured is a problem. I've been internet pen pals with indie pornographers before, and I've heard the horror stories of having one of your top models suddenly decide it was a mistake to do porn to begin with (an issue typically brought on by a revelation to a new boyfriend who proceeds to freak out about it) and demands that you withdraw the videos from circulation immediately. (Never mind that people have been buying the videos for the last year and that the proverbial horse is already far from the proverbial open barn door.) Given that possibility, ambushing drunk girls and having them appear in porn, even pretty soft porn, is the very opposite of "best practices" when it comes to hiring models. And the fact that they don't even pay the girls they make so much money from speaks for itself.

She has some excellent stuff about whether or not what the girls are doing is inherently degrading. She finds such criticism elitist:

Which brings me to my second point: the "they're squandering their feminist heritage" argument.

This is the one that really bugs me. It's as if sexual liberation is only for those of us with the right sex-positive feminist credentials -- not for yahoo sorority girls who want to pull their shirts up on camera. Like they don't deserve to have sexual choices, because they'll make the wrong ones.

But we all deserve sexual liberation. We all deserve the freedom to make sexual choices -- even dumb ones or crass ones. As someone whose name I can't remember once said, not all censorship battles can be about Ulysses. (Does anyone know the source for that quote, btw? I couldn't find it.) And the battle for sexual liberation and the right to sexual expression can't always be about brilliant sex-themed performance art, or beautiful ecstatic lovemaking in loving long-term relationships. Sometimes it's about college girls at big drunken parties pulling their shirts off for the video cameras. That's the whole point of feminist sexual liberation -- we don't get to go around scolding other women for their consenting sexual choices. (Not on moral or political grounds, anyway. On aesthetic grounds... that's another story.)

I've seen arguments that the problem with GGW isn't the girls whipping their tops off for the camera -- it's the people behind the camera, the crassness of the videos and the company and the grotesqueness of the main man behind them. It's not liberated or empowering if you're whipping your top off for exploitative assholes, or so goes the argument. But while I'm certainly not going to defend the motives of the GGW empire (especially not now), I still think we should support the sexual agency of the wild girls themselves. Do you think every single porn movie that Annie Sprinkle or Nina Hartley ever made was a delicate work of artistic beauty and profound insight, made by sensitive feminists, with the profits going to rape crisis centers and saving the rainforest? I sure don't. I'm sure that at least some of their movies were silly and dumb, and that the profits from at least some of them went to pay for the sports cars and coke habits of nitwit Silicone Valley porn producers. That doesn't negate Nina and Annie's sexual agency and power.

Its a pretty spot-on critique and addresses an issue that's been bugging me even about sex-positive writing. Namely, the condemnation of porn where the sex acts or appearance of the models is too "mainstream" or not "transgressive" enough. For example, this from a recent post on Susie Bright's blog:

They ask sexually-oriented bloggers each week to nominate, among themselves, the best posts of the week: be it erotica, "porn," or sexual politics/philosophy/confessions of all kinds.

[...]I found some new personal sex bloggers I really like.

Other links didn't do much for me, or were more conservative than my taste. And by conservative, I mean "not changing the dominant paradigm of porn-cliches and gender roles" kind of conservative. As for as explicitness or kink goes, they are not at all conservative!

(Disclaimer: I'm normally a big fan of Susie Bright.)

Or this from Bay Guardian piece on SIR Video by Michelle Tea from a few years back:

Made by dykes, for dykes, the video features real, local dykes fucking the way real dykes fuck – these are not career porn actors with skinny, unadorned bodies and silicone tits. The only silicone in Hard Love/High Heels is the stuff strapped between the girls' legs, and even in this Hard Love/High Heels differs from the mainstream. Big-budget porno's generally employ low-budget sex toys, the plasticky, weird stuff found in porn stores throughout the USA, not the quality sex accessories found in women-centric shops like Good Vibrations and used in most dykes' bedrooms.

If you used mainstream porn as a guide to real lesbian sex, you'd think that women enjoyed being sloppily stabbed in the cunt by a jabbing tongue, spent hours in the ridiculous 69 position, or had long, gently sensuous make-out sessions that ended with lots of showy tongue-touching. The girls in S.I.R.'s video fuck hard. Like real dykes, they have embarrassing process sessions with their exes; then they have conflicted, complicated, and raw fuck sessions.

But probably the most important and obvious difference between Hard Love/High Heels and any other "girl-girl" video on the market is that Hard Love/High Heels shows butch dykes – a lesbian reality the man-made flicks unsurprisingly ignore. For Rednour and Strano – a femme-butch couple who have been involved in the specifically Bay Area sex-radical and sex-education scene that brought us Susie Bright, the San Francisco Sex Information hotline, and Good Vibrations – showing butch dykes having hot sex was both essentially authentic and politically crucial.

I can say right out that I share a few of their criticisms. Porn, generally speaking, isn't diverse enough, it often doesn't seem to cater to anybody outside of a presumed audience of middle-aged "NASCAR dudes" who want to see nothing more than an army of Pam Anderson knock-offs submit to the cock. Often it seems like they're just shooting basically the same sex scenes over and over again over thousands of videos per year. I'm kind of a snob about the porn I buy, and I'm really only interested in the small percentage that's both well-produced and plays into my sexual tastes. And I'm glad that other people are producing porn that caters their non-mainstream or otherwise marginalized sexual tastes. So far, we're on the same page.

The problem with the kind of dismissive attitude in the Bright and Tea pieces is not in their dislike of mainstream porn – to each their own after all. The bigger problem is that they seem to enshrine their tastes into a kind of sexual vanguardism and dismiss the sexual tastes of something like 75% of the population as hopelessly cliche. Apparently, if you're not queer, or not into seeing guys fucked with a strap-on, or are a lesbian who doesn't find the 69 position "ridiculous", or like women who are, horror of horrors, conventionally attractive, the implication is that there's something wrong and regressive about your sexuality.

It seems to be related to a kind of lifestyle elitism that came out the 1960s and still inhabits much of the cultural left. Ellen Willis wrote about it last year in a very good essay on utopianism:

A milder form of authoritarianism, which owed less to Marxism than to a peculiarly American quasi-religious moralism, disfigured the counterculture and the women's movement. If the original point of these movements was to promote the pursuit of happiness, too often the emphasis shifted to proclaiming one's own superior enlightenment and contempt for those who refused to be liberated; indeed, liberation had a tendency to become prescriptive, so that freedom to reject the trappings of middle-class consumerism, or not to marry, or to be a lesbian was repackaged as a moral obligation and a litmus test of one's radicalism or feminism. Just as communism discredited utopianism for several generations of Europeans, the antics of countercultural moralists fed America's conservative reaction.

(Note: a few days ago, Bitch|Lab discussed the implications of a similar sentiment about "lifestylism" Willis expressed some 35 years ago.)

Christina is right to call bullshit on this kind of sexual elitism – sexual liberation shouldn't be merely be reserved for self-proclaimed queers and other people with non-mainstream sexual tastes. If sexual liberation doesn't apply to everybody – queer and straight, kinky and vanilla, male and female, monogamous and slutty – then it ultimately doesn't apply to anybody. And sex-positivity, an idea that really needs greater currency in our culture, isn't going to win over anybody outside of the usual lifestyle ghettos if you start excluding most peoples sexual tastes as "conservative".

Friday, August 25, 2006

Strawfeminists vs Strawsexpozes

God, I don't know why I bother to continue to post to the Punkassblog prostitution thread. Must. Resist. Temptation...

I hear much complaint on that end about arguments against "strawfeminists", eg, the unfair and stereotypical view that feminists are a bunch of hairy-legged, man-hating, sex-hating bitches, etc, etc. Obviously, its best not to argue against a stereotyped position, though harder in the case of radfems, since some of the stereotypical attitudes of feminists come a bit closer to the truth in the case of hardcore radical feminists.

There is a corollary to this, though, which I've been calling "strawsexpoz". A caricature of the sex positive position, putting words in our mouths and claiming we do some pretty terrible things.

A strawsexpoz:

  • Is always entirely uncritical of the sex industry – trafficking, pimping, the antics of Joe Francis – strawsexpozes are fine with anything that brings them more porn and whores.

  • Sees all sex work as inherently positive and liberating.

  • Views any criticisms of porn as inherently censorship.

  • Claims to favor absolute free speech, but really just endeavors to silence and censor radical feminists at every opportunity. (Nobody really believes in that free speech shit, after all, do they?)

  • If male, is probably a john and a rapist, and a fan of "cheesy-ass boring as all fuck porn" to boot.

  • If female, is probably one of the "tiny minority" of basically happy whores, and only cares about keeping her johns spending money at the expense of all other women, or alternately, is just trying to make her boyfriend happy, or, if a lesbian, just wants to be a man.

Some of the above are exaggerations – eg, there are some "whores", porn enthusiasts, and even johns in the sex-positive camp, but that's far from everybody on the sex-positive side. Most of the above are just distortions, caricatures, or outright lies.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A new low in journalistic ethics

There's an interesting post over on SugarBank on the "outing" of popular UK sex blogger and bestselling author, Girl With a One-Track Mind by the Sunday Times. Its a good example of the kind of sexual shaming that often masquerades as journalism.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Further dispatches from the Melissa Farley Wars

By odd coincidence, just a couple days after the dust-up on Punkassblog after I posted a link to Ronald Weitzer's critique of Melissa Farely's methodology, anti-porn blast-from-the-past Nikki Craft turns up on Wikipedia, specifically on the Melissa Farley article, to demand an end to "unsubstatiated and false accusations against Melissa Farley", which is odd, because an article on her barely exists. Craft gets into a debate with me (posting under my real name) and another user, Craft strangly gets downright pissy with the other user (who describes herself as an "a nice older LGBT female"), but oddly not with me. Craft then floods the page with a huge list of quotes from Farley and a list of articles that read like her entire CV, but strangely adds nothing to the actual article. I take a standoffish approach, as I'm losing my taste for hot-and-heavy edit wars. Other user again attempts to build bridges with Nikki Craft.

Very little of any substance actually added to the article after all of this.

Gotta love Wikipedia process!

Some porn clips

I came across a couple of porn trailers recently, representing two very different ends of the emerging altporn hardcore video scene. (Note, if you have issues about young-looking actresses, you'll probably be really offended by the Girls Lie clip, even though its not all that graphic. It should go without saying that neither is "work safe".):

Girls Lie clip
Psychocandy 4 clip

Girls Lie is a relatively big-budget video directed by Eon McKai. Its produced by VividAlt, which is a new imprint by Vivid, the General Motors of porn, and basically their attempt to cash in on the altporn phenomena (and also to breathe some new life into the DVD porn industry, which has taken a hit in the last few years from the growth of web porn). Obviously, I'm kind of wary about that, but as with indie rock and independent film, it obviously had to happen sometime – the avant-garde to mainstream path is pretty much built into capitalism, after all.

On the plus side, Girls Lie doesn't look anything like a typical Vivid video (thank God!), and it looks to be one of the few porn videos out there where the filmmakers looks like they understand even basic cinematography. (It also makes me think of this scene from Boogie Nights: [RealAudio clip])

Benny Profane's Psychocandy 4 is a lower-budget video coming from the still-independent side of altporn (and featuring America's favorite intellectual porn star, Audacia Ray, who's plugging it over on her blog). Its definitely rawer and less glamourous-looking. I have to admit, I like the more glamorized stuff better, but at the same time, I'm glad that there are still people shooting their own porn in their basements and tiny apartments as well.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bitching with $pread (part 3)

Here's the second of some excerpts from the Bitch interview. This covers the "exploitation or empowerment" debate and whether its too simplistic. Its timely, because there's been a debate raging on Punkassblog about sex work, and as of today, the inevitable "exploitation or empowerment" question has come up. From the interview:

It's frustrating that debates about sex workers' rights too often get reduced to the "is it exploitation or empowerment?" question. How can we move people beyond that?

Rachel Aimee: There's a misconception about the sex workers' rights movement that it's all about how sex work is empowering, whereas in fact many sex worker activists find that an annoying or at least mostly irrelevant argu­ment. If sex work is empowering, it's generally in that it allows people to make more money than they would oth­erwise be able to make and therefore raise their living standards. I don't think many sex workers find the act of sex work empowering in itself. $pread is trying to move beyond the simplistic debate by presenting a whole range of sex workers' experiences, from the positive to the negative and everything in between. I think the most useful way to frame the debate is in terms of choice: Do you believe people should be able to choose what they do with their own bodies?

Audacia Ray: I think that the empowerment-vs.-exploitation debate is a good one to keep having. Polarizing those issues is not so helpful, but it's a useful framework, because it's the way that people get introduced to these concepts. But what's really important is to listen to the variety of experiences that sex workers have – it doesn't make for good soundbites, but it's important to see the various perspectives. It's okay to be muddled about it, to not be able to say "It's definitely a good thing" or "It's definitely a bad thing." For myself, I have different opinions on different days. [Laughs.]

Sex workers can have a difficult time voicing their opinions because generally [other] people come at this issue with their minds made up, and that can be really threatening when it's your life. It's tough to have people shake their finger at you and tell you what you're feeling.

I've always identified as a feminist, and to deal with feminism from the perspective of being a sex worker has been really jarring to me. Right when I started working on $pread, the Village Voice had a piece about me and someone else, about our lives as sex workers, and it got picked up by the blog Feministing. The comments that people left about us almost made me cry. It was awful because I read that site religiously – I mean, these are my people. And getting these reactions made me realize these are not my people; they hate me.

[Note: Bitch|Lab also blogged today about the above mentioned Feministing debate, including links to several responses Audacia Ray posted in her own blog. – IACB]

Sex – whether commercial or not – is an emotional issue. It's a really challenging thing to talk about. When you talk about sex, people assume that you're talking about them, or that you're talking about sex for all women. And it's just not the case. But those reactions come from it being such a personal thing.

Quite simply, framing sex work as either inherently degrading or inherently empowering is utterly simplistic. (I posted several days ago about the huge range of situations that come under the heading of "sex work".) Certainly, there are many situations that are clearly exploitative, most notable anything that involves coercion or taking advantage of extreme social marginalization – trafficking, pimping, and so on. On the other hand there are some kinds of sex work that could actually be called "empowering" – for example, somebody producing their own porn that is an authentic expression of their own sexuality and that gives them pleasure from showing off their sexuality. The majority of sex work falls at various places in between those two points. Debating whether the whole of sex work is exploitative or empowering is a simplistic Feminism 101 level of debate that doesn't even begin to address the real issues.

(To be fair, I don't know of many people in the sex-positive camp, or at least the sex-positive feminist camp, who are arguing that all sex work is inherently empowering. The owners of SuicideGirls worked the "empowerment" angle for a while before receiving lots of negative publicity to the effect that it wasn't exactly the warm and fuzzy feminist porn site it claimed to be. Ariel Levy also claims that many of the women she writes about refer to their "female chauvinist pig" activities as "empowering", but I'm not sure if that isn't just Levy putting words in their mouth.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bitching with $pread (part 2)

The first of a few excerpts from the Bitch interview with the editors of $pread. There's some interesting comments here on the difficulty of unionizing, because 1) the work itself is often illegal, 2) sex workers themselves aren't always interested in unionization – they often like the unregulated nature of the sex industry for reasons of their own, and 3) the existing organized labor movement doesn't exactly reach out to sex workers.

So, to lay it out: What are the primary labor issues affecting sex workers?

Rachel Lynn: The primary issue for prostitutes (including private call girls, streetwalkers, agency escorts, etc.) is the fact that prostitution is illegal in this country: The fear of being arrested makes everything more dangerous. If your job is illegal in the first place, you cant call the police if you get beaten up or raped by a client. For strippers, there's the issue of exploitation by managers, because it's now become the norm for strip clubs to charge strippers a house fee in order to work. Strippers often end up paying out over half their tips to the house, or even going home in debt, because in some places the house fees are so high.

Sex-industry workplaces tend to be more exploitative than most workplaces, mainly because even the legal industries are still usually run in a somewhat under-the-table manner, with workers getting paid in cash and many workers not having legal work permits. The managers can get away with more because they're not regulated. Most sex workers don't have contracts, so they can be fired anytime; they don't get sick pay, paid vacation time, health insurance, etc. But this is a very tricky issue, because many sex workers would prefer to take their chances in a semi-legal, unregulated, exploitative business environment where they can make money off the books, not have to pay taxes, have a flexible schedule, take vacation time whenever they want, etc., rather than be tied down in a 9-to-5 job, even if it means forfeiting the benefits. So when people talk about wanting to unionize and regulate the sex industry, that's not necessarily what the majority of sex workers want. There are even some prostitutes who don't want their work to be decriminalized because they're concerned about what the change would mean.


Is sex work considered a legitimate locus of organizing within the labor movement? Do existing labor unions want to be aligned with the sex industry?

Eliyanna Kaiser: The U.S. labor movement isn't working to unionize sex workers; that's just the reality. And it's not because union leaders or staff aren't progressive enough, although that might also be true in some cases. $pread editors are split on this, but it's my belief that there is no [organized] sex workers' rights movement in the United States. And until sex workers have achieved a minimum of self-organization, there is no reason why the mainstream labor movement should be expected to lift a finger to do that work for us.


When I interviewed [labor movement veteran] Bill Fletcher Jr. for $pread, the main issue that he raised was morality. And there's no point in underemphasizing the role that morality plays in how sex workers are able to work with other movements. Until sex workers can achieve a broad consensus for our rights – at least in the progressive left – it's silly to think we will be able to do anything significant to achieve real change. Movements are not comprised of their constituents. They are dynamic coalitions that require that the affected constituency is talking to others who have found common cause in struggle. Workers in the labor movement don't look at sex workers right now and see their mirror image. This is our challenge, and it starts with organizing ourselves to talk.

An attempt to put a tiresome debate to rest

Since I'm feeling a bit lazy, I figured I'd repost something I posted to the Usenet newsgroup soc.feminism back in 1997 on the "porn vs. erotica" debate:

...the whole pornography/erotica distinction is a subjective and rather useless one. IMO, “erotic” and “pornographic” are just adjectives for describing different qualities of sexually-oriented materials; the degree that something is pornographic has to do with the physicality and amount of explicitness of the presentation, while eroticism has to do with the mental and emotional aspects of sex. Good sex is stimulating to both the body and the mind and good sexual materials should do likewise; unfortunately, by creating the ossified categories of “pornography” and “erotica”, we end up with material that only focuses on one side of sex. Hence, there’s plenty of erotica which is all about feelings and metaphors, but steers clear of the actual physical act (and often steers clear of the body entirely) and plenty of pornography that shows the act in copious detail, but the sex has a very fake unfeeling quality to it. In both cases, what you end up with is pretty boring. Pornography, erotica, or whatever you want to call it, doesn’t have to be this way, but that’s what were stuck with as long as we take “erotica” and “pornography” to be two mutually exclusive categories, and Steinem, Russell, etc. are doing a real disservice in trying to keep this division going.

This idea of "erotica" (vaguely defined) as the acceptable alternative to pornography used to come up a lot in feminist porn debates. It seems to come up less today, probably because so much of the debate now focuses on women in "pornstitution" and less on the merits (or lack thereof) of the final product. I still see this debate come up a lot in other areas, though, like in discussions of erotic comics or photography (often cast in the language of "porn vs. art") and it still strikes me as just as wrongheaded.

Since I posted this in 1997, there thankfully have been some good directors and photographers popping up on the porn end who are pretty knowledgeable about their technique and actually have a good sense about what's erotic. Richard Kern, for example, who wins my "high art/low art" award for being probably the only person I know of to have their work appear in both Artforum and Barely Legal. Bellezza Video, Little Mutt, Abby Winters, and Tom Hunscher are others come to mind as examples of pornographers with a good artistic or erotic sensibility.

On the "straight" film end, there have been a bunch of "art" films over the last 5 or 10 years that have been incorporating explicit sex. 9 Songs, in my opinion, was clearly the most successful from an erotic point of view, mainly because it was pretty unapologetic about showing explicit sex in a joyful, arousing way. Unfortunately, many of the other explicit arthouse films of the last few years have been absolute depression-fests which seem to want to "legitimize" the use of explicit sex by putting it in a punishing, anti-erotic context. Baise Moi and Anatomy of Hell come to mind immediately in this regard. (Both French films, actually, which brings to mind a quote I heard to the effect of "Americans behave badly when the don't think about what they do, while the French behave badly when they think about it too much.")

There's some interesting stuff on indie pornographer Tony Comstock's blog about what makes a sexy film and what makes good porno. This is another blog I highly highly recommend, BTW.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bitch bitches with $pread

I was browsing through the magazine rack over at Green Apple Books the other day. (Print magazines – how 20th century, right?) I came across the new issue of Bitch, which had a really good interview with the editors of $pread, a magazine for sex workers that's been coming out for the past year. (I looked around for it on the same magazine rack, but didn't see a copy, so I have yet to see it first-hand.) The interview was very interesting and gave an insightful take on many of the issues that myself and other sex-positive bloggers have been discussing. From the intro:

The term "sex worker" means different things to different people, but it often means something extreme – glamorous high-priced escort at one end, desperate crack-addicted streetwalker at the other. Among feminists, perceptions are no less polarized – sex workers are either fully empowered agents using their sexuality in unassailably positive ways, or victims of a job that degrades them by its very nature. Most feminist dialogues about sex work sound more like monologues; defensiveness, mischaracterizations, and willful ignorance abound, making casualties of complexity and nuance. Until recently, few publications – feminist or otherwise – have tried to grapple with these issues and move the debate forward. Enter $pread, which published its first issue in the spring of 2005 with the subtitle – "illuminating the sex industry."

The $pread editors have some very interesting things to say about the complicated relationship between the sex-worker rights movement and sex-positive feminism (and feminism in general) and why they don't label their magazine "feminist", about trying to get the rest of the organized labor movement to get past their moralism and take sex worker issues seriously, and about how limiting the old "is it exploitative or empowering" debate gets when dealing with real issues around sex work.

The website for $pread can be found here (no articles to be found on their site, unfortunately). I also noticed that one of their editors is Audacia Ray, a name I recognize from the blogosphere, but had almost forgotten about, since for some reason, few sex-poz blogs link to her. Her blog is called Waking Vixen, and it’s a site that all sex-positive readers should follow. (Actually, its also a site that anti-pornstitution folks should read as well – you might actually learn something.)

I'll post more excerpts in later postings. In the meantime, have a look at the article if you get a chance.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Not a Monolith

Renegade Evolution had a thoughtful post the other day comparing the supposed "harm" caused by the sex industry with the harms caused by other industries who's products many of us regularly consume, wondering why people didn't get nearly so up in arms about consumption of these products.

It reminded me about how much people are able to draw fine distinctions about all other aspects of consumption, and yet view the entire sex industry as one big monolith – "pornstitution" as anti-porn feminists have come to call it over the last couple of years. I also hear a great deal of rhetoric that the sex-industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that escapes criticism from otherwise-progressives supposedly blinded by a sex-positive ideology.

The problem with this line of thinking comes when we look at a range of concrete examples of what makes up "pornstitution". The production end of the sex industry might include:

  • Companies like Larry Flynt Publications who make annual profits in the tens of millions.

  • A self-employed model like "SilkyKitty", who's set up her own porn site and webcam that she operates out of her home. Still has her day job, working as a bookstore clerk.

  • FataleMedia, a small adult video production company run by a lesbian couple, making videos primarily for a lesbian audience.

  • The Lusty Lady, a worker-owned San Francisco peep show.

  • Tom Hunscher, a Portland-based photographer. Shoots explicit nudes of freelance models for his own websites and as stock adult content.

  • Jet Set Productions, a gay porn production company, best known for an online porno soap opera, Wet Palms.

  • Abby Winters, an Australian "independent porn" producer, highly regarded for girl/girl videos that are considerably more erotic than the typical "hetlez" formula.

  • Feck, a company that operates sites like IShotMyself and BeautifulAgony featuring content shot and submitted by the models themselves.

  • Girls Gone Wild a company that's made a small fortune selling videos of drunk women publicly flashing and making out, and occasionally going back to a hotel for paid sex. Owner Joe Francis has recently received a great deal of negative publicity as a bully and alleged rapist.

Workers in the sex industry (past and present) might include:

  • The above-mentioned "Renegade Evolution", a stripper and fetish model. In her spare time runs a blog defending, among other things, her choice of profession.

  • "Markedformetal", also a stripper and blogger. Sometimes writes about how much she hates her chosen profession

  • Jenna Jameson, who became rich and famous as a porn star. Appeared in 120 videos over the course of 12 years, but yet claims she dislikes watching her own sex scenes.

  • The late Linda Lovelace, the first "porn star", who entered the industry while under the control of a severely abusive husband. (Whether she loved, hated, or was ambivalent about porn in general depends on which of her five often-contradictory authorized biographies you choose to believe.)

  • Nina Hartley, who's still working in porn after 22 years and 717 films. Still a major name at an age (47) when the "Porno Valley" studios she often works with don't exactly encourage actresses to stick around. (No need to recount her history of sex education and activism yet again.)

  • SilkyKitty (see under producers, above)

  • The worker-owners of the Lusty Lady (see above).

  • A woman illegally held captive and trafficked from China to the United States and forced to work off her "debt" in a massage parlour.

  • Kira Milan, a Portland-based freelance porn model active several years back under several any of several names. Did solo and girl/girl porn for a handful of porn sites and adult videos, but soon dropped it in favor of nude art photography modeling. Still a cult favorite on the internet several years later.

  • Eve Angel, a Hungarian freelance model working in Prague and Budapest (the present centers of the Eastern European porn industry). Appears on scores of videos and websites under any of a half-dozen names.

  • A woman who prostitutes to feed a drug habit, working the stroll in places like San Francisco's Polk Gulch, generally between 2AM (when the bars let out) and dawn.

  • A young woman I met once who worked as a porn model and sometimes escort (primarily answering Craigslist ads from men offering sex for money). When not taking a semester off to earn money this way, is a Women's Studies major at one of the "Seven Sisters" women's colleges.

  • Wanda, a Stockholm-based escort who's website quite openly advertises what services she provides and for how much. (Yes Virgina, there is still prostitution in Sweden – it just moved indoors.)

  • Goddess Athena, a San Francisco dominatrix who started the "dominatrix collective", Sirens.

(I'll note here that Dim Undercellar of the Biting Beaver blog has written a post claiming most of the "First World" sex work of the kind I've mainly discussed above is done by trafficked women from poor countries. This contention, however, is based on little evidence and much supposition on his part and on the part of the anti-prostitution organizations from which he gets his "facts".)

Clearly there are some people on this list who clearly fall into the categories of exploiters and victims to varying degrees. There's also a large number of people who don't fall into either category. What's quite clear is that the above list, on both the producer and worker ends, includes some very different people under very different circumstances. Trying to get justice for the most downtrodden sex workers by wiping out "pornstitution" is a bit like trying to obtain justice for exploited farm workers by wiping out not only agribusiness, but small organic farms, farmworkers' unions, and restaurants all together. Yes, this would be the "radical" solution, but only in its sheer overkill.

At this point I should mention another anti-porn contention – that if anybody is hurt at any time under any circumstances in what can be broadly called sex work, then its best to uproot the whole thing. If there's the slightest demand, the argument goes, someone will inevitably be exploited to fill it. (See Dim Undercellar again on his ideas about the supposed "acceptable losses" of the sex industry for a fuller exposition of this idea.) To me, this is simply an argument for blanket repression, for not looking at context, and for a rather extreme application of the precautionary principle. Its a bit like banning clothing in order to get rid of sweatshops or uprooting all religion to deal with any manner of religious abuse.

To the protest that "porn liberals" don't treat the sex industry like any other industry, I say its the "anti-pornstitution" crowd who fail to treat it as such. The proper way to deal with the sex industry is to oppose those manifestations of it that victimize or exploit people while encouraging those parts that meet peoples needs, both as consumers and as workers. The same way we treat issues around the production of food, the production of media, or the production of anything.

By Way of Explanation

I've decided to launch this blog, since I've found myself rather interested in the latest manifestation of the "Sex Wars" as they've been playing out on the blogosphere. By way of introduction, I've been interested in issues around pornography and sex work for a long time. To be rather "confessional", I like sex, I like pornography, I like visual art in general (particularly film, photography, and comics), and I've long held very strongly anti-authoritarian political beliefs. The politics of sex and porn is kind of an intersection of all of those issues, and I keep coming back to.

I'm old enough to remember the 1980s "Feminist Sex Wars" and have seen the sex-positive position go from despised minority to conventional wisdom. After many years, the Sex Wars seem to be back in a big way on the blogosphere. (What cultural and political trends this new "Sex War" represents and whether it will play out beyond the blogosphere is a subject for another post.) I've been contributing to articles on Wikipedia on these topics and occasionally contributing comments to sex-poz blogs. I finally broke down and decided to start a blog of my own. (I'm not sure how often I'm going to be able to update it – I'm going to shoot for at least a few posts a month and see if I can eventually go more frequently.)

The main topic of this blog will be the politics of sex and porn, however, I don't only want to discuss pornography in the abstract – as I said, I actually watch a fair amount of porn and am a fan/critic of it as much as any other art form I'm into. Some trends I find interesting right now are the rise of altporn, and the trend in toward sexual explicitness on otherwise "straight" narrative films, like 9 Songs. In other words, this blog will try and cover actual porn as much as "the issue" of pornography – I'm thinking a kind of cross between SmackDog Chronicles and Fleshbot.

So far I've referred to this as "sex-positive" blog. I haven't referred to it as a "sex-positive feminist" blog. I have my own issues around feminism. Its not that I'm actually anti-feminist per se (though there are some specific feminisms that I find pretty loathsome, and I think you can guess what those are). However, I do have issues with using the label myself – I'm male and I don't think I'd want to wear any label that inherently privileges the feminine above the masculine. Also, self-described "male feminists" I've come across rub me the wrong way – mostly they seem to anti-porn types with either a noticeable mean streak, like John Stoltenberg (Andrea Dworkin's other half) or blogger Dim Undercellar, or are annoyingly good-boyish like Hugo Schwyzer. I don't want any part of that. More generally, I have a hard time with "isms" and ideological straight-jackets in general. I like to refer to myself as broadly left libertarian, but beyond that, I'm pretty eclectic. I'm really more interested in ideas and actions than grand ideologies and movements.

Since the issues covered by this blog are contentious and prone to inspire flaming, I'll mention my rules around comments. I'm pretty loose and more inclined to make this a "free speech zone" rather than a "safe space" for my way of thinking. I'm not afraid of opposition or criticism. That said, this blog is my forum, and I reserve the right to block anybody if their behavior gets out of hand, at my discretion. Of course, I also reserve the right to hand you enough rope to hang yourself. ;-)