“Porn is an obsession with female pleasure” says woman porn director

Anna Span (real name Anna Arrowsmith) is an English pornographic film director who speaks widely about sex, pornography and feminism.

I interviewed her on behalf of Women’s Views on News and reproduced the interview here.

You said your moment of inspiration came when you realised you weren’t angry about the existence of the porn industry but were  jealous that men’s sexuality was catered for. What did you feel was lacking for women?

That was 1988 so everything was lacking for women in this country!

You didn’t even have the Chippendales – although I actually wrote my dissertation at St Martin’s about how the Chippendales aren’t what women want – and [women] didn’t have porn magazines.

I remember [British actress] Margi Clarke bringing out a programme about sexuality on television and it was very soft.

But regardless of whether people agree with the sex industry I believe the female libido is worth catering for.

Currently companies are spending money in order to make [porn] for women because there is a market out there.

Without that appreciation of the market there is a disavowing of the female libido and this perpetuates the idea that we’re in [sex solely] for the love, which I find quite insulting really.

What was your first experience of porn?

The first thing I ever saw was, ironically, some images in a gutter when I was 11, walking home from school. There was a woman in leopard skin clothing and of course as school girls we went crazy!

Later I think I stumbled across some copies of the [UK tabloid the Daily] Sport that my brother had in his room. But the first time I used porn was when I was with my boyfriend at the time.

And that was when you started to form the idea that you didn’t think women’s sexuality was being catered for in pornography?

Yes, I didn’t know anything about pornography. It was exciting, I enjoyed it and I certainly didn’t do it because I wanted to please the boyfriend.

When I was 22 I bought “Women on Top” by Nancy Friday and I think that was very key. It’s a book about women’s fantasies and there was absolutely everything in there, it helped me accept my sexual being, it was very useful to me.

I think it also helped me realise that I was bisexual. I don’t know when I owned up to myself about that. There wasn’t a “coming out” – it sort of gradually dawned on me that i fancied women as well.

Did these experiences feed into your desire to make porn for women?

For me, like a lot of people, making porn was a kind of naughty dream job that I would have liked to do in a parallel life.

I got into [London art college] St Martin’s when I was 24 and I started to think about making porn. In my final year at college I wrote my dissertation – “Towards a New Pornography” – on porn and I made a sex film.

My first film was quite experimental, although the blokes couldn’t get it up, but there were also people peeing etc so it wasn’t soft!

Do you think you been driven by having a greater interest in sex than the average person?

I don’t know. How do you compare? They say that men think about sex every seven seconds. Well, I think about sex a lot and I enjoy it, I still do.

There is no history of abuse in my life and if you met my family you’d wonder how they spawned me because they’re very middle class and very average. We’re certainly not a sexually overt family.

When I read Women on Top there were women admitting to having sexual imaginations from when they were very young and I did too. But I developed a guilt about this imagination in my teenage years.

Do you judge your films to be successful if you find them arousing? 

Yes, to a certain extent. With porn it’s like catching a live dance, a performance, and you have to film it as well as you can, so it’s always a matter of compromise.

It’s not like mainstream cinema where you can map out everything in advance and you can get actors with acting skills. How it goes on the day is how good the film will be so there is a lot of chance involved.

You just have to get very good at managing the last minute things when people don’t turn and up and you have to recast etc.

Do you watch your own films?

I couldn’t watch them for sexual reasons because first and foremost they are work – they are my pieces of art. I also don’t watch British porn. I do watch pornography for gratification but I have to watch [films] where I know that I won’t know the people in it.

It’s important to be driven by what turns you on but you can’t forget that you are making a product that requires a level of technical knowledge. You have to know how things edit together.

A lot of bad porn is probably made by blokes who get completely carried away and think “I really fancy this bird” and forget to pay attention to the camera angles and stuff like that.

Are there cultural differences between the UK, US and European porn scenes?

Europe has the most relaxed censorship laws which means if you’re going to to do anything “different” it’s going to be in Europe. There’s a lot of pissing, crapping and animal porn which I don’t agree with.

In America, it’s all about “acts”. They involve [sexual] acts like “creampie” or “bukkake”. This goes in fashions.

In the UK porn is still hardcore but it’s a bit more happy. You know, we have this history of [British comedian] Benny Hill and [UK porn director and actor] Ben Dover always having a laugh. There is a bit of humour in UK porn but the really extreme stuff comes from America.

Last year you took part in the debate, “this house believes that pornography does a good public service” at the Cambridge Union. You went up against anti-pornography activist Gail Dines and won. Why do you think you won? 

We always win! I have been doing [debates] for 12 years and I have never lost one. There is a group of us that do these debates and the only one we’ve lost was in Dublin – but there was someone very charismatic in the opposition.

We win because our argument is logical.  Anti-porn argument is a moral panic based on hail and brimstone tactics and people don’t fall for that. It was close in Cambridge though, closer than we’re used to, but Gail Dines had been lecturing all afternoon so she had an advantage on us!

You call yourself a feminist. Why do you think so many feminists are so angry about porn?

I think because it’s about power. I think the leftwing is in denial about power. They have an egalitarian, almost communist, ideal. But this hasn’t given women equality.

Women and men are different, they have different powers. Men have the power of physical strength, women have fertility power. Power is something that excites us – it’s a huge part of all our lives.

It’s inevitable that sex will be about power. I don’t separate porn from the rest of life. To try to deny power dynamics is at best naive but actually really damaging.

Does this mean you think domination and submission are based in the biology of gender?

I wouldn’t say that. I’m not an essentialist. I was very influenced by [French psychoanalyist] Jaques Lacan who said whatever gives you pleasure gives you power.

Say a women is a submissive – though we find this politically problematic – and she couldn’t admit to it, then Lacan would say that she disempowered herself. If she did what gave her pleasure she would feel much more power.

Men and women can both be masochistic and domineering. Within us there are natural leaders and others who are not. There are powerful men who want to be dominated in the bedroom and I think women are encouraged to be submissive but throughout history there have always been women who aren’t.

These women have been, if not the protagonist, the dominant antagonist and use the power they have been afforded to the maximum.

I don’t think sex determines domination. Education at school level is important to dispel some of these ideas. For example, that testosterone is linked to aggression when really it’s linked to assertiveness.

We should be able to play with power, to have fun with it. Pornography allows us to do this. For example, BDSM [bondage, domination, sad0-masochism] is all about role-play power dynamics. All my films are role-play too.

How is your feminism compatible with what you do?

In the 60s and 70s feminists felt like they had to separate sexuality from the rest of human behaviour. This was because things like sexual harassment in the workplace were acceptable. So [feminists] had to say sex had its own set of rules.

Now the laws have changed and people like me who grew up in this changed world felt like our freedoms have been restricted.  Men and women know now when sex is ok and when it isn’t.

We want to regain our freedom and and blur the boundaries again.  We don’t want to burn bras, we want to reclaim the side of ourselves which we think is playful and fun.

All movements work in spirals so in 1988 Feminists Against Censorship started and around that time Scottish Women Against Pornography starts and pornography splits feminism.

But there are lots of different types of feminism. I’m a liberal and [Gail Dines] is a Marxist. I wouldn’t get on with a Marxist at any level.

It is sexist in itself that society thinks there should be one type of feminism. The media took a quick glance and said ok this is what feminism is – leftwing and socialist – and now they don’t challenge that.

You wouldn’t expect a leftwing man to agree with a rightwing man. We need to see feminism as a parliament where there are different views and everyone has the right to say what they want.

And when Gail Dines says that I’m not a feminist she only shows her ignorance in saying there can only be one type of feminism.

You said that you wanted to make porn because you felt men’s sexual needs were catered for in a way that women’s weren’t. Do you think then that porn represents male desires or does it define them?

Different men are different. Some people like pornography and some people don’t. I’m always meeting men who don’t like porn and women who do.

And we don’t have clear figures on how many men are watching pornography. That said, any business that wants to be successful has to respond to what customers want.

When I first started I was asked if I had done research into whether women wanted porn and I hadn’t because [women] will come back and say they don’t want [porn] because they haven’t been shown stuff they might like. So I blindly went ahead and did it. Luckily it worked out!

I think [porn] does affect people’s sex lives but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The anti-porn movement say that porn pressurises people and that women feel pressure to do, for example, anal sex. But women are also feeling free to do anal sex.

The first time I ever tried [anal sex] was when I was 18 and at that time it was such a shameful thing to do – if someone found out then you were labelled and you can’t say that now. Yes there are people who feel pressurised to do things but this isn’t because pornography exists.

Why are their so few female orgasms in pornography?

Porn spends its whole time looking at women enjoying themselves, saying ‘I love it’. But if men didn’t care about the women’s experience then porn would all be rape and negative for the women but it isn’t. So is that about female pleasure or male pleasure?

[US film scholar] Linda Williams wrote a book on pornography, ‘Hardcore’, and she talks about the difficulty of seeing the truth of pleasure. Porn is always trying to get at the truth of pleasure. That is what the money shot is about – it cannot be faked, it is real [pleasure].

But with female orgasms this is never going to happen – unless she ejaculates you’re not going to have a hardcore moment for women. You’ll never be able to see that female enjoyment is true.

It’s difficult to see a woman orgasm – in my films I make sure the woman always cums before the bloke but even as a director, sometimes women will cum and sometimes they won’t and how can I know?

Petra Joy [another director of porn for women] says that all her women come. I don’t because all of porn is performance. Pornographers are not saying this is real sex – everything is faked.

And whether you [script] the female orgasms is whether you’re making a feminist statement or not. And I certainly do. But porn is an obsession with female pleasure – I think there is more emphasis on female enjoyment in porn than is initially perceived.

What do you think would make a difference now to encourage women to engage with pornography?

I think what’s missing is an understanding that there is [porn] out there that is not misogynistic or derogatory. I’m using [the anti-porn movement’s] language but what some people think is misogynistic is just viewed too simply.

People don’t know how to watch porn. Like Gail Dines, she doesn’t understand that if someone enjoys having their head put down a toilet then they don’t feel degraded.

We learnt how to watch and understand the news and I think people need to learn how to watch porn. It has its own rules and if you don’t know you them won’t understand it fully and you might get unnecessarily upset.

So can you tell us what projects you’ll be working on this year? 

I’m working on a project called weconsent.org which is a forum for people across the sex industry – from sex workers, sex researchers and porn stars to people who work in sex shops.

It’s a site for people to have a voice to support the industry so policy makers, journalists and students can hear, from the horses mouth, people’s experiences from around the world.

Weconsent.org will be online soon.

2 thoughts on ““Porn is an obsession with female pleasure” says woman porn director

  • August 11, 2012 at 16:52
    Permalink

    Sick people, sick industry, i wish it were banned. Degrades women.

    Reply
  • August 24, 2012 at 23:49
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    wow gail dines and her radfem thugs are NOT gonna be sending you a christmas card this year. great post as well. can you answer me question. as man, why are’nt we as inteligent as you?

    Reply

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