Londonist Goes To A DIY Porn Workshop

Londonist Goes To A DIY Porn Workshop

"My libido dissipates like vintage Krug that's been boiled in a kettle"

"Have you ever sent a sexy selfie? There you go then!" It's Valentine's Day and I'm in a basement with pornographer Pandora Blake; we've agreed I lie on the floor as if I'm posing for an NSFW selfie. "I am wearing white jeans, Pandora!" is what I absolutely don't say. And so hoping it's not too dirty, I lie awkwardly on the floor, in the manner of a Women's Institute member who's drawn Calendar Girls in charades. Do I look hot? I ask Blake. "Do you feel hot?" deflects Blake, cleverly.

It is clear to us both that my hotness is currently on a par with a pile of wet fish in the last minutes of their life.

I know nothing of what's yet to come. Photo: Stephen Makin for The Book Club.

Until just 20 minutes ago, my urge to fuck was feral. Meeting my friend Emma at the tube, I tell her about New Bae who is meeting me later. I want to have his babies, I tell Emma, who asks if I am ovulating. I am not. Even. Ovulating. But over the course of the evening, at this DIY Porn Workshop, led by Blake, my libido dissipates like vintage Krug that's been boiled in a kettle.

Sitting on wooden chairs, along with 50 odd other people, we listen to a talk on how to make porn at home. Tips include tidying your bedroom, cleaning your mirrors, closing your eyes, and being vocal. Practicalities are also covered. On the subject of lighting, we're told: "Morning and afternoon are great times of day." We're also encouraged to consider issues such as: "Do you want to get naked or wear something sexy?" And it strikes me, as I look around at the Reiss-clothed couples who've snatched up all the tickets, that this must be the most middle-class Valentine's ever, going to a PowerPoint presentation just because it's a bit to do with sex.

"More awards for porn than I've sent sexy selfies"

Blake, who's behind the site Dreams of Spanking, has won more awards for porn than I've sent sexy selfies. Keeping it PG in Topshop undies, I've treated recipients to precisely no nipples, no minge. "NO NIPPLES NO MINGE" I've shrieked at photographers when I've taken my kit off to cover naturist events. No nipples, no minge is my mantra. So I'm not intending to make a sex tape off the back of this workshop (Bae, who I purposely haven't invited, has been warned not to get his hopes up).

Photo: Stephen Makin for The Book Shop

I don't even watch porn. I've always liked a dirty book (thank fuck for Nancy Friday) but I have no inclination to watch other people at it. "There's really nice porn for women," said a boyfriend once, opening his laptop up in bed. "It's not like you'd think. Honestly, just have a look." He played something that made me squirm and I asked him to switch it off.

So when Blake starts showing "inspirational examples of shot-at-home porn" (as it's billed on the venue's website) I overwhelmingly regret my front row seat choice. I'm two feet from the projector screen, which is showing a series of X-rated scenes. In the first clip, there are two women wearing lurid lacy lingerie, the sort Pat Butcher might buy from Walford Market. "What is the glove for?" asks Emma, referring to the plastic appendage that's disappearing inside one woman's now fist-size vagina. Blake says something about health and safety when it comes to acrylic nails, then there's an anecdote about Blu Tack preventing tearing if you stick some on the end of each nail.

I recline in the manner of a Women's Institute member who's drawn Calendar Girls in charades. Photo: Stephen Makin for The Book Club.

"I'm still not smarter in technical details — how would I edit it?"

My vagina has now hermetically sealed itself. It stays sealed for the remainder of the workshop, which includes a clip called, "A collar for Kitty." I'm unsure about the title alone, but basically, this woman buys "Kitty" a cat collar, then Kitty's naked, making mewing noises while the woman licks between Kitty's legs. Blake refers to the clip later, saying, "it's great because it shows you can shoot porn and you don't even need to put any make-up on."

I can't say I'm a fan of what's on screen, neither is Emma. Everyone has been given the opportunity to head to the bar when the porn's screening, but we are here to get the full workshop experience. As for Blake herself, she's warm, funny and articulate. Blake could talk about skirting board suppliers and I'd find it both reassuring and excellent bants. While there was never a chance of persuading me to make porn, Emma's been mulling it over for a while, and tells me the next day, "when I made love to my boyfriend after the workshop, I was thinking what a good shoot it would be! It made me feel even more sexy." Emma has come away inspired, if not more knowledgeable. "I'm still not smarter in technical details — how would I edit it?" she wonders, "but Pandora is a good motivational speaker and I like the fact that she doesn't look like your typical image of a porn star."

Take note
Take note. Slide from Pandora Blake's DIY Porn Workshop. Photo: Samantha Rea

"It's for show — it's not really you anymore. You could be ruining your relationship."

As fun as the workshop is, and as much as I'm won over by Blake, I can't help wondering if encouraging people to make porn is a good idea. Dr. Sasha Rakoff the founder of Not Buying It, which campaigns against porn, suggests it might not be harmless high jinks. "The idea that it's organic and home grown belies the fact that porn is incredibly abusive," says Rakoff. "If you look on somewhere like PornHub, it's basically men uploading homemade videos of women being abused. So you start making homemade porn, and that's what it becomes. That's how it started — everyone at home making grainy, poor quality videos that 20 years on morphed into abuse. It's sexual assault, but with a camera there."

I ask Rakoff if it's possible for a couple with a respectful, consensual sex life to film the sex they would have had anyway, without it leading to anything darker. "I guess it's possible," she says, "but do you really want to take that risk?" So why is it such a risk? "Whenever you're filmed, or when you've got an audience, you behave differently — it's human nature," explains Rakoff. She tells me the prospect of making porn will leading to watching more porn, which feeds the industry and, "you're likely to emulate what you've been watching, so it encourages people to be abusive and more extreme in what they’re doing." She adds, "it automatically degrades the relationship because something unnatural's being introduced. It's for show — it's not really you anymore. You could be ruining your relationship."

I regret sitting two feet from the projector screen. Photo: Stephen Makin for The Book Club.

"Trying to make a porn film without watching porn, is like an author trying to write a book without reading books"

Blake, who identifies as a feminist pornographer, has a different perspective. While also believing that the prospect of making porn will prompt the watching of more porn, Blake doesn't see this as an issue: "Trying to make a porn film without watching porn, is like an author trying to write a book without reading books. You need to have a sense of what you like and don't like, what you think works and doesn't work, before you can have the judgement and taste to try and create something." Like Rakoff, Blake also believes the presence of a camera will change the sex a couple has — but Blake sees this as a plus: "It can give you the courage to try something you wouldn't do otherwise," explains Blake, adding that this can, "expand your world of possibilities."

Blake advocates conversations about consent, boundaries and being in agreement about what will take place. "For some people, talking about sex is quite hard, and they might not be used to going into detail about what they want. But when you're making a porn film, you need to know what you're going to do, so it gets people talking in a way that's good for their relationship."

According to Blake, better communication is only one of the benefits. "For some people, having a camera there can enhance the lovely time they're having. If you've got an exhibitionist streak, knowing you've got an audience can make you more bold, expressive, and horny."

Should you hold your stomach in?

So, is it all about how it looks on camera, or is it about enjoying yourself? "As long as you're having a good time, people watching it will relate to the good time you're having. If you're absorbed in your partner and the pleasure you're receiving, you'll look a lot more relaxed and sexy." Should you hold your stomach in?" I ask, thinking back to a selfie when I breathed in so hard I almost crushed a kidney. "I think that's up to you. For a short time, for a photo, by all means hold your stomach in, if it'll make you feel better. But for an entire sex scene, it's going to disrupt your experience. You'll be obsessing about your tummy rather than focusing on the sex you're having. I'd say don't worry about it."

Whether or not DIY porn is inherently dangerous, I'm sceptical about the obsession to film and photograph everything. Whether it's Instagramming a macchiato, filming a Coldplay concert, or videoing ourselves in bed, wouldn't we be better off just enjoying ourselves at the time? Blake says, "I’m not sure porn fits into this model you're describing of this incessant desire to share experiences rather than experience them, because I've found that when I'm in front of the camera, it makes me present in the moment, in a way that I sometimes struggle to otherwise."

Workshop attendees write pros and cons of porn on post-its. Photo: Samantha Rea

"Rather than taking a photo of the Taj Mahal, you are the Taj Mahal"

Blake offers the analogy that in porn, "rather than taking a photo of the Taj Mahal, you are the Taj Mahal," explaining, "because I'm performing, I'm not the one holding the camera, so I'm there with my partner in that moment." Blake does add though, "we've got this desire to document and share, which is a bit compulsive in our society and I think that if you realised you had to have a camera there to have good sex, I'd say that's starting to become a reliance that's perhaps a bit dysfunctional."

OK, so say I've decided I'm the Taj Mahal, and I want to shoot a sex tape with Bae. What if he shows his friends or posts it online? "This is a real problem in our culture," says Blake, pointing out that if your partner does this without your consent, "they are committing a crime. So you have a reasonable right to expect them not to, and to hold them to account if they do." Should people sign a legal document? Blake says, "unless you hired a solicitor, that kind of contract isn't valid in a court of law, I don't think. It's more a question of, do you trust this person's integrity?" Yeah, but we all trust our partner at the time — then you split up… "The way you can get around that is by not showing your face," says Blake, "then even if they do the dirty, it's not going to implicate you. Or keep the only copy on your computer — say, if you want to watch it, come to my house!"

Photo: Stephen Makin for The Book Club

Does DIY porn increase the likelihood of revenge porn becoming an issue?

I ask Blake whether sites like Pornhub should insist on authorisation from each person who features in a clip, before it's uploaded. "That would be one way of being careful and I think some sites, like ManyVids, which is a for sale site, do require that. Porn Hub I think only requires that once a clip's been reported — I don't think they require signatures before you upload something.

"But you can query the legitimacy of a clip, and then they can contact the person who uploaded it."

But I wonder how many people might view, share and download a clip that's been posted without your consent before you're able to get it taken down. And I wonder if making DIY porn increases the likelihood of revenge porn becoming an issue? "I think DIY porn, the way we've been approaching it tonight, is about fundamentally consent," says Blake. "So, if we're teaching couples better consent, then it should be an antidote to the phenomenon of revenge porn. So I agree that in data security terms it might increase the potential risk, but in social terms, I actually think it addresses that risk."

Slide from Pandora Blake's DIY Porn Workshop. Photo: Samantha Rea

"There is no other pornographer I would rather spend Valentine's with"

Blake then tells me about The Billboard Test: if you'd feel ashamed, if the footage was on a billboard opposite your parents' house, don't do it. Blake explains, "I feel that as long as I'm doing a sex act which I feel is true to myself, if my parents were to see it, it would be uncomfortable, sure, but I'd be able to say, hand on heart, this is me, that's what I like doing. I'm sorry it's on your street, but I'm not ashamed of who I am."

Blake has been a delight — there is no other pornographer I would rather spend Valentine's with - but I'm glad to get out of the basement, and away from those scenes. Upstairs, I meet Bae, who's been waiting in the bar, and I cling to him like a life buoy. There is no prospect of sex tonight, filmed or otherwise. All I want to do in bed is eat pizza, and for tonight that's the only meat feast I want between my sheets.

The DIY Porn Workshop is part of the Sex Education for Adults series at The Book Club.

Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.

Last Updated 12 March 2018