Health

Feminist Porn Director Reveals Why We Shouldn't Compare 'Feminist Porn' With 'Mainstream Porn'

July 29th 2016

By:
Aimee Kuvadia

The Republican Party recently declared Internet pornography to be a "public health crisis" as part of its official platform for the upcoming election. But porn sites will remain a fixture of our culture no matter what title the GOP assigns to it. In 2013, porn sites flaunted more monthly visitors than Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter combined.

However, not all porn is made equal. The highly publicized sexual assault of an unconscious female student by Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner left many questioning whether the ubiquity of porn, namely porn depicting aggressive sex or rape scenes, inspires similar real-life situations that perpetuate rape culture.

Pornography gets a bad rep, but few are aware that a type of pornography exists with the sole purpose of empowering both its actors and viewers. Some call it "feminist porn," others call it "ethical porn." At any rate, it's the emphasis on respect and consent that sets it apart.

ATTN: caught up with award-winning director Shine Louise Houston — who has been creating queer erotica through her company Pink & White Productions for nearly a decade — to talk about her directorial process and vision for porn.

"I work to create an alternate vision of what's sexy, one that is more reflective of the queer communities and communities of color that I identify with," she writes on her IndieGoGo page, where she's raising funds for her first independently produced feature film.

Shine Louise Houston

AK: What sparked your interest in directing porn?

SLH: I was working at Good Vibes at the time, a sex shop owned by women that is now a corporate-owned sex shop, but it still holds a lot of fame and value. Mostly, I saw that there was a need for clear lesbian porn. At the time, I had already finished my film degree, so I decided to take a stab at it. But what was different was that I didn’t just want to make one movie — I wanted to make a company.

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AK: The porn you direct is different. Some say it's "ethical," others categorize it as "feminist." How do you see it, and how does it differ from so-called mainstream porn?

SLH: The differences are more behind the scenes than say, in front of the camera. There aren't any particular acts that the talent does that make things different. For example, we don’t have exact criteria for a look, which some companies do. I think any look that comes out in our models is self-selection. Some places say, “You can’t have tattoos,” and we’re not like, “You must have tattoos!” It’s nothing like that. A lot of the time — well, I guess in the mainstream, too — actors can choose who they want to work with, but when we get on set, we don’t direct the sex, and we don’t direct the acts.

AK: Are the acts "directed," so to speak, in mainstream porn?

SLH: Oh, yeah. You'll get, "Do this for a little while. Do that for a little while. Remember to keep up a dialogue and talk."

AK: So would you say the porn you direct is more natural and representative of "normal" sex?

SLH: Yeah, I mean it’s natural, but it’s still a performance — yet I’m not directing the performance. The models, the talent themselves, can choose how they would like to perform that day. The only thing I’m directing is the cameras, and I have a system of shooting where we don’t necessarily need to interfere with whatever it is that [the talent chooses] to do.

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AK: And what exactly makes porn ethical?

SLH: That is an interesting discussion because it sets up an us-them situation like, mainstream is not ethical and anything that is not mainstream is, which I think is totally bogus. I think in any industry you have people who are thoughtful and are considerate of the people that they work with, and there are people who are less considerate. I think in the mainstream, there are a lot of people who work very well, and they treat their models well, they treat the talent well, they treat the crew well. Then there are some people who try to get a little bit more out of things than was originally agreed upon. And this is not split down the middle: mainstream, not mainstream. I would say that stuff happens in queer porn, it happens in gay porn, it happens in other alt-porn situations.

I think ethical just means that you’re considering the other person. If you’re a director and if you’re a business person, when you’re considering how your actions or other people’s actions are affecting each other, then you’re acting in an ethical manner.

AK: Clearly, you're not a fan of drawing a distinction between "mainstream" and "ethical" porn, but non-industry people definitely do. Does this bother you?

SLH: A little bit. Mainstream is like a scapegoat for everything we hate about sexuality. Any time we see a documentary about porn, it’s never about the real root of the industry. Most of us, we're really operating as a business and working within the law, but you never see those companies. You always see these [exposés] on outliers that are doing really messed up stuff to people, aren’t ethical, and take advantage of others. But I can’t say that the industry itself is evil, horrible, unethical, and everything that’s happening in it is nonconsensual. That would be an absolute lie, and it’s really upsetting ... it’s frustrating to make mainstream this one monolithic scene, because it’s not.

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AK: You're a director who's famous for including talent from a wide variety of backgrounds in your films. Can you speak a little about why diversity is important to you?

SLH: Well, it comes down to when I first started the business, and I just wanted to see more people that looked like myself. It's been part of the goal of the company to cast people of different body types, gender expressions, skin color, all of that, mostly because in a lot of the porn categories, there's a certain beauty standard: small and white and usually brunette. And I was just like, 'That’s not cool.' Basically, we’re just an equal opportunity employer. I want everybody, and it's been part of the mission from the beginning: to make sure everybody is represented.

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AK: You have an informed consent policy on your sets. Can you talk a little bit about what this policy entails and why it's important?

SLH: I think it’s interesting because you tend to think consent is only between the models, but for me, I believe the consent is also between the models and the crew. In general, we also encourage the talent to talk to each other, and by the time I talk to them, mostly what I want to make sure is that they have talked to each other and that they have a general sense of what they want to do together. It’s also a sober set. If people want to smoke after, great, but you have to come to my set with a clear head.

informed consent

AK: Why do you think society often demonizes porn, even though many of its members consume it?

SLH: It’s a totally easy target with how our culture is so sex-secretive. Thousands of people hook up with sex workers. We do not value women who have a sexuality. We do not value sex in this culture. We’re not OK with sex in this culture. It’s a really, really easy target, especially when women get involved in sex willingly — that freaks people the f*ck out. And in a lot of ways people think of pornography as prostitution, and we all know what the country thinks of prostitution with the way we treat prostitutes — taking away their kids, putting them in jail. We do not value women, and we do not value women’s sexuality, so porn often represents everything that freaks us out about sex.

AK: So if you don't necessarily consider your porn "feminist," as some of your fans do, what do you consider it?

SLH: Something incredibly loose and generic. It’s just adult film. That’s it!

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.