All photos: Eva L. Hoppe

I Took Someone Who's Never Watched Porn to a Porn Film Festival

My friend Kira has gone 18 years without ever watching porn.

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Dec 6 2018, 9:30am

All photos: Eva L. Hoppe

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany

The witch's hand grips the leather whip as her breasts pop out of a pentagram-shaped bondage harness. She's looking straight down on us from the large cinema screen above. Suddenly, the camera cuts to the next scene. Now the witch is sitting on a chair, jerking her penis until she comes. In the corner of my eye, I clock my mate hiding her face behind her hands.

Over the next hour-and-a-half, my friend Kira* seems to choke whenever she sees a close-up of a penis or a vagina. Not surprisingly, really as this is the first time the 18-year-old has ever watched other people having sex.

"I've never understood why people find porn erotic," Kira tells me. "For me, eroticism is something intimate. I can't share that with an audience." Kira isn't some sexual prude – she has been living with her boyfriend since she was 16. She's just never been excited by the thought of watching two strangers fuck on camera. Still, I wanted to explore her views on this further, so I invited her to come with me to the queer-feminist porn film festival, and, to my surprise, she said yes – "out of curiosity."

Frau blättert durch Broschüre mit Comics beim Sex
The festival's official programme.

I can still remember the first porno I watched. I was 13 and on a school trip to a castle when a few boys on the back row of our bus started passing around a Nokia. I watched on the tiny colour screen as a man pushed his polished head into a woman's vagina. In another clip, a woman pulled a live eel out from inside her.

A study from the University of Hohenheim and the University of Münster found that 46 percent of teenagers have watched "hard pornographic content". And according to Pornhub, the most popular search terms in Germany are "mothers", "step-mothers" and "teens". Of course Kira isn't strange for not being overly enthusiastic about watching sex on screen. If anything, I'm just surprised she's managed to shut herself off from it completely – that at some point in her youth, she also didn't have a group of schoolboys thrust a phone in her face showing two people fucking. Porn is everywhere – or more specifically, "Horny Moms Fuck Near You" ads are everywhere.

It should be obvious to most viewers that what's portrayed in porn is not reflective of most people's sex lives. Because of this, campaign groups are forever calling for governments to make it harder for young people to access porn sites, afraid they will learn about sex through well-choreographed threesomes.

The Berlin Porn Film Festival was founded in 2006 as a way to combat that. Here, sex is political, the organisers say, with films touching on social issues such as body positivity and gender identity. The festival is an attempt to deal with a film culture where transsexuals are only depicted as a fetish and women are portrayed as nymphomaniacs. And to present a more diverse offering of what a sex film can deliver than you are likely to find on your favourite porn site.

Kinokarten für das Pornfilmfestival in Berlin
Kira wasn't a big fan of having to sit in the front row.

I bought tickets for Kira and I to see the short film series "Fucking against Fascism". After never laying eyes on a second of porn, my mate was now committed to watching six feature-length films in a row on a casual Friday morning.

As we walk into a dark Screening Room 3, the first film is already underway. To make matters worse for Kira, the only two seats free are in the first row – so we creep, half-crouched and feeling rather guilty, into place. Above us on screen is a ponytailed woman with dark eye shadow who we will shortly watch push a dildo into her own ass while lying in a milk bath.

The festival attracts a fairly diverse audience. Here in the Kino Movimento in Berlin's Neuköln district, everyone from heterosexual couples to transgender filmmakers sit in velvet, blood-red folding seats. The porn is treated more as an art form and not something that our fellow filmgoers should respond to by sticking their hands down their pants. After each screening, the audience applauds, as if there's nothing more revolutionary than filming a woman squirt.

Kira doesn't really understand why the films are greeted with such reverence. "I"m not clapping for porn," she whispers to me. There are plenty of people who would agree with Kira's sentiment. "The majority of mainstream porn is made for the male gaze," said Annika Klose of the Young Socialists wing of the SPD, Germany's main centre-left party, in an interview with VICE last year. Klose is calling for state funding of feminist pornography in order to better educate young people in a more modern and gender-appropriate manner. "The body types and acts present in porn create a distorted reality," she said. And events such as the Porn Film Festival attempt to portray an authenticity through diversity, and with a less traditionally scripted performance than you would find in the majority of sex films.

The Young Socialists aren't looking to ban porn, just to find way of improving sex education in schools. If teachers knew the sort of films they could refer students, for example, then porn could be something that society can embrace as an important resource.

Eine Frau beißt in eine Weingummi-Vulva
Kira inspects some of the items on sale at the festival.

But as I'm learning today, simply having a more diverse range of bodies does not automatically mean that the viewers are going to enjoy themselves. Kira slips ever deeper into her velvet seat and groans in disapproval as two non-binary performers shove crumbling marzipan between their lips. As a man puts his hand into a woman's vagina, she raises her eyebrows. And after watching several minutes of three women penetrated with a strap on, Kira hides behind her anorak and stays that way until the show is over.

"That was a huge sensory overload," says Kira as we stand on the pavement after the screening. She appreciated the politics behind the festival. But she realised on her own at a young age that porn was not the norm, and that's why she decided a long time ago to stay clear. "I was afraid that porn would have an impact on my sexuality," she says as we explore some of the festival's exhibits. Still, after today's experience, feminist porn is still not an option for her. "I just think it's weird watching other people having sex," she says. "Even if it's two plus-sized lesbians fucking against fascism."

I'm worried that I've scarred my friend with the hours of explicit scenes and naked bodies. Thankfully it doesn't look like it. Kira fiddles with a pink candy vulva that she bought from the cinema at the end of the film and squeezes a cigarette through the small hole under the clit. Then she puts the cigarette between her grinning lips.

*Kira's name has been changed so that her current and future employers never find out that she spent six hours watching porn on a Friday morning.

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