by Rich Moreland, September 2015
This is the second installment of my talk with Angie Rowntree, the founder of Sssh.com, an erotic website for women.
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Angie Rowntree and her husband Colin began a BDSM website when the bondage fetish was in its online infancy. Wasteland.com is “the web’s largest collection . . . of High-Definition Original Bondage and Fetish videos,” and counts among its many offerings feature films and beautiful women. The company is an industry leader.
I asked Angie about one of hottest topics in the fetish business today, E.L. James’ novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Her point of view lines up with many of the book’s critics and those in the BDSM community who think the story of Anastasia and Christian’s relationship falls short of what it purports to be.
“Fifty Shades is not a particularly realistic or authentic depiction of BDSM,” Angie says. However, she is quick to agree that “there’s no doubt its popularity has shoved open the door to a much larger market and a lot more interest [in the fetish].”
From her perspective, it’s been a boon to their adult business.
“Both Sssh and Wasteland have seen an increase in traffic we can directly attribute to the [novel’s] popularity, especially in the number of searches for BDSM and related terms.”
The Irony of Print
As I’ve written before, Fifty is print erotica which has long been more accepted than filmed smut, particularly when it comes to federal prosecution of pornography. In the 1980s and 1990s chasing the adult film industry was all about obscenity; the written word was given a pass.
Times have changed and Angie reminds us that print is a real advantage for the industry today. It’s a portal for fetishes that, if left to the designs of film studios, would have difficulty expanding their female audience.
“I think it’s significant that the Fifty Shades craze was in response to a novel, just because that’s perceived as a ‘safer’ and more traditional means for women to explore erotica.”
Of course, as reading increases, film is the beneficiary.
“Even though there’s a lot of data to the contrary, a lot of people still don’t believe women watch internet porn,” Angie remarks. “But, I haven’t heard anybody express one iota of doubt that it’s really women buying all those copies of Fifty Shades.”
Angie makes a point I’ve heard from adult industry feminists. Women are receptive to filmed erotica.
“Nobody questions whether women read erotica,” she says. “The truth is we watch plenty of it, too, a truth I think people are finally becoming more open to now.” A visit to Toronto’s Feminist Porn Awards will back up Angie’s perspective. She agrees that the increasing female customer base in the adult is “in partly due to the Fifty Shades craze.”
When I bring up Kink.com as an influence in the popularity of BDSM porn, Angie discounts any impact Peter Acworth’s company had on Wasteland or Sssh. “Both sites had already been around . . . long before the book came out and before Kink [was] launched.”
“We were very much settled in our aesthetic, style, and production methods by the time they became popular.” In fact, she adds, “our influences and inspirations come from other places and times.”
An Old Question
Finally, we have the old tired accusation disguised as a question from the anti-porn crowd of feminism’s second wave. Is porn, especially the BDSM genre, violence toward women?
“What if the dominant person in the depiction is the woman and the sub is a man? How well does their little axiom hold up then? I take it violence against men is OK? Or is it just that we trust men to make decisions we don’t trust women to make?”
Angie talks about extreme martial arts males fighting in a cage as “entertainment” directed at “the masses.” However, she says, if one of them is a woman and scene is a “spanking video instead of a fist fight . . . all of a sudden it’s ‘exploitation.’”
It’s really “selective paternalistic bullshit,” Angie insists. Not to miss an opportunistic moment, she concludes with a bit of sarcasm, “After all, I’m a woman, so obviously someone needs to step in and protect me from myself when I have ideas about what to do with my body of which they disapprove, right?”
Bringing up society’s penchant for “circumscribing female sexuality,” a further spin on the exploitation question, Angie believes that attitudes change when “courageous, independent, determined, and self-possessed women” make their artistic statements in adult film.
As a result, she states, “Young women these days are a lot less apt to allow society to succeed [in defining their sexuality for them].”
Is this happening? To some extent, Angie believes. However, “there’s still too much ‘slut shaming’ and harsh judgment directed at women who are open about expressing themselves sexually, but this doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress over the years.”
As for American culture, we’re on the right track, she insists. In parts of the rest of the world, questions remain.
Check out Wasteland and Sssh and take the tour. You might find interesting things to see.