Why you should care

Because porn is political.

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A young woman, quirkily beautiful, lies on her bed. “If you could do anything,” a voice-over says softly, “what would you do?” Cartoonish bubbles float across the screen as the woman imagines a naked man who’s more than happy to do everything she wants.

This isn’t the porn you might be familiar with. It’s more sex-positive and — dare we say it — feminist, filled with adorable drawings, friendly voice-overs and a female lead with no apparent surgical enhancements. Yet by the 30-second mark of Blow My Mind, by Lucie Blush, it’s clear that it’s certainly still porn. “Feminist porn can be bad, good, hard-core, vanilla — it can be anything as long as people are respected,” says Blush. What could be wrong with that?

Depends on whom you ask. Iceland floated the idea of a complete ban on Internet porn, which has since been shelved, though it’s illegal to produce pornography on the island. At the end of 2014, the U.K. rolled out a laundry list of sex acts that would no longer be allowed in porn produced on British shores, including female ejaculation and anyone sitting on anyone else’s face — the latter led to a mass face-sitting protest outside of Parliament. In the summer of 2015, India attempted to ban Internet porn in the wake of a case alleging that hard-core porn incited men to commit sex crimes. Days after the hammer fell, the ban of more than 850 sites was rescinded, excluding child pornography sites, over concerns about freedom of speech.

Ask Blush, 28, what she thinks of all this and she’ll tell you that, “a lot of times I feel we’re a bit like outlaws.” Blush is French but has made her home in Germany, where porn laws weren’t designed for the Internet. Blush says if she had a “.de” extension on her website instead of a “.com,” she’d be legally required to have customers send in a photo of their passport to prove their age before they could log on. Still, the laws in Germany are better than those in the U.K., where Blush knows a woman under investigation for running a website about spanking. “The key is to show women who are not ashamed, who take control,” she says.

Blush’s porn is sexy and positive at the same time. But for some, that doesn’t matter. Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College who’s also a noted feminist anti-porn activist, says that while there might be somebody somewhere producing porn that isn’t exploitative, it’s “not even a hiccup” when violent porn is readily accessible, and free. “We have to think about what is the average guy masturbating to?” says Dines, who consulted on U.K. government policies, rolled out a few years ago, that established an optional system for filtering adult websites through the country’s biggest ISPs. She has also been contacted by the Canadian, Polish and U.S. governments to advise on anti-porn measures.

To Dines, restricting hard-core porn — she doesn’t like the word “banning,” which, she says, is meaningless in an Internet-enabled world — is a public health issue much like domestic violence. More than that, it’s a feminist touchstone— feminists, Dines says, were the ones who turned porn from something you snickered about to something considered a social harm.

If people lock themselves in the attitude that all sex is oppressive and all depictions of sex are sexist and degrading, then women will not get anywhere.

Erika Lust, erotic filmmaker

Erika Lust, an erotic filmmaker based in Barcelona, Spain, says she’s not on board with the production methods and sexism of mainstream porn — but she still likes to see sex on film. “So we make our own,” she says. “If people lock themselves in the attitude that all sex is oppressive and all depictions of sex are sexist and degrading, then women will not get anywhere.”

Sure, feminists aren’t the only people making porn, and they’re not the only ones opposing it. Todd Weiler, a Republican member of the Utah Senate, recently introduced a bill that would classify porn as a public health crisis (move over, Zika!). While Sen. Weiler mentioned the objectification of women as a negative effect of porn, he led off with how pornography “contributes to the hyper-sexualization of teens.” And what Blush and Lust do is, admittedly, a small niche in a massive industry.

For Lust, though, the way to change attitudes is not to shame the porn industry. “Porn is not progressive,” she admits, but neither is the legislation against it, which just pushes porn further into the closet and stifles sex-positive filmmakers whose work might illuminate some of the mysteries of sex and desire.

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