I am on the train heading back from the Ladybeard launch in London last night and am still buzzing. Can’t wipe the smile off my face.
I had a bit of a nightmare journey heading up to London from the south coast in a 4 hour odyssey but all was quickly forgotten and is was so worth it as the night turned out to be one of the best events I have ever attended.
Ladybeard is a new magazine and their first issue is dedicated to “sexuality”. The launch was a fundraiser to get this fab magazine printed. There was a panel featuring some of the magazine’s first issue interviewees, discussing myths and taboos surrounding sex.
I always find it equally nerve-wrecking and exciting to be on a panel, as you never know what the crowd and their reactions will be like. I did not have to worry as everyone at the sold out, jam-packed venue turned out to be super-supportive and enthusiastic, showing a lot of love to all the panellists. And what a wonderful panel it was – featuring women who all in their own way battle myths and taboos surrounding sex. Hats off to the Ladybeard posse for putting together such a varied panel featuring sex worker Melina Atunes; sex and disability advisor Alex Cowan; Pavan Amara from the mybodyback project which is helping rape victims to reclaim their sexuality, and finally me talking about alternative porn. The panel was chaired by the amazing relationship therapist, activist and writer Dr. Meg John Baker, author of the book “Rewriting The Rules” encouraging a fresh, non hetero-normative approach to sexuality.
Pavan shared with us the insight that sex education in matters of consent still focuses on “how not to get raped” rather than “how not to rape” and clearly placing responsibility on the victim. As a rape survivor she also explained that there is a taboo surrounding the wish of victims to reclaim their sexuality without guild and shame. Pavan now runs orgasm workshops for rape survivors at the Sh Womanstore in London and praised the magic of vibrators, that enable victims of rape to rediscover their sexuality in a positive and pleasurable way.
Melina Atunes, a member of the English Collective of Prostitutes made it clear from the very start that she was happy to be a sex worker. It is a job she has chosen freely and it works for her – end of story. She explained that one myth surrounding prostitution is that all sex workers are victims and there is no real consent or pleasure involved ever in providing sex as a service. Consequently sex with a prostitute is basically defined as rape. She confirmed that in the case of trafficked prostitutes this can of course be the case, but that for many women and men prostitution is a job choice they are happy with as it provides them a good income and often pleasure and satisfaction too. Melina encouraged us to write to our local MPs to make them vote for decriminalising sex work.
Alex Cowan spoke very eloquently and movingly about the prejudices she faces regarding her sexuality as a disabled woman. In hotels, all rooms with disabled access seem to be twin rooms, whereas she really enjoys sharing a double bed with her husband and is really disappointed when twin beds that are screwed into the wall make sexual play difficult, or in some cases impossible. She also spoke about her encounters with the medical profession who seem to have no understanding of her sexual needs, resulting in one case in a surgery that had a negative effect on her sexual enjoyment and had eventually to be reversed. It seems the medical profession is focused on making bodies “better” at any price – as if functionality is more relevant than being able to enjoy sexual pleasures. She encouraged all of us not to judge any person – no matter what their gender, age or disability on how or if they have sex. Keep an open mind and think out of your limited box as to what you consider “normal” sex. Alex also mentioned that the need for sex of males who are disabled is much less of a taboo than for women who have a disability and want to live out their sexual desires. Outsiders was mentioned as a charity helping to provide sexual advice and in some cases sex for disabled people by sex workers.
Dr. Meg John Baker confirmed this inclusive concept of a right to sex for all and encouraged us to be open in imagining and experiencing sex beyond the standard concept of penetration. Sex can be pleasurable in so many different ways beyond the usual positions and techniques.
I spoke about the porn myth where all that matters is his satisfaction, once he has come the scene is usually over. The “money shot” in porn symbolises that the ultimate goal of all sex is meant to be the male orgasm and satisfaction. Women are there to facilitate male satisfaction and female pleasure is secondary. Never mind that she might not have come yet or wants to come again. He has come, so “Cut! End of story!” is the rule in mainstream, commercial porn.
Porn has also a lot of taboos such as male bisexuality, “interracial” sex (a term the industry uses, not I – to me it is two or more people having sex, who cares about their skin colour?!) or safer sex that we hardly see as it is not considered “sexy”. Some of these rules and taboos are self-imposed by the industry assuming what the porn audience wants to consume. Others are imposed through porn censorship which happens in the UK by the BBFC that classifies each film, including hard-core porn and has made various sexual techniques taboo to be shown on film. Examples are: face-sitting and female ejaculation, (this is of course a massive double standard just as we find it in the porn industry favouring male pleasure and cum over the female) or (and this is an odd rule and taboo) the insertion of amputee’s limbs into another person’s orifices. This of course relates directly to sex and disability – amputees have sex too and why should they not want to insert a stump into their partner if they both fancy it?! They might do it in private but as a British pornographer I would not be allowed to show this on film. This is discriminating of course. Why can we show an anus being penetrated by six cocks or dildos but we cannot see a wrist fucking someone? To be able to show and see this could help lifting the veil around sex and disability.
My call to action was inspired by an article I read on the day featuring American pornographer and activist Tristan Taormino and gender-queer performer and activist Jiz Lee (who is also starring in my film (S)he Comes), encouraging people to pay for their porn. I agree. Ethical porn has become a buzz word, and if you enjoy watching “ethical” porn with a transparent production method, you’ve got to pay for it. Only if you pay for it will directors like me be able to afford to produce “fair-trade” porn where the performers get to choose what sex they have. All involved get paid well and there is a relaxed rather than rushed schedule, leaving room for trust and lust to grow organically. Free porn on sites usually lack transparency: there tend to be no consent forms of performers on record, no ID copies that prove the performers were at least 18 and no STD tests. This leaves room for productions working “unethically” – so whether you like mainstream or alternative porn, paying for it is your contribution to facilitating “ethical” porn.
So – support your local pornographers (a great slogan by the fab Spanish porn collective Toytool Committee) if you want to see a change in porn.
Lots of lovely people after the event did just that and bought a bunch of DVDs I’d brought along, which I am grateful for. I am so glad I had booked a last minute room in Hackney via Air BnB, so I could stay to absorb the amazing afterglow of the event.
I have been a part of a lot of panels but have never met such an enthusiastic audience who cheered and clapped throughout the panel and made all of us panelists feel so respected and appreciated. I lost count how many lovely people came up to me after the event to thank me for sharing my viewpoints. As it turned out many of them were on the same political spectrum that matters to me, so we talked not just sex and porn but also animal welfare and green politics. I felt right at home and really loved. Sometimes I can get a bit isolated working alone from home on my computer writing, or editing, so this was just the elixir of elation I needed to pick me up and get me even more excited than I already am about my upcoming shoot in June. More than ever I feel my work is wanted and needed and that feels really good.
I much appreciated being bought a couple of “Slag” beers (delicious and very apt!) by a fellow veggie called Flora and being given a bottle of lovely Champagne by Kitty Drake from the Ladybeard magazine as a thank you for persisting on my odyssey to London be able to be part of the panel.
The evening wrapped up with a brilliant live music performance and fab visual projections and a wicked film by Stroma Cairns featuring drag queens.
Thank you Ladybeard and London for having me. If this inspirational, exciting and creative magazine launch was anything to go by, the Ladybeard magazine will be a huge success. I am honoured and proud to be part of the first ever issue on sexuality.
Let’s talk about sex and share the love!