Browsing posts from the category Musings


Jan
30

The past and future of edible sex products

Candypants edible underwear

Edible underwear wasn’t supposed to be a real thing. It was an off-hand joke that blossomed between two Chicago artists (Lee Brady and David Sanderson) in 1972, as they sat around discussing the phrase “eat my shorts.” What if someone’s shorts were literally edible? They cobbled together an interpretation and displayed it in the window of a friend’s shop as a piece of concept art, a conversation-starter.

Then a student at the University of Indiana bought it and wrote about it for a local paper with AP syndication. Put in today’s terms, edible underwear went viral. Then it became real.

In “A Matter of Taste: Inside the Edible Sex Toy Industry,” writer Jaya Saxena tells the story of how several companies pioneered edible sex products starting in the early ’70s. Sanderson and Brady, for instance, worked with an industrial baking company to develop the perfect material that would both hold flavor and behave like clothing. When the product was finally ready for consumption, they named their company Candypants.

They weren’t the only ones focused on making sex more delicious. Around that same time, a group of friends attended a party in which attendees used Wesson cooking oil as a lubricant. It was slippery and effective, but it didn’t taste very good. To improve upon that, they founded a company called Kama Sutra. Their first releases were Oil of Love, massage oils, and “honey dust.” In advertisements, Kama Sutra claimed their products would “startle your sense of touch without offending your sense of taste.”

The next frontier? Condoms. Lifestyles added a “Kiss of Mint” condom to their catalog in 1988, followed closely by flavored condoms by Durex in 1995. But with a product designed specifically for internal use, the downfall of flavored sex products became clear: sugar. Sugars (and ingredients, like glycerin, which behave like sugars) feed yeast, which can lead to yeast infections and other irritation.

It was easy with Candypants: market research proved that 85% of customers never even opened the box. Plus, when products are simply worn — as in the case of candy nipple tassels, love rings, cuffs, and necklaces — there’s no real cause for concern. But truly combining flavor and safety? That, Saxena believes, is the holy grail:

The ideal flavored sexual product is one that can be used safely on (and in) all areas of the body, and that actually tastes good. This is the brass ring the industry has been chasing since 1969, and one that seems increasingly appealing in our artisanal food- driven world. What’s the good of flavored body paint if you have to wash it off before you have sex, but also, what’s the point of flavored body paint if it tastes like artificial banana? The general public has become pickier about good taste. We have aioli on Wendy’s sandwiches and want our ingredients to be organic and naturally sourced. Why would that change when it comes to products we’re licking off each other?

. . . Perhaps, like the sex toy industry, the edibles industry will rebrand itself with high-end products at high-end prices: farm-to-table massage oils, fair-trade fruit leather bras, soylent pasties.

Saxena’s vision isn’t entirely impossible — or implausible. We already have lubricants like Hathor Lube Lickeurs and Blossom Organics, which are sweetened with Stevia and serve as a more body-friendly alternative to flavored condoms. Organic lubes and massage oils are safe to ingest. We stock a body chocolate that is made with ingredients we can pronounce, and a natural honey dust that is made locally. Some of our massage candles produce an edible, flavored oil.

But it’s important to make the distinction between products designed for internal use and those meant only for external application. Massage oil is great for a back rub, but can clog pores if used vaginally or anally. Water-based lube is perfect for penetration, but will likely get sticky if used for body massage. A few products can serve both purposes, but those are rare.

Still, as Saxena’s piece emphasizes, companies like Candypants and Kama Sutra did more than peddle sweets: they brought some much-needed fun into our sex lives. Simply by existing, they inspired couples to try something new, something silly. Even in 2016, four decades after Brady and Sanderson’s oddball idea, parading around in front of your partner wearing pair of edible underwear is sure to put a smile on their face.

  Musings     
Dec
23

Writing a disabled perspective into erotica

[Note: Xan West does not use pronouns and goes by “Xan.”]

Show Yourself to MeLanguage is powerful. It has the ability to enhance and validate someone’s experience, just as it has the ability to invalidate. Erotica writers are especially imbued with this influence, as their work requires them to describe bodies, sexual acts, and lived experiences more intimately than most. Unfortunately, much erotica presumes a default subject: a white, young, able-bodied cisgender person.

Xan West is the author of Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica, a collection of 24 BDSM-focused stories that subvert the traditional narrative and strive for more diverse character representation. Xan is also a disabled top and writes many stories from a top’s point of view. In efforts to portray disabled characters more often, Xan sometimes has to edit previously-written material. That’s the situation addressed in Xan’s blog post, “Writing Erotica as a Disabled Top.”

Toying with a story that had been rolling around in Xan’s head for a while (tentatively titled “Packing”), Xan felt something wasn’t quite coming together. Upon closer examination, it became clear:

I noticed something I had missed entirely. I had once again written a top that was able bodied and invulnerable, and it was embedded in my language, in small word choices everywhere, along with larger frameworks. Because I hadn’t decided that the top was disabled, hadn’t decided what the tops vulnerabilities or struggles or capacities were before I wrote. Had just tried to make those sentences into a beginning without that kind of deciding. And my default was a non-disabled top, an invulnerable top, a top that wasn’t grappling with the kinds of things that are everyday for me in my own life.

So, the editing began. When the new draft was finished, the phrase “I push my boots into the floor” had been removed, and several other references had been changed as follows:

The leather round my hips and thighs focuses my attention on my own skin, the way I walk, stand, sit
The leather round my hips and thighs focuses my attention on my own skin, the way I move, gesture, and feel in my body, pain and all.

When I strap my cock on, I step into my dominance. When I stride back into the room…
When I strap my cock on, I sink into my dominance. Scooting back into the room…

She takes the first step towards letting go, sinking into her submission.
She takes the first move towards letting go, slipping into her submission.

These sentences serve as an important reminder that even small alterations can make stories more accessible. Xan hopes that as time goes on, Xan can learn to write from disabled perspective from the get-go, rather than editing to reflect one. This is a great mission — the world needs more erotica that consciously depicts the beautiful diversity of bodies and identities. That’s why we love collections such as Ageless EroticaCan’t Help the Way That I Feel, Curvy Girls, and now, Show Yourself to Me.

Read the entire post on Xan’s blog here. Xan has written extensively about disability, kink, gender, and erotica-writing philosophies — all of it is worth a read.

  Musings      ,  
Nov
30

Why you shouldn’t buy sex toys on Amazon

Lightning-fast shipping, a staggering selection of products, and extremely competitive prices make Amazon one of the most popular online shopping websites in the world. It isn’t surprising, then, that consumers would consider Amazon an option for sex toy purchases. However, according to a recent article by Vanessa Marin on Lifehacker, buying a sex toy on Amazon is not a sound choice — for reasons that you may and may not expect.

The first reason is the proliferation of counterfeit products. Marin reports that high-end sex toy manufacturers such as LELO, We-Vibe, njoy, and Tenga have all fallen victim to this practice. It’s so common for companies to rip off the Magic Wand that the product’s website includes a section on how to spot fakes. Amazon doesn’t monitor for counterfeit sex toys (or other products, really), so all policing of inventory has to be done by the original companies themselves, which is time-consuming, costly, and often ineffective.

Counterfeit products are also very likely to be shoddy. They may not work, they may malfunction, and it’s likely they’re made of unsafe and even toxic sex toy materials. Marin explains:

Some people don’t mind counterfeits. After all, the worst that can happen with your counterfeited purse is that it wears down faster than the real thing, or your snobby coworker points out that it’s a fake. You only spent a fraction of the retail price, so who cares?

Sex toys, however, are more complicated. The original toys that pirates copy are usually made of high-quality materials like stainless steel, medical grade silicone, and glass. The counterfeits, on the other hand, are made with much cheaper, lower-grade materials that can cause serious harm to your bod . . . You may think you’re being smart by purchasing a body-safe, phthalate-free LELO, only to get a toy that winds up making you sick.

She’s right. Truly body-safe sex toy materials, like glass, medical-grade silicone, and stainless steel, are more expensive, while porous and toxic materials are cheap but contain chemicals such as phthalates that can cause irritation, infection, and even serious harm. Feminist sex toy boutiques like us are fiercely dedicated to stocking only body-safe toys, but Amazon does absolutely no vetting of products for safety, making their sex toy selection risky for any consumer.

A suspiciously-low price is a sure sign that something is amiss. If it looks too good to be true, unfortunately, it probably is.

What happens if you buy a sex toy on Amazon and it breaks? That’s when things really go awry. Sex blogger Dangerous Lilly has written about this issue and encountered it with her readers:

In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had more people report problems ordering from Amazon than any other sex toy problems combined. I’ve had readers tell me, even as far back as 4 years ago, that they bought a “luxury” vibrator and something went wrong after a month or two. They took their problem to the manufacturer because it has a warranty, and they found out it wasn’t the brand they thought they were buying and the company wouldn’t honor a warranty claim.

Warranties are a safety net for consumers buying expensive sex toys, but they are useless if the company in question didn’t actually make the toy — or didn’t consent to it being sold on Amazon.

According to folks Marin interviewed, that’s the thing: even if you find a legit sex toy on Amazon, odds are the manufacturer of that toy would rather you purchase it elsewhere. While indie brick and mortar shops like us adhere to sex toy manufacturers’ MAP (minimum advertised price), third-party sellers on Amazon break the rules and try to lure customers in with low prices. It’s a slap in the face to the people who make the wonderful toys we love so much.

There’s one final reason to eschew Amazon for your sex toy purchases, and it’s a big one: customer service. By visiting a sex-positive shop, you have the opportunity to feel all the toys in person, to ask questions, to gather advice from sales associates with years of experience with sex toys. You won’t be scammed with a fake. You won’t end up with a toxic product. You’ll leave confident in your purchase, with a functional body-safe toy, and the knowledge that nobody was undercut along the way.

Read Vanessa Marin’s whole piece at Lifehacker.

  Musings      ,  
Oct
29

Bringing sex toys to Chileans

Illustration by Ivy Bradley

Illustration by Ivy Bradley

Here in the states, at-home sex toy parties have been around for decades — at least since the 1970s — and feminist sex shops have been in existence just as long. But in conservative Santiago, Chile, these are novel concepts.

Jane Morgan, a young woman from Missouri, is one driving force behind a recent shift in Chilean sexual culture. During her college years at Washington University, she spent a semester abroad studying Spanish in Santiago. After graduating, she settled there in an office job… but her business-oriented mind came up with a side gig: throwing private sex toy parties.

Morgan had noticed that none of her chilena friends owned vibrators. To help them, she ordered an array of sex toys from German manufacturer Fun Factory and invited folks into living rooms to see them in person. These parties, modeled after Tupperware parties popularized in America, quickly became her full-time job — bolstered in part by mentions in the press. One newspaper headline gleefully read, “Call now! Home delivery of erotic toys has arrived in Chile.”

Early on, Morgan realized something that everyone in the sex toy business knows: her job was more than just selling sex toys, it was about sex education. Women felt safe at her parties to talk about their sex lives. They shared details they had never told anyone before. To better help them, Morgan began taking human sexuality classes at Centro de la Sexualidad de Chile.

Then, in 2010, Morgan opened a brick-and-mortar sex shop. She called it Japi Jane. From the start, she refused to call vibrators by their traditional but problematic Spanish name: consoladores (“consolers”). Instead, she opted for a straightforward descriptor: juguetes para grandes (“adult toys”).

Her stores — of which there are now three — stock a range of items, from toys to lube to “artsy, hipster porn.”

“The biggest moment of pride in my life was when I overheard a girl talking on the street, and she said, ‘My boyfriend bought me a Japi Jane.’ Now, it’s not a consolador, it’s a Japi Jane. It’s like Kleenex.”

. . . “Before, people used to come in here really embarrassed, wearing sunglasses, asking for me to throw the box away and put what they bought in a dark plastic bag,” Jane explains. “Now, girls come with their friends, take a picture with their new vibrator and post it on Instagram. People are not scared anymore, and that’s huge.”

Now Morgan spends her time running her sex shops, appearing on radio and TV to normalize and dispel myths about sexuality, and conducting workshops for the curious folks of Chile. Unsurprisingly, the people have a lot of questions about sex — and Morgan is there with her vulva puppet to answer them all.

She credits her easygoing nature for her success. “People get less embarrassed with me,” she says, “because I’m a gringa, I talk funny, and I’m just like a regular person.”

Read the whole story at Narratively.

  Musings     
Oct
28

Amory Jane tries the Womanizer

WomanizerThe Womanizer is a very strange sex toy. With its regrettable name and gaudy design, we weren’t sure what to think of it. It promises a unique functionality — gentle suction directly on the clitoris — but would it deliver? We sent a tester home with one of our staff to get the scoop.

I am pleasantly surprised by the Womanizer. I don’t really understand how it works as well as it does or how I could like it so much. I mean, just look at the thing. It looks like an ear thermometer. It is tacky as all get out. The name is terrible. The case is the Pepto-Bismol pink. The vibration is not strong, the suction is really mild (it reminds me of flowing air more than actual suction), and it sounds like a purring cat.

Yet, somehow, this air flow design works. In fact, the first time I used it, it worked a little too well. I turned it all the way up because when I tried it on my finger I could barely feel it, so I assumed it was going to be really light and need to be cranked up to do anything for me. Ha! That was an incorrect assumption. The Womanizer took me from zero to orgasm in under 45 seconds, and I barely even moved my hands or put in much effort.

Cool, but also… whoa.

In the Womanizer’s promo material, they describe it as having “pulsating pressure waves” and I think that is a pretty good description. It kind of reminds me of cunnilingus, when a partner gently applies suction to the clitoris and does so by very delicately holding the clit between their front teeth/with their lips. I’m talking about a super gentle and rhythmic suction, not a direct clit blowjob type of suction.

It’s quite a nice feeling, though. Unique. I am not sure how well it would work for people who require more intense stimulation, but since it is so different, it’s hard to say. For context: I’m good with most of my vibrators on a medium setting. I am one of those people who needs a layer of fabric between me and my Magic Wand or else it’s too much. I can get off easily with pretty much any toy and most kinds of stimulation from a human, as long as they are in the same neighborhood as my clitoris.

Still, I think this toy could be really nice for some folks. Especially folks who like clit stimulation but don’t like or want a lot of pressure or movement or a rumbling electronic feel. It is easy to hold and doesn’t require a lot of movement, so I wonder if it could work well for some people with limited mobility. The buttons also make sense and are easy to figure out during use, instead of having to bring the toy up to your face and put on reading glasses to see what the hell you’re supposed to be clicking.

I tried the Womanizer in a variety of ways, and I personally found it worked best when I was solo and on my back or standing. It did work during penetration, which I didn’t expect, but it isn’t a cute small thing that can fit easily between partners. It required partners to be on their knees with their back upright or for me to be really upright when on top, in order to have room to hold the toy and keep it in the right place for the most secure seal. Getting that good “seal” seems to be the key, and without it the purring noise gets louder (and that was definitely distracting for one of my partners).

My experience with the Womanizer reminds me of falling in love with an unexpected person. “You don’t have the qualities I usually look for in a partner. I don’t really understand my fond feelings toward you. You don’t look like ‘my type’… but maybe I was being too limiting with ‘my type.’ All I know is that you make me feel good and the things I first thought were going to be unattractive are things that I now think are charming.”

Like that purring noise and giant craft store jewel they call a button.

  Musings, Reviews      ,  
Aug
30

Finally, inclusive children’s sex ed books

Illustration from "Sex is a Funny Word" (Fiona Smyth)

Illustration from “Sex is a Funny Word” (Fiona Smyth)

What do sex ed books for kids look like without assumptions about gender, sexuality, race, size, and ability? They look a lot like Cory Silverberg’s What Makes a Baby and Sex is a Funny Word.

Being inclusive means never showing a whole body naked from head to toe. It means conditional words such as “some,” “most,” “usually,” and “often” — not absolutes. It means giving the clitoris and the penis an equal word count. It means not attaching the words “woman” and “man” (or “mommy” and “daddy”) to specific types of bodies. It means leaving space for discussion. It means illustrations that present a world of color, of joy, and of difference.

It means moving beyond a man with sperm, a woman with eggs, and a bed with intercourse.

In an interview with Kveller, Silverberg explains the ending of What Makes a Baby, which reads, “who was waiting for you to be born?”

That idea grew out of a conversation with a woman who adopted her daughter on her own. We were talking about how long she waited for this baby, this baby she didn’t know but she spent literally years imagining. That act of imagination is an act of love. And it is no less powerful or important than the parent who is pregnant and waiting nine months for their child to be born. Most of the time we give all the credit to parents who get pregnant and deliver their children. I wanted to end the book in a way that honors all parents who love their kids regardless of the role they had in the biological baby making part.

Sex educator Cory Silverberg was the perfect person to write these books. His mom was a feminist and a children’s librarian; his dad was a sex therapist. Growing up, there was no word for how he felt — except “outsider.” Now he identifies as queer. In 1997, he co-founded Come As You Are, a cooperatively-run feminist sex shop in Toronto. In 2007, he co-wrote The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, and since 2005 he has served as the Sexuality Guide for About.com.

What Makes a Baby was inspired by one of Silverberg’s friends, a trans dad who was not biologically related to his children. One day he asked Silverberg, “what is the least bad book you can recommend, or better: have you written yours yet?” The masses also desperately wanted an inclusive children’s sex ed book, as evidenced by the book’s wildly successful crowdfunding campaign. Donations exceeded the project’s initial goal by over $50,000.

Silverberg’s second children’s book, Sex is a Funny Word, was just released. This one is geared toward children ages 8 to 10. In interviews with The Hairpin and Lambda Literary, Silverberg discusses his upbringing, what it’s like to collaborate with illustrator Fiona Smyth, and why he avoids giving definitive advice in his books He also talks about the challenges of writing and illustrating Sex is a Funny Word, particularly in the chapter about masturbation:

We were really struggling with how to illustrate it. I didn’t want a hands-down-the-pants picture. For one thing, masturbation isn’t just about touching your genitals, but I also didn’t want anything explicitly sexual in a book for seven-to-10-year-olds. Fiona came up with the image of each kid having a biodome that represented their bodies and their sensations, with places like Tickle Country and Sore Valley, which brilliantly conveys the point that through exploring your own body you are going to learn all sorts of things about it and how it feels.

A third book is in the works, which will complete the trilogy and offer inclusive sex information to children 10 and up. To follow along, become a fan of the books on Facebook. Plus, check out Cory Silverberg’s recent interview on Tristan Taormino’s Sex Out Loud Radio, in which Taormino calls Sex is a Funny Word “one of the most inclusive books I’ve ever read on any subject for any audience.”

  Musings       
Jul
26

When dildos came out of the closet

sex-aids-for-women

In the 1970s, dildos were a point of contention in the feminist movement. A 1974 issue of Lesbian Tide warned: “anyone admitting to using a dildo today would probably be verbally castigated for enjoying ‘phallic’ pleasure.” Some activists thought dildos were too reminiscent of the patriarchy. Others felt that since dildos specifically didn’t require men, using them could actually be a subversive act.

The debate was more about what the dildo represented than precisely how it looked, but looks mattered too. Hyper-realistic vein-ridden dildos were the order of the day, and they tended to emit a strong chemical scent. It would still be a long time before the harms of plasticizers such as phthalates would come to light, but it was obvious that rubber was not the highest quality of dildo materials.

In her thought-provoking piece for Bitch on the early history of silicone dildos, Hallie Lieberman explores not just the feminist debate about the dildo, but also how dildo innovation in the ’70s came from an unlikely place: a humble man named Gosnell Duncan. After becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a workplace accident, Duncan began attending disability conferences and pondering how to enrich his (and others’) sex lives. Conference attendees were intrigued when he mentioned dildos as an option, and so began his journey into dildo-making.

Duncan had a hunch that he could improve upon the dildos of the time, because he was in talks with a chemist at General Electric to formulate the perfect formulation of silicone. Silicone was far more body-safe than rubber: it had no smell, no taste, and wouldn’t melt when exposed to heat — so it could be sterilized between partners. After 9 months of discussion, they discovered the ideal silicone and Duncan began making molds and manufacturing dildos in his basement.

Of course, manufacturing is only half the battle. Marketing was another hurdle. Duncan quickly found that placing ads in disability publications wasn’t enough to keep his business afloat. He renamed his company, from Paramount Therapeutic Products to Scorpio Products, and called up Dell Williams, founder of Eve’s Garden in NYC — the first ever feminist sex toy store.

But Eve’s Garden didn’t stock dildos. Only vibrators.

eves-garden

“Why did a dildo have to look like a cock at all, I asked Duncan,” Williams wrote in her memoir. “Did it have to have a well-defined, blushed-pink head, and blue veins in bas-relief?” Williams wasn’t sure that her customers would buy dildos, no matter what they looked like. But she was willing to find out. She sent out a customer survey asking her patrons what they would want in a dildo. Williams’s customers said that it wasn’t about size, it was about substance: They wanted “something not necessarily large, but definitely tapered. Not particularly wide but undulated at its midsection. Something pliable and easy to care for. Something in a pretty color.”

. . . When he poured his first vat of liquid silicone rubber into a penis-shaped mold, Duncan did not think of his dildo-making as a political act. He was seeking to solve a problem that he, and thousands of other disabled men and their lovers, faced. But in the 1970s dildos were imbued with politics, so to enter the dildo business was to make a political statement. Duncan could have refused to design nonrepresentational dildos in fanciful colors like blue and purple. But he chose to hear Williams out.

So Gosnell Duncan invented, for perhaps the first time, a dildo that represented what women actually wanted. It was called the Venus. Cast in chocolate brown or pink silicone, it resembled a finger — and it was made of a material that wasn’t toxic to the body.

Around that same time, in 1977, Good Vibrations opened in San Francisco. Founder Joani Blank only stocked 2-3 dildos and didn’t display them outright; they were hidden in a plain cabinet in the back. Customers were only shown the cabinet if they asked whether the shop carried “anything else.”

The dildos were brought out permanently in the early 1980s, when Susie Bright began working at the store. Bright was outspoken about dildos, writing in the inaugural edition of her lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs, “ladies, the discreet, complete, and definitive information on dildos is this: penetration is as heterosexual as kissing!”

In small, feminist sex shops, the conversation around dildos was changing. They were coming out of the closet. And when Bright went to stock the store’s shelves, she knew just who to call: Gosnell Duncan.

Jun
27

Re-learning orgasm

hitachi-magic-wand-she-bop

Headlines are funny sometimes. “A Trans Woman Learns To Masturbate” is the title the piece was given on Eros Media, yet such a statement ignores the unique, languid writing style of author Jetta Rae. It also simplifies the myriad issues Rae explores — beyond just masturbation, beyond just being trans.

Rae begins by addressing the societal assumptions surrounding masturbation. Masturbation is a safe, healthy time for personal exploration and fantasy — in fact, a time that can be transformative — yet the act is often derided and misrepresented in ways small and large. For instance, the word “masturbatory” is used when someone is acting self-absorbed, relying on the (incorrect) belief that masturbation comes easily for everyone.

The disparagement of masturbation as a simple, mindless game you always win trickles down from the office to the bedroom, and not everyone is able to get off from jerking off. Some of us aren’t able to find “spank material” that treats our sexual and gender identities with respect. Others still are struggling with the idea of being sexual–when we prop up, with our language, this notion of masturbating as foolproof, we risk eclipsing people who could heal the most from self-love in anxiety, fear, and resentment at their own bodies for not being able to “keep up” with those of us able to jokebrag about taking the day off from work to lay in bed and touch ourselves.

After years of hormone replacement therapy, Rae’s cock responded differently to stimulation — it took her longer to become erect, and orgasm began slipping further and further out of reach. Despite happy relationships and sexual forays, the lack of genital response was disheartening. She struggled with anxiety over orgasm.

Having an orgasm in front of another person is a special sort of experience, one that takes us out of our masturbatory comfort zones. Rae wanted it to be easier, and, having seen many partners respond to vibrators, set out to re-train her body to do the same. She bought a Hitachi Magic Wand.

God, I remember those first few nights with my new toy. I swore I could literally taste the electricity in the back of my throat as I tearfully buckled in my bed . . . The ceaseless mechanical quivering sent pulses, both overwhelming and liberating, through my body. I could feel it, not just in my tits, but somehow through my tits, like steam escaping from the sewers to the street.

Yet orgasm remained difficult. Rae often found herself at the edge, overly stimulated, unable to come without experiencing discomfort. What happened next was a happy accident: one night, she gave up her usual routine with the wand and instead rested it at the base of her cock, over her prostate.

It was just the shift in stimulation and thinking that her body and brain needed. Without orgasm as the primary goal, without trying to stick to the same old motions, she was able to relax and get off — in a new way.

All her life, Rae writes, “society had instructed people born with bodies like mine that there is a singular ‘right way’ to masturbate.” Society had also placed a premium on orgasm. Letting go of these assumptions, it turns out, was everything she needed.

Read the whole piece at Eros Media.

May
24

Shine Louise Houston’s latest queer venture

snapshot-film

Many in the adult industry are familiar with Shine Louise Houston’s work. She’s the founder of Pink & White Productions, which has been in operation for 10 years. She’s the mastermind behind The Crash Pad, a porn series about a secretive San Francisco apartment where queer folks go to have spectacular sex. Her other films, Superfreak, The Wild Search, and Champion, have all won numerous accolades. Along the way, Houston has always kept focus on what matters to her: representing queer communities and queer communities of color.

Houston’s latest project is SNAPSHOT, a not-so-typical queer love story for which she’s currently seeking crowdfunding. The film will be an erotic suspense thriller with two women of color as its main characters: Charlie meets Danny while pursuing a murderer she accidentally photographed. Houston’s penchant for thoughtful storytelling and moody cinematic style will surely be on display, all with hot, explicit sex woven into the storyline.


SNAPSHOT 
will be Houston’s fifth feature film, and the first that her production company will have complete control over. Independently producing the film will allow for more creative control, more time to edit, and more profit. Aside from these benefits, the importance of queer porn in general cannot be overstated. The crowdfunding campaign explains:

Though we consider Pink & White to be an entertainment company, we regularly receive feedback from viewers who tell us that our films help them to better understand themselves and to appreciate their bodies — especially brown bodies — as being worthy of healthy and happy sexuality. Through intimate portrayals, the films become a mirror for queer people with diverse bodies and desires. It’s rare enough to see stories of gay, lesbian, or trans sexuality that include people of color, let alone ones which casts them center-stage. SNAPSHOT is our story, but is also in a unique position to validate our experiences, and inspire a new generation of filmmakers.

Jiz LeeThe campaign’s goal is $40,000, which will pay for cast and crew, taxes, insurance, and food during production. If they exceed the initial goal by at least $10,000, they will release a behind the scenes video of the filmmaking process, and give all backers access to the early online screening.

Perks include DVDs, postcards, luxurious glass dildos, a Skype session with Shine, a cameo in the movie — or, get your name written somewhere cool: on Houston’s clapperboard, on Jiz Lee’s belly (that’s what we went for!), or in the closing credits of the film.

The campaign ends on July 2nd. If you can’t donate, consider sharing the campaign on social media (tag @ShineLouise, @PinkWhite, and #SNAPSHOTtheFILM).

Apr
30

The academic study of porn

Illustration by AnotherExample.

Taking an analytical eye to porn is not new. When feature-length porn films began playing in movie theaters in the 1970s, some feminist scholars and activists reacted with disdain, arguing that porn was inherently objectifying. Others disagreed, leading journalist and activist Ellen Willis to coin the term “pro-sex feminism” in 1981.

Around this time, film scholar Linda Williams wrote the groundbreaking book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible, and Concordia University film studies professor Thomas Waugh started including porn in his classes on sexuality and cinema. The school endorsed his decision, but colleagues often did not.

It’s been 30 years since then, and, as shown by this excellent piece in University Affairs, interest in the study of porn has not waned. In fact, there’s a new academic journal from Routledge called Porn Studies, created specifically to compile scholarship on the subject. At the helm of the publication is Lynn Comella, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has been teaching about porn since 2001. Only after receiving tenure last July did she dare use the word “porn” in her course title.

What does a class on porn look like? Well, take the aptly-named “Porn Studies,” taught at York University by associate professor of sexuality and gender studies Bobby Noble. It’s held at 8:30 in the morning with the aim of attracting only serious pupils. For the first several weeks of class, students aren’t shown any film clips, photos, or images — instead, they discuss what pornography is and what assumptions are made about it. The first images they see are those of Victorian women from the 1850s.

In later weeks, Noble teaches about more contemporary issues such as queer and feminist porn, and the ways in which modern technology has altered the consumption and perception of the medium. “I was very impressed by their levels of maturity, the levels of sophistication, their poetical analyses,” Noble said about the first time he taught the class. “I could tell that these were questions about sexuality and sexual representation that they wanted to talk about, but haven’t had the space in which to do that.”

Meanwhile, Noble’s colleague at York University Lisa Sloniowski is compiling the Feminist Pornography Archive, which originally existed simply to provide materials for students taking applicable courses. It received a three-year grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in 2010, and Sloniowski is now tackling the difficult questions: what is feminist porn, actually? Will the collection reside in the library itself or in a more private location? How will it operate in the digital age?

Ultimately, the study of pornography is similar to studying any artistic medium. Rebecca Sullivan, who teaches an advanced film seminar on pornography at the University of Calgary, explained:

I want to look at this film the same way we’d look at Hitchcock. What’s going on here? What do we learn? How do we embrace or resist it? Let’s move away from the pro- and anti- argument. It’s divisive and counterproductive. And it’s bad scholarship.

Read the whole piece at University Affairs.

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