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
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
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’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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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