Category Archives: Opinion

Studying Porn

Sometimes I have a pipe dream of becoming a pornographic academic. I’ve been lucky enough to speak on a few panels and even present a paper at the first Feminist Porn Conference here in Toronto last April. That was definitely one of the highlights of my life, and it’s something that I’d definitely like to experience again. I don’t know exactly what form that’ll take, but it does mean that I take the concept of porn academia to heart in quite a serious way. I spoke with Dr. Chantelle Tibbals for her podcast a while back, and have had this interview that she did with Slate in my back pocket, waiting for a time that I might be moved to blog about the dire need of more research and critical thought with regards to porn… That time has come, blog. That time has come.

The problem is that, because of the general preconceived notions about porn, people have a real tough time seeing value in attributing precious academic resources to its study. This is a really negative bias, because it is an otherwise very culturally dominant medium/art form/phenomena. There’s certainly something to be said about the taboo nature of porn, but if anything, that only feeds the potential for discussion and research, and it should ideally also play a role in piquing general interest about said discussion and research. It’s film, biology, psychology, sociology… It’s obviously the study of sex and gender. It’s ripe for all types of analysis.

As with my unfaltering belief that the answer to bad porn is not no porn, but more porn, I think that more work in the field will balance out some of the more unfortunate pseudoscientific snap judgments that people make about the way porn impacts teens, relationships and the psychosexual self. Maybe this means I should dust myself off and get into writing porn academia in a more serious way. After all, that’s sort of how Dr. Chauntelle came to it. Who knows? Maybe I could be Dr. Sophie some day. There is so much room for a balanced, sex-positive critical and academic response to porn. As far as I know, while mainstream and actively queer/feminist porn is getting traction, very little at all is being written about porn from a pro-am or aesthetically artistic way. Maybe beautiful porn needs a place in academia. What do you think?

Why Do We Have Sex?

I have a confession to make: I’m not having sex right now. At all. I’m taking a break from dating while I do some Sophie-related soul searching, and this includes even the casual, easy ongoing fling I’ve had for the past… Almost year. With a boy I really liked who suited my tastes and weirdnesses to a T… But, that’s neither here nor there. It is HARD, and the fact that I write about sex and spend a tremendous amount of my day around porn has made sure that my mind is on it even more than it already would be, but do you know what? That’s okay. I’m doing the best thing I know to do for myself right now, as suggested by my very innovative and persuasive therapist. All this is temporary, and it should lead to a happier me, if a super sexually frustrated me over the next few months. It’s been a week, but a rough one.

The main reason I’m doing this is because I want to look at the reasons I’m intimate and make sure they’re actually making me happy and making my life better instead of worse. Neutral would be okay too, but definitely not worse. Well, wouldn’t you know that the university just a few blocks away from me (University of Toronto – site of the Feminist Porn Conference!) is in the process of studying why people have sex and how that rates in terms of satisfaction and well-being? They’re only doing this work with couples (for now) so I’m not likely to become a lab rat for them, but at least I can look at their findings and apply them to my life, and perhaps to yours as well!

They found that when you’re having sex for positive reasons, you’re likely to have a much better time than if you’re having sex for negative reasons. This may seem obvious, but I don’t think it’s something people put much stock in. Positive reasons like increasing intimacy and connection or feeling better about yourself are more inclined to put you in touch with your partner and yourself and revelling in your sensuality together for its own sake, whereas doing it because you feel like you should or because it will smooth over a fight… Not so much. Wifely duties shouldn’t be a thing, and that goes for any other partnerly duties, too. A slave to duty is just that… And if you’re going to be a slave, you better have a safeword!

Sex is a wonderful thing, and we should all be having more of it (though not me right now, I guess) but it’s valuable to take a step back and make sure we’re feeling good about what’s going on. There’s something to be said for giving pleasure rather than focusing only on receiving it, for rallying and for making a concerted effort to promote intimacy, but there’s work on the self that must be done to ensure that this is a positive choice rather than self-coersion. You shouldn’t ever have to talk yourself into sex. That’s very different than making time for it or making it a priority. By checking in with ourselves, we’ll be able to enjoy it infinitely more.

Nude Selfies: What’s the Big Deal?

Without lauding what this particular lawyer dude from Delaware is up to (because he seems kind of skeevy) I do think that he has a point… Why do we care so much about people seeing our nude and/or sexual selves? This is an idea which is near and dear to my heart because, well, I get freaked out about it a lot. You see, my work is what I’d call porn-adjacent. I’m in the thick (PUN!) of it in terms of my day to day operations, but I am not the subject nor am I sexually available in any meaningful way because of my job. Sometimes I dabble in blogging, reviews or interviews which include a glimpse into my sexual life (these days, it’s absolutely nothing to write home about anyways) but it’s always done in an arm’s length kind of way. I’m lucky that I don’t feel any pressure to go any further than I feel comfortable. Camille and Mike are very respectful of me and would never ask anything beyond my desires…. But I am undeniably curious at times.

I mean, I have a very outgoing personality, I’m a decidedly sexual person and, even though as a bigger girl I’m not everyone’s favourite flavour, I know the niches that would work for me. Every year, along with representing our sites, making valuable contacts and soaking in the inspirational environment, the Feminist Porn Awards always brings at least a few tempting offers to shoot with some of my idols. So far, I’ve shrugged them all off with sheepish statements about just being a behind the scenes type of gal, but it does make me question why I’m so reticent to share my sexuality and my body online.

This reluctance doesn’t just mean that I wouldn’t likely shoot professional porn, but also that I’m almost overly judicious about any way that my body could appear online. The only sexy videos and photos I’ve shot with former partners were mutually deleted in what is almost a half-ceremonial/half-legal exchange — last time over delicious Vietnamese takeout. On the increasingly rare occasion I’ve had any reason to get sexy over webcam with an object of my affection, I’m actually very cautious to only have my face OR my body in the shot, and to have a sufficiently ambiguous backdrop. With the propagation of ex-girlfriend/revenge porn sites devoted to ogling non-consensual sexts and screengrabs, you can never be too careful even though I trust those with whom I’m e-intimate.

I certainly have absolutely zero sexual shame, I’m confident about my body, I’m quite up-front about sex with the people in my life… There shouldn’t be any reason for such concern, but there are still external societal pressures to keep the theoretical sex separate from the physical embodiment (or digital reproduction there-of) in order to feel safe from the more intense ramifications of sex-negative culture. I’m happy and secure with my job and feel an increasing comfort in my path in the sex-positive sector, so I’m not particularly concerned about my image in that respect and I’m relatively confident that I could explain a foray into porn to absolutely any friend or family member… I guess it’s largely that, though I don’t view sex itself as private, I struggle with the vulnerability required to share it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there, and you can’t entirely control the way people interpret it, even as a person with a background in porn PR.

Maybe I’m just too uptight. After all, I’m also not the type to get a tattoo for fear of regrets over that which cannot be undone, but I so deeply admire those who can let go and do what they want. I’m a little too in my head to divorce my desires from the potential impact of doing something which is stigmatized in many ways, though less overtly so. Perhaps if it became more normalized, it’d be easier. It’d definitely be healthier for everyone societally to share and bare our sexual and physical selves to reduce shame, promote our differences and find kinship in our baser natural states.

I’m not saying we should make like that University of Iowa TA and accidentally attach a sexy video instead of the solutions to her math homework, as I think that there’s a time and a place for everything and that a delineation between overt public/professional persona and the sexual self is still important, but I think that we should be able to shrug off such situations as a moment of exposed humanity and move on. That takes some doing, which only comes through normalizing such sexual expression. It’s kind of a catch 22. I know that more people need to be willing to be open to cause the shift, and that starts with the individual… In this case, with me. Will I do it? I guess we’ll see.

- Sophie

Facebook FAIL Makes News for Camille and Fellow Redhead Erika Napoletano

Camille may be hopped up on goofballs (legal, prescribed and carefully monitored goofballs, that is) but this blog can still thrive. Hey, it’s not the first time I’ve yammered on here. Before this accident knocked everything (including Camille’s bones) off-course, she was going to go into detail about a hilarious Facebook happening from a week ago. Friday was update day, so the blog was dedicated to that, and her Thursday post was already up by the time this fully took shape, so it was left until Monday… Until she accidentally popped a wheelie and much of her leg. This means that it falls to me to recount her completely accidental rise to Facebook FAIL fame.

Erika Napoletano is a speaker, writer, branding consultant and she just happens to be a redhead. She seems like a badass and I would very much like to be her when I grow up. She has a Facebook Page just like Camille does, only hers has little or nothing at all to do with blowjobs. Fair enough. Different strokes for different folks. (Pardon the pun.) She even did a TEDxTalk! But she’s a redhead, and that seems to be all that counts when it comes to Facebook’s page recommendation algorithm because everyone who liked her page immediately got this:

camille-crimson-facebook-recommendation

That’s very nice of Facebook and all, but they’re not exactly similar outside of their appearance which, I have to say, is fairly striking. Erika noticed this too, and did perhaps the most fearless and hilarious thing she could do: she did a temporary Facebook page makeover made up of a photoshoot homage to Camille. The results are quite on point:

Courtesy of ErikaNapoletano.com

Courtesy of ErikaNapoletano.com

She initially thought that this sudden Facebook recommendation was because of an ad campaign that we had launched targeting other redhead pages. As one of the people responsible for making these decisions, that would be a bad move for us. Camille has already had a page and a profile deleted on Facebook for no good reason. We’ve built back up a great following and we’re not looking to cause any trouble by having a Facebook admin approve or deny an ad campaign. That seems like it’d go badly given how trigger-happy they are about deleting anything even remotely sexual. It’s the most puritanical social media out there.

Once Erika and Camille talked and they figured out that this was just a big ol’ Facebook FAIL, it was all water under the bridge. It brought these lovely redheads together and, even though they don’t seem like they have much asides from their red hair in common on the surface, they actually have surprising overlap in terms of their personalities and their business acumen. Sometimes metrics issues make friends!

But, as always happens on the internet, it actually went pretty viral! Sites including Adweek, The Daily Mail, AVN, Daily Dot and Business Insider all had something to say, which ended up bringing up an interesting side point: people underestimate the porn industry. This most evident in Adweek‘s backhanded compliment in their summation of the situation:

Most marketing professionals, of course, would never have the guts to pull off something like this. Then again, most porn stars probably wouldn’t have the marketing savvy to run social targeting campaigns.

Yeouch. Even if that were true, that’s kind of a dig, but it’s flagrantly not the case. The adult industry is pretty much entirely online at this point and it’s imperative to have an active social media presence to differentiate yourself in such a saturated market. Camille (and many other people like her) run their own sites and aren’t part of a major corporation. She’s not just part of the product, she’s involved in every aspect of running her business. This is true for a lot of porn performers and even those who do contract work for mainstream porn companies still have a huge stake in their web presence.

Porn performers have blogs, columns, endorsement deals, consulting firms, editing houses, production companies, books… That takes a hell of a lot of savvy and is probably more true and necessary in porn than any other segment of the entertainment industry. I mean, look at cams. Many porn performers have turned to cams as an additional revenue stream and it’s definitely not as easy as it looks… As someone who has run targeted ad campaigns for my volunteer work, I’m sure that setting up a Facebook ad campaign is a hell of a lot simpler than what porn performers do in their day to day lives. It’s not exactly rocket science.

It’s so reductive to assume that porn performers are just vapid people who smile (or sometimes grimace) and look pretty while having sex. Even though this is “just” a micro-aggression, it reinforces the idea that it’d be an anomaly for porn performers to actually be good at other things. That’s a sucky attitude to have towards an entire industry of different human beings. Just look at Seska‘s nuanced sexual education, Stoya‘s insightful views, Dana DeArmond‘s quirky charm, Ariel Rebel‘s many facets and even James Deen‘s hilarity… These aren’t just people portraying their authentic selves… They’re doing so in a very intelligent, social media-savvy way.

This seems to have, in some small way, started a dialogue. AVN brought this up, and I think this is because it takes someone in the industry to notice the way we’re subtly undermined in the mainstream. But we’re slowly pushing porn into a public discourse. This is all a part of it.

Steps to Sex-Positivity

Camille Crimson having sex before giving a beautiful blowjob

How can you be positively sex-positive?  There are lots of ways to express it, but Rachel Rabbit White of (among other things) The Frisky has a list of ways to be sure that you’re doing your best to encourage everyone in your life (including yourself) to enjoy sex in whatever ways they want.  There are 8, but I wanted to share a few of my favourites:

1. “Having sex is healthy, but so is not having sex.” I try to emphasize this over and over again.  There are so many ways to be sensual with yourself…  Watching porn and taking your time with it can be a really amazing way of exploring that.  I don’t ever want to use language that makes it seem like you need a significant other to have a good time.  But also, you don’t even need to be sexual at all if you don’t want to be.  Granted, you’re not likely going to be finding my sites if you don’t at least like a little quality solo time, but there is no requirement to do so in life.  Sexuality should be live and let live.  No one should feel weird for doing what feels right, as long as everyone is consenting!

3. “Slut-shaming also means shaming people who are more “out of the box” with their sexuality than you.” This should go without saying…  I try not to speak ill about the lengths that anyone goes to when it comes to sharing or exploring their sexuality.  That may seem obvious, since I make porn, but I try not to be negative about the people who make more mainstream porn, even though it’s not my personal route.  I may not always agree with the business of big, mainstream porn, but I would never judge the personal choice to appear in it.  The more we try to step back from big, overarching snap judgments, the more likely we are to open our minds and understand (or at least accept) what we were initially wary of.

8. “Intimacy is complex.” This is certainly one that I need to check in with myself about.  I try to lead by example and talk about communication and show how that has positively impacted my life with Mike, but I also don’t want to assume that it’s this easy for everyone.  You, as well as any partners you might have or have had, have different experiences than mine.  I’m lucky that so many of you share your lives with me and I get to give my two cents from time to time. All I can do is try to be understanding and see where you’re coming from when your experiences of intimacy are different than mine.

What are some steps or thoughts that have helped you to be more open and non-judgmental about sex and sexuality?

Anais Nin and I

A seductive smile by gorgeous redhead Camille Crimson

My favourite pornographic poet Cal shared this lovely piece with me, and I figured that today is as good a day as any to share it.  It’s a letter from writer Anais Nin to a private erotica collector who wanted her to focus more on sex and less on the poetry (both figurative and literal) surrounding it.  She encourages him to go beyond “this periscope at the tip of (his) sex” and to see the value beyond the “explicit, mechanical, overdone … mechanistic obsession” of base sexual desire described in plain language.  Sometimes, when I’m encouraged to have sex that’s outside of my natural desires (and that’s putting it politely) or to showcase my body in a way that doesn’t feel right to me, I do think of the fundamental differences between the basics of showing sex and the human body to bring the audience to orgasm and the act of framing it in a realistic way filled with love and artistry.

There’s no wrong way, as far as I’m concerned, to express your sexuality, at least as long as everyone involved is consenting…  But I do think it’s wrong to expect things, even from performers or writers, that go against their modes of sexual expression.  Nin wanted her work, even that which is paid for by the collector, to be sensual and romantic and interesting and intense.  This is what I want too.  She says it best:

Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feeling, inventions, moods, no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all of the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine.

I’m not so sure about the opium, but I’m with her on the wine.  Sex is so much more than the meeting of genitals.  It’s an experience which we can link to any other aspect of life to increase pleasure, significance and depth.  I hope this inspires you to find a way to heighten your sexuality and go further than going through the motion.  I know it did for me.