Femintimacy: Fanfiction and the Need for Feminist Porn

 

CW: This piece discusses sexual violence.

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“What turns me on is Ginny Weasley in the Restricted Section with her skirt hiked up, Sirius Black in a secret passageway solemnly swearing he is up to no good, and Draco Malfoy in the Room of Requirement Slytherin into my Chamber of Secrets. I am an unapologetic consumer of all things Potterotica,” proclaims Brenna Twohy in her spoken word poem titled “Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them.”


Twohy goes on to criticize the violence and misogyny of the porn industry, challenging the idea that fanfiction erotica is unrealistic when websites like Pornhub feature videos of lesbians begging to have sex with men. She compares society to a slaughterhouse where its most vulnerable members face sexual victimization and subjugation. And she defies standards by proudly proclaiming her sexual preferences before an audience full of people.


I, too, was an unapologetic consumer of all things Potterotica.


In middle school and early high school, porn was terrifying. If I’m honest, a lot of it is still terrifying. I didn’t want to visit websites with homepages displaying videos of women being choked, slapped, tied up, and violently penetrated. “Schoolgirls,” “just turned eighteen,” “innocent virgin,” video descriptions advertised. Why did men want to hurt me? Is my pain sexy? I wondered.


So instead, I turned to fanfiction.com/harrypotter/nc17. (NC-17 refers to the rating a work of fanfiction receives when it contains sexual content, similar to an R-rating for a movie)


And there, I found an outlet. Exciting, stirring, a little bit intimidating, I couldn’t explain the feeling at first. Is this what it feels like to be turned on? I asked my young teenage self. All I knew was that I didn’t want to stop reading, that I liked the warm, tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach that these stories generated.

“The sexiest part is knowing they are part of a bigger story.” -Brenna Twohy


Fanfictions are based on characters from popular books, movies, TV shows, and other media, even real-life celebrities. The author invents scenarios and storylines using these characters. Some were love stories, and some just involved sex between two characters.


The fanfictions I gravitated toward featured characters I had fallen in love with from the books I grew up reading. I remember a particular Lily/James Harry Potter fan fiction (“The Life and Times”) that captivated me for all 36 chapters.


When I read about Hermione and Ron having sex, I felt like I knew them as people. They existed beyond that specific moment. They were connected to each other. That kind of intimacy between characters was important to me.


Even with unlikely pairings that never occurred in the Harry Potter books (ex: the abundance of Hermione/Draco and Sirius/Remus fanfictions I discovered), it felt like exploring possibilities of what could have been, all the exciting what ifs, all the pairings the author never got the chance to write.


Of course, fanfiction can be idealized, as it represents radical acceptance and normalization of all sexualities and interests, but what’s wrong with a little idealism if it encourages people to be proud and accepting of their sexual preferences?


Fanfiction is often much more explicitly erotic than traditionally published romance novels, and the Internet has really democratized the genre and made it accessible to all. Comment forums allow readers the opportunity to interact and discuss the stories.


Fanfiction isn’t always sexual, but it can be an entryway into sexual exploration, for many young women curious about sex but otherwise unable to find an outlet. Through fanfiction, young women can learn about sex in their own time and seek out what interests them, without actually engaging in a real sexual activity.


In most mainstream film and television, women have been portrayed through the male gaze, with sex scenes focusing on the female form, on male fantasies. But fanfiction is largely told from the female perspective, centered around female desire. In fanfiction, authors can shape characters’ interactions and desires and focus on foreplay in a way that was very refreshing for me to read.


Some of it was bizarre, and some of it was awesome. But all of it was consistently, almost predictably (and safely) nowhere near as masochistic and disturbing as what I’d seen in traditional porn.

“Don’t you give me raw meat and tell me it is nourishment. I know a slaughterhouse when I see one. It looks like 24/7 live-streaming reminding me that men are going to fuck me whether I like it or not, that there is one use for my mouth and it is not speaking.” -Brenna Twohy


Around 40 million people in the United States regularly visit porn websites.


In Michael Kimmel’s 2008 book Guyland, he reports that younger men “tend to like the extreme stuff, the double penetrations, and humiliating scenes. They watch it together with guys and they make fun of the women in the scene.” On the other hand, older men watch porn with “wistfulness” about their younger selves, preferring material “where the women look like they are filled with desire and experience pleasure.”


Porn usually has a weak plotline, if any. A plumber comes to the door to fix a broken pipe, and the housewife offers to pay him with sex. The neighbor boy comes over looking for his friend but ends up having sex with his friend’s mom. A high school girl in a short, plaid skirt stays behind after class and ends up trying to “negotiate” for a higher grade.


Flimsy and unrealistic at best. But violent and misogynistic at worst.


Mainstream porn often reinforces harmful messages and power dynamics between men and women. Young boys who grow up watching porn may learn unrealistic expectations and aggressive behaviors.


Porn has capitalized on and exploited the most twisted desires of our society, sexualizing virginity and showcasing racist depictions of people of color. Porn is demonstrably not marketed toward or meant for young girls and women, and it often depicts us experiencing violence that’s meant to turn men on.

“The first time a man that I loved held me by the wrists and called me a whore, I did not think ‘run.’ I thought, ‘This is just like the movies.’” -Brenna Twohy


I remember bruises on my thighs, hands around my throat. I remember hair-pulling, pushed against a wall. I am surprised at how much aggression can turn some men on. And I’m surprised at how I’ve come to expect it, so much so that when someone is gentle with my body, I’m almost surprised, expecting them to handle me roughly, to take pieces of me and crush them.


Rough sex and other forms of sex that involve aggression or pain can be a lot of fun if that’s your preference. But the essential aspect of that kind of sex is that it has to be agreed upon by both partners. Both partners have to feel safe in the relationship, safe in setting boundaries. It’s unacceptable for someone to initiate aggression during sex without prior consent.


When a man wraps his hands around your throat unexpectedly, it can become an unsettling reminder of the power he holds over you, the power to injure and harm you both physically and emotionally.


It’s no wonder that I, as a young girl, preferred mushy descriptions of fantasy, romantic love, aspirational relationships I might one day have.


Fanfiction.com, Archive of Our Own, Wattpad, and similar sites offered a window into the world of sexuality. Large porn companies weren’t stepping up to fill the void in the industry, so members of popular fandoms did it for them. It seemed as though fanfiction was created mostly by people my own age, for my own demographic. It included beloved characters, and it felt like coming home, like the characters I’d grown up with were somehow teaching me about sex.


Historically, many men have assumed women aren’t interested in porn because they supposedly have lower sex-drives or are less visually oriented. However, this claim is demonstrably false, as 2017’s top trending search term on Pornhub was “porn for women.” Women make up around a quarter of porn viewers worldwide, a number only increasing as porn becomes more readily available through increased internet access.


xHamster, a competitor of Pornhub, recently launched the Porn for Women Development Fund, a grant program that plans to award $500-$10,000 stipends to female pornographers of all backgrounds and experience levels. Such grants are intended to encourage women to become pornographers and support women already working in the porn industry.


“Porn for women” is an unclear term. On the most basic level, it’s likely a reaction to the porn that comes across as so incredibly male-centric plastered across homepages of porn sites. But it’s hard to determine what “porn for women” actually means. Is it softer, more well-thought-out in terms of plotline, featuring abundant female pleasure? Or is any porn made by women, that turns women on, considered porn for women? Even if it seems to play into mainstream conceptions of porn as violent or plotless?


It’s important not to tell women what their fantasies should be. It’s essential to give women the option to figure that out for themselves. And it’s impossible to figure out what personally turns you on if the only porn content out there is made by white, cisgender, middle-aged men.


That simply doesn’t capture the full range of human sexuality and therefore can’t be expected to turn everyone on. And women who can’t find porn that works for them may feel alienated or abnormal, as though they’re distant from the world of sex because what’s “supposed” to turn them on simply doesn’t. At least that’s definitely how I felt.


We need more female pornographers. We need to make the porn industry less exclusive and easier to break into, as opposed to the current system in which who you know is more important than who you are. And we need to destigmatize working in porn, especially when that stigma falls disproportionately upon women. While xHamster’s initiative is an important step in the right direction, it won’t instigate long-term change unless we can make porn a stable, tenable career for women, rather than just opening the door to a short-term gig.


The Future of Feminist Porn


I recently watched a Netflix documentary series called Hot Girls Wanted. One episode featured feminist pornographer Erika Lust. Lust’s current endeavor is called XConfessions, a series of short pornographic films based on anonymous, crowd-sourced confessions that viewers can leave on the project’s website.


These films are often aimed more at female desires and pleasure, vastly different than male-centric mainstream porn. Lust believes that porn can be educational and can teach women about sexuality and sexual freedom, and she considers porn to be “the most important discourse on gender and sexuality.”


Personally, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more open to porn. Everyone is turned on by different things, and by all means, we should all try to figure out what works for us as individuals. But I’ve learned that my porn features women pleasuring themselves, usually without men involved. My porn involves women organically enjoying themselves, not exaggerating moans to convince men of their own sexual prowess. And for me, porn doesn’t include violence.


“I will not practice bloody hands. I will not make-believe dissected women. My sex cannot be packaged, my sex is magic. It is part of a bigger story. I am whole, I exist, when you are not fucking me, and I will not be cut into pieces anymore.”