These essays are free, but they do take a while to write, edit and upload. If you enjoy them and would like to support this project, please consider becoming a paid subscriber of ‘She Dares to Say’. If you would prefer to make a one-off donation, feel free to send a contribution via PayPal.
You can also show your enjoyment without spending £££, by liking, commenting or sharing 😃
Content warning: This essay is about pornography and contains a short, explicit description of a pornographic film, which is accompanied by a non-explicit (although this image is still NSFW as it features naked bodies) promotional image from the film’s production house.
[Image description: Text ‘Explicit Material’ on navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke highlighted segment]
Like lots of my generation who grew up with the internet at home, as a teen, I had an active relationship with pornographic material. And, by the time I reached 18 – the age at which the viewing of becomes legal in the UK – I’d seen plenty of mainstream free tube site porn, despite not yet engaging in partnered sex.
And so, throughout young adulthood, my partners and I often found ourselves reaching for the tropes and scripts, we’d seen enacted online, rather than collaboratively exploring our desires together. But, by the time I was in my late 20s, I began to feel like my own varied and constantly evolving desires were very, very different from the often harmful sexual dynamics depicted in the porn I’d been watching.
Then, because of my work within the sexuality education sector, which was kick-started with the creation of Kayleigh Daniels Dated – which I began working on in 2017 – I came across a whole slew of explicit material which had a decidedly art-house vibe, with a focus on aesthetics and cinematography. And so, finally – together with my lovers at the time – I started to engage more critically with the material.
Which then led me to discover porn film festivals.
The Porn Film Festival Berlin, which curated its inaugural programme in 2006, specialises in the screening of erotic films that have something to say beyond genital manipulation. Open to industry professionals such as performers, directors, crew and press from the liberal media each October, I went along in 2019 as well as this year.
[Image description: (L–R): Julia ter Horst, Jiz Lee, and Almaz Ohene are all standing in front of a Porn Film Festival Berlin roller banner, facing towards the camera and smiling]
Credit: Virgina De, 2019
In the weeks leading up to the festival in 2019, I’d been emailing a few of the porn performers I’d seen in ErikaLust and Four Chambers videos, including Kali Sudra who’s an adult performer, sex worker, educator and activist of Indian, Dutch and Canadian heritage, now based in Barcelona, Spain. She’s been in the industry since 2017 and has appeared in more than 30 films.
On day four of the festival, Kali Sudhra caught sight of me in the cinema’s lounge and beckoned me over.
“I’ve got tickets for the next screening. Come and join me.” I followed and we sat side by side in the theatre.
The Kali Sudra on screen recited rhythmically: “Love your cunt! Love it if it’s hairy; love it if it’s shaved. Love it if its lips swing low, or if they’re all shy and tucked away.”
Love it when it’s bleeding. Learn to love your smell. Love it ‘cause it gives you pleasure. Love it ‘cause it makes you [sex noises].”
[Image description: Promotional image for the pornographic film Love Your Cunt]
The 10-minute film, Love Your Cunt, sees Kali Sudhra, and co-star Ivy de Luna, engage in various sex acts, in a large double bed in a spacious, light-filled bedroom that evokes the aspirational lifestyle of a professional urban couple. There is nothing seedy, exploitative nor perverted about the film. The viewer is led to interpret Ivy de Luna’s gender is ambiguous on account of her lean body, small breasts and shaven head. Kali Sudhra presented as womanly in her curvaceousness and together they explore each other’s bodies. There are close-ups of Ivy de Luna’s vulva, which is topped with some tufty pubic hair which Kali Sudhra licks and sucks with enthusiasm. The pair smile and laugh often throughout the film.
The camera’s gaze is neither judgemental nor objectifying. It zooms in on each of their faces as they ride out their orgasmic pleasure.
However, I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy the film as much as I wanted, as I was experiencing an odd feeling. That I was becoming aroused by the giant, on-screen Kali Sudhra, while the friendly, corporeal Kali shared her bucket of popcorn with me, was weirdly disconcerting.
Back in London the following month, I chaired a panel at School of Sexuality Education (formerly Sexplain), annual conference called ‘Pornography as pedagogy: what young people learn about sex from mainstream porn’, where we discussed the fact that free tube sites are still the mainstream source for porn access, and show a largely narrow and unrepresentative version of sex.
[Image description: (L-R) panellists George Karkera, Nadia Deen, Nathaniel Cole, and Gayathiri Kamalakanthan, sit looking towards Almaz Ohene on the far right, who’s chairing the discussion]
Credit: School of Sexuality Education (106), 2019
During the conference, School of Sexuality Education’s Andy Thornton created visual notes for the panel discussion, which you can see below.
[Image description: visual notes for the panel talk ‘Pornography as pedagogy: what young people learn about sex from mainstream porn’]
Credit: Andy Thornton, School of Sexuality Education, 2019
Since then, I’ve been thinking quite hard about how the weaponisation of respectability politics by governments worldwide ensure that pornography is judged by ‘conventional’ morality, and then, almost universally, condemned as inherently bad. And yet, there have been few attempts to critically engage with the medium in nuanced terms.
There is much to be said for the sexual dysfunction of young people, and parallels can certainly be drawn between the violent misogyny of much mainstream free tube porn and the societal prevalence of violence against women and girls. However, there has been no serious mainstream attempt to understand any correlations within a framework of the multiple and interconnected strands of respect and empowerment, sexual and reproductive health, and justice and pleasure politics. Instead, where thinkers, writers, creatives, healthcare professionals and sex workers come together to reflect on the medium, it has always been considered fringe work.
I will never stop clamouring that there is an urgent need to build our critical thinking skills surrounding the evaluation of pornography in much the same ways in which we would all other forms of consumable media.
In the two years since that conference, the core School of Sexuality Education team has written a book aimed at people aged 14 and over called Sex Ed: An Inclusive Teenage Guide to Sex and Relationships, and they are having an in-person book launch on Monday 15 November at Camden Collective, Collective Auction Rooms, 5–7 Buck Street, London NW1 8NJ
[Image description: Cover of Sex Ed: School of Sexuality Education book placed at a jaunty angle on a bright pink background. Yellow box with black text ‘A Celebration of Sex Ed Sex Ed: An Inclusive Teenage Guide to Sex and Relationships book launch and panel discussion 18.00 – 20.30 Monday 15th November 2021 The Camden Collective, London’]
Ticket link: A Celebration of Sex Ed and Book Launch
To learn more about my insights on porn you can book my ‘Improving Intimacy – Part II’ workshop, or buy the six-page workbook via PayPal for £5 (I’ll send across the PDF via email). Love Your Cunt can be purchased for personal viewing from the alfSHIFT website (Note: the altSHIFT website is NSFW).
script – a series of behaviours, actions, and consequences that are expected in a particular situation or environment.
trope – a significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
‘tube’ porn – free aggregator pornography websites, which are considered ethically dubious.
weaponisation – to adapt something, either conceptual or concrete, for use as a weapon.
[Image description: Text ‘POSTSCRIPT’ on a navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke]
The ‘POSTSCRIPT’ segment for paid subscribers will drop on Wednesday 10 November. To receive this extra mailout, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid subscription.
[Image description: Text ‘PRODUCED BY’ on navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke]
I’m Almaz Ohene, a Creative Copywriter, Freelance Journalist and Accidental Sexpert.
Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Available for commissions. Info via almazohene.com/contact-faqs.