Joan Smith: Yes, I hopped into bed with Minxy Malone

On why exploitation, not sex, is the problem with porn

Sunday 18 January 2009 01:00

I've been getting calls over the past few days from journalists who want to know why I've started writing porn. One of them caught me in bed and mentioned this fact in his article, giving the impression that I spend most of my time between the sheets, inventing sexual fantasy.

Nice work if you can get it, I have to say, but writing about sex is notoriously difficult and I'm not giving up the day job yet. I've been to the Bad Sex awards too many times, doubling over with laughter at choice passages from the shortlisted authors. Extended metaphors quickly begin to droop, while sex acts involving dogs or fruit are generally a bad idea.

I have, however, written an erotic short story for a new collection by women writers called "In Bed With..." and attempts are being made to uncover my pseudonym. Am I Sunset Proudfoot or Pom Pom Paradise? Storm Henley or Marmalade Bates? We've all made up our own noms de porn, as our co-editor Kathy Lette calls them, using the names of our first pet and first street. I had to employ a bit of artistic licence as my first dog ran away one Christmas, blighting the entire holiday, and I didn't want to revisit childish heartache. (He was a boy, anyway, and I couldn't really see myself as Rinty Crescent.) The project has been put together in the utmost secrecy so I genuinely don't know which story was written by Fay Weldon, Louise Doughty or Joanne Harris.

What most people want to know, it seems, is why a feminist would even consider writing porn. But my novels contain sex scenes, and the tradition of feminists writing erotically goes back to Erica Jong and Anaïs Nin. It's true that Andrea Dworkin argued passionately against pornography, but it's not as if there has ever been a united voice on the subject in the women's movement.

I recently looked at Playboy and thought it was rather pathetic, stuck in a world of Seventies male fantasies, and in any case it's been marginalised by the much more explicit porn available on the internet. There is now a vast commercial sex industry, stretching from South-east Asia via Europe to the US, which encompasses violent porn, paedophile images, prostitution and trafficking; women rescued from traffickers report being forced to take part in sex videos against their will. The problem isn't sex, but the fact that the industry that's grown up around it is sadistic, humiliating and exploitative. And the vast bulk of its consumers are men.

Feminists have always been angry about this, not because we're opposed to porn per se but because of the way women's pleasure has been systematically excluded from the public arena. More than a quarter of a century ago, Shere Hite set out to find out what women really felt about sex, and her reports encouraged millions of women to get in touch with their bodies and discover what turns them on. Fiction is another way of doing that and feminist novelists have almost a duty to carry on the work, using a language that doesn't mimic the stilted vocabulary of men's magazines. Writing about sex doesn't have to be arch, obscene or depressingly humourless, and that's why I'm proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Minxy Malone and Tutty Monmouth – whoever they may be.

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