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Pornographic Film and Video: Lesbian  
 
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Pornography has always sparked a great deal of controversy among lesbians. Traditionally rejected by lesbian feminists as an inherently male institution both violent and misogynistic, pornography has nonetheless been openly embraced by a faction of pro-sex lesbians (and so-called "do-me feminists") for the past two decades.

At the same time, there remains to this day a decided dearth of authentic lesbian pornographic film--which only emerged in the mid-1980s in the first place.

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It is easy enough to find numerous woman-on-woman scenes in the majority of heterosexual pornographic films, of course; but these representations of all-female sexuality are generally so inaccurate, and so clearly geared toward a straight male audience, that very few could truly be considered lesbian.

The differences between lesbian-made and male-produced movies are easy to recognize: most pornographic films made by and for lesbians are, first and foremost, non-commercial, often with amateur actors and makeshift sets.

These films feature women of different sizes, shapes, colors, and gender identities--butches, stone butches, femmes, , etc. Many of these lesbians have short nails, short hair, and modifications such as tattoos and body or facial piercings.

In contrast, most "lesbian" scenes in straight pornography feature stereotypical male-fantasy women with surgical enhancements, uniformly thin bodies, and long hair and nails. Despite the identification of many commercial porn actresses as bisexual or polysexual, there is never a butch in sight in these movies

It was not until 1985 that the first pornographic film made entirely by and for lesbians appeared, well over a decade after the first gay male pornographic films emerged. The then brand new technology of video facilitated the making of two short films, Private Pleasures and Shadows, which were released together on one tape.

These movies were the brainchild of Fatale Video, founded by Nan Kinney and Debi Sundahl--the same duo who launched On Our Backs, the first sex magazine created for lesbians by lesbians, in 1984.

Fatale went on to release other lesbian-made porn videos such as Hungry Hearts (1989); the infamous Suburban Dykes (1991), which starred Nina Hartley, a well-known, openly bisexual commercial porn actress; Bathroom Sluts (1991); and the instructional video How to Female Ejaculate (1992), among others.

Gay Male Porn vs. Lesbian Porn

In a culture that has long fostered the open expression of male sexuality while discouraging overt female sexuality and aggression, it comes as no surprise that pornography has historically been created by and for men, both gay and straight.

In addition, the longstanding "sex wars" between pro- and anti-porn feminist camps also contributed to the scarcity of dyke-made porn. The sex wars, fought ferociously through the 1980s and made public by groups such as Women Against Pornography, have not yet ceased. In contrast, a loud outcry over pornography in the gay male community--or among straight men, for that matter--has yet to surface.

It is interesting to note, then, the disparity between the politics of gay male pornography and that of lesbian pornography. For example, gay male porn has long consisted of a huge number of films and magazines, and gay porn theaters were at one time commonplace. In terms of sheer quantity, there is simply no parallel in lesbian culture.

One reason for this is the economic situation of lesbians, who are in general a less economically prosperous group than gay men. Fronting the money to produce pornography has proven a challenge--especially when the lesbian market for explicit material remains tiny in comparison to the market for gay male or straight porn.

Very few lesbian sex magazines are published in the United States (On Our Backs being the only one with which most lesbian readers are familiar). Moreover, the small number of lesbian videos that do exist tend to embody political statements and emphasize issues such as diversity, safe sex, and varied expressions of sexual identity, which sometimes results in a less than truly titillating film for many viewers.

Interestingly enough, many lesbians regularly watch and appreciate gay male pornography, presumably because, among its other merits, it entails neither an overwhelming focus on political correctness nor the distracting and often disturbing heterosexual power dynamics found in straight porn.

Gay porn and lesbian porn have something important in common, however: they serve as positive, accurate representations of sexuality--a rare depiction in our society. As pro-sex lesbians and feminists point out, sexual material made by women and intended for a lesbian audience can be tremendously life-affirming in a world still permeated with heterosexism and lesbian exploitation.

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