Sex in the 21st century
To kick off our sex coverage, Kirstin Innes gets up close and personal with the women throwing off the shackles and taking on the adult entertainment industry on their own terms. Meanwhile, The List has been busy spinning the love machine on its head, and is proud to present a delectable platter of the finest club nights and very oddest alternative dates for the Valentine’s weekend
By now, you must have heard of Feuchtgebiete, the debut novel by 30 year old television presenter Charlotte Roche, routinely described in interviews as ‘Germany’s Davina McCall’. You know, the one that the press are up in arms about. The one with the 18 year old female central character who talks graphically about sex, and takes a less than rigorous approach to bodily hygiene.
The English version of the book, Wetlands (the title is both a literal and a very appropriate translation) is in the shops now. Wetlands = areas producing female bodily fluids.
In an interview with Granta last year, Roche said that she wrote the book to try and right societal wrongs. ‘[I]n contemporary society a lot of women have a very messed-up attitude to their own bodies. We’re obsessed with cleanliness, with getting rid of our natural excretions and our body hair. So I wanted to write about the ugly parts of the human body. The smelly bits. In order to tell that story, I created a heroine that has a totally creative attitude towards her body – someone who has never even heard that women are supposedly smelly between their legs’
Roche is certainly not the only one out there. As the internet has demystified pornography and made it increasingly available, many women are not only taking pleasure in articulating their own sexuality, admitting to the consumption and enjoyment of porn, but questioning it, demanding more realistic representations, and making careers out of it.
‘Being an independent pornographer simply seemed like the best job in the world, so I went for it,’ explains ‘Furry Girl’ a 25 year old Seattle-based ‘indie pornographer’ who makes a cheerfully uncomplicated living running websites where people pay for access to photographs and films.
Her own site, furrygirl.com, is simply pictures of herself, shot in her own house, occasionally with partners. As her name suggests, Furry Girl takes a ‘pro-body hair’ position that Roche would approve of. She also runs specialist sites Erotic Red, which is devoted to menstruation, and Veg Porn (no, not funny-looking carrots – all the models are vegetarian). On her sites, you’ll find links to a huge range of sites, the vast majority run by women, describing themselves as part of the ‘sex positive’ movement.
‘It’s porn, but produced outside of the typical “Porn Valley” stuff,’ she explains. ‘You’ll find a wider range of body shapes and sizes, models with tattoos and piercings and other body mods, and a broader spectrum of genders and sexual orientations represented.’
‘I don’t think any woman looks at a Chippendale and thinks, “Cor! That’s exactly what I want!”’ observes Anna Span, a feminist porn director who has, over the past few years, become the figurehead for female-focused porn in the UK. If you’ve ever picked up a DVD on a covert visit to Ann Summers, chances are Span will have been behind it. She came to the adult film industry from a fine art and academic background, studying at St Martin’s College in London. She’s been running her production company, Easy On The Eye, since she graduated in 1998, and currently trains other women who want to direct.
‘It’s lots of little differences that make the big difference. We always try and get the best looking guys in our films, and a third of my camera angles focus on the man, rather than just looking at the women the whole time, so it looks as it would if you were experiencing the sex yourself. I also try and establish short, soap opera-like storylines, so that by the time the sex scene starts, about four minutes in, the characters have really had a chance to develop. You can tell the porn stars in my films are genuinely having a good time.’
She’s very clear that pornography shot for female consumers does not have to be any softer than mainstream films marketed at men.
‘I still make hardcore tapes. My films contain all the acts you’d find anywhere else. I just don’t do it in a misogynistic way.’
Emma Sayles, who runs upscale, glamourous, female-focused sex parties through her company Killing Kittens, is equally direct. ‘The problem with the sex industry is that it is still mainly run by men, and unlike other , financially-focused businesses, those men get into it very much for their own, ah, interests.’
Sayles knows what she’s talking about. At 25, as a freelance PR, she began working for The Erotica Show, and within six months had an almost exclusively adult entertainment client roster, including the porn star Ron Jeremy.
‘I got tired of the sleazy men in that world. I began working with a company who ran upmarket swingers’ parties. They claimed that they were very female-focused, but they were run by men, and it was really just a ploy to get more women in. I began to see that there was a demand for an area where these lovely, young professional women I was meeting could do their own thing.’
Sayles claims she launched Killing Kittens ‘for a laugh’, but the company has been going for almost three years now, with over 6,000 members registered on the website, and regular London-based parties pulling in 300 revellers at a time. What’s unique about Killing Kittens, both the parties and the website, is that women call all of the shots. Men are only allowed to attend the parties as part of a couple, and when there, they’re strictly regulated by rules that prohibit them from touching or even approaching women to initiate intimacy. On the website, where members who can’t get to London organise their own parties, men are similarly restricted, in order to create the sort of experience her members want. Sayles, who is branching out in Edinburgh later this year, is completely unabashed about the membership criteria – all potential Kittens are vetted by appearance, age, and charisma.
As the furore surrounding the publication of Wetlands has shown, there’s a very vocal segment of the population ready to accuse women who embrace pornography of some sort of treachery.
‘Ever since the 1980s, pornography has split feminism,’ says Span, a very vocal member of the group Feminists Against Censorship. ‘I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and I’ve always liked sex. What I find strange about anti-pornography lobbies, like Scottish Women Against Pornography, is that they’re happy to team up with right wing Christian groups – historically, the people who’ve oppressed women’s rights – so they can all fight pornography together. I think that stinks. Why spend your time talking about and failing to thwart male sexuality, when, by exploring female sexuality you can set the foundations for a much more positive way of thinking?’