Today, there are many options for ethically-produced porn made with a diverse audience in mind — but it wasn’t always this way. Pioneers in the adult industry have worked hard to ensure various people, types of sex, and perspectives are represented in porn. One such pioneer is Angie Rowntree. In 1999, she founded Sssh.com, an award-winning feminist porn site that showcases original adult films and photography, as well as audio and written erotica. Rowntree was inspired to create the site because she wanted to see more erotic content centering women’s desires, with the safety and pleasure of performers at the forefront.
O.school spoke with Rowntree to learn more about what makes porn ethical, the difference between performance and reality, the importance of consent, and more.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
It seems that many young people are turning to internet porn for sex ed. How did you learn about sex as a young person?
AR: My family was always quite open about sex (and religion) and there was never any sense that sex was something bad or shameful. It was always very easy to talk to them. No questions were off-limits, and all were answered. I’m so fortunate to be able to say that. I’ll always greatly appreciate the way my parents handled my inquisitive nature, especially how they encouraged me to ask questions and keep an open mind.
What were your early experiences with porn like?
AR: I’m from Canada, so the first erotica I can recall watching were “blue movies” that used to be on late night TV. My girlfriends and I would all sit in front of the TV and try to make out what people were doing, through the “snow.”
What does ethical porn mean to you, and why do we need alternatives to mainstream porn?
AR: For me, as an adult filmmaker, ethical porn includes, but is not limited to: full transparency, agency, open communication, consent, fair pay, safe working conditions, inclusivity and respect. Moreover, we always allow performers to choose who they wish to work with, and we avoid using tropes and stereotypes in our marketing in favor of humanizing people.
Sssh.com is also a very collaborative studio. I believe this greatly enhances our storylines, character development, and how sex is portrayed in our movies. We try to work with real-life couples as much as possible and we are always open to how we can do better.
Why did you create Sssh.com?
AR: My husband (who is the founder of Wasteland.com) and I got involved in the very early days (1994) of the online adult entertainment industry. From the start, I was confused and frustrated by the lack of films and other content aimed at women as consumers, and the lack of content from a female perspective or showing mutual pleasure. Everything was geared towards a male point of view and men’s fantasies, with depictions of male pleasure, and very little or nothing for us. I wanted to change that.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to explore what brings them pleasure, but isn’t sure where to start?
AR: Before toys or partners come into the equation, it’s absolutely necessary to explore yourself and see, based on your own touch, what feels good.
In porn, of course, there’s an obvious emphasis on the body – but so much of what enables or enhances your pleasure really goes beyond the flesh. Your biggest erogenous zone is between your ears, and many people don’t give their own erotic imagination enough attention. Tune in to the thoughts and feelings that bring excitement to your body, and you’ll be on your way.
What do you think is important for young people to know about porn?
AR: For anyone watching porn — not just young adults — I cannot stress enough how important it is to contextualize what you see as a staged performance, and separate fantasy from reality. For one example: the often acrobatic positions you see in [porn] are possible because adult performers are professionals and are sexual athletes who have trained their bodies. You being intimate in the moment with a real life partner is incalculably different from paid actors who follow a script.
Additionally, what you don’t see in that perfectly edited final cut of a porn scene are the discussions about consent and negotiations that happen before the cameras are even rolling. In real life, you should never assume your partner wants x-y-z without prior communication and consent just because you saw paid actors doing it in a porn movie.
Porn can definitely inspire some hot nights and put you in the mood. No matter what you’re into, the important thing is always to communicate and be on the same page — and totally respect your partner’s wishes if they aren’t interested or comfortable with something. Never judge or belittle each other’s fantasies or compare yourselves to those professional actors. Last, but far from least. Please pay for your porn. Help support the studios and people that bring you the movies you enjoy. Ask yourself, would you work for free?
The bottom line
Conversations in the media often draw attention to the potential harms of sexually explicit content. But as with any form of entertainment, there’s a wide variety of porn out there — including some that prioritizes the safety and pleasure of performers. If you’re interested in exploring your desires through porn, you can feel good about choosing content that’s produced with respect for both performers and consumers.