October 23, 2012
Brighton’s Keen
October 30, 2012

XX-Rated: On Anne G. Sabo’s After Pornified


By Bradley Tuck


 “Porn” is a loaded word that brings up a lot of negative imageries in our pornified culture. “That’s so ‘porn’” has today become an expression to describe excessive or trashy taste. But imagine if the content and connotations, and even the effects of porn were different: positive and empowering rather than negative and degrading. That’s what I’ve discovered to be the potential of re-visioned and transformed porn by women.
Anne G. Sabo, After Pornified, p.6
Kimberly Yuracko once criticised the feminist tradition for failing to explore contemporary feminist values. Her point was that most debates, such as the one concerning pornography, tended to focus either on women’s exploitation or on women’s supposed choice, never questioning what a good choice would be. Women, we may assume, were either doe-eyed victims of exploitation or strong minded women free to sell their souls in the market if they so wished. Whilst, of course, issues of choice and exploitation are hugely important, there has been a tendency in the literature to focus merely on these at the expense of a more positive account of feminist value. Questions concerning what would constitute an ethical, healthy and politically progressive sexuality for women (and men) has tended to take a back seat. One of the best ways, it seems to me, to start exploring these questions is to look at the creative process itself. The practical search for an alternative is a great place to start thinking about the women (or people) we want to be. In light of this Anne G. Sabo’s After Pornified: How Women are Transforming Pornography & Why it Really Matters is a great place to start.
After Pornified takes up the debate as a response to Pamela Paul’s book Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. Paul is heavily critical of pornography and the way it encourages men to prefer fantasy to reality, desensitises, undermines male and female self-esteem, pressures women and gives the impression that they can achieve ecstasy in two minutes without any need for foreplay and also argues that pornography sexualises childhood. Sabo quotes Paul who says that these acts are “more about shame, humiliation, solitude, coldness, and degradation than they are about pleasure, intimacy, and love.” Sabo has no reason to deny this, in fact, at many points she would seem to agree: if we are talking about mainstream porn then it doesn’t tend to help us live healthy flourishing sex lives. Sabo’s point, however, is that feminist porn can help us go beyond this. It can help us create a “new language” and counterweight allowing us to “break free from confining gender roles and erotic conventions, attaining fluidity, democracy, and abundant space and possibilities in the ways we encounter our sexual partners.”




Sabo talks to many female porn directors and performers about what drove them to make porn. Mia Engberg characterises a common experience when she describes the negative attitudes engendered by mainstream porn. When her film Come Together was published on a website it received many comments that “were negative, such as, “Hell, they look ugly. They could’ve at least put on some makeup.” I found the comments interesting. They show that we are still stuck in the old notion that a woman’s sexuality should above all please the eye of the spectator — not herself. I thought that those who reacted negatively to the masturbation scenes in Come Together probably needed to see more films in the same genre. To open their eyes.” In light of this she was driven on to make more.
One of the points that excited me the most was Sabo’s emphasis on how feminist re-visioned porn could play a positive role in sex education and couples therapy. She talks specifically about Candida Royalle’s pedagogical films and discusses sex education with performers in Zentropa’s Puzzy Power films. What is most exciting about this is that we could see a way to work towards porn as a means for self development. It would be wonderful to see a future generation less restricted by body type and able to engage in mutually pleasurable sex and experimentation, not because they avoided watching pornography, but because they watched it. Sabo tells us how feminist pornography can challenge the male-centred perspective and narrative orientated towards the money shot, avoid treating women as passive objects and encourage us to develop a more diverse and playful sexuality.
Her book takes us on a journey through the last few decades exploring a miasma of porn projects from both America and Europe. Starting with American pro-porn Feminist Candida Royalle, Sabo journeys through Lars Von Trier’s Zentopa production company Puzzy Power films, Anna Span’s British comedy porn, Petra Joy’s Artcore films, state funded projects like Dirty Diaries and compilation films such as X-femmes. Sabo provides an accessible introduction to these films describing both their pluses and minuses. Sabo refuses to simply accept that if the films are made by women for women they will be ultimately progressive. She points out that sometimes all that is considered needed is simply that they “gloss up the picture and soften the plot.” Sabo thinks this is not enough and seeks to find women taking porn further. She quotes Erica Lust saying “I will keep doing what I do so that there aren’t any more appalling movies like [Twilight: New Moon] when my daughters grow up, because I certainly don’t want them to grow up with the idea that their goal in life is to find a guy at 17, get married to then have sex and then immediately get pregnant. […] This gender stereotyping is seriously what’s wrong in our society and having to suffer this kind of old-minded product makes me want to make as much feminist porn as I can!”
Murielle Scherre is quoted saying that “Owning 5 dildos is not proof of being sexually liberated. Knowing how and if you want to use them is.” It is the the perfect antidote to our post-feminist, pornified culture where being sexually liberated is constantly equated with excessive consumerism. Hopefully books like this will help foster more experimentation that will help move us beyond not just mainstream porn’s unhealthy ideals, but also the sexification of culture whose imperative is “Buy! Buy! Buy!”