In Which Women Are Changing The Sex Industry From Inside

Lolita Talks

by Molly Lambert

I am in the adult film scene for mainly one reason. On average, most of the porn I see is boring, and does not arouse me physically, or visually. There are only a handful of porn stars that continue to push the boundaries of what women are supposed to like, or be like in bed.” – Sasha Grey

Sue Lyon and James Mason in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita

Pornography is a forty billion dollar a year business made largely by and for men. But the most famous porn stars are women, and the fact that they work in a studio system which treats them as largely replaceable and disposable commodities isn’t lost on them. The people who make major money off of porn are mostly still men, but the industry’s biggest stars are nearly all females.

Hannah Montana, naked teen in public posing for Annie Leibovitz

The sexually explicit porno-chic aesthetic that crossed into the mainstream long ago is still mostly engineered by gross old perverts like Terry Richardson, Larry Clark, and Richard Kern. But what about the young women being objectified by their cameras? The Miley Cyrus mishegoss was a rehash of the Britney Spears cover of Rolling Stone controversy. A manufactured scandal meant to titilate as much as to provoke outrage.

Miley Cyrus, bra-flashing in “private” (the internet is never private)

It is not (and never has been) shocking that people sexualize children, especially girls. It is not the pictures that rob these girls of their agency, it is the discussion around them. When an actually shocking story like the Austrian guy with the incest dungeon breaks, the public’s repulsion is matched only by their lust for sordid details. The flip side of disgust is fascination.

Alice Liddell as “The Beggar Maid,” photo by Lewis Carroll

The internet is a Pandora’s Box for pornography, and shutting down provocative preteen modeling sites like Lil’ Amber will not stop pederasty or the sexual exploitation of minors any more than banning Lolita would have. Shows like To Catch A Predator play on the desire that morally outrageous crimes be stopped, and encourages the public to think that modern society and its evils are somehow responsible for outbreaks of sin.

from American Apparel’s children’s section

But none of these problems are new. They occur behind closed doors in purposely antiquated settings like the FLDS, and reading any of the true crime records widely available online (or The Bible, for that matter) makes it obvious that most transgressions, no matter how hideous, have been happening for thousands for years. Which is not the same as deeming them acceptable.

Sex crimes and Silence in the FLDS, Big Love it is not

As with other things still somewhat socially entrenched as being “strictly for men” (sports, beer, video games, comedy, cars) women are equally interested in porn. It is an unavoidably widespread cultural phenomenon, and it’s not like the people who most vocally criticize pornography aren’t having (deviant) sex behind closed doors.

“Porn porn porn…This is some really good porn

The reason Bettie Page is still so popular, especially with women and rockabillies, is because she sells fantasies with a smile that reminds you it’s just fantasy. You still feel like Bettie’s the one in charge. That’s what makes it empowering rather than merely objectifying or degrading.

Bettie Page, strong sexuality without sadness

I find the actual brass tacks business aspects of the porn industry to be fascinating as it acts like a microcosm of the Hollywood studio system, with its own cults of personality and associated ego clashes. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, (the heart of the porn industry) as did Paul Thomas Anderson, who funneled his own obsession with the history and folklore of Porn Valley into magnificent opus Boogie Nights.

Traci Lords, fully clothed in the eighties

One of the things about Sasha Grey that makes her so fascinating is how she bucks the traditional porn star narrative. She is not on drugs, does not come from an abusive background, has not had any plastic surgery. Sasha is like a legal version of teenage porn star Traci Lords, who was able to gain control of her career (and bank account) by taking her producers to court while letting critics decry that she had been manipulated by the business.

Jenna Jameson, putting her porno war paint on

The porn industry traditionally builds its stars by offering them in progressively more outré scenarios. Some actresses will do strictly solo and lesbian scenes for years before ever having onscreen heterosexual sex. This allows publicity-hungry porn studios to market the increasingly more intense plateaus of a porn star’s career as “events,” in order to hype the films in which they occur. Jenna Jameson, the most mainstream porn actress, had a long list of things she would not consider doing onscreen.

Sasha Grey, way more than barely legal

The stages of a porn star’s career are usually that as she gets older (and more famous), she gets blonder, the implants progressively bigger, the make-up more caked on, and the sex acts become more degrading. But Sasha Grey started her career doing the things Jenna Jameson still won’t do onscreen. Since Grey already does nearly every hardcore thing consumers might want to see her do, she is selling a new kind of porn stardom.

Miley Cyrus, totally still so underage

You cannot degrade Grey, because she has already “degraded” herself. And while porn is a world where violence against women is explicitly coded in the amount of pain and submission involved in some sex acts, Sasha exudes control even in the most sadistic situations. And in doing so, she rejects the idea that what she is doing is degrading. Because although much of her work still has her playing Lolitas, what she is selling is a ubiquitous fantasy, and everyone involved is (in reality) a consenting adult.

Britney, not a virgin when this was taken

Besides, Sasha is doing all this within the context of porn. She is running for AVN star of the year, not the Senate. Rape fantasies are not the same thing as actual rape, nor do they actually encourage rape as a practice. Women’s pornography as a genre is still in its infancy. But maybe girls wouldn’t feel so weird and conflicted about their sexuality if there was porn made for them instead of just about them?

Lolicon, controversial pedophilia-themed manga genre

Some feminist critics would argue that this is a horribly dangerous idea, that empowerment through taking one’s clothes off on camera is not a great long-term strategy for garnering respect. Diablo Cody’s journalistic experiment with stripping and sex work divided Jezebel commenters into two oppositional camps, many of whom could not reconcile innate writing talent with a desire to disrobe for strange men.

Diablo Cody, feeling sexy looking steampunk

I don’t really think Diablo got into sex work specifically with winning an Oscar in mind. She’s most similar to other famously witty ladies of burlesque like Lili St. Cyr and Gypsy Rose Lee (and flapper writer Anita Loos, who didn’t strip but was an awesome slut as I discussed here), in that she seems well-aware of all the conflicting messages this sends out. I imagine she endorses that young women hoping to write movies jump on the powerbook rather than the pole. Or as I like to put it, do as I blog, not as I do.

Gypsy Rose Lee, you gotta have a gimmick

Sasha Grey’s plan for world domination involves her desire to unionize the industry and to direct porn that is more cinematic. As far as feminist porn goes, I predict it becomes the next boom in the adult industry (the current popular trendlet is POV Porn). Women are a huge virtually untapped audience for pornography and it’s not like they aren’t already watching it online anyway.

Absolutely Fabulous’s Dirty Old Women

In her Richard Kern Vice shoot Sasha says what she intends to do as a director and Kern basically laughs it off. He claims no one would want to see narrative porn when what he means is “I, Richard Kern, do not care about narrative in porn.” It’s not that women hate hardcore (they don’t), there’s a way to do it so that it isn’t totally exploitative. Even something like queening can be filmed in a way that won’t demean the participants. What makes the bulk of what’s available so unappealing to women is the humorlessness and self-seriousness, the continuing focus on money shots as the be-all and end-all point of pornography.

Sasha Grey, the birthday girl

It’s not even the sex acts in porn that are really degrading, it’s the way the girls are treated on (and off) screen. All we’re asking for really, are more attractive male porn stars (the least creepy one is Lex Steele), just some cute non-tatted dudes without gross spray-on tans or ponytails, and for better made porn that appeals to a wider range of interests. Is that really so much to ask?

Female Friendly Porn Stars Making Female Friendly Porn

(NSFW, obviously, unless you work in an Adult Bookshop)

Belladonna: Grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah in a Mormon household. Has appeared in over 250 adult films, most of them anal-themed. Retired from performing in 2007 after getting herpes only to unretire a few months later. Just won her first AVN award for directing Belladonna: Manhandled 2.

Tristan Taormino: Anal sex expert, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Wesleyan University and edits the occasional compilation of queer erotica. Former editor of lesbian porn mag On Our Backs. She is the niece of Thomas Pynchon, and probably sees his rarely glimpsed face at Thanksgiving (this is speculation).

Joanna Angel: Runs her own alt-porn empire called Burning Angel, was raised in northern New Jersey as an Orthodox Jew, went to Rutgers University and earned a BA in English Literature with a minor in Film Studies. Occasionally mistaken for fellow Hebraic sex enthusiast Sarah Silverman.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording

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Eva Angelina

Melissa Gira

Rachel Kramer Bussel

Annabel Chong

Being Amber Rhea

Gracie’s Playground

Violet Blue’s Tiny Nibbles

Dana DeArmond

Susie Bright

Betty Dodson

Heather Corinna

Nina Hartley

Annie Sprinkle

Joani Blank

Candida Royalle

Carol Queen

Inga Muscio


A Feminist Defense Of Pornography



Good For Her


Essin Em

Bound, Not Gagged

Mint Jelly

Smitten Kitten

The Sex Carnival



Feminism Without Clothes

Sex Workers Outreach Program

Defend Our Porn

Objectify This


“Darklands” – The Jesus and Mary Chain (mp3)

“Head On” – The Jesus and Mary Chain (mp3)

“Blues from a Gun” – The Jesus and Mary Chain (mp3)


Voluptuous Pink Braniac Jayne Mansfield

Lena Chen Defines The Overshare

Alex Used To Post Mad Pin-Ups

21 thoughts on “In Which Women Are Changing The Sex Industry From Inside

  1. I hate to say it but the feminization of porn is just as boring and unsatisfying as the supposed “Male gaze dominated” porn of the past. This supposed sea change has been “occuring” for over a decade now and nothing has changed. You know I think it’s funny everyone writes about how women are “objectified” in porn. Female performers make much more than males in hetero scenes. So here’s what I have to say about women bitching in this industry. Stop bitching, the guy you’re working with makes A LOT less than you, and gets all the stigmas you do. So help him out.

    1. good point. everybody in porn seems to want to be the hero in the narrative. but guess what, there’s always somebody more brutalized than you, so look down and you might find somebody to help.

  2. I think truly interesting/fulfilling porn would kill the industry (and the internet) as we know it. It’s an industry of perversion simply because it’s more profitable. No one’s actually satisfied with perversion.. especially perverts. “Acting out” always creates new boundaries.. just look at ADD kids. The reason men like the pervert porn more than women is because we’re socially allowed to dwell on our perversions. That’s all. We’re not actually fulfilled by seeing this shit, which means we spend all night looking for something we think would be the end-all.. consuming more and more shitty porn.

    Great post, but I just wanted to bring up the fact that what you call ‘female-friendly porn’ would I think be equally appreciated by most of us men as well.

    1. very nice. you tap into something deeper that’s missing than female lib within the confines of a male-created art form. the performers in a racket cannot change the racket. better to leave it and try to create something outside the system. maybe that’s why i like amateur porn (which is the trendlet, not pov porn which is just a shift in perspective.) amateur porn puts sex in context of something more meaningful, which is a relationship. for the same reason many don’t watch Hollywood movies anymore, even when they ape true artists, i don’t watch hollywood porn, which tries to co-opt good ideas from outside. that being said, the lines between am and pro-am are being blurred because porn is now being made all over the country with handicams by porn auteur/perverts with a contract with the major distro systems, which are run by, you guessed it, more old rich levantine perverts.

  3. If Bettie Page or Sasha Grey acknowledge with a knowing smile or a dumb interview that they’re choosing to be viewed as a submissive being that exists purely for titillating men, it doesn’t change the fact that that “choice” was made for them the second the came into the world as a woman. Nor does it make them any different from or more empowered (whatever that means) than the millions of other women that assume the exact same tired poses every day, on camera and off.

    Richard Kern is right. If you took away everything objectionable about porn, it wouldn’t be porn anymore.

    “Female-friendly porn” would be a marketing ploy less to get women to experiment with porn and more to reassure left-leaning men who want to continue to consume their porn without all the guilt.

    1. so how can women participate in sex on screen on their own terms? is this taboo according to you because as you have said, a woman’s choice has been made for her from day one? or have you made a choice to brand them because they are women having sex on screen? how about a woman who shoots herself masturbating and posts it voluntarily on the internet? where does that fit?

  4. Great post!

    I used to watch a lot of porn and it was fun seeing my fantasies getting played out on screen – no matter how degrading they were. But i agree, i honestly do think the number one problem with porn is the lack of hot guys.

    Can it really be so hard to come across hot guys to be in porn? I mean really, can it?

    The over blondage/tittage/self mutilation of chicks in the industry is just OTT. I don’t think anyone really is turned on by that shit. It’s too ridiculous.

    Anyway. I’m always the submissive in the sack so seeing a woman be submissive in porn isnt really an issue for me. It’s hot. I don’t think it’s un-feminist for porn to be tapping into people’s wants and desires and giving it to them. After all, people get off on the darndest things.

  5. I’t great that you address sex work but come on, this is the third wave of feminism. You usually seem so ahead of the times…

  6. I know feminists and feminism are caught up with this, I just think the film industry (both the regular and pornographic ones, actually) are still lagging way behind the curve.

  7. Sascha is another woman in a long line of women who did porn because they wanted to, did harder porn because they wanted to, and do it well. She’s smart, articulate and savvy…but hardly an unusual feature in porn. Nine Hartley, Anna Mal, Belladonna, Harmony & Mason are a few women in porn who come to mind, who both as performers and directors have paved the way for women like Grey. From porn valley to the net…there are a lot of women in porn who are doing things their own way, because they want to, and are blowing the stereotype of the abused, drug addicted victim to pieces. Which, IMHO, is excellent and long over due.

    Also, if discussing feminist porn, there are also Audacia Ray, The Feminist Porn Awards, Candida Royalle and several other events/directors that slip my mind at the moment.

    But it is true, a selling point with porn is that it is supposed to be a bit of a guilty pleasure, a little bad…but that has more to do with peoples attitudes on sex than porn itself.

    Oh, and just as a side note…attacking (more or less) women in porn for their appearances (their make up, hair color, surgery, whatever?) Not particularly cool.

  8. Wait… Feminazis… I mean feminists like porn? Isn’t that like saying Christ and Satan are friends or like saying oil and water mix? Feminism liking porn is the biggest oxymoron I’ve ever heard of!!! Oh wait… I forgot… they DO like porn… as long as a group of women are castrating, disemboweling, and feminizing a man by cutting off his penis with a look of glee, no… ECSTACY…on their faces. I stand corrected. For good reading go here<

  9. Feminism is basically the female drive to eliminate males, emasculated males, as an intermediate symbolic representation and their attainment of a direct contact with the institutional power, allowing them to gain the possibility of becoming this symbolic representation themselves.

    It is the elimination of even the pretence of masculinity from biological males that are now relegated to equal status, with women, as feminine subjects of the system. “

    Of course they are changing porn from the inside. They can’t accomplish their goals of feminism from the outside, so they must destroy it from the inside and thus come one step closer to their goal of removing all things male. Remove things males like, you’ll remove the males themselves in eventuality.

  10. I think simply acknowledging women as a demographic in the porn industry is important. Pulling all that bullshit marketing that every other industry does when it says “Women, this is for YOU!” That’s what’s important here. Acknowledging women’s power in the porn industry both as actors and as consumers.

  11. I much to say. But little of the english language to find the right words to convay my feelings. This article was informative, although I know that all things good or bad in anyone’s eye’s are going to happen I mean look a gayright and marrage, I’m not against it in fact I have good friends… better friends than straight arrows; stomp one fire another two spring up. power to the people and their perverisons

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