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.
Pornography has been through an intense technological revolution since you began directing films in the '80s. How do you think the web has changed the role porn plays in people's sex lives? Should we be concerned?
I know there's a lot of concern, but I think it's like any new toy: There's going to be a spike of fascination and interest. As time goes on and porn becomes just an everyday event, it will just take its place with everything else that's out there and available.
It's like in Denmark, when 20 some odd years ago they legalized porn. There was this hug spike in sales and interest, and then it just petered out and people could have cared less. Another example is the Red Light District in Amsterdam. You know who goes to those places in Amsterdam? Tourists.
I think it's silly for people to believe that they can keep legislating this kind of stuff away, because all it does is keep it a forbidden fruit. And that makes it even more appealing. I'm not talking about victimized porn -- kiddie porn or animals or anything where there's a victim involved. I think that's terrible. But as long as it's an adult and they have a credit card, and you're making it difficult for kids to access, I just feel like: Fine, you want to look at it, look at it. Eventually people are going to get bored with it and it's not going to be the big deal it is now.
You bring up the issue of the kids. What advice do you have for parents worried that their children may be searching for porn online?
Children formulate their later sexual proclivities very early in life. And they mostly stem from things that are not the porn they see. They stem from their very early childhood experiences. They stem from what goes on in their family. They stem from the culture they grow up in. So if you live in a very sexually repressed culture or very sexually repressed households, this formulates a certain kind of attitude in children toward sex already.
All children play doctor and do those things. If your parents catch you, or if you walk in on your parents, and the parents get upset and act like it's a horrible thing or that you are terrible, that creates a real confusion around sex. Suddenly sex becomes associated with guilt, with being bad. Here's something that feels good that our own parents do but it's bad. It's already establishing what could later turn into a very strange kind of perverse attitude toward sex.
I don't think the problem is what kids are exposed to on the Internet. I think the problem is that parents send their kids out into the world without any dialogue, any information, any education. We live in a country where education is abstinence only. Kids are living in a highly sexualized culture, they're bombarded with messages about sex, girls are encouraged to dress like available little whores, and boys are encouraged to act like great studs.
If you read Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pig, it's horrific. I mean girls are performing oral sex just to be popular, without any information on how to protect themselves, without any concern of what they really want, or how they really feel. We're not talking to these kids. It's abstinence only. To me, this is criminal. I think this is far more criminal than what they might see on the Internet.
You're credited with revolutionizing pornography by bringing a sex-positive, woman's point of view to the genre. What changes would you like to see in the industry today?
I have to say that I'm disappointed in the industry. In a way, I really brought the female viewer into feeling more free and open to watching porn, and I think that a lot of mainstream porn producers have just taken that and, instead of really putting the same kinds of concerns and positive messages in their movies that I would like to think I've put into mine, they've just made the same old formulaic sex with all the flying cum shots and everything, added a silly soap opera story to it, and then slapped on the label 'couples films.'
A lot of what's out there is still garbage and is still offensive and insulting to a lot of women. I would just like to see a lot more women come into the genre and start really creating from their own feelings and desires rather than continuing to make movies with the same old formulaic sex, featuring women with augmented bodies, and super young women. We need encouragement as women that we don't have to be 20 with big hard boobs, and tiny little waists to be desired and loved. I want more of that.
You don't call yourself a pornographer.
Nowadays, pornographer and porn are becoming hip terms again. Maybe I've been wrong all this time, but I always felt that because I was seeking out the women's market and trying to do something different, that by calling myself a pornographer or calling my movies porn, I already would lose a whole bunch of potential women viewers. The word porn was like a dirty word to them. Plus pornography comes from the Greek word for the depiction of prostitutes -- I didn't feel that my work was that -- whereas erotica comes from the root word eros and is the depiction of sexual love. Even though not all my movies are about love, I do think that they're about the expression of sexual desire, and so I feel like pornography is an inaccurate description.
I realize also that porn is the word that gets people's attention; the media likes to use it. In a way, I understand now that people have kind of taken it back and reclaimed it so that it's not such a dirty word.
This is always the toughest question I ask. How old are you?
Fifty-five. It really is hard for me to put that age out there, because of the ageism in our culture. But I think about how happy I am and how life is just getting better and better. I have this wonderful relationship -- I'm engaged, it's passionate, it's sexy. I feel great, I think I look great -- people tell me I look great -- and I just feel like it's really important for me to be honest, because I want other women to realize that we don't have to buy into this ageism.
It's all part of this culture of trying to devalue women once we're no longer of service to men, once we're no longer mothers or girls looking for male approval. That whole thing about making women feel useless after a certain age is all about keeping us in our place. Frankly, what I've realized is that the older we get, the more powerful we are and the more powerful we become. I can't lie. I'm 55 and I'm having the time of my life.
To learn more about Candida Royalle and her upcoming line of ethnic erotica, Femme Chocolat, visit www.candidaroyalle.com.