Sorry, Downton Abbey x-rated fan fiction aficionados: ABC's less-than-revolutionary feature on "romance porn" and how it "lures more women, with loss of shame" isn't really about a new genre of porn at all. Instead, it's yet another misconceived puff piece full of assertions about how all women share the same sexual fantasies and were never interested in porn at all until Fifty Shades of Grey made them see the light/paddle. That's just not true.
ABC centers its "expose" around Nica Noelle, a bisexual stripper-turned-filmmaker who writes porn that explores some taboos and includes the LGBTQ community but is also compared to PBS's "Masterpiece Theatre" because there are "softer, wider shots of lovemaking" and realistic storylines and emotion. Fans say Noelle captures "the essence of real sex."
"I was hooked from the first instant," one said. "What makes her different is she definitely thinks about what she is filming in advance, she takes the time to write a script that is believable, sexy, kinky and even romantic at times."
It's awesome that some women are into Noelle's porn. But blanket statements about what women currently and historically jill off to are getting really old. Calling Noelle's work porn that "lures women with loss of shame" implies that women can only shamelessly enjoy porn that's "romantic" and that all women were too afraid or turned off by other forms of erotica until now. It also insinuates that men are only into more hardcore porn and couldn't possibly enjoy emotional erotica. Filmmakers like Noelle should definitely be profiled and it's worth noting that there are different types of pornography out there, options that are easier to privately explore thanks to the internet and appeal more to some segments of the population. But why does it always have to be framed as "ladies be watching the porn"?
Because it's not like this ABC piece stands alone. Just two weeks ago, CNBC published an almost identical piece called "Porn's New Market: Women." An excerpt:
Porn, historically, has been an industry that caters to the male audience. Women weren't interested in the product – or so the theory went.
But 2012 saw books like "50 Shades of Grey" and films like "Magic Mike" strike a chord with women. And the porn industry was ready to welcome those readers and viewers to the next level.
Again, the gist is that all women collectively experienced a sexual awakening thanks to Fifty Shades's Anastasia's annoying squeals and Channing Tatum's neck, and the focus is on production companies that build "women-friendly" films that are more about "making love than f***ing."
"Because so much porn focuses on extreme fantasies, it has been off-putting to many women – some might argue rightfully so," CNBC reports. "Overly buxom sex pots do things many women would never consider."
Woah there, moral police! There are legitimate reasons to criticize mainstream porn's portrayal of women, but "overly buxom sex pots" doing things "many women" (who? Anastasia?) apparently wouldn't do isn't one of them. Lots of women legitimately connect with and are aroused by "softer" pornography, but perhaps one reason we don't hear as much about the women who enjoy the extreme fantasies that CNBC believes "many women would never consider" is because, even in this post-Fifty Shades world, we're still uncomfortable saying so.
After the CNBC piece came out, Amanda Hess interviewed Jacky St. James, a writer at one of those production companies, and asked her about the biggest misconceptions about so-called "porn for women." This is what she said:
Women weren't sexualized by 50 Shades of Grey. They've been watching porn and reading erotica for centuries. It's shocking to me that there's suddenly a consciousness that women are sexual. We've always been that way. 50 Shades has allowed us to make it more of a talking point. And that's the only positive thing I can take away from that fucking book, because I thought it was horrible.
Amen! It's disappointing (albeit predictable) that ABC and CNBC didn't think to ask the people who actually write for the production companies they profiled about longstanding gender stereotypes in porn. It's safer to reinforce stale theories about what all women want and have always wanted. But this isn't even a chicken-and-the-egg-worthy quandary. Women's sexuality came first, not Fifty Shades of Grey or "romance porn" or any other erotic iteration.
Image by Jim Cooke