When Lynsey G. took a job reviewing porn DVDs at the age of 24, she didn’t think she was stepping into a new career. More than a decade later, she’s written a memoir about her life as a feminist porn journalist. Watching Porn: And Other Confessions of an Adult Entertainment Journalist, now available from the The Overlook Press, was released in June with a sold-out event at New York City’s famed Strand Book Store, which was attended by Make Love Not Porn founder Cindy Gallop), AVN Hall of Famer Sinnamon Love and queer pornographer Mahx Capacity.

Lynsey is the first to admit that the majority of us don’t understand what feminist porn is or how to recognize it, but the genre continues to grow year over year, both in production and in the zeitgeist. Earlier this month, Susan Sarandon, 70, told the U.K. edition of the international women’s magazine Grazia that she wants to start making feminist porn by the age of 80. Rashida Jones, producer of Netflix’s Hot Girls Wanted, recently cited Erika Lust and Holly Randall as two of her favorite female porn makers in the New York Times, relating, “If you are making money, you are powerful; therefore, anything you do to make that money makes you powerful; therefore, anything you do to be powerful is feminist.” Earlier this year, the Feminist Porn Awards, handed out by Toronto sex shop Good For Her, celebrated its 12th anniversary.

While written as a memoir, Watching Porn also operates on another level as cultural analysis and explores how challenging it can be for women to function in the world’s most provocative, triggering and debated industry—and one that has historically marginalized them. In a wide-ranging interview wih Playboy, the author talked to Contributing Writer Lilly Dancyger about what people get wrong about feminist porn, how the industry is changing and why she’s urging more people to talk openly about their porn-viewing habits.


What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have when you tell them about your career in porn journalism?
For people who don’t know me, a lot of the time they clam up. It’s rare to meet someone who immediately has a lot of questions. I think some people feel that if they were to ask specific questions, it would expose them. And then I get those who feel like they can tell me everything about their personal life, which can be fun but sometimes intense. I get a lot of questions about women in porn, especially if it’s understood at the outset that I’m a feminist. It always amazes me to realize that some people still haven’t heard about feminist porn, or that it’s good. It boggles my mind.

So, you proselytize for feminist porn?
I do a little bit. It might be annoying, but I think it’s important.

What would you tell those who are unfamiliar?
The first thing about feminist porn is that yes, it exists. Yes, there’s a lot of it out there. No, you can’t always tell by watching it that it’s feminist porn. What a lot of people picture when they hear the term feminist porn is late-night, Showtime, soft-focus, soft-core, schmaltzy music. And there’s nothing wrong with that; that is fine entertainment.

If you google “feminist porn,” you would have tons of options. Many, many things will pop up, everything from that soft-core, soft focus stuff to really hardcore, kinky, and queer. When I’m talking about feminist porn, I’m talking about the ethos that goes into producing it. There are a lot of feminist practices that go on in all kinds of porn-making.

I had been told that porn is bad. You can’t be a feminist and watch porn.

What it comes down to is treating the people you work with with respect and not necessarily making a product marketed specifically to heterosexual white men. There are so many other definitions you could put on feminist porn, but to me, those are the two most basic tenets. So, you can have porn that looks similar to any other porn out there, but maybe on set they let performers talk to each other beforehand about what they want to do, so that they can get images of more real pleasure. It really depends on how it’s made.

What has surprised you the most about this field of work?
When I started writing about porn, I was 24 years old. I had gotten it into my head that the porn on the internet was not the same as “real porn.” I thought they were somehow fundamentally different. When I got a job reviewing DVDs, I was excited because I thought I’d get to watch better stuff than what I had seen online. And I had a lot of guilt and shame around what I watched online because I had been told that porn is bad. It’s bad for women, you can’t be a feminist and watch porn. But I did anyway, and so I thought, well, here’s my chance. I thought professional porn was gonna be artistic, thought-provoking and, like, beautiful.

The magazine I wrote for was, depending on where you shopped, either on the bottom shelf or the very top shelf, where nobody could reach it. It was wrapped in plastic and usually had something over the cover. So [the editors] were not really into artsy material. This was also 2007—the height of the hardcore gonzo craze. Just super hardcore material. So that’s what I was given to review.

My biggest realization was, “Oh my God. All the stuff I’ve been watching on the internet is the same as the ‘real porn’!“ People just take it from DVDs, chop it into smaller pieces and put it on the internet, and that’s what I was watching. I was horrified at first, but I started to feel better about what I was watching online, because I realized most of these people had gotten paid for their work.

But then I had to go through the whole process of realizing that watching it online for free meant that those performers were getting paid less than they used to, which is a whole rabbit hole that I’m still burrowing into.

You mentioned the gonzo craze. What are the prevailing trends in porn-making now? What’s interesting or cool or even terrible?
We’ll go for the good news first. When I first started writing about porn, everyone was in a panic because the work was being pirated and profits were dropping across the board. It felt like the end times. Everyone I talked to was like, Oh, porn is dead and within a year, it’s all gonna be done.

I always thought, Wouldn’t it be nice if the industry changed so that performers had more control over their work, so they wouldn’t have to rely on these production companies that might go belly-up, and who might not have the best ethics? That’s what’s happening now.

Most professional porn actors have their own websites now and social media where fans can find them. They make their own clips and even custom videos for fans. They cam. Some of them set up phone sex lines. There are all these alternate revenue streams wherein they’re able to control their labor and the way their images are presented. And they’re making money more directly for themselves. They’re actually making money on every sale of the clip posted, as opposed to getting a one-time fee that might be higher or lower, depending on the project.

The bad thing is that people are doing all of this primarily because there’s so much piracy of copyrighted material that it’s driven the industry this direction. There’s also Mindgeek, a giant porn monopoly, that owns most of the big, free sites and large porn-production companies. So it’s producing content that it then sells, but on the other hand, it owns these websites where users can pirate, and Mindgeek makes money on the advertising revenue there. It’s like Amazon buying up Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House while also operating Amazon on the other side. They’re stealing from one hand to feed the other. So, Mindgeek is taking the entire industry by the throat. Because it’s so big, there are few companies that can stand up to it in any way.

It’s hard to rally people around this as a cause—people outside of the industry, at least—because people don’t want to talk about the fact that they watch porn, even if they really do care. They don’t want to admit that in public.

What is something you would like to see change in the way people talk about porn?
Number one, I would like to see people pay for it more often. My friend Porno Jim, who does a radio show and stage show in New York, recently suggested that people should set aside a certain amount of money per month, or per year, and spend that money on porn. It doesn’t mean that every time that you interact with porn you must pay, because most of us wouldn’t have that kind of money. But if $100 a year is in your budget, then put $100 a year toward the porn that you like.

It’s similar to how I approach music. I want to pay the musicians whose work I love. I can’t always do it, but when I can, I try to. If people were to take that sort of attitude about pornography, they would be putting money back into the ecosystem, and paying for work that speaks to them, which is probably the best stuff. Then, more of the good stuff will get made.


Buy Lynsey G.’s book, Watching Porn: And Other Confessions of an Adult Entertainment Journalist (published by The Overlook Press), here