Sex

The Feminist Porn Website Helping Sexual Assault Survivors Reclaim Their Bodies

How do you get your sex life back when sex has been used as a weapon against you?

by Amelia Abraham
Jun 15 2016, 4:00pm

Illustration by Ella Strickland de Souza

If you watch porn, you've probably experienced it; browsing for something that appeals to you sexually, and instead opening up something way more sinister. For victims of rape or sexual assault, the risk is even greater. If sex has been used as a weapon against you, the last thing you want to see is something that reminds you of that violence and trauma.

The Clit List is a new, online database of feminist porn aimed at helping women reclaim their bodies after sexual assault. "We really felt something like this was needed," says Pavan Amara, whose organization My Body Back is behind the project. Amara was raped as a teenager, and says that, after it happened, she wanted a place to talk about how the experience impacted her sexually. So in 2014, she set up My Body Back, which holds workshops where survivors of sexual assault can discuss "things like masturbation, how to feel in control sexually again, and how to figure out what you like and don't like."

One issue that kept coming up was porn. "These women wanted to be able to explore their sexuality in a safe way," says Amara. "But what ended up happening is that they'd try and do that with porn, and they'd just come across misogynistic, violent, horrible stuff that replicated what had happened to them, or showed rape as though it were normal. I thought, This is obviously a problem we should do something about, so we created a list of porn that women can safely watch—with no violence, that won't make us feel degraded."

The obvious problem with something like the Clit List is that everyone is different. What women find arousing or disturbing will depend on their particular experience of rape, abuse, or assault—as well as their own particular needs and desires. How can the Clit List know what its users will and won't find offensive?

The answer is: It can't. But what it can do is moderate everything it lists and provide trigger warnings in reviews of the videos it posts about. This is where the Clit List manager Ella comes in. She's spent the last few months watching hours of pornography and writing detailed breakdowns of what goes down. In reviews published alongside the links, Ella explains what's in the film, its themes, the phrases used by actors, and the sex acts it contains, so you know what to expect.

Ella was drawn to the project not so she could have a legit reason to watch porn all day, but because she had experience working with women who had been raped, and had noticed there was nothing to help these women reclaim their sex lives, or help them find porn that's not patriarchal or violent. "Porn's not just a man's game anymore," she says. "A lot of women watch porn, so why aren't there more services aimed at them?"

She also had personal reasons for getting involved: "I was in a destructive relationship for a number of years, which ended, thankfully, but as a result of that, I was kind of lost in terms of my body image and being connected to what made me sexually alive, and I was OK with it again." Ella's friend suggest some porn for her, but also photography, literature, art that she might find sexy. "My friend was good enough to vet these things for me, because they knew certain things would trigger me." This is exactly what the Clit List is about—making porn accessible for everyone. "It needs to be cross-sectional," she adds. "It's not just about what I enjoy."

For this reason, the Clit List includes porn that's free, as well as paid for. Ella points out that while porn made by self-professed feminist directors like Erika Lust are an obvious go-to for the list, they often charge a subscription fee. So it will also include stuff you find on sites like PornHub, as well as categories for literature, photography, art, and tutorials and advice the girls have found.

I ask Amara what she'd say to someone who makes the obvious criticism that the Clit List is promoting an industry that might be considered unethical—or inherently anti-feminist. "We will only be including things that have a feminist ethos, not only on the screen, but off the screen too," she says. People are going to explore porn anyway, so it's better they watch stuff that keeps it's performers safe.

For women who have experienced sexual assault, this service could be life changing. One woman, who wants to remain anonymous, tells me: "After I was raped, it felt like my sexual independence had been stolen from me, and I didn't know what I liked anymore. I couldn't get turned on by myself but needed a partner to be turned on visually, so I looked for porn. What I saw threw me back a hundred steps. I started to feel very low after that because it took me back to what happened to me."

"The reason I wanted something like the Clit List so much is because it gives women back their control sexually. I won't need to rely on a boyfriend to sexually be in control of myself—I can be self sufficient and do it for myself using visuals without feeling I am unsafe."

Pavan says that the next stage is to expand the pornography listings to include sex toy information and reviews. "A lot of women find them useful after assault," she explains. "Some woman feel very tense when they're masturbating after being attacked. The vibrations from sex toys can help relax the pelvic floor muscles and help penetration, as can things like lube."

They also hope for the platform to be interactive. "We know that every woman is totally different," says Pavan, "so we're accepting entries from women who want to write a guest blog." Ella agrees that the future of the Clit List is to listen to what women want and provide it. For example: "Our users have told us that they are interested in BDSM, so we're going to look at that in future. We need to make sure women are aware before they step into that, so it's not going to cause damage."

Is she worried about that damage more generally? "Not really. I have the My Body Back team behind me who are experts in this field. They will help to make sure we are empowering women, not causing them harm."