Post-porn is an art movement that emerged in the mid 1980s. Advocating a sex-positive attitude, it is a movement that celebrates sex as an emancipatory tool. Post-porn is synonymous with pleasure and pain. It calls upon us to reflect on what exactly is sex work, gender, or the whole point of feminism. Paulita Pappel, a post-porn artist and a curator of the Porn Film Festival Berlin talks to Sensa Nostra about post-porn, feminism, her association with sex-positive politics, and much more.
I was raised in a leftist political family. My mother is a second wave feminist. Hence, from early on, I was aware of various political themes and was always confrontational. I think my way of being confrontational was also provocative. I enjoyed getting into fights and discussions. It’s one of the reasons why I was so attracted to porn, because porn is such a controversial issue. In my own upbringing, I always thought porn and prostitution were tools the patriarchy used to oppress women. At a deep and rational level, I enjoyed porn and pornographic imagery—but I felt it was wrong. I had to deal with this inner conflict to figure out where the influence of society ends and where my own desires and longings begin. I am quite a sexually curious person, so getting into porn for me was a way of re-appropriating my sexuality and body on my own terms. For me, it was a double fight: against mainstream rules on society and beauty, and also against my own upbringing as a feminist.
For me, it was a double fight: against mainstream rules on society and beauty, and also against my own upbringing as a feminist.
When I was seventeen, I had no clue whatsoever that porn could be feminist too. I only had access to heterosexual and hetero-normative mainstream porn. According to me, these were denigrating and abusive to women. I had to first conceive within myself that even those images could be created in another way, and they could be feminist too. For me, the liberation of sexuality at a personal level is political. It was a long process, I think, for me to feel good with myself and my body, when it comes to shooting porn.
My way of making discussion about porn upfront is to be controversial, polemic. And also to question people’s standards, norms or preconceptions—including my own. When I was thirteen, I wrote “I am a lesbian” and walked through the schoolyard. I got a lot of insults and shit for it. Interesting enough, I was called a slut for that. I think as soon as a woman gets out of the hetero-normative construct, she gets automatically labeled as a slut. This is funny, if you think about it, because these things have nothing to do with each other. I have always had an urge to challenge people’s morals. So everything that happened to me, outside of the normative frame, like either being a lesbian or slutty, was for me a form of rebellion.
So everything that happened to me, outside of the normative frame, like either being a lesbian or slutty, was for me a form of rebellion.
Sex-positive politics in general is about questioning the norm, and part of me doing porn is also a lot of to do with slut politics. It’s about reclaiming the idea that everyone, especially women, can have a polygamous, promiscuous, or otherwise different way of being sexual, outside the normal concept of a relationship. Usually, I hate the label bisexual. I consider myself a pansexual. I am not a person that masturbates a lot. I am more a person who seeks sexual encounters with whomever I want to. I am always open to whatever bodies, sexualities, and genders I might encounter. I feel attracted to human beings—because once I got out of the box of the binary gender system, I became freer to experience and enjoy other parts of my gender identity.
Post-porn is an art movement that comes from the frame of cultural studies and post-feminism. It was a reaction to the explosion of porn in the 80s and 90s in the US, but also a backlash of Western white feminism that was predominantly against porn. Post-porn can be considered an academic approach, from a feminist point of view, to the phenomenon of porn—in order to create a new, sexually explicit imagery, that questions or goes beyond normative, mainstream porn. Post-porn is emancipatory. I also think it is a matter of self-definition. What gets labeled as post-porn gets labeled from the post-porn makers. There is a conscious decision to create porn that you yourself would label post-porn.
However, in my opinion, the biggest difference between porn and post-porn is the production approach. Mainstream porn is commercial and has to abide by certain market rules. Behind post-porn there is definitely a political intention; the need to show the diversity of bodies and sexualities, to deliver a better, more fair trade and means of production. Post-porn is very erotic and tasteful. It is also artistic and cinematic.
Post-porn happened to me by luck. I had an interest in porn in general, and I first approached it through academics via gender studies courses at university. Then I realized that there was a post-feminist movement that is sex-positive and porn-positive. I was super excited about this, and embarked on a mission to find out how I could get into it. As fate would have it, I got introduced to Swedish pornographic filmmaker Marit Östberg. She was looking for actors for her post-porn project. I was completely sure I wanted to do this, and it turned out to be a great experience. I felt welcome and understood on the set. All of the crew were women, and were determined to create a wonderful project. The shoot was only for a day, but we talked so much about porn. That made feel comfortable to be in a safe enough space to be comfortable getting naked and having sex in front of a camera. I was full of joy.
Everyone who participated in this project was doing so because of their political ideals, and there was no money involved whatsoever.
Everyone who participated in this project was doing so because of their political ideals, and there was no money involved whatsoever. There was an intention to why we did it, and the story dealt with polyamory and jealousy. For us it was emancipatory, a way to give expression to a reality that we are living in. Post-porn can also be inspired by lust. I think lust can be a powerful personal drive, and also a strong motor for social change. One of the reasons why a lot of societies and religions suppress lust is to control people. Hence, it is important to explore the idea of lust, and to see what it brings to you, in order to have pleasure.
Post-porn does not sustain me financially. I have gotten paid for some of the porn work I have done, but mostly only symbolic amounts. Yet, my main motivation for doing post-porn work is to induce thoughts of change. I do a lot of commercial porn and I live from it. I am happy to do it, and I do have a lot of privilege in choosing the porn I do. One little thing that is important for me is my body hair. I guess it is just a personal thing, but I like to keep my body hair, so I tend to work with companies that allow or even encourage body hair. With commercial porn, you are meant to deliver a concrete product for a concrete audience. There are always rules and things that have to happen on camera. In post-porn everything is much freer. It’s about exposing your own sexuality. I think there is a huge difference if you just put two people in a room and tell them to fuck in whatever manner they want to fuck as opposed to having them fuck with guidelines that must be followed.
Porn in general has a great potential for sex education and sexual inspirations. For example, watching porn helps me develop and open up my own sexuality. A variety of porn is important. It can enrich your personal life. You can learn from seeing other people enjoying their sexuality on screen. You can discover sex positions or sexual practices. As a consumer of post-porn, you might find you enjoy things that you did not know were appealing. If you are just browsing Youporn, you are going see a lot of the same stuff, which is great if you like that because then you have endless supply of free porn. But if you do like, or maybe just think you might like, other things, then consuming post-porn will be arousing. You can use it in your own sex life to have more pleasure, or you can watch and simply masturbate.
All in all, post-porn is nothing short of an emancipatory experience.