Have you ever watched porn online and wondered whether the women are actually enjoying themselves? Whether they are being treated fairly? Whether they are of legal age? Have you ever felt guilty after climaxing to a questionable scene? ‘Yes,’ Yvette, a Dutch feminist pornographer, confides to Sensa Nostra. Here she tells us how and why she became involved with the pornography industry.
I was twenty-two when I decided to make a porn film. I was dissatisfied with the pornography I found online and wanted to make something more real. Perhaps ‘dissatisfied’ is the wrong term—when you’re turned on, your mind is very open and it’s easy to jerk off to just about anything. But I would be left feeling weird afterwards—I didn’t recognise my experience of sex in the scenes I was watching.
I didn’t necessarily want to make a romantic porno but I wanted it to capture a beautiful moment: the real-time orgasms of people genuinely into the sex they’re having. I wanted to edit it to be sensual, delicate and mesmerising. It had to be something similar to my own experience of sex; the bodily pleasure of feeling the skin of his scrotum shrink under my fingertips, or enjoying the nuance of smell between her neck and eyelids; my grip tightening around your neck and demanding that you look me in the eye as you come; having my weight slightly lifted while being slowly and rhythmically but heavily fingered to a squirting orgasm, that leaves me crying in your arms even though I can’t remember your name. The sensual desire for physicality is what I wanted to portray in my film, and what I didn’t see represented in other films.
However, I soon admitted that I didn’t know the first thing about creating and directing a porn film, especially one that reflected my artistic vision. If I was going to make a good one, I would have to start from the very start.
I noticed the Abby Winters ad stuck to the University of Amsterdam’s announcement board (it disappeared soon after, presumably removed). Gosh, I thought, these people have some balls looking for pornographic models at a university. Out of a mixture of intrigue and admiration for the company’s audacity, I answered the call for models.
It was during my two years at art school that I realised I was interested, personally, creatively and perhaps vocationally in pornography. It had dawned on me that if I combined my interests—sexuality, film, and crafting beautiful, sexual scenes into poetry—the result resembled pornography. I was studying writing for performance but spent most of my time writing sexual poetry. I wrote day-in-day-out, but gradually my passion for writing faded. The constant self-critiquing was emotionally draining. I was often sad and sometimes depressed. I felt too naked in that environment, and took some time off to work on myself.
After this break, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Media and Culture, with a minor in philosophy of language at the University of Amsterdam. It proved to be an amazing turn for me. I began to feel more self-assured, discovering that I had learned much more during art school than I had initially thought. With this newfound self-confidence and stability, I took the first step toward realising my dream of creating a pornographic film. Of course, I had done a little research before I called them to arrange a meeting.
Abby Winters, a pornographic Internet pay-site, had just relocated from Australia to Amsterdam. More than a decade earlier, the company had shot its first pornography film in Melbourne. However, the increasingly restrictive anti-porn laws had forced them to take their million-dollar business overseas. Why Australia decided to banish a pioneer of non-exploitive, female-friendly, smart and artistic pornography, I am not entirely sure.
During the interview, they wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into. I believed then, and I still do now, that working in pornography is just as much sex work as prostitution or dancing at a bar could be, and I was comfortable with that (it also didn’t hurt that the whole film crew at Abby Winters were sex-positive, attractive, feminist women). I later discovered that during the interview they were also checking that I fit their aesthetic criteria. They hire healthy, young, girl-next-door type women: no tattoos, no piercings, no makeup or shaved pubes, no augmented breasts and no weird hairstyle. I also fit with their stereotypical model in regards to being an amateur and a university student. Several of the girls were doing PhDs in Gender Studies.
Even though I was comfortable, Abby Winters gave me a lot of training and direction, and also started me off in easy scenes. Abby Winters doesn’t allow their models to start with girl’girl. Instead they want to make sure you are comfortable being on a porn site and then let you decide what other scenes you want to act in. My first job was a nude photoshoot involving me slowly getting undressed whilst packing and unpacking a big bag of clothes. They didn’t even ask me to touch myself.
My first masturbation scene was of the type that Abby Winters calls ‘intimate moments’. In these shoots the videographer sets the camera on a tripod, applies the framing, pushes record and leaves the room. I was asked to do my ‘normal’ masturbating routine (although I was reminded that viewers like to see you naked, so no quickies under the blanket). So there I was, somewhere in Amsterdam, in a house I hadn’t been in before, masturbating with a camera pointed at my face. The beginning was quite all right. I pretended I was performing for someone I knew. But then right before I came, I was flooded with self-consciousness. I remember thinking, what the fuck am I doing? and should I be doing this? I felt my cheeks fill with colour and at that moment I came, and I came pretty hard.
It was a powerful experience. I learned a lot about my own sexuality and my thoughts on my sexuality. This feeling of pleasure excited me enough to try the more complex porn, in which I felt a myriad of emotions; horniness, shame, sadness and, well, you name it … I loved it.
However, after a few shoots I enquired about internships in different areas of the company. As a model, the pay was good but the work was exhausting. Real orgasms need time and Abby Winters shoots their scenes in real time. My first girl’girl shoot was about three hours of sexual labor. Instead of offering me an internship, Abby Winters offered me full time employment as a shooter (camerawoman).
I worked with them for two years. It was an excellent environment to learn how to use a camera, how to light a set, and how to direct models. I developed skills in helping the girls feel safe, have fun, and finish the shoot feeling proud and empowered. One downside was that Abby Winters was very particular about how they want their films to look and feel so I couldn’t fully express my creativity.
In 2012 I left Abby Winters in order to complete my Bachelor and start a Masters in Media Studies. I am now completing a thesis on pornography spectatorship: the relationship between the performer and the spectator. I felt it was right for me to leave Abby Winters, but could never picture myself working in a regular student job. I imagined it would pay a pittance, be hardworking, as well as awfully boring.
On a break from my studies, I visited Berlin for the Porn Film Festival. I met Liesbet Zikkenheimer, co-owner of Dusk! a 24-hour porna pay-TV channel in the Netherlands, several other European countries and soon it will launch in America. Liesbet called me the following week and offered me the role of Program Manager. This position involved selecting and scheduling the films to be aired, and to refine the definition of porna.
Dusk! coined the term ‘porna’, exchanging the male for female Latin suffix, to define the pornography that women really enjoy and like. To refine what this pornography is, and where the boundaries of female pleasure lie, I select films to send out to a review panel of 1,800 women (we target a female audience). We ask them to answer questions: Is this porn for women? Is this something you enjoy watching? Does it turn you on?
I then analyse the collected data. So far I have identified a few qualities that consistently rate highly—real chemistry, attractive people, beautiful sets, and a focus on her pleasure and her satisfaction. I am also trying to introduce different, queerer, representations of sex, but with not too much success. Dutch women seem to like very ‘classical’ pornography. The S&M and the butch lesbian scenes don’t score highly. This might be because of the stigma around such porn. Often people don’t realise that S&M does not necessarily lead to exploitation and harm, and can be a form of loving sex play. For example, Gala Vanting, an Australian pornographer from Sensate Films, has done a lot of smart work on loving dominance. She creates what she has termed “slow porn”—she takes days to shoot—showing people’s love of sex play coinciding with love for their sexual partners. I am presently trying to encourage artistic, sex-positive, queer porn, but need it to be rated better by the test panel before it can be aired.
Last year we organised a party of speeches, exotic dancers and cocktails, to thank the panel for their ongoing support. It was an exciting evening as the five permanent staff, plus a few freelancers, were meeting our viewers for the first time. We were surprised at the cultural, aesthetic and socio-economic diversity of the crowd. There were students, housewives, mothers and daughters, and one woman who brought her slave (who happened to be male, and had to wait outside for several hours).
Sexuality is diverse, to say the least, yet much of it is repressed by society. Even though I have always felt somewhat proud of my sexually-open attitude and sexually active life, I have also felt that perhaps there was something wrong with me. Perhaps I was having too much sex and not caring enough. There are a lot of societal rules which ultimately forbid a free expression and exploration of one’s sexuality. At least, I feel that there are, and have grown to understand that many other women feel similarly. That is my personal frustration with society, and the driving force behind my political, emotional and vocational involvement with pornography.
I’ll quickly elucidate what I believe ‘queer’ is—During the sexual revolution people called for acceptance of different sexualities. The homosexuals seemed to argue that ‘we are gay but we are not different’ which lead to an acceptance of homosexuals that ‘fit in’ with society, and was applied to the gay community not only by heterosexuals but also by gays. However, being queer, for me, is almost a counteract on normative sexuality.
Being queer is when you’re a straight couple with a very feminine man and very masculine woman, and not afraid to show that. being queer is when you are a lipstick lesbian and very political about it. Or a person who brings their boyfriend and their girlfriend to the Christmas table. A prostitute who explains to others that it turns her on to work in a window, to me, is queer. To be queer involves, for me, some active unusualness. In respect to me, being a sex-positive person who is very much into porn, female sexual agency, and experimentation, probably makes me queer too.
I do believe sex is incredibly important, and that it can make you a better, healthier and happier person. I get great satisfaction from working with Dusk! to help encourage women to explore their sexuality and potential queerness, without guilt or shame. In June, when I have completed the Masters program, I will have the knowledge, experience and the time to create the pornography, the sex-positive documentaries, and do the research and critiquing of pornography that I love to do.