Sexual young woman ready for kiss


March 15, 2024   5 mins

“We are looking for six performers to join our Company of Dykes for moving installation REIN.” When the algorithm served me this ad, my interest was piqued. Over the decades, many attempts have been made to produce “ethical pornography” just for women — and this seemed to be another one. The director, “queer artist” Leonie Rae Gasson, is recruiting three performers for a “magical, erotic journey through a distinctly Scottish landscape”, which will involve “fisting, squirting, wet work, and mess”. But worry not about exploitation on set. Gasson states that: “Our intimacy coordinators will support you to more clearly identify your detailed needs and boundaries with the sexual aspect of the work.”

This is a company that has been awarded government funding. On Monday, it was reported that Scotland’s national arts quango is reviewing REIN’s £85,000 award, “because its hardcore content is more explicit than initially indicated”. The publicity suggests that three performers will be doing an explicit sex scene — actual, non-simulated sex. Which perhaps explains why the company is seeking applicants with “experience of porn and sex work”.

These applicants must be “Dyke identifying performers”, but the list of sub-genres is long. It is topped by trans dykes, followed by, among others: poly(amorous), stud, baby, bi, asexual, fag, daddy, and princess dykes. In fact, the site clarifies that anyone who has “a relationship to the word DYKE” can apply. That is, anyone at all.

This is pornography, postmodern style. Here, lesbian terminology is being subverted beyond all recognition. And there’s no reckoning with the thorny question at the heart of the endeavour: is it even possible for lesbians to produce “ethical pornography” for the consumption of other lesbians, when “girl on girl action” is one of the most popular genres among men?

For the libertarian, porn is about freedom; for the libertine, fulfilment; for religious conservatives, it is immoral and depraved. Many feminists, like me, see it as misogynistic propaganda. But if my 40 years of researching the industry have taught me anything, it’s that porn is just big business, one of the most profitable industries on the planet. Annual revenue has been estimated at up to $90 billion, nine times more than Hollywood’s revenue.

And unfortunately, the lesbian market is just too small to be attractive to the key players in porn. Therefore anything in the “girl on girl” genre must, if it is to generate profit, appeal to men.

As Robert Jensen, author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, tells me: “I think the industry phrase ‘girl on girl’ is key
 Porn producers I have interviewed over decades never talked about making ‘lesbian porn’.” He spells it out: “The target audience is straight men.”

“But wait”, I hear you cry, “loads of women love watching porn!” In fact, in 2017, an article published in Marie Claire claimed that women were more likely than men to watch lesbian porn. But the research was conducted by YouPorn, which is owned by the same businessman whose portfolio boasts MindGeek, Pornhub and RedTube. Another recent article claims that women are “by far” more likely to access lesbian themed porn. The source? Pornhub, which has more than 40,000 lesbian porn videos in its archives. Obviously, it’s in the site’s best interests to suggest that porn is consumed and enjoyed primarily by those most harmed by it.

It’s tempting for porn apologists to view lesbian porn as Mexican sexologist Karimme Reyes does: as “an egalitarian sexual encounter in which the enjoyment of the other person and vice versa is very much taken care of. There is no focus on the obsession for penetration and you can see an enjoyment in different forms of pleasure for all tastes.”

But this ideal doesn’t match reality. I’ve been on three different porn sets over the years, and have spoken to directors, “minders”, and on occasion performers. On one, the team was shooting entirely lesbian porn; I asked if the performers were lesbians. “Yes, of course,” came the reply. And yet, each and every performer was accompanied by a pimp describing himself as her “boyfriend”. One performer, an actual lesbian, told me she absolutely hated doing a scene involving “strap-on anal” (not the most common or popular sexual practice among lesbians). She also told me she had suffered a vaginal tear because her female co-performer, who had never had sex with a woman before, had no idea how to penetrate her.

Typical titles of “lesbian” videos on the big porn sites include: “Cheerleader seduced by teachers”; “Mummy wants her pussy eaten”; “Two hot babes, fisting”. There’s an entire “Wild scissoring” genre, and one for lesbian threesomes, lesbian squirt parties, and Japanese lesbians on heat.

It’s worth comparing these titles to those on For Her Tube, which platforms content supposedly by women, for women. There are more than 3 million videos in the lesbian section. Some titles sound tamer than others: “I think about sex with a woman,” or “Two gorgeous housewives, giving into their wild, lesbian urges”. The usual fisting and giant sex toy themes are there too, and even a naughty lesbian nun. Then there is some hardcore sadomasochism. It’s not dissimilar to what you would find in mainstream porn, which is guided by male fantasies.

Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, does not believe that lesbians are being targeted as consumers: “There are over 143,000 videos on Pornhub under the lesbian category. In 2023, according to Pornhub stats, ‘Lesbian’ was the most searched term,” she says. “We know from studies that men are the main consumers of porn so clearly these videos are made for men.”

It would be nice to think that lesbians could enjoy artisanal porn produced by a collective of “DYKES”, all of whom have happy experiences on set, only doing stuff that really turns them on, with regular health checks. Erika Lust, the self-described “ethical porn producer”, claims to promote the rights and fair treatment of performers: she is a big fan of the role of the intimacy coordinator — so much so that at last year’s Oscars she called for a new category: “Best Intimacy Coach in a Motion Picture”. But intimacy coordinators are used on film sets during scenes involving nudity and simulated sex; porn, of course, involves actual sex. As does the REIN production, which similarly sets a lot of store by the intimacy coordinator.

And yet, this project conspicuously ignores the fact that the vast majority of “lesbian” porn is violent, degrading or painful; like all other genres, it is defined by domination, sadism, and brutal, endless penetration. Because, to cut through in a saturated market, porn producers will objectify female bodies in every imaginable way, for the sexual pleasure of predominantly male audiences.

The inherent misogyny of porn is a key reason why so many lesbians tend not to consume it. It’s not made for us. I don’t believe that women have sex with each other wearing five-inch spike heels and brandishing three-inch sparkling false talons: this is how men fantasise about women getting it on. There is evidence, however, that lesbians watch gay male porn — perhaps because it is the only kind free from misogyny.

“I don’t believe that women have sex with each other wearing five-inch spike heels”

Does that mean it’s impossible for porn featuring women to ever be ethical? To go back to the Scottish project: what if they really did manage to just hire lesbians — who were totally comfortable with everything they were doing during the performance? And what if there were only lesbians in the audience?

It’s still exploitation. The porn industry profits from non-consensual acts and causing harm to performers. And even if the spectators are lesbians, it doesn’t make the dynamics safer. I once interviewed female strippers at a since-closed bar in Soho, and many told me how much they hated stripping in front of crowds of baying lesbians, some pushing banknotes into the dancers’ underwear. Women who seek enjoyment from the sexual debasement of other women are not dissimilar from their male counterparts. Live sex on stage is prostitution, not, as REIN might have us believe, art.


Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.

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