In the process of trying to create sex-positive, empowering porn for women, award-winning sex educator, columnist and feminist pornographer Tristan Taormino says she’s learned a lot about what makes porn actors tick.
 
“For many of them, no matter how much they love their jobs, it’s still a job,” she says. “They’re entitled to show up and have a good experience while they’re getting paid.”
 
Ten years after falling into the adult film business, Taormino has carved a successful career producing what she calls “organic, fair-trade porn” through her company, Smart Ass Productions. 
 
Her movies have earned critical acclaim for challenging contrived stereotypes in what is admittedly a boys’ club, putting women in charge of their sexual encounters both on- and off-camera. 
 
“For me, feminist porn is all about having a filmmaking process that is intentional, ethical and responsible and creates a really good work environment,” says Taormino, who is nominated in four categories at this year’s Feminist Porn Awards.
 
“It’s about respect and choice.”
 
Starting off as a sex educator and “anal sexpert,” Taormino had a breakout hit with her book The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. 
 
Buoyed by the success, she went looking for a studio to produce an all-female video adaptation of The Ultimate Guide that was part step-by-step guide, part “feminist gang-bang.”
 
“I wanted to prove that the girl next door can enjoy anal sex,” she explains.
 
Mainstream studios were skeptical about an educational anal-pleasure video for women, but John Stagliano, aka Buttman, who was then a successful porn producer with a line of female ass-worship videos, saw the appeal. 
 
Stagliano is one of the pioneers of “gonzo porn,” a genre characterized by short, mostly unscripted clips with a camera-as-observer point of view. He agreed to finance The Ultimate Guide as a gonzo shoot with Taormino as director.
 
Taormino appeared in the final scene of the movie, in which the dozen female cast members test out what they’ve learned on her.
 
“I got fucked by who I wanted, how I wanted, with all the toys that I wanted,” recalls Taormino, who abhors labels but will settle for being called queer, or an “equal opportunity lover.” 
 
The idea of portraying real choice and real arousal is reflected in her filmmaking, which is gonzo in form but captures both the sex and the motivations of the people involved.
 
In her Chemistry movie series, Taormino draws on a certain reality TV show to set the scene: take seven pornstars, put them in a house together for 36 hours, interview them, let them have sex any way they want, and have them film the result.
 
The couples, who have specifically selected their co-stars, are allowed to talk to each other and laugh. They choose how the sex progresses and for how long, which keeps the action fresh and avoids a common problem in gonzo.
 
“You don’t have to worry about cumming. You just let them fuck how they want to fuck and they’ll cum. That’s just true,” Taormino claims.
 
You also occasionally get some deep insights from actors who are presumed not to think very hard about what they do or why. In Chemistry Volume I, Mr Marcus, a black porn actor specializing in interracial scenes, rants about discrimination in the business while receiving a blowjob from co-star Dana DeArmond. A strap-on dildo session with Kurt Lockwood on the receiving end leads to a conversation about the gay-straight divide in porn.
 
Taormino tried a similar approach chronicling more aggressive male-female sexual encounters in her latest series, Rough Sex. Stars like Sasha Grey are shown discussing their choice of co-star, the setting and what kinds of punishment they would like to endure, including (consensual) rape fantasies, and then act out the scene.
 
Though Taormino has raised eyebrows with her approach – “It’s a bit of a touchy subject, whether male-dominated sex can be feminist,” she admits – female viewers embrace the concept because “consent is very clear, desire is very clear, and who’s in control is very clear.” 
 
When she’s not exploring the boundaries of feminist porn, Taormino maintains a hectic seminar schedule on the US university circuit and in the media, discussing everything from the sorry state of American sex education to polyamory. A proponent of open relationships, she penned the popular non-monogamy manual Opening Up in 2008 and appeared as an orgy “sextra” in John Cameron Mitchell’s film Shortbus.
 
She occasionally strays north of the border to teach at Come As You Are and Northbound Leather, where her classes cover decidedly more difficult topics, like advanced anal play.
 
Does that make Canadians sexperts in their own right? 
 
“I would say you’re advanced,” she laughs.
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