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What does porn for people who have experienced trauma look like?

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I have a confession to make. I don’t like porn. I’m not anti-porn as industry or anything; in fact, I passionately advocate for sex workers in general. The truth is that due to my particular trauma history, I find a lot of mainstream porn to be triggering. Mostly, it’s the blatant disregard for even a whiff of consent that gets me. But because I think and write so much about sex, I often feel left out of this kind of entertainment. I want to like porn, but I need it to be more trauma sensitive. I set out to figure out whether trauma-informed porn is a thing or just a socially conscious femme’s pipe dream.

During this quest, I feared telling people I don’t like porn — it makes me feel kind of uptight. If people find out, would they think I’m a SWERF? “It's okay to have porn preferences,” Carol Queen, a sex educator at Good Vibrations and on of the authors of The Sex and Pleasure Book tells me. “I think some people misuse the term ‘sex-positive’ to make it sound like a problem if someone doesn't want to have all the sex or see all the porn. It's not a problem.” Queen asserts that everyone should be able to choose what they want to do and see without judgment. So, not liking porn doesn’t make me, or anyone else, a killjoy.

If you want to watch porn and you have a history of (even minor) trauma, Queen has some ideas on how to make mainstream erotica palatable. For porn with an element of awareness, there’s feminist porn. While feminist porn is produced by and for people who want equality for women, it’s a mistake to assume that it’s gentle, vanilla, or that you won’t find some really powerful displays of domination and submission. “Think of it as a genre that allows women, and often queer, trans, or non-binary folks, to depict their own authentic sexuality — which can be kinky and intense as much as loving and egalitarian,” Queen says.

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If you want to be titillated, but you aren’t ready for the overwhelming visual buffet of video porn, Queen says, you might want to start with literature instead. She recommends The Feminist Porn Book, edited by Tristan Taormino, who is an advocate for what she calls “fair trade” or “ethical” porn. This classification of erotica focuses on ensuring fair working conditions for those involved in production, so these videos could be a good next step after lit. XConfessions and PinkLabel are both reputable producers of ethically-produced fair trade porn.

Fair trade porn also offers the viewer what may feel like a more empowering porn experience, starting with consent — which is important for viewers like me to see. “Some feminist or fair trade porn includes the performers' negotiation about what they're going to do in the video.” Seeing actors enthusiastically consent isn’t just a good trauma-informed practice, as far as I’m concerned — it’s also really fucking hot.

There is, I found, no genre of porn that calls itself “trauma-informed,” but feminist and fair trade porn is more trauma-conscious than the mainstream. Trauma is an ever-evolving subject of study, which means that what is perceived as trauma-sensitive is always changing. Also, trauma isn’t one-size-fits-all, so trauma aware porn can’t be, either. “Not all survivors would want to see the same things,” Queen says. “Even if we develop a universally-recognized genre called ‘trauma-informed porn,’ some viewers would still not want to see plenty of things in it. Whether or not trauma is part of our sexual history, we will still have varying comfort and interest levels. That's a real challenge, I think.”

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