What is 'good' porn?

There's been much discussion of the kind of porn that 'should be banned', but if we agree pornography isn't inherently bad, what might this 'good' porn look like?

A debate has been rumbling in recent weeks in Tesco stocking lads’ mags, the ever-irritating presence of the Sun’s Page 3, and ‘rape porn’ and whether it should be banned.

There is a discussion to be had here. Not only about simulated scenes of sex without consent (scenes that sometimes depict violence), enacted by paid actors, but also the silent passivity of the images of young, taut, white women on page 3 and lads mags - images of unmoving women awaiting male action. The problem here is not about the decisions made by the women who took part in the creation of these images. The problem here is not naked female flesh. The problem arises when naked female flesh is immediately equated to a heterosexual male desire for sex. In and of itself this is a visual statement that reinforces women to believe that our flesh is not our own. The problem is a visual sharp end of the dull, dripping tap effect of the objectification of women in every aspect of our lives, and how this contributes to the male-dominated culture that we live in.

Can we envision the creation of sexy pictures in a world where women’s sexual agency isn’t harshly judged? Our sexual agency will always be limited in a world where sex is so often equated to male needs, commoditised beyond recognition and served up to us as false desire. But perhaps we could explore the implications of a new way of looking at porn, because people aren’t going to stop watching it any time soon. Instead of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ (a topic that is wholly different from filmed images of abuse, and illegal versus legal), perhaps we could identify porn’s value on a sliding scale of what it contributes to the world we live in.

I don’t think looking at pictures and watching videos of people having sex is a bad thing. But I do have an issue about these pictures and videos created and consumed uncritically, under a white supremacist patriarchy, for profit. If you watch porn you might know the consequences of this - like any visual medium it reflects some of the worst discriminations and prejudices in our society. This is made all the more stark when genitals are involved. Sex between women is offered up solely for the titillation of men, sex between white people and black people is classed as marginal and taboo, there are deeply racist narratives regarding white women being debased by groups of black men and a thousand submissive stereotypes of Asian women.

All the while, there has been concerted effort (though not without significant feminist opposition) to create porn that is focused on woman centred sexual pleasure, from queer porn actresses like Courtney Trouble and feminist directors like Anna Span. Whilst I can’t say I’ve watched any of their work, I do think their work is a step in the right direction. However, feminist porn is a molehill compared to the mountain of the porn mainstream. It doesn’t seem quite enough.

However, we urgently need an alternative. There is a feminist sticking point regarding what our sex and sexuality looks like divorced from patriarchy. It’s a huge topic, and porn that doesn’t pander to a white supremacist, patriarchal gaze goes some way in covering it. One day I’d like to see us at point where we can own our desires, without patriarchy and without slut-shaming.

So this is my question: what does ethical porn look like?

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