When Candida Royalle was starring in adult flicks in the 1970s and 1980s, pornography was about women's bodies—what they were doing and what was being done to them. In 1984 Royalle created Femme Productions and stepped behind the camera to make films about women's pleasure, pioneering a new genre of 'couples erotica' that promoted positive sexual role modeling and communication. In June, Royalle received a lifetime achievement award at the first Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto. The author of How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do: Sex Advice from a Woman Who Knows (Fireside, 2004), Royalle told Utne how pornography can be a healthy force in people's lives.
What advice do you have for people who are struggling with how to talk to their partners about pornography?
I always tell men that the most important thing is to make your woman feel that she is the one you desire. If the woman has any concerns that you don't find her absolutely ravishing, she's certainly not going to feel confident looking at other women on screen. Explain to her: I don't want to look at these women because I'd rather be with them, I just think it would be kind of fun-maybe we'll get some good ideas.
In some ways it's even more difficult for a woman to bring up because of the stigma that we're not supposed to like pornography. Explain to the guy that it's not that you want to be with those men or that you're comparing him to those men, but that it would just be a fun experience.
What about the person who just isn't comfortable watching porn?
If you're absolutely not comfortable, you should never feel like you have to do it. Your partner should be willing to understand that there are just places you are not comfortable going.
If you're uncomfortable but willing, give it a chance and try to go in with an open mind. Insist that you be part of the decision making and really do your research. I always advise people to select by the director-covers are deceiving. Go into a store that's more woman-friendly, even if it's the man who's uncomfortable. Talk to the salespeople; they can suggest something. Or go to one of the websites that give very good, intelligent reviews, like Blowfish.com and Babeland.com. If it ends up making you uncomfortable, then that's it-at least you gave it your best shot.
If your partner has been a victim of sexual assault, crime, or incest, don't ever try to push them into something like that. Also, men who have sexual performance issues should never be forced into watching adult movies, because the men are made to look like absolute sex gods, and it can be counterproductive.
What about that fear of being compared to porn stars' perfect bodies and performances? Should people just get over it?
It's certainly preferable to deal with issues of self-esteem and body image. It's such a detriment to so many things in our lives: enjoying our life, feeling good about ourselves, and especially having a fulfilling sex life with the person we care for.
I used to have a hard time having intercourse sitting on top of the man because I felt like, Gee, did my breasts look perky enough? You're sitting there worrying about how you look when you should be feeling. So as much as I hate the word should, yes, we should do everything we can to deal with our body image. We have to remember that we are much harder on ourselves than the men who love us are.
How can people tell when porn is helping them and when it's doing harm?
As long as it's something that you just like to watch occasionally and it's just part of your goody bag of fun things to do, it's okay.
There are healthy uses of the movies. You can get ideas from them. You can help yourself become more comfortable with sex. You can help yourself get over your own hang-ups, open up to your own inner fantasies-as long as you're looking at stuff that pleases you and doesn't make you uncomfortable. Never feel pushed. There are so many other things we can do to have fun.