"I've never been one to watch porn." Although that disingenuous claim has been made by countless people I know, I mean it. I've never really enjoyed porn.
For me, the idea of pornography is inextricable from the hordes of men on the other side of the camera—directors, DPs, coffee-carrying interns—telling the female performer where to look, what to say, and when to begin shrieking into that mythical orgasm that it is far from something that might turn me on.
While the history of porn has been predominantly male—which in large part explains my discomfort—the future of it seems to be far more female. Since my experience on a porn set with producer and performer Samantha Mack for a VICE documentary, I've been fascinated by how powerhouse females are taking over and changing the industry, Mack included. The actors talked about getting valuable training. They attended a 90-minute discussion about consent. Mack's set wasn't seedy or intimidating; it was fun and welcoming, so much so that I didn't want to leave.
Now that more women are making moves in the industry and getting recognized for their contributions, I'm starting to ask myself if this will make me and an entire generation of women more comfortable watching porn.
How are these women and femmes in positions of power instigating change and, more importantly, experiencing these contemporary shifts themselves? I sought out four wonderful women creating waves in the industry to find out.
‘You can't just come in and show me your pussy and expect to be rich’
Samantha Mack, porn star and producer and CEO of Mack Models
VICE: Hello Samantha, you work on mainly female-run sets. What's that like?
Samantha Mack: It's fun and easy to be on an all-girl set. We see a lot more caution being taken, consent forms coming out, boxes being checked off, and conversations being had beforehand. Female directors and producers are really pushing this narrative—pushing what consent means before, during, and after a shoot.
Why do you think that is?
A fair chunk of the women in the industry who are now producers and directors were performers. If you've worked in the trenches you know how to make the trenches more accommodating for the next generation.
How important is that empathy in making sure your performers are comfortable?
Very. What makes a huge difference is I've been there; I'm coming from a place where I sympathize with them. That makes people more comfortable, which is something men can't generally do. Teaching and nurturing will get you a far better performance than telling a person they're wrong. I've had my job mansplained to me; I know what that is like.
Oh yes, the number of times I've had directors mansplain how a vagina works…
Eek. What about female-led content? How might that be changing?
It definitely leans towards the more ethical, again because most of us have been there. I stay far away from taboo subjects. I don't want to make porn that's going to make you cheat or assault somebody or fuck someone underage. It's not a storyline I want to put in my audience's heads. There could be repercussions. I want that fantasy to be something that's plausible for you.
Do you think that level of responsibility is lacking on other sets?
I think so. I feel a ton of responsibility on my set. In the middle of shooting I have given up on my vision because the performer isn't comfortable; I want them to have a successful experience. But for a lot of other producers, that's not always the case. It comes down to people who want to make art and people who have more money than sense and who throw themselves into the porn industry for shits and giggles.
You teach both female and male amateurs at your porno bootcamp. How is this helping bring about change?
It's empowering a younger generation. Especially for women—I'm teaching them that you can't just come in and show me your pussy and expect to be rich. This is a business. We're teaching them how to take control, be amazing, be your own boss, and know your brand. If they have this knowledge from the very beginning, we'll continue to lift each other up and elevate a lot faster.
‘If you have to end the scene for any reason we will still pay you’
Ela Darling, performer and producer and CMO of PVR
VICE: What are your sets like?
Ela Darling: We want to create an environment where nothing inappropriate would ever be tolerated. We invite performers to speak on their own behalf, and teach them how to speak up. We make sure to create codes of conduct for set and your rights as a performer and we specifically lay out that if at any point you're uncomfortable or have to end the scene for any reason we will still pay you for a portion of it.
Do you think people might be surprised by what happens on your porn sets?
People still think of a porn set as a place where there are a bunch of men harassing or being seedy towards women, and that can be the case. But there are far more productions now with a female director, a female producer.
How might this female influence affect change?
I've been a performer and I've been on sets where I haven't felt comfortable, so that helps me understand how to craft the right atmosphere on set.
Generally, there's a huge ethical porn movement at the moment. When people find out a company is acting inappropriately they make the choice to stop supporting it. When we bring to the public consciousness our ethics, our requirements on set, and the fact that we get tested, that we have agency, that we are autonomous human beings and we like what we do, this helps people feel more comfortable with what they consume, and helps them understand our industry a little more.
Do you think this means more women are now comfortable watching porn?
Yes, I think so. The thing that makes a woman more attracted to some porn over others is when the female pleasure being displayed is accurate and authentic. If he's, like, rubbing her outer vulva, that's not a thing and that's what takes you out of it. With women calling the shots on set, authenticity is a priority.
How do you make sure to create the most authentic content?
With the work that I'm doing now in Virtual Reality an authentic sense of presence is important; this comes down to setting a high bar for production. We're looking for ways to bring VR to the adult scene in a way that's compelling and engaging. We're aiming to give people reciprocal affection, helping them connect to the performer on an emotional and cerebral level as well as on an erotic one. To do this we're asking our performers to really tap into the most authentic version of themselves, because inauthenticity is fucking tangible.
‘There is nothing sexier than seeing a woman or man turned on for real’
Anna Lee, director and COO of PVR
VICE: How common is it to be a female director in adult film?
Anna Lee: It's on the rise but very rarely are you going to find a woman who is both holding the camera and also directing.
How might this change the vibe on set?
Female-run sets foster an environment where the performer feels safer to go deeper emotionally, which translates into more authentic and realistic sex on camera. I try to create a space that if I were the performer, I would be happy to work in.
So you push towards authenticity in the content you make?
Absolutely. There is nothing sexier than seeing a woman or man turned on "for real." I want the person watching the content I create to be affected—to feel as though they are involved in an experience. At the moment I shoot mainly in VR, and in VR any time we're shooting the viewer is in the room with you, they're an active participant in the piece and you have to address them and include them.
How might female-led content differ from male led productions?
I don't believe in shooting anything that I have personal issue with. I would never shoot anything where you're lying or hiding, or anything that involves incest, even though those stories sell. I only shoot things that I think are ethical.
'Trans performers are not just limited to being someone's fetish'
Venus Lux, performer and CEO of Venus Lux Entertainment
VICE: Tell me a little about how the industry has changed over the last few years.
Venus Lux: When I joined the industry in 2012 I definitely felt a disconnect; I felt like a model who was just being buffed around and it was hard to build my voice and know how to make an impact. There weren't many trans women in positions of power to help make sure that the characters and the scripts were suitable and not offensive. Luckily we're seeing that shift now.
What other major shifts are you seeing?
We have more content now that humanizes the trans performer and helps bring awareness to the trans community rather than fetishizing it. Large powerhouses like Grooby are even shifting their narratives, and terms like "she male" or "tranny" are becoming outdated. I'm happy for the new generation of girls coming in because they're not facing such an uphill battle. They are learning that trans performers can be whatever they want to be, and are not just limited to being someone's fetish.
What do you think has played the biggest role in these changes?
Being able to hear the voices and concerns of us as trans sex workers off and on camera is causing a huge shift. I feel lucky that I have found myself in a position to correct or educate people on how you should address or treat trans folk. Having those conversations with people in power, and being able to say "I'm a performer and this isn't okay" or "these are my concerns," or ask, "What are we doing to be able to help bring more inclusion to the trans market?" is expanding the trans market and bringing more awareness to the trans community.
But this is new. We're only recently learning how to collectively combine our powers and voices so we don't feel like pieces of meat. I understand we're sex workers but we're also human.
What more needs to be done to get to make the industry truly inclusive for trans performers?
People in power are everything.They control the finances and say who gets paid and who doesn't; they say how it gets marketed and control the narrative for the general trans populace of sex workers.
We should have more of a say. We need more trans people and people of colour in power. We need to hold space because there's so much room and we need more people to step up and take it, to stop this ideology that we're just bodies and don't have a voice.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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