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R.I.P. Candida Royalle: Feminist Porn & Sex-Positivity

click to enlarge Candida Royalle
  • Candida Royalle

Candida Royalle (Oct. 15, 1950 – Sept. 7, 2015) passed away this past week at the age of 64 after succumbing to ovarian cancer. Royalle is best known as an adult film actress, producer, and certified sexuality educator. She began her career as an adult film actress in 1975 to "support her art habit," and starred in around 25 feature length porn films. While never being mistreated on the set, herself, she nevertheless felt conflicted between her involvement in an industry that predominantly created porn centered on male-desire and was frequently misogynist while at the same time loving porn as a medium to depict erotic and sexual performances for the enjoyment of others. Basically, while agreeing with some specific anti-porn feminist critiques, her issue was with the lack of women's voice in the medium. As a result, she created her own production company in 1984, Femme Productions, with the mission to create erotic films centered on female desire, as well as educational porn for couples. Her films were at times artsy, featured diverse body types, and depicted sex as an erotic process, rather then a pounding race to the male cum shot.

While the films she produced are still arguably narrow and mainstream in their hetero-normative ethos, she was nevertheless a foundational contributor to the now burgeoning catalog of feminist porn, and she was an early voice in the sex-positive feminist movement that experienced anti-porn feminism as just another attempt at regulating and controlling women's sexuality.

According to the Feminist Porn Awards, adult films that are qualified to be considered as feminist porn includes all of these elements:

" Actors are treated with respect, paid fairly, given choice and ethical working conditions, empowered in their work; Directors collaborate with and incorporate the actor's own sexual desires and fantasies (make for better scenes too!); It expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges stereotypes especially of women and marginalized communities; Realistic pleasure is depicted."

It is interesting to note that the traits that qualify these films as feminist, serve to benefit all those involved, regardless of gender. In furtherance of this point, the site goes on to explain that this criteria applies to the process of filmmaking, but the content itself is created by and for any gender or sexual orientation. Basically, the emphasis on a safe, respectful, enjoyable, inclusive, and consensual dynamic between the individuals involved is the defining feature of feminist porn, rather than regulating the specific sex acts of the content itself. And it is this emphasis that sums up the meaning of sex-positivity.

"Sex-Positive" is a concept that can possibly be traced back over a century to the Austrian psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich. Reich distinguished sex-positive societies with sex-negative societies by the former's view of sexuality as inherently harmless and healthy, and the latter's view of sexuality as a threatening force that needs to be controlled and regulated via shaming, religion, or laws. Reich not only viewed sexuality as inherently good, but also assigned a sort of positive morality to it. He believed that orgasms were crucial for psychic health and ability to love.

The problem with assigning an inherent positive morality to sexuality is that that can have the equal but opposite affect of regulating sexuality in a different direction. In this paradigm, those who decline to engage in various sexual activities run the risk of being accused of being sexually repressed. After all, why would you not engage in something that is good and healthy for you? It is for this reason, that sex-positivity has come to mean something different. Calling somebody who chooses not to have sex or to engage in various sexual activities a "prude" is absolutely not a sex-positive attitude. It is a form of coercion. Coercion negates consent. It is just as much of a sex-negative attitude as calling somebody a "slut" for having "too much" or the "wrong kind" of sex. Think of sex as a delicious and crispy apple. It's potentially nourishing and flavorful. But sometimes you are simply not in the mood. Or maybe you can't stand apples. Or maybe you don't want to share your apple. You get the point.

Ally Booker is a pleasure activist. You can often find her at her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St.. You can reach her at 777-9434 or AllyBooker@Jellywink.com.

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