I have decided to accept that I am on Pornhub.
I’ve spent so much time debating and questioning and arguing about my presence on a pornography platform. Searching for an alternative, hoping for an elegant exit. Facing the fact that explicitness has no other place to live on the internet. Feeling slapped in the face when I load one of my videos and see myself next to ‘Try Not To Cum’ games and ‘Milf Who Want To Fuck’ ads. Wondering if I am being reckless. Enjoying getting new subscribers everyday, yet not changing the setting that sends every email announcing that to the Junk folder. Not knowing how to answer the comments I’m getting there, all positive but definitely of a different nature than the ones on Vimeo. Basically, being completely and utterly ambivalent about the whole thing.
But the truth is, this is what’s real right now. The split is what’s real. There’s no other place for me to have this conversation, and trying to build a safer space equivalent would require resources I do not have. So, if I am to move forward, I need to start with where I am. And right now, I am on Pornhub.
To tell the whole story, I have to talk about an essay I encountered this summer that has radically changed my mind on the question of pornography. “Some Harms to Women of Restrictions on Sexually Related Expression”, by Leonore Tiefer, from her book Sex is Not a Natural Act (Westview Press, 2004). Tiefer is a sexuality expert known for speaking against the medicalization of sexual dysfunction. Her book is a collection of essays challenging the consensus reality of sexuality. Essentially, she posits that sex is a potential and a construct, something more human than just a biological drive. She’s not always easy to read but she certainly takes sex positivity to the next level by removing the mandatory aspects from it. In this particular essay, she makes several amazing points, such as the fact that pornography is best understood not through literal interpretation, that the morality of masturbation is a huge subtext behind the argument against porn, and that repressing sexually explicit material actually robs women of the opportunity to make up their own minds about it. Her perspective resonates so much with me, I’m so grateful to have found someone who dares step out of the classical debate about porn. Having highlighted every second sentence, I wish I could post the entire essay here, but I’m a big believer in copyright, so instead I’m going to encourage anyone interested to go find her book. I will permit myself one quote though, as I feel it speaks to me directly: “Shame and ignorance make cowards of us all, but now is no time for cowardice about women’s sexual practices and imaginings. Censorship harms women because women need sexual empowerment, not sexual protection. Antiporn campaigns say that porn gives men power. But in fact, men already have power. Explicit sexual materials and performances can contribute to women’s sexual power. People who do not like certain types of pornography can avoid them. Or better yet, they can create something completely new.” Like music to my heart…
That being said, I’m not sure I’m ready to call what I do porn per say. I still claim the subtle but fundamental distinction between material that aims to depict arousal versus material that aims to create arousal. This to me is the essential difference between my art and porn, the difference between showing you what I see and showing you what you want to see. Well, come to think of it, it’s not like this dichotomy doesn’t exist in every other art and entertainment form.
Also, and this is an important point, I don’t mean to say that it’s all peachy now, that I don’t think the pornography industry has any issues. I’m still very much aware and afraid of its potential for exploitation. But, looking at the news these days, it should be clear to everyone that you don’t need to be in porn to be subjected to predatory behaviors. The power imbalances that enable abuse need to be addressed everywhere.
My art comes from a place within me that is conscious of the shame my sexuality is entangled with and yet still believes in the transformational beauty of sexual expression. I have had to keep myself safe through many dark nights of fear, yet hope rises in the morning light, asking to be embraced. Sunrise Orgasm is from almost exactly a year ago, the last full orgasm video I made before Vimeo closed my account for the second time. I held on to it because I kept hoping I could release it on a different platform, and because I needed time to remember how to be more courageous than ashamed.
Watching it again now brings up an enormity of feelings. Wondering what the hell I was thinking but being proud of myself. All my beauty and all my flaws exposed as one. Moments of grace next to moments I wish I could cut out. Everything I would do differently but how this experience can never be relived. The way this is both boring and mesmerizing, so private and political. How my entire story is written on my body. How pleasure and awkwardness, confusion and surrender rise and fall like waves. The reality of orgasm, the time that it takes. How slow pace leaves so much room for the uncomfortable. The desire to see and feel myself, the struggle to show up, to exist as myself. All laid bare to judge or to celebrate.
I can’t know for sure that I’m doing the right thing in sharing this. I’m still terrified that my work raises so many questions for which I do not have answers. But there is something about this that’s asking not to be denied. If that makes me a pornographer then fine, so be it. Call it porn or call it art, I don’t care anymore, they are your eyes, you decide what you see.
Sunrise Orgasm, on Pornhub