Gwyneth Paltrow and Jada Pinkett Smith say porn is harmful to women. These female adult-content creators disagree.

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·8-min read
(Photo: Red Table Talk via Facebook)
Jada Pinkett Smith, left, and Gwyneth Paltrow discussed various problems of porn on Red Table Talk, to the annoyance of women who create adult content. (Photo: Red Table Talk via Facebook)

Gwyneth Paltrow and Jada Pinkett Smith dissed porn last week when the two sat down for a discussion on Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk, with the host saying it "has really messed us up" and that "the woman's pleasure doesn't matter, it's not even thought about." Paltrow, meanwhile, noted porn is "doing such a disservice" to women and young girls.

Now their opinions are prompting backlash from at least one camp — that of women who are makers of feminist, pro-sex adult content.

"I get very frustrated when people use the word 'porn' like it's one big homogenous mass — that's like using the word 'literature' to say it’s all the same,” says Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of Make Love Not Porn, a social platform that "is not a competitor to porn" but "an utterly unique and very badly needed counterpoint to porn." The landscape of porn, she tells Yahoo Life, "is like the landscape of literature, with just as many genres and subgenres."

Adds Erika Lust, Swedish indie adult-film director, "Porn is not a monolithic entity — it's part of a discourse on sexuality, sex and gender and it mirrors our society." Or at least it should, she notes.

Courtney Trouble, the founder of NoFauxxx, "the indie porn revolution; subversive smut made by ladies, artists, and queers," agrees, telling Yahoo Life, "This is the second time this year I've heard that porn is harmful to either women or men and frankly it's gender essentialist and limited in scope. What is hurtful when celebrities talk about porn is that they're doing it without any sense of porn literacy."

Make Love Not Porn
Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of Make Love Not Porn — "a very badly needed counterpoint to porn." (Photo courtesy of CIndy Gallop)

That's part of what Lilly Sparks — founder of afterglow, described as "high-quality erotic content curated for sexual wellness, focused on pleasure for everyone" — called out in her recent piece for The Daily Beast, "Hey Gwyneth Paltrow and Jada Pinkett Smith: You Don’t Know Sh*t About Porn." In it, she noted that the idea of porn being harmful is not "backed up by science or data," and pointed out that one survey (albeit from 2015) found that 70 percent of women watch porn at least a few times a month.

Sparks continued, "When I entered this industry, I believed many of the things Jada and Gwyneth said. And wow, has my mind been blown. First off, there's a whole landscape of cool women filmmakers out there — from Erika Lust to Shine Louise Houston at PinkLabel.TV to Kayden Kross at Deeper. All of us are trying to create a vision of the kind of porn we want to see in the world."

Some social media users, including sex workers, also registered their annoyance with the discussion.

Not all adult films are created equal

Part of the problem, Gallop says, is when people use the term "porn" strictly in reference to the most mass-market, mainstream, male-gaze-based sites — Pornhub, Red Tube, YouPorn, XTube, Brazzers and more, which are all owned by the same Canadian monopoly, MindGeek.

"In any other industry, it would've been the target of antitrust legislation and broken up long ago," she says. "MindGeek's stranglehold on porn makes it extraordinarily difficult for the many indie, female, queer, really creative, innovative pornographers that would be a far better watch for many people," including Make Love Not Porn videos, which offer "real world sex" as opposed to "performative, produced entertainment." 

But, she tells Yahoo Life, "nobody knows they exist and cannot find them. Clearly, Jada and Gwyneth are not aware."

A scene from Erika Lust's
A scene from Erika Lust's Girl Friday. (Photo: Alex Kacha)

Lust tells Yahoo Life, "The real disservice here is to put our indie productions in the same league as MindGeek's sites. Porn as a medium can be used in a positive or negative way as everything else. It is absolutely possible to create porn that is not rooted in exploitation and misogyny by changing the narratives and making a positive shift in the production process. This is what adult independent productions like mine have been trying to do for more than two decades now."

Pinkett Smith's publicist did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment. Paltrow's publicist did — pointing out the "Good Porn Guide" on Paltrow's wellness site Goop, which notes, "If you haven't checked what’s available in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised. There are a growing number of platforms building a body of porn that is compelling and diverse, shown through the female gaze, made by women, ethically produced — and hot." It then calls out works including those from Lust (proving that, even if Paltrow isn't aware of feminist porn, her writers are).

"I wish Gwyneth could have used her conversation with Jada to highlight our groundbreaking work just as she did on her website," says Lust.

This is not the first time that Pinkett Smith has talked about porn, noting in a 2019 Red Table Talk episode that she used to have "a little porn addiction." Her daughter Willow, meanwhile, admitted she began seeing porn online at age 11, but noted "…because I had you and daddy to actually have real conversations with, that stuff didn’t affect me because I had a connection with people I could talk to about it. And I knew what the reality was."

Erika Lust, center, behind the scenes on set with actors. (Photo: Adriana Eskenazi)
Erika Lust, center, behind the scenes on set with actors from the erotic feature Heidi & the Dough Boys. (Photo: Adriana Eskenazi)

Many viewers might not though, as noted in the more recent Red Table Talk, with a wide-ranging discussion about sex touching on topics from the importance of sexual communication in relationships and the difficulty of parenting teens in a social-media world to perceived problems with porn. 

Financial damages

But Trouble points out that lumping all porn together for criticism is not only inaccurate but potentially damaging. "Already we are up against so much…with the way that religious organizations, political lobbyists and corporations are pigeonholing sex workers out of legitimate banking and business opportunities," she says, referring to how some payment platforms shut out those in the adult industry. "Statements like these sensationalize porn in a way that actually ends up with us losing our jobs." 

Gallop, whose TED talk on the need for real vs. performative adult content went viral a full 12 years ago, highlights such financial blockades. "I have fought a battle every day to keep [Make Love Not Porn] going — not even to grow it," she says, pointing to an infrastructure that largely blocks adult content from doing business — from her not being able to take payments and pay Make Love Not Pornstars via Paypal, to having to "beg" the heads of video-sharing tech services for access and being banned from advertising on Facebook, Instagram and elsewhere.

"Jada and Gwyneth could help with the funding," Gallop suggests, "invite me on Red Table Talk and champion me."

If they and others are really concerned about women, Lust says, "we should be asking ourselves, 'How are women treated in the porn industry? Do governments guarantee basic labor rights for female sex workers? Are these women fully in charge of their own careers?'" Because if folks condemn the industry without mentioning this aspect, she explains, "we'll only end up reinforcing stigma over sex workers while conflating it with sex trafficking… There is the assumption that porn and sex work are always particularly exploitative for women, which just isn't true. So many female performers are empowered and elevated by what they do!"

As for Pinkett Smith's observation that porn doesn't care about the pleasure of women, Lust explains, "Depending on who you have directing and controlling the camera, the way you tell a story changes enormously." That’s why she has a mostly female and queer crew when I'm working on set, as well as in the office.

"I want to create a sex-positive space for women and queer people of any ethnicity and gender to reclaim their sexuality, pleasure and desires," she says.

Because bottom line? Feminist porn makers are on the same page as Paltrow and Pinkett Smith.

"Our ultimate mission is to end rape culture… to end everything Jada and Gwyneth are so worried about," says Gallop, who aims to do so "by showing how wonderful great, consensual, communicative sex is in the real world — to role model good sexual values and behavior and to make that aspirational."

But, says Lust, "We can't make an audience believe that porn is just one seedy, bad thing and that alternatives do not exist. Porn is always going to exist. The real solution to bad porn is making porn with clean values and from diverse perspectives." 

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