My Conversation With an Anti-Porn Feminist

By Annie Sprinkle with Mae Tyme

We are two women from different worlds with very different experiences. I, Annie, have performed in, directed and produced pornography for twenty five years. Mae Tyme has been anti-pornography for equally as long. We met at a lesbian video night several years ago. You might think that we'd be enemies, because we have such different viewpoints. Could we come together to record a conversation, share our ideas, and show that women of desparate backgrounds and beliefs can communicate and collaborate?

Annie Sprinkle
Don't you think it's so totally interesting to see people naked, or to watch them having sex?
Mae Tyme
I used to play a game as a kid called Peeping Tom in my suburban neighborhood. I was forever peeking into people’s windows. I hoped I would see somebody naked. I never did. It wasn’t a sexual kind of thing, it was curiosity. All I saw was women cooking and doing dishes, and men watching TV or working in their garages.
AS

I don't remember seeing any adults naked until I was 17, and saw my boyfriend. After that I was hooked. I wanted to see naked people all the time. I was instantly fascinated by genitalia. Here was an entire secret universe!

A year later I ended up in pornography and prostitution. I'm still busy looking at genitalia.

MT
I saw my grandmother naked quite a bit. It didn't involve sexual feelings. I loved watching her come out of the shower and put on her corset, and powder her face. It made me feel close and accepted. Later in college I always loved watching girls get dressed up for dates. I'm sure that some of that was sexual, but I didn't realize it at the time.
AS
So, you are aware of people's basic desire to see other people naked. How did you get to be so anti-pornography?
MT
Seeing someone naked was always sort of serendipitous. It wasn't something I cultivated deliberately to get turned on, or to try to turn them on. It might have had a sexual result, but not a sexual purpose.
AS
Hmmm, basically I don't see anything wrong with cultivating sexual excitement.
MT
I've been a lesbian since I was twenty-one. In my thirties, feminism came along. Then I moved into radical lesbianism. I have not related intimately with a male in I can't think of how many years. I have seen some males naked at nude beaches, and actually that has served to demystify and depowerize men. So when I feel oppressed by the patriarchy, I sometimes just conjure up some of the images I had of males on nude beaches and laugh.
AS
Partly why I went into prostitution was that male genitalia was such a big mystery. Now I'm busy unraveling the female genitalia mystery.
MT
I remember a woman coming to a women's event and she showed slides of ‘beaver'. It was hard for me to look at the photos. Even though I had been a lesbian for a long time and had been going down on them, and had been gone down on and saw them all the time. But looking at them in pictures was really icky to me.
AS
Betty Dodson tells the story of being at a NOW sexuality conference in the ‘70's where she did a slide show of vulvas. Half the women walked out.
MT
What feminists didn't take into account was that although most of us had done consciousness raising and had intellectually looked at issues about sexuality and decided that we don't smell like tuna, and all this stuff, it was still hard to deal with the actual experience of touching our own vulvas, of looking at ourselves with speculums, and looking at pictures of “down there”.
AS
Don't you have any male friends?
MT
My consistent bonding and involvement with other women, especially lesbians is so fulfilling, inspiring and growthful to me, that even if I felt OK about men, which I don't, I wouldn't have any time for them.
AS
To me pornography is any photo, film or drawing that shows hard-core explicit sex. How exactly do you view pornography?
MT
As something that is overwhelmingly by, about and for men. It is a world wide industry that generates gazillions of dollars every year from which women do not benefit.
AS
In porn films female performers get paid a whole heck of a lot more than the male performers.
MT
I didn't know that. I've always viewed pornography as an aspect of oppression of women, not of our liberation. And I view the nuclear family pretty much that too. So I've tried to develop a sexuality that isn't about men or what they want, but is entirely about women and how we relate to each other.
AS
Presently I'm actually interested in trying to do the same thing. Would a typical sex magazine just totally turn you off?
MT
Yes. I am trying to learn what sex is about for a free and voluntarily participating woman. My view has been that all women that do pornography are either terribly misinformed, or they've been enslaved. You tell me that's not true at all. That being in porn can be liberating and profitable.
AS
I agree that we all have a lot of programmed ideas about what is sexy. I get irked. Oh God, not another white teddy. There is plenty of room for porn to be more creative, experimental, feminist, and more erotic for women. But it's harder to create that than you might think. That's the challenge I love.
MT
If I were to make an erotic video it would it probably be boring to someone else. I did have an experience of a lover of mine videotaping us making love, and then we watched it.
AS
What. I'm shocked! YOU made porn?
MT
I didn't think of it as porn. It was deeply thrilling, because watching it made me remember the feelings and it was wonderful. If someone else watched it, they probably would be uninspired. We were lying down, holding each other, and moving together, with enormous sexual and love energy between us. There wasn't any sucking or licking, or fingers. There were no toes curling. Well that's not true. My toes did curl. It certainly had nothing to do with costumes, lights, props, or plots.
AS
Did you ever show it to anyone?
MT
No.
AS
Oh come on, Mae. You could sell it! Think of the money you could make. The people you could inspire. You could pioneer a whole new genre.
MT
I talk about this only with other lesbians. It is very challenging for me to consider revealing this in a context where men have access to it, and where women might exploit it. It's giving personal information to the enemy.
AS
If you were a communist, you probably wouldn't have a problem telling people you were a communist.
MT

Oh but I would. You can be arrested, threatened, loose your job, things can happen to you if you say too much of your truth to the wrong people. As a radical lesbian I must exercise great caution not to compromise or endanger myself or my sisters. What lesbians do in bed is inflammatory. Lesbians have been assaulted and killed because of what we do sexually. I’m reading a book called 8 Bullets, written by the survivor of a lesbian couple shot by a man on the Appalachian trail. One was killed. Men hate lesbians because we have sex and life without them.

aspect of porn that is so distressing is child slavery. Girl children--or women who are trying to look like girls-- shaved, infantilized, tiny, etc., are used to entertain men who are basically getting off on trying to fuck little girls. Incest is the paradigm of patriarchy. The latest figure from the FBI even, is that three out of four girls is sexually molested by the age of 18. How can we possibly discover our own sexuality when it has been conditioned into us since we are infants?

AS

By learning more about sex. And by making our own porn.

You realize that child pornography is the number one argument that is consistently used against all of us decent pornographers who are simply trying to make people feel good and turned on. There’s maybe .01% of porn made which involves children, and it is pretty underground. I challenge you to find any commercial child porn sold in a store anywhere in the USA.

MT
Look at all the stuff on the internet.
AS
A huge child porn industry doesn't exist really in the way lots of people think it does. At least I've not encountered one in recent years. There used to be stuff for sale in European shops decades ago. But not any more.
MT
That's like saying the holocaust doesn't exist. They're busting men who are meeting kids on the internet to try and have sex with them.
AS
Yes, unfortunately that is true. But I think most of the pictures of nude 10 year old girls that you can easily find on the Internet were put there by the FBI to entrap pedophile
MT
I believe that child porn happens all the time. And your experience says it almost never happens!
AS
It happens, but in suburban peoples garages and underground in a very illicit way, or in other countries, or created by a few criminals, but not as a huge commercial industry that's out in the open. Although I haven't looked for child porn. At least I haven't run across any child porn industry while being in porn myself. This is the most difficult subject of all to talk about.
MT
In 1995, there was a big story when I was in Europe about two girls, ten and eleven years old, who had escaped from a porn ring. They’d been kidnapped. The porn ring was busted, and they discovered other girls who had been starved, beaten and enslaved.
AS

That's horrible.

But once I was making a little sex magazine with some friends, as a labor of love, not a big money making thing. We unknowingly hired an undercover police woman to be our typesetter. The people whose house it was had two kids, who were not involved in any photographs. The parents made a living making magazines from pictures that people sent them. Twenty-five state police officers came into the house with guns drawn, arrested us and confiscated everything, from tampax to the dog’s leash. In the family photo album there was a photo of the two kids in the bathtub naked when they were three and five, the same photo every family has. The newspaper headline said “INTERNATIONAL CHILD PORNOGRAPHY RING BUSTED”. The two kids were put in dreadful foster homes for several weeks which really traumatized them. That’s when I realized how much the press perverts the facts, and how sex negative attitudes are used to hurt innocent people.

Every time I do a lecture at a college or a reading at a book store, with my good intentions, inevitably this scary topic about children being abused comes up.

MT
The same thing is used against lesbians. We are called child molesters. Undercover police used to bust us for what we were doing innocently, good heartedly and among adults. We view ourselves as nice people. We point out over and over that most molestation of children and others is done by straight males.
AS
I’ve been putting out sexually explicit images of myself for years. I know this sounds bizarre, but somehow it makes me feel safer.
MT
Being very out as a lesbian makes me feels safer. I think blatant is best.
AS
Aren't you “putting information into the hands of the enemy” by being an out lesbian?
MT

I'm out so that other dykes will recognize me. I don't do it to annoy men.

The truth is that you and I do view pornography very differently. You view it as an avenue to independence, joy, freedom, fun...

AS
....education, harmony, a creative outlet, a safer world...
MT
I view it as reinforcing destructive sexual response patterns. If women get any joy and freedom from it, it's an accident.
AS
I think you are a good teacher for me, because you have developed a type of sexuality that is more egalitarian, sensitive, subtle, less costumey and performative. Its deeper, no pun intended.
MT
You're a good teacher for me, because you are developing concepts of energy and teaching women about female ejaculation, about self pleasuring, dispelling shame. But when it gets to be part of the porn industry, I absolutely view it as part and parcel of the patriarchy.
AS

You cannot deny that there is an energetic/erotic/sexual/sensual/emotional exchange with virtually everything and everyone on a daily basis. People try to deny that, but denial only goes so far. It's a natural law of the universe and biologically programmed. If a child sits on your lap and touches your hair it can feel very erotic. Some adults simply don't know how to handle the feelings.

Feminists say that rape is an act of violence, not an act of sex. I think it is also very violent sex.

MT
It doesn't have to do with sex. It is about power and dominance.
AS
But it is still sexual.
MT
No. It's about fear and terror and coercion.
AS
I agree. But its also misdirected sexual energy.
MT
Lets go back to the kid who plays with the hair. The kid likes the feel of the hair. The adult likes having it's hair touched. That is freedom and exploration. But if the adult makes that activity something else, like “come up on daddy's lap honey, touch daddy's hair honey', that is training the child to provide sexual pleasure for the adult. That is inappropriate and wrong.
AS
So we need to train people how to be...
MT
...sexual in joy and freedom and love without imposing or coercing others and without using it for dominance.
AS

I'm there with you.

When I worked as a prostitute, I specialized in handicapped...

MT
Differently abled.
AS
Right. I had guys who had been in wars and were horribly scared or amputated, or in wheel chairs or whatever. During pillow talk it would sometimes become obvious that some of them had killed people. Several admitted to me they had erections while they were killing.
MT
It would be better to not call acts of violence sex.
AS
You've got to give people an exciting alternative.
MT
An exciting alternative without violence.
AS
I'd like to make a great line of pornography that would inspire people to have more loving, satisfying, healthy sex which would in turn make the world a better place. If no pornography was allowed, I wouldn't get the opportunity to do that. Romantic love, sexual feelings and physical intimacy are the most pleasurable things in many people's lives, next to eating chocolate cake.
MT
We have been trained to believe that sex is the most important thing in life. I don't believe that.
AS
I think of our sexualities as a treasure trove of of possibilities. To give and receive love, maintain good health, relieve stress...
MT
There are other ways to experience fabulous intimacy, beauty and joy. For example, art, friendship, athletics...
AS
Athletics? Yuk! Church maybe. Singing, chanting, dancing, doing ritual maybe come close. To see a fantastic stripper is an awe inspiring experience. It is to witness the Divine Feminine. It is prayer. And what often surrounds erotic dancers? Drunk, cigarette smoking, disrespectful, bad mannered guys waving measly dollar bills...
MT
... and waving measly dicks.
AS
Pornography, in it's purist form, could be a path to enlightenment.
MT
I doubt it. . When I hear the word porn, I think of something that is male yuckkiness and lines men's pockets with money... and semen.

(We both laugh uproariously.)

AS
Ah, yes, good laughgasm!
MT
Porn is a pocket issue! (More laughing.) I haven't' laughed so hard in I don't know when.
AS
Me too. This was a very intense conversation. I've always dreamed of having this conversation and never even came close. Everyone I've ever met who is anti porn would never even sit down at the table with me. Except my mother. Oddly enough, I have never really felt that women against porn were my enemies.
MT
I've never had the desire to sit down at the table with a pornographer and have this discussion, but I'm glad to be having it with you. Getting to know you has created trust and that is very precious. By the way, many feminists who are anti porn don't see the women in it as the enemy either.
AS
No, they see us as victims. We don't want to perceived as victims.
MT
A conversation like this is possible when each of us has freedom of expression and no one is required to change. I don't expect you to become anti-porn, and you don't expect me to become pro-porn.
AS
It's been wonderful. Thank you.

(Big hug.)

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