Interview: Sophie Delancey – Positively Sex Positive

July 26, 2015
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“Sex positivity in general has a lot of problems,” says sex educator and beautiful porn advocate/creator Sophie Delancey. “The idea of sex positivity for some people means how slutty can you get, you know, how experimental can you be, how kinky can you get, all those things are awesome, but if you don’t want any of those things and if you think more power to you if you do, then you’re sex positive. What sex positivity should be is sex positive in whatever that means for you as long as it’s consensual.” 

I’m speaking over the pleasant platform that is Skype with Delancey about sex positivity, sexual politics, and, of course, beautiful pornograghy. Delancey, who’s been in the industry for five years and is making waves across the discourse with her sites, The Art of Blowjob and The Art of Cunnilingus, as well as the podcast Tell Me Something Good and radio show Sex City Radio, is known for her contributions to beautiful pornography, a realm of niche media teeming with exploration and artistry. 

Delancey, a confident, eloquent, and mighty friendly individual, illuminates on topics ranging from how the music industry and porn industry are comparable, mainstream culture’s aversion to pornography, and her own experience in a very misunderstood artistic community. 

Enjoy the fine words of Sophie Delancey below for some eye opening postulations on ethics, aesthetics, and culture within sexual media and beyond.

How did you get into this world, where did you start?

I studied opera at university… so many opera techniques of singing help a lot with blowjobs; being able to lift the soft palate, being able to breathe through your nose, circular breathing… I did not study to be a pornographer. I went to school in Montreal, and after I just kinda wanted to work and figure out what I wanted to do because I didn’t want to be an opera singer as it turned out. So I went on Craigslist and I saw a post saying we’re looking for a PR marketing coordinator to help with our burgeoning, beautiful porn company. It was erotic material. I sent a message saying I had taken the scenic route; I’d taken writing classes, women’s studies, sexuality classes, I actually wrote a lot about porn, and specifically about the idea about a company that was both aesthetically pleasing but was not mainstream in terms of how it’s created, something that had a little bit of heart, like with a person-next-door kind of feeling to it. That ended up being exactly who I worked with.

I also took a very small focused music marketing course, about how the music industry has changed significantly because of piracy, how its more experiential, how it’s less about larger deals. It’s not about physical merchandise anymore. It was looking at how the Internet could help to bolster your personal brand. All this is exactly parallel to the porn industry. It’s the same issue. We’ve stopped valuing physical property; the content has become free, whether it’s through piracy or streaming services, or tube sites. So I went with all of this, and they gave me the job. It was somewhat of a fluke, because I wouldn’t have known to work in the industry, really. I mean, I was very sex positive; I worked with V-Day, our queer organizations and gender empowerment organizations. It was definitely in me somewhere, and I was interested in porn and its capacity to do other things, than just be masturbation fodder. It all clicked and I’ve been doing it for five years this May.

Masturbation fodder? What do you believe the differences are between that and other types of the form, such as beautiful porn and feminist porn? What are the goals of the porn that you work with?

There’s nothing wrong with masturbation fodder. I think it’s fine, in the same way fast food is fine, in the same way eating a granola bar on the bus because you need to go somewhere is fine. Sometimes you have work in the morning, you’re tired, but you just kinda want to cum. All that is perfectly fine. But I don’t think we should rely on that as our entire sexuality, and whether it’s intimate sex with another person, whether it’s masturbation, there’s time for it to be a quickie, and there’s time for it to be drawn out and lovely and nice. So, beautiful porn is beautiful porn. It’s porn that is aesthetically pleasing, that has a cinematic element; that has structures different from mainstream porn. A lot of mainstream porn is over-stimulating; it’s a very particular sexual script, and it’s designed to make you cum. It’s shot in a way where you can watch five or ten minutes of it and all of it is equally compelling in that immediate gratification way.

Beautiful porn is a little more drawn out, there’s a little more sexuality and teasing. With us there’s no dialogue. It’s not like mainstream porn where you see kinda the story that, with a few notable exceptions, is cobbled together. We take the writing out of the equation, and it’s focused on the visuals, the little moments, the looks that are exchanged, goosebumps on the skin, anything like that. It’s more keyed in to the subtle eroticism. It’s different. With feminist porn that’s specifically looking at ethics, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to look one way or the other, and it tends toward stuff that’s more artistic or cinematic, just because people who aren’t working in the mainstream milieu often seek to reinvent the way porn is structured.

To you, what makes porn ethical, or how do you define when porn is created ethically?

There are probably three different grounds, from the feminist ethical perspective. I think feminist and ethical are getting to a point where they’re interchangeable. Feminist was the dominant nomenclature for a long time, but as we get away from it just being a woman’s issue, and it’s also an issue of race, trans people, able-ism, you know, different gender identities beyond binaries of women and men, to different body types, it’s valuable to think about the intersections in an ethical perspective beyond just feminism. Feminism is ideally intersectional, but does not always succeed at being so. Then there’s stuff that’s just a job. It’s ok for porn to not have high-minded ideals, that’s totally fine. The same way it’s totally fine to watch a dumb blockbuster movie. Not everything needs to be Fellini. And it’s ok to go shop brands that are not super ethical, but not exploitative. There’s very ethical, middle of the road, and then there’s stuff that’s actually exploitative. I think there’s a lot less of that than people think, and in the porn community it’s increasingly rare. This is obviously coming from a sex positive perspective, where I don’t feel like sexual labor is in and of itself exploitative. It’s a job and that’s fine. In terms of really non-ethical porn, that’s talking about anything that comes under ex-girlfriend revenge porn, that’s bad. Anything where people were not informed of what it might be used for, where it might go up, that’s bad. Anything where people were coerced or treated badly on set, where there limits weren’t respected on set, things like that, where they shoot a scene and they think it’s going to be presented one way and actually it’s presented in a disrespectful way that doesn’t fit with them.

Some of the hallmarks of ethical porn are talking to the models, asking them if there are words they don’t want associated with them. We don’t use incendiary language, like everything’s kinda friendly and nice. We would never use a word like slut. But if you are making porn that is more kinky, or more focused on degradation, that’s fine, but don’t surprise someone with it. Don’t shoot porn that seems vanilla and market it in a disrespectful way after the fact, without telling your performers. It’s just about being more conscientious. Just being able to empower your performers on set, and being careful of the way you market your porn, because it’s not just ethics, it’s also about the dissemination side of things, no pun intended. Because you’re creating a fantasy, and releasing it into a world where people don’t have enough sex ed. People don’t necessarily have criticism tools, especially when it comes to porn. So we need to make it clear that it’s a fantasy. If you’re making a BDSM scene, you need to make it clear that people talked about this ahead of time, there was a safe word, and to a certain extent that goes into the mainstream sexual script of porn, where if you look at heterosexual porn, it’s a very heteronormative idea that women are submissive, men are dominant. There are a lot of sex acts that occur regularly in porn that should not occur in life unless you talk about it first.

A colleague of mine told me that before mainstream pornography, cumming in someone’s face was exceedingly rare, but now it’s almost expected, because mainstream porn is in some ways the most education people get because they’re not receiving a level of sex ed that they should get.

I think you’re referring to, a precursor to, and I don’t know if there was an exact statistic, but it was stated that it was a lot more rare. I would imagine yeah, because there are people for whom that will be an innate desire, but for a lot of people, it’s something born out of the culture they come from, what they see to be sexual. I understand there are psychological reasons for why it’d be sexually compelling, whether it’s to see your cum, whether it’s to mark your territory, whether it’s to see someone enjoying your cum, totally makes sense, but I think it would be a less likely organic occurrence between two humans because it’s more of a psychological thing. Some people probably have it innately, but the more that the culture influences it, the more people get it into their head that it’s a sexually appropriate thing. Fundamentally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone’s sexual fluids being on someone’s face. It’s a neutral value judgment; it’s just a thing bodies do. The problem with mainstream porn is that it sometimes does put a value judgment on it; it very clearly shows it as degradation. The more issues I see with the outcome of people who don’t have sexual literacy watching porn is that they’re dissatisfied with their sex lives too. It’s one thing where in a heterosexual environment women are maybe getting treated in way that they don’t want without being asked. That’s bad. But it’s also that there are people who don’t act out those porn fantasies, and they feel like they should, because all they see is this is the way I should be having sex. If you don’t make it clear that this is a fantasy, you don’t have meta-materials like social media and blogs, and even language on the site itself that indicates that. With The Art of Blowjob and The Art of Cunnilingus something we always work on is it’s a two way street. It took awhile to get to because it’s really hard to shoot cunnilingus. It’s amazingly hard. Even when it was just The Art of Blowjob we wanted to emphasize that blowjobs are awesome but also we’re a porn site that decided to focus on a niche, and that does not mean that you should always only get blowjobs and never reciprocate, and that women are just magical blowjob machines. We have an educational series now which focuses a little bit more on not only tips but also how to make your sex life into what you want it to be, to set realistic expectations, nothing is going to look the way it does in the movies.

50 Shades of Grey has received criticism from anti-porn groups who lump it together with all of pornography, calling all porn and sex media amoral and negative. What kind of ideological battles have you encountered during your time in the industry, and do you have any opinions about this particular issue?

People don’t like porn. There’s a large percentage of the population that thinks that it’s terrible, so that’s a problem, and we come up against that a lot. There are a lot of people who are sex negative in general, there’s that. Some people feel that blowjobs are always exploitative, always just about giving pleasure and being kind of like a passive vehicle for a man’s desire. And that’s not true, because what does that say about cunnilingus then? You can have reciprocal sex where everything is one to one, you know, and that’s fine if that’s what you’re into, but the pleasure of giving pleasure is valid. It can be incredibly arousing to feel that you’re really skilled at what you’re doing; it can be incredibly arousing to make your partner cum, to do something new and really blow their mind. You can be empathetic, believe it or not, during a sexual experience, and you can get aroused by your own partner’s arousal. There are all sorts of reasons, psychologically whether you’re feeling dominant or submissive, both of those things can occur in a blowjob. Just because you’re not being stimulated genitally doesn’t mean you’re not having a good time.

We definitely tried to make that rhetoric clear. We were seeing people who said that facials are always degrading, and I’ve had to write, “It’s just cum.” It’s not toxic waste; it’s just cum. People have a problem because it is so ingrained in the mainstream sexual script, and it’s bad when it’s assumed absolutely, but with all of our showing of facials, we also talked about facials and how it can be sexy, ways to enjoy it, and that you need to talk about it first. It adds another dynamic. I think people just assume that the face is sacred, for some reason. Breasts aren’t sacred in this equation, there aren’t a lot of people who are up in arms because porn has a lot of ejaculating on breasts, but people have certain ideas about the face and what it represents about our personhood. It was interesting to come up against that kind of stuff, at the very least to show a broad spectrum of reasons why its ok, and to emphasize the reality of the situation so our consumers don’t just think that there women out there that will only give blowjobs and never need anything in return. That’s not what we want.

Can you unpack the phrase, “it’s just cum?” People have all these value judgments about pornography, and there are people that hate it, often in mainstream media, especially when it has to do with other sexualities besides what’s commonly held as normal.

“It’s just cum,” is just trying to reduce us to the physical, not endowing it with implicit value judgments. So, at its core, cum is any number of different proteins and sugars expelled from the penis, as an orgasm. Provided people have been tested, know their status, and everybody’s on the same page as to how they’re playing with regards to safety, it’s just a bodily fluid. Talking specifically about when it comes to faces, what is your face? It’s skin, it’s eyes, a mouth, and a nose, and mouth, and there are perfectly legitimate reasons to be squeamish about it, because people are worried about getting it in their eyes and nose, some people don’t like the taste of it, and some people really don’t like it in their hair. And then there are also concerns about cum and potential STI risk, although facials are a low to no risk, unless you have an open sore. So trying to just parse the fact that at its core, there’s nothing domineering about this act. In general, just trying to get away from the values, because you can endow literally any human behavior with layered nuance and meaning and dynamics that maybe in one person’s head are one way, and in another person’s head are totally the other.

It’s funny sometimes the person giving oral sex will think they’re totally in charge, and the person receiving oral sex will think they’re totally in charge, and neither will verbalize that. You can have completely different scripts in your minds and still be enjoying the same objective experience, where neither are really in charge. And it’s the same way with facials. You can absolutely use that to degrade someone, you can also boss someone around and make them give you a facial, you can layer any number of meanings on it, and the sexual script of mainstream porn has certainly endorsed one, but at its core its just an action and you can decide what it means. One of the scripts I offered as an alternative is that it’s a celebration of your partner’s pleasure, it’s getting actually up close and personal with that pleasure, with the result of that pleasure. It’s a celebration, it’s a punctuation. Ultimately, if you like the person that’s doing it, if that person respects you as a human, it’s just cum.

What can pornography do to help sex education, and what can it do that sex ed may not be willing to do?

I think it’s important that porn be responsible. It’s also terrible, though. It should not come to the purveyors of fantasy to ground you in reality. This is one of my favorite comparisons, and one Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals used when I was on her podcast a while ago. We were discussing The Fast and the Furious, and if that was the place where people came to learn how to drive, that would be terrible. If you didn’t know about red, yellow, and green lights, if you didn’t know about stop signs, if you didn’t know about parking, or speed limits, and you saw The Fast and the Furious you would think that’s how you drive. And the problem is there are lots of kids who don’t learn about consent, who don’t learn about finding out about their bodies before being with someone else, who don’t learn about how to have sex in a way that is not incredibly influenced by a fantasy, a well oiled machine made to make people cum, to poke at the areas of their brain that stimulate orgasm. It’s so irresponsible of parents and teachers and school boards and curriculum creators; it’s horrifying. So, in a sense, I don’t feel like it should be porn’s job, I think there should be a “don’t try this at home” disclaimer, which there are in some porn. So, that said, we can’t, unfortunately, change our current sexual culture. So, it does kinda come to us to have a lot of meta-materials that indicate that it’s fantasy.

We’re not showing the kind of porn that’s incendiary or especially reinforcing of sexual scripts and norms that are harmful. When it comes to what is made by big companies that can afford to own the tube sites, they’re pushing their own product, and that’s what is disseminated broadly, that’s what’s free, that’s what kids are seeing. The people who tend to pay for porn and look for what’s outside what is available are a little more sexually aware usually. It’s the same as any other cultural issue. If you’re aware, you seek out other options. If you’re not, you’re going to go with what is readily available, and that propagates misunderstandings about sex. There’s no bad porn, unless it’s in that third category in which people are exploited, there’s just levels that need to be available. You’d think all music is terrible if the only thing you ever heard was mainstream pop that you hate. And it’s the same with porn. People see the mainstream and think all porn is terrible because that’s what’s readily available.

Is it something to think about in the future, being able to participate in this type of media and feel safe about it?

I’ve been working in the porn industry for five years. It was a really hard decision to make, because, in a sense, every time we work with new performers, I talk to them about why they want to do this, do they have people in their life who will support them and care for them even if they’re doing porn, do they have any ambitions of working with children or in politics, you know? Do they have the types of skills that will be conducive to industries or careers that are more respectful of porn? Even though all of those things were yes for me, there’s still a lot of concern because, you know, if porn became illegal tomorrow I’d have to find a new job, or if some day I decide I’ve gotten as far as I can go in this company, I want to go somewhere else, it might be hard to find a job. And that’s scary. Also, one of the things that made me really want to do it was that you can only change the world by doing things that are scary, and someone needs to be the person to say, “Hey, I do porn, but I also like cats, and make puppets sometimes, and I’m also look at this interesting article I wrote.” Porn isn’t the terrible thing you think it is.

What do you think would have to change for porn, and sexuality in general, to be more accepted? Where would that change start?

In Canada, a couple years back, there was someone who was very high up in the court system, she was some type of judge, and it was found out that she was in a BDSM relationship. And it was this huge deal. And it’s her personal life! But it wasn’t flagrant; she wasn’t on the front page of YouPorn as a porn star. I think as a sexual culture we have a long way to go. For one, I think sex education in general will always be better in terms of creating a more open minded sexual landscape. I think there’s trends like slut shaming that comes with women, specifically, and we need to get away from a place where women’s sexuality is seen as a dangerous, bad thing. To be able to see someone who owns their sexuality and shares it openly as not a terrible person, and I think to a certain extent there are elements of traditional masculinity that reinforce that idea that women can’t do it because that’s what men do. You don’t hear a lot of stories about men getting fired for doing porn, and for every heterosexual porn video with a woman, there’s a man in there too. But usually they are not as prominent somehow, and it’s seen as a little more normal for a man to do it than a woman to do it. It’s more dangerous and bad when a woman does it. Even just being to talk about sex in general would help as a first step, and a lot of people can’t do that. I think there are a ton of attitudes that need to change from basic understandings of sexuality to not being afraid of what it means to be public about your sexuality and about sex.

For everything related to the eminent Sophie Delancey, check out her website as well as her twitter @SophieDelancey. Be sure to explore both websites she manages, as well as her podcast and radio show, for not only insight into the industry, but for some wonderfully produced media. 

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