Interview: Porn Researcher Rosie Hodsdon

I was thrilled when Rosie Hodsdon reached out to volunteer to be an interview subject. I’ve known her through the UK kink scene for a while and she’s totally lovely as well as ridiculously smart. Here, we chat sex and relationships, academic porn research, and why the Digital Economy Bill sucks. 

A picture of Rosie Hodsdon, a white woman in her 20s with shoulder length brown hair. She is wearing a blue jacket and smiling at the camera. There are flowers in the background.

Tell us a little bit about you and the work you do?

I am currently working towards my PhD at Northumbria University, looking at the regulation of online pornography in the UK and how this affects the people who produce it. 

What made you want to get into porn research?

My research interests float around sexualities more broadly, and this stems from the failure that was my school’s sex education! I felt incredibly alienated from everything we were taught and had to find the information that I felt I needed out for myself, and was very lucky to be able to do this at a time when the internet made this a little easier! I knew that I never wanted people to feel as alienated as I did growing up, and wanted to be someone who helped others to learn about the range of sexualities out there in a safe and supportive way.

To me, porn forms just one part of that much wider sphere of things, and I have worked, or would love to work, on projects concerning kink, polyamory and sex work as well. [My work is] about dispelling misconceptions surrounding sexuality more broadly and wanting to work towards a society where these things are free from stigma and judgement. 

What’s your background and how did you break into this work?

Almost by accident, really! I did my first degree in Anthropology and Sociology and I knew as soon as I started that I wanted to focus on sexualities research. Towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I had a guest lecture on my Sociology of Gender and Sexuality module from Professor Clarissa Smith on extreme pornography, which I found fascinating. At the same time, the AVMS regulations had been passed, so pornography was at the forefront of my mind. However, the more I tried to read into academic research on the porn industry, the more I noticed that the voices of those who worked in the industry were rather absent, so when I got an email in my inbox asking for PhD proposals relating to law and sexuality, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. 

What’s the most challenging thing about your work?

There’s a few things that spring to mind, which all cover somewhat different aspects of what I do!

The first problem is somewhat inherent to academia, which is that I can’t ever really escape my work – I can’t go home at the end of a work day and forget about it, because it’s always going to be in my mind and if it’s in my mind, then I’m thinking on it and working!

The second is how frustrating it can be. There’s something very futile about trying to work for a better understanding of sexuality and sex work in a society where everything seems to be pushing back against it – everything from the Digital Economy Act to FOSTA/SESTA. Even in the few days that I’ve been working on this interview, Tumblr has announced its porn ban and Facebook has tightened their control over what language you can use.

The third is that the work itself can be pretty misunderstood and stigmatised. I’m very wary of saying so, because the stigma attached to this academic work really can’t be compared to the stigma attached to actually making porn, and I wouldn’t want to ignore that. But I have had a lot of judgement myself because of what I do, from strangers on the internet all the way to previous partners. Shout-out to my ex specifically, who told me that no one else would ever love me because of what I do. Look at me now, dickbag!

What about the most rewarding thing?

I get to meet some incredible people who are doing some fantastic work, both as producers and as activists. And sometimes I get to be considered amongst them as well! Feeling like I have the ability to change people’s viewpoints or give them a new perspective on things is both very powerful and very humbling, and I feel a huge responsibility with it, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. 

Who’s your favourite porn performer and why? What about your favourite production company? 

I have to pick just one? I’m not going to play by these rules! [Spoken like a true polyamorist! – Amy] There are some amazing performers who represent the industry in such a positive way, both in the US and the UK.

Stoya was the first person I encountered who combined porn with activism, and I’ve appreciated her work ever since. I’m also a huge fan of Pandora/Blake, who works tirelessly to support sexual freedom. Jiz Lee has done some amazing work, and their book, Coming Out Like a Porn Star, has been hugely influential to me in its approach to centering performer voices.

As for my favourite company, it has to be Crash Pad Series! It’s radical, queer, kinky, feminist-grounded porn which focuses on a fair production process and has the inimitable Shine Louise Houston at its helm, also fighting for new approaches to sexuality in society more broadly. And it’s hot. 

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the incoming age verification regulations to access online porn in the UK. What’s your take? 

Where do I start!? The whole thing is a tangled mess of clusterfuck. I could spend hours ranting about this, so I’ll do what I can to condense why the entire thing is a terrible idea. It’s time for some bullet points.

  • The rationale behind the law is to “protect children”, and this is based on fundamentally flawed evidence. The study which forms the basis of the legislation, carried out by the NSPCC, has since been discredited by 37 academics for poor methods and conclusions which stretched far beyond the scope of the study. This is no basis for legislation.
  • Furthermore, what are we protecting children from? Of course no one should have to see porn without wanting to, but this does not just apply to children. There is no evidence which proves that children are harmed en masse by watching pornography. In studies which have explored young people’s motivations for viewing such material, the overwhelming theme is that pornography allows them to explore their sexuality and learn about sex in a way that they otherwise do not have access to. Pornography should not be a substitute for sex education, and this can only be solved with a drastic overhaul of the SRE curriculum. Porn should form a part of this, but so should issues of queer identity, pleasure and safe sex practices. All of these are currently very much lacking in the UK (and in most other places!). 
  • The laws are also almost certainly going to have the least impact on young people, given that they are generally far more technologically literate than a lot of adults. Anyone, including young people, can just get around these restrictions through the use of a VPN.  On a practical level, it won’t work.
  • So what will it do? For the consumer, it will place their private personal information in the hands of companies who are not required to enforce stringent protections of this data. As much as I would like to live in a world where people are not shamed for their sexual desires and preferences, this is not currently the case. We can see in countless examples how information about people’s non-normative sexual preferences has had major real-world consequences, such as losing their jobs or custody of their children. A database which stores information about what porn people watch? Hackers are going to have a field day.
  • Finally – given that this is where my research lies! – it’s going to decimate the porn industry. The financial impact is likely to be significant, particularly for smaller companies with more niche audiences, who are likely to struggle to implement AV systems from an economic standpoint. These are often the studios which produce explicitly ethical, feminist, queer, kink pornography so to lose these would make the industry even more homogeneous and less diverse. There’s also the emotional impact of the regulations to consider – people are fearing for their jobs and businesses. The government is telling people that their work is actively harmful for society. Their own sexualities are being delegitimised. And when you consider further that people with a significant background in porn may well find it harder to find “square” work due to the stigma attached to sex work more broadly, people are very worried about their future. 

Ultimately, the AV laws are like trying to fill in the Gran Canyon with a bucket and spade. I’m going to actually be rather lazy here and take a quote from my own response from the BBFC consultation of which I am rather proud:

Age verification seems to be merely an ineffective, unsubstantiated patch-up for a much wider social issue with regards to how we inform young people about sex and our wider sexual culture– including pornography. Young people are desperate for accurate, inclusive, informed sex education, which produces greater positive outcomes for their sexual, emotional and relationship wellbeing. Focusing on age verification serves to mask that problem rather than confront it, and may instead be detrimental to the development of sexual knowledge if not supported by compulsory and comprehensive sex education. This would be a much more effective use of government resources.”

They rest on fundamentally-flawed foundations of research and are likely to cause a significant amount of social harm.

What’s something that people always misunderstand about your work?

People think that I sit around just watching porn all day. They’re not wrong, but I then have to write about it afterwards. People seem to find that part much less sexy. 

What do you really wish everyone understood about pornography?

Ooh, this is a really interesting one! There’s a lot I could say here, so I’ll break it down into some more bullet points:

  • That (most) porn costs money to make, and all of it takes work. Pay for your damn porn. Or, at least, access it for free only directly from creators, not through any pirated means.
  • That porn performers (and producers) are human! There’s a narrative in anti-porn discourse which tends to paint performers particularly as being nothing more than vapid, blow-up fuckdolls, which not only removes their agency and autonomy, but also reduces them to their having sex. We live in an age now where it’s easier than ever to move past this image – we have performers doing some amazing activist work or simply engaging with their fans on social media, and the image that persists of people, particularly women, in porn as being either a mindless set of holes or an exploited victim, denies them their personhood,
  • That it’s not a public health danger. There is no research out there which proves that porn is inherently harmful, and while I would never want to belittle any individual issues that pornography has caused (because yes, people can have issues with it and people who do need appropriate support), it does not do this on a large scale.
  • That pornography can be massively positive. Emerging research is starting to show that porn isn’t just used by consumers to get off, though that’s part of it too. It’s a way to explore their sexuality and identity, a way to connect with others (if you’ve never shared the Lemon Stealing Whores introduction with your friends, I recommend it), an education resource, a method of stress relief, and much more. 
  • Finally, that it’s okay not to like pornography! Whether that’s a particular type or the genre as a whole – as much as I’m positive about what pornography is, what it can do and who makes it, I don’t expect everyone to like it. All I want is for it to be respected as a form of labour and as a creative product, and for the freedom of others to be able to access it and make it should they choose to. 

Who inspires you personally and professionally?

On a professional level, there are so many people I want to name here! First of all, I have to note the amazing things that my participants have shared with me over the course of my research, and their openness and trust with me is massively motivating.

Secondly, my PhD supervisory team – Chris Ashford, Tony Ward and Laura Graham – who continue to blow my mind and push me to succeed, even when I want to give up, and whose research has paved the way for someone like me to do something like this.

Thirdly, the tireless activism of Pandora/Blake and Myles Jackman. I’m so in awe of the both of them that even now, having met both multiple times, they still scare me slightly!

Fourth (and finally, for this part of the question), the awesome communities that my research has allowed me to become immersed in – academics, sex work activists, porn producers and creators – who are all doing such amazing things themselves!

On a personal level, I am very lucky to be surrounded by some incredible people. My partner, Lewis; my boyfriend, Willtom; and my girlfriend, Tiggy, have all provided me with invaluable support and happiness. They push me to keep going even when I just want to throw my thesis in a fire! (They’re also hella cute). I also have an amazing family, who have dealt with trying to explain my PhD topic to far too many people! I hate feeling like I’m “lucky” to have their support, because it should be a given. But I know that that’s not always the case and that I am grateful that they’ve not disowned me yet. And I can’t not also mention the lovely people of the Durham, Leeds and Reading kink scenes, who are unfailingly wonderful and who have also supported me along the way. 

Who’s your favourite sex educator and why?

So much of my inspiration to enter sexualities education (in a sense) myself came from Scarleteen, so I’d like to say their entire website! Also, my entire Twitter feed has been improved since introducing Alix Fox into its mix. She combines some spectacular puns with activism and awareness work, and I’m always impressed by her willingness to reach out and continue learning from others. [We love Alex here at C&K! – Amy]

What’s something you used to believe – about sex, relationships or porn – that you don’t believe any more?

I feel like there’s a tendency to put romantic love on a pedestal, and as has probably been demonstrated in this interview, there are so many other forms of relationships that can be just as wonderful, supportive and fulfilling.

And just for fun because it is “Coffee & Kink” – do you like coffee? How do you take it?

…I don’t. Unless *insert enema joke here*? 

(Please don’t hate me!)

Thank you so much to Rosie for her time and for the awesome work she’s doing, which will undoubtedly benefit all of us – when porn and sex work are destigmatised, all of us gain greater sexual freedom. You can keep up with Rosie via her Twitter, and as ever if YOU are doing something awesome in the field of sex or relationships and would like to be featured on the blog, hit me up.


Sex Educators You Should Know: The “Ersties” Podcast Crew

You guys might remember a few months back I introduced you to the wonderful Ersties Podcast, a smart, sassy and funny show about sex, kink, porn, the adult industry and more. Well today I am thrilled to bring you an interview with Lina Bembe, one of the team of badass women behind the podcast. 
But first, I wanted to tell you about a couple of my favourite recent episodes since I last introduced you to these amazing ladies.

Episode #7 is called “Self-Love, Sex and Magic” which brings together two of my favourite things – sex and magic! Sex is, really, its own particular kind of magic when you think about it, isn’t it? The team discuss sexuality as a form of women’s power, which has terrified men for centuries – so much so that in time gone by, women who dared to be openly sexual opened themselves up to accusations of witchcraft.

Favourite quotes:

“Witches are in many ways the original feminists… the original sluts.”
“We need to get our vulvas together… we need some vulva action!”

The other thing I loved about this episode is the team’s discussion about coming out to their families as working in the porn industry. I won’t spoil the stories for you, but you should go and hear them for yourselves.

Their special guest is Vanessa Cuccia of Chakrubs, the world’s first crystal sex toy company (which, yes, is 100% a thing I want in my life.)

Listen here.

The ladies also JUST released Episode #9 which is on my favourite sexuality topic of all – consent! They discuss consent in BDSM, how to talk about what you want in bed, and what consent looks like on a porn set.

If there’s one, single message I want my readers to take away from my work, it’s that consent is everything. Consent is the beginning, the end and everything in between. The Ersties team delve deep into this complex and nuanced subject with honesty and insight.

Personally, I particularly appreciated the discussion of being in a sex work situation such as making porn, and not really feeling like having sex… but making the decision to consent anyway, in order to get paid at the end of the day. It’s such an important point that there are other good reasons to consent apart from “I’m extremely horny right this second,” and that this doesn’t have to be a traumatising experience. The key, they seem to be arguing, is checking in with yourself and making an informed decision to say yes or no in any given situation.

Favourite quotes:

“Ohhh, now she has to put her fucking fingers in my pussy and I have to pretend to have an orgasm…!”
“Everyone who knows me knows that [my favourite safeword] is brocolli!”

A must-listen for anyone grappling with the nuances of sexual consent. Which is ALL of us, because this shit is complex.

Listen here.

Right, let’s get on with my interview with Lina, shall we?

Amy: What made you want to start the Ersties podcast?

Lina: Paulita, Pandora, Olivia & I were already a sort of gang. We used to hang out a lot, crack jokes, go out and get crazy, and talk about sex and feminism basically all the time. So it was kind of a natural thing to pour all these conversations and the things we are curious about into a podcast format. These days anyone with a smartphone or computer and WiFi access can build a platform and talk about whatever topic they want. In our case, we felt we were a fun crew with good chemistry and important things to discuss and explore, so we just got a mic and started recording!

Amy: Which other podcasters inspire you, and why?

Lina: Tristan Taormino for her extensive experience and educational approach, Ron Johnson’s journalistic work for The Butterfly Effect, Sadia & Monty from BBC’s No Country for Young Women because of their natural style and emphasis on black & brown communities. My personal favorite is Tina Horn from Why Are People into That?!, always fun, unapologetic, politically relevant and raising the voices of fellow sex workers.

Amy: Oh, god, Tristan Taormino is my heroine! So which show do you always listen to the day it comes out?

Lina: Why Are People into That?!, The Cuntcast, Sex Out Loud, Sex with Strangers, Guys We Fucked, The Second Circle, Asa Akira’s podcast for Pornhub, and hopefully the next season of No Country for Young Women!

Amy: Some new names for me there, I’ll check those out for sure. What is the core message you want to get out with the podcast? The one thing you’d like listeners to take away?

A cartoon image of the Ersties Podcast crew speaking to a live audience.Lina: That sex and sexuality are incredibly important for our lives and that it’s crucial to have more unbiased, shame-free conversations about them. We have all been raised and encouraged to see anything related to sex as shameful, dirty, not worth discussing, but the consequences of doing so go a long way into affecting our emotional well being and relationships to others. Thus we need to find ways of reclaiming our bodies and sexualities, and we need to find people we can feel relate to in our journey. We don’t always have the spaces to have shame-free, honest conversations about sex in our daily lives, so we wanted to offer a channel for it with our podcast.

Amy: Preach! So what is ethical porn? What sets ethical porn apart from regular, run-of-the-mill “tube site” porn?

Lina: Ethical porn has two main dimensions. The first dimension happens on the production side, where performers and crew have to be treated with respect regardless of their origins or identities, with professionalism and with attention to their personal boundaries. Where everything discussed in terms of sexual health issues, types of sex acts, remuneration (or skills/content trade agreement), identity, privacy protection and distribution channels is transparent, respectful and agreed by the production company, director, fellow performers and everyone involved in the project. It’s basically playing by the rules,  respecting everyone involved in the process, and making sure, as a producer that you put together a team who are able to work under these ethical standards and understand their importance in both the project and the wider industry.
The second dimension of ethical porn falls on the responsibility of the consumer, when they pay for the content they watch or access the content in the way the producer or performer wants them to. Sadly enough, it’s quite normal for people to watch porn for free and to assume that’s the normal way to go about it – whereas they’re happy to pay for platforms like Netflix or Spotify. The stigma surrounding porn and the proliferation of tube sites (who offer plenty of stolen content) obscures the very elemental fact that porn is also a form of work and that there’s people trying to make a living out of it. Not paying for porn only contributes to the stigma, shrinks the diversity of contents and throws indie producers and performers even more into precariousness. I’d really, really love for people to understand that consuming porn in unethical ways affects everyone.
Amy’s note: I am in love with the Ersties porn site! You can support ethical porn, get access to tonnes of great content, AND send a little kickback my way when you buy an Ersties porn subscription from as little as $11/month through my affiliate links.

Amy: Who would be your dream interview guest on the podcast, and why?

Lina: As a short-term goal, I’d love to have Munroe Bergdorf as a guest. Every single word she says speaks in such a strong way against stigma, and pushes for diversity and real change on so many fronts –  as racism, transphobia, whorephobia, misogyny and so on. I’d love to hear her views on porn and what sort of narratives could make this industry more inclusive and less discriminative!
As a long-term goal: Rihanna! To me, she’s the best global scale example of what it means to be a powerful creature and being unapologetic about owning your sexuality. Plus she likes porn!

Amy: What’s your favourite sex toy?

Lina: Wands of all kinds, and buttplugs. Please don’t make me choose just one!

Amy: Oh, god, yes I’m a wand girl too. Wands are life. Anyway, what’s one thing you really wish people outside of it understood about the adult industry?

Lina: That this is a job like any other. The only thing that sets porn aside from other industries is the traditional shame we culturally attach to everything related to sex and sexuality. That’s incredibly harmful for how we all see ourselves as sexual beings and how stigma and discrimination can go a long way into marginalization and even the death of those who choose porn as a career. It’s time to press fast-forward to 2018 and leave this centuries-old, harmful, puritanical nonsense behind!
***************
Amy again! Thank you so much to Lina and the Ersties crew for taking the time to tell us all about their work and industry. I’m so glad they’re having these conversations – we all need to talk more openly about sex, porn, consent, sexual ethics and all these deep, complex, nuanced topics. Only by talking about these things can we bust the stigma and all enjoy safer, happier, more fulfilling sex lives.
Remember to check out the podcast! If you like friendly, informal dialogue about all things sexy, led by super smart women, you’ll love this show.
This interview was kindly sponsored by The Ersties Podcast. All views, as ever, are my own.

[Podcast Review] The Ersties

A cartoon cover image from The Ersties podcastAnyone who knows me will know that I love podcasts. I drive a lot for my day job, so listening to podcasts (and the occasional audiobook) is how I entertain myself and make the most of my driving time. I have learned so much from the various shows I listen to, and I’m always looking for new ones. So I was thrilled when the lovely folks at The Ersties Podcast reached out to me and asked me to work together.

Ethical Porn and Fascinating Women

Ersties is an ethical, feminist porn site. They describe their work as a “…natural exhibition of our sexuality; all natural girls in all natural situations with no scripts, demands or expectations!” Run by women, they are committed to respectful treatment of their performers, fair payment and genuine passion in their scenes.

The Ersties podcast, hosting conversations about all aspects of sexuality, sex positivity and the adult industry, is an obvious progression of this ethos. The four co-hosts are Paulita Pappel, Lina Bembe, Olivia and Pandora. Each of them has extensive experience in various areas of the adult industry including performing, directing, producing, editing ad more. Each of the four women brings their unique lived experiences and voice to the show. The chemistry between the team is a huge part of what makes it all work so well. They’re friendly, funny and open. Really, it’s like sitting down for coffee with four of your best sex positive friends!

What it’s all about…

Most episodes contain a mix of general chat about their lives and adventures in the world of feminist porn, and discussion around a specific topic of the month. Occasionally, there are also listener questions. The second episode, for example, featured a fascinating discussion inspired by a reader question on sex positivity (or lack thereof) in the communities the presenters grew up in – they all live in Germany now, but come from a diverse mix of backgrounds.

A new episode comes out on the first Friday of each month. Topics covered so far include BDSM, polyamory, why you should pay for your porn, and censorship in the UK. The team obviously have a well-connected network of experts to call upon, and these voices add nicely to the conversations. I particularly enjoyed Censorship Part 1 (The Great British Firewall) where they interviewed “Obscenity Lawyer” extraordinaire, Myles Jackman, and the amazing Blake of Dreams of Spanking. I’m really excited to see what they come out with next and which other experts they talk to.

Give it a listen!

The world needs more open, honest conversations about sex. It also desperately needs more ethical, feminist porn. The Ersties Podcast team are doing their bit to address these needs and to further the conversation on sex positivity, porn literacy, sexual freedom, anti-censorship and more. I can’t wait to see what this fantastic team of women do next!

This post was kindly sponsored by The Ersties Podcast. All views are, and will always be, my own. If you sign up to a membership using my affiliate link, I will make a small commission – and you’ll be supporting ethical porn, which is so important in the age of free tube sites and censorship. You can listen to The Ersties podcast for free wherever you get your podcasts. Image is property of The Ersties Podcast.