“Humanist Porn” or “Artcore” – Petra Joy talks about filming sex for women’s pleasure

“Humanist Porn” or “Artcore” – Petra Joy talks about filming sex for women’s pleasure

Petra Joy is an internationally award-winning porn director who will be part of the Sex on Screen debate to be held at the ICA on Wednesday March 11th. I caught up with her to get a sense of where she’s coming from. Love porn or loathe it, Petra has a refreshing and fascinating perspective…

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Rachel Millward: To me, ‘porn’ means films of explicit sex, for purposes of arousal. What are your reservations about using the word ‘porn’ for your work?

Petra Joy: Based on the British Board of Film Classification ‘porn’ is indeed any film showing real sex and shot to arouse sexually. But in reality hard-core porn leaves a lot of people, especially women, cold, whereas feature films that feature explicit sex but received a soft rating as an ‘art house film’ turn these viewers on. We are all unique and what turns us on is very individual. What is art and what is porn and where do you draw the line? My main reservation to be called just a porn director is the associations that ‘porn’ evokes as  being misogynist and featuring fake and unsafe sex. These are exactly the reasons why I do not like most mainstream porn. I call my explicit and artistic films “art-core” – it is a new genre that is neither your average porn film nor a soft, erotic art house film, but a mixture of both.

Do you think ‘porn’ is important for both women and men (as viewers)?

We live in a visual day and age and perceive a lot of information, entertainment and stimulation through photos and films. Straight and gay men have always had a pin-up culture, geared towards them and their desires. But images that show female erotic fantasies and inspire, excite and empower women are only beginning to emerge in Europe.

I am a visual person and enjoy films that either reflect my fantasies and desires or inspire me to open up and experiment. To push sexual liberation forward, I think it is important that especially women have access to explicit erotica that shows female bodies and female sexuality in a realistic way and allows women to be voyeurs and men to be the “objects of desire”, there for the female gaze.

Porn is clearly a very male dominated industry, and frequently seriously exploitative of women. What kind of reactions have you had as one of the few women behind the camera (from both men and women)?

Most reactions have been extremely positive. I get a lot of emails and phone calls from women and men that my films have inspired and liberated them and that they have been looking for this kind of “humanist porn” for ages and are extremely grateful to finally have found it. There are still parts of the industry that don’t get what I do – as the industry is still firmly in male hands. The male porn directors and distributers do not understand  for example why I show men masturbating as they have the typical straight male gaze – onto the woman, whereas many women share their erotic gaze with gay men – we want to see hot men. But things are changing and I have been honoured with various prestigious awards within the industry – even if they had to create a new category for me!

Can you envisage a world in which porn *doesn’t* include the exploitation of women?

Yes, within the realms of alternative filmmaking this is happening right now.
Women producing and directing porn independently, breaking the industry’s rules and stereotypes by showing amateur performers enjoying safe and sensual sex. This alternative movement is extremely important because it shows each person as a human being with individual desires and boundaries, rather than portraying women as “sluts gagging for it”, and men as “always erect f**kmachines” that can come on cue. The indie porn films help us to reclaim our sexual individuality and creativity and can be a vehicle to promote safe sex and provide alternative sex education.

Award-winning porn director Petra Joy

Award-winning porn director Petra Joy

Do you think the fact that you are a woman makes a big difference when you are filming people having sex?

It makes a big difference because of my gaze. My erotic case is defined by my sexuality. Whereas a straight male director will shoot lots of images of the breast and vagina, I shoot the male bum and hands and lots of face shots of the performers. Mainstream porn made by men always features (usually fake) girl-girl action whereas I feature male bisexuality which is one of the biggest taboos in mainstream porn.The sexual desires of a straight woman have more in common with a gay man than a straight man, which is why so many women watch gay porn.

I think the ‘artistic hand-writing’ of a filmmaker is very important, and the female directors directing explicit sex films seem to be more experimental as a whole – maybe because they have not been brainwashed by watching tons of mainstream porn that always shows sex in the same way. Women are developing their own erotic visual language right now – this is very exciting to see and experience. I am proud to be part of this movement and have progressed from working as a TV producer to now shooting ground-breaking erotica for women.

I suggested to you when we were chatting a while back that your work could be called ‘Fair Trade Porn’. How do you ensure that it’s ethically sound? Do you have any strict rules that you’d never break?

Before I decide who will feature in my films, all performers have to fill in a questionnaire where I ask about their fantasies and hopes and also their fears and limitations. The standard casting questionnaires in the porn industry just ask about body measurements and you have to check all the sexual techniques you are willing to do. Boundaries tend to be pushed all the time rather than respected.  It is pretty much expected that as a female porn star you will do girl-girl and are up for anal sex and double penetration. You are usually also expected to have sex without a condom. During my productions the performers experience sexually only what gives them pleasure and make their fantasies come true in front of my camera. All performers are tested for STD’s AND -unless they are a couple in a committed relationship- have only penetrative sex with a condom. As I do not work with porn stars but amateurs, I also always check how they would feel if their colleagues, family and friends found out that they had sex on camera. If they have any doubts of fears, I do not cast them as performers. I could not live with myself if someone caught an STD on the set of my film or lost their job or partner because they appeared in an explicit film.

Do you think that female sexuality, and the way people interact sexually and have sex, will change as we get greater access to porn from a female viewpoint? Is this already happening?

Alternative sex films that are showing realistic female and male bodies, a huge variety of sexual techniques and that are featuring safe sex are available right now. Whether we like it or not a lot of (young) people use porn as a form of sex education. So it is great that there are now films out there that feature more women (with bodies that were not surgically enhanced) receiving oral sex, rather than just giving it. Films that show foreplay such as kissing, stroking and undressing rather than just penetration. And films that promote safe sex rather than pretending that casual sex without condom or lube is just fine. Alternative erotic films also feature gender bending which important as more and more people consider themselves transgender and are not represented in mainstream porn or big feature films.

So yes, I do believe that the alternative explicit erotic films out there are currently already inspiring people to have more experimental and respectful safe sex and will continue to do so increasingly in the future.

Petra Joy will be at the Birds Eye View film festival as part of the Sex on Screen Debate at the ICA on Wednesday March 11th, 9pm.

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