June 4, 2010

Book Review: Good Porn: A Woman’s Guide by Erika Lust

Although I spend most of my free time writing and reading erotica, there was a time in my life when I was in fact offended by pornography and other types of erotic art. It was filthy, it was exploitative, and it did not have a place in my life or work. As I opened my mind and began to see the value of erotic art, I still resisted accepting pornographic films, because I felt there was no way I could be a feminist and watch porn movies. Had Erika Lust’s Good Porn been around as I had been developing my artistic outlook and feminist consciousness, it might not have taken me quite so long to come around.

Although only 238 pages long, Good Porn manages to be a comprehensive book. We get not just a feminist discussion of the porn industry as it stands, but also a history of pornography, and an extensive list of films that go beyond the limited views of the world presented in mainstream porn. The reader learns about GLBTQ issues, hentai, BDSM, sexual education, alt-porn, and art films. Good Porn is a truly well-rounded account of erotic film and the ways in which women (and men) can explore their erotic interests in a way that is empowering and fulfilling. In addition, Lust’s writing style will appeal to both the academic and the more general reader.

I have very few criticisms about Good Porn. The biggest problem I have is that while Lust is genuinely interested in having more diversity in pornography, she consistently uses the word “fat” in a pejorative sense. For example, when listing the problems with traditional porn made by men, one of the items is: “Beautiful young women just love to have sex with fat, ugly, middle-aged men” (21). While I agree that the double-standard applied to appearance in traditional porn is a problem, I also believe that fat people are just as beautiful as thin people, and that the word “fat” should never be used to denigrate someone’s appearance. If we want porn to be more inclusive, diverse, and realistic, we need to respect all sizes.

The other complaint I have is with Lust’s negative use of the word “whore.” She notes that in traditional porn, “Women enjoy dressing up as whores or little girls” (23). Elsewhere, when speaking of the motif of the pizza delivery guy in traditional porn, she says “the girl is foolish, she’s a whore, she’s easy, and the guy is happy trading sex for money” (40). While I loathe situations in which prostitutes are exploited by pimps, or forced to enter sex work against their will or own wishes, I also realize that there are women who become whores voluntarily and enjoy their work. As I read Good Porn, I didn’t get the sense that Lust was using the word “whore” to criticize exploitative, male-dominated strains of prostitution, but rather pass judgment on whores themselves. While I agree with Lust that acting in pornography and working as a prostitute are two different kinds of sex work, they are both still sex work, and I felt frustrated seeing a porn director criticize whores rather than attacking oppressive systems that render prostitution unsafe.

Good Porn is perfect for any woman who is interested in pornography but struggling to reconcile it with her feminist beliefs. Lust show the many ways in which porn can be feminist, and highlights the directors, writers, and actors working to make empowering films. But Good Porn is not for women only; men have the potential to learn a lot from this book, especially those who have previously only been experience to more traditional pornography. The porn world is changing rapidly, and Lust’s book lights the way.

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