Tag Archives: Sssh.com

A Novel is Safer

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.

wasteland-ad“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.

sssh-300x180“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?

Angie responds.

“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?”

Good point.

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.”

Colin and Angie Rowntree Photo courtesy of Angie Rowntree

Colin and Angie Rowntree
Photo courtesy of Angie Rowntree

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.

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The Heartbeat of Sssh.com

by Rich Moreland, August 2015

Covering Mindbrowse.com’s show with feminist filmmakers Candida Royalle and Jacky St. James led me to Angie Rowntree, one of the major players in porn from a woman’s view. Angie is the creator of Sssh.com, a female-oriented erotic website. Founded in 1999, Sssh offers its own sensuous films, fiction, and educational articles in a virtual world of sexual pleasures that reflect the fantasies and desires of its members.

Think user-responsive and member-friendly; that is Sssh.com.

Angie directs Sssh’s original movies and produces Mindbrowse which offers insights into “some of the most incendiary and controversial topics surrounding the Adult Industry.” Along with her husband, Colin, she also started Wasteland.com in 1994, a BDSM site of great renown.

I was fortunate to chat recently with Angie Rowntree.

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A Product of Time and Place

My first inquiry is about feminism in adult film. What is it exactly?

Angie points out what I’ve heard from other women in the industry. The word is a moving target “because the definition seems to be a little different depending on whom you ask.” Moreover, it’s a definition that has changed over time; flexible is probably the best descriptor.

Ellington-PROMOHaving established that, here is her take on it. “My definition boils down to the notion of equality.” She refines her statement by insisting “To me, feminism is the just the obvious and true notion women are equal to men and should be valued, treated and considered accordingly”.

Of course, even that is fluid considering that feminism in the 1920s was embryonic compared with today. For Angie, it’s logical then that the idea or concept of feminism evolves. “I can’t see how it wouldn’t,” she says, because the human condition is “a product of time and place to some degree, as are our thoughts and attitudes.”

“People change . . . both individually and collectively,” she says. I could not agree more. As the decades pass, American culture is never static and consequently to expect feminism to remain so is nonsensical, especially considering how views on sexuality have changed.

Angie puts it this way. “Why would we expect a feminist born in 1990 to have the same perspective as one born in 1940?”

We shouldn’t, but will somebody please send that message to old Second Wave feminists of the 1970s and 1980s who still insist today that pornography degrades and humiliates women who must be psychologically damaged otherwise they wouldn’t take off their clothes for the camera.

The discussion shifts to female-centered pornography.

One Kind of Perspective

Critics of woman-oriented porn often claim that there is no difference in how a woman shoots a scene from a man. It’s the tired argument of the “male gaze” as if to say the only way to look at adult film is through the masturbating eyes of a man. What they really mean, I think, is that women are not supposed to like watching raw sex.

“Clearly, such critics think there’s a ‘proper way’ to make porn if you’re a woman,” Angie begins. It is as if there are rules that constrain what female pornographers can do and “how the do it.”

Interlude-PROMOAngie doesn’t want to tell women “what to do” or what they should like. The danger is “putting them in convenient little boxes, or defining what makes a female director a ‘feminist,’ she says.

Her remark brings back the memory of the first time I heard that said. It was an interview with well-known pornography feminist, Madison Young.

Angie is on board with Madison when she says, “Why shouldn’t a woman be free to make both porn which she would define as ‘feminist’ and porn which she wouldn’t define that way?”

The Sssh.com founder then hints at the old saw that has forever circumscribed female sexuality.

“Does she [a woman] owe some kind of creative debt to the world such that she’s only allowed to make one kind of movie from one kind of perspective? Would anybody try to put a male pornographer in the same kind of box? I doubt it.”

Finally, I want to know about making porn the Angie Rowntree way.

Real Intimacy

Her scripts, Angie says, mirror “my point of view as a woman.” They also go a step further and “speak to the desires and fantasies of our fans and customers.” In fact, much of what is in a Sssh production “comes directly from feedback and comments contributed by our users.”

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The result is a film that is never solely Angie Rowntree’s “personal vision.”

Fair enough and I understand the need to appeal to the customer base. But, putting aside feedback, what would be included in a completely freewheeling Angie Rowntree movie?

Actually, not much different from what is happening now.

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“It would emphasize mutual pleasure between performers, depict real intimacy and connection.” And, there is more. Angie explains. “So much of the time in porn, there’s no smiling, no having fun . . . except on the ‘blooper’ reels. To me, I like to know the performers are enjoying themselves, which is about more than orgasms and climaxing.”

It’s the journey to get there that makes a Sssh.com movie an experience. What’s more, Angie Rowntree speaks for a adult film genre that is growing in popularity and power every day. In the end, it’s all about feminist pornography, the very heartbeat of Sssh.com.

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Next we’ll take a look at women and Fifty Shades of Grey. Do women really like the BDSM thing or is it just a blindfold made from a man’s tie that feels silky sweet?

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Fantasy and Ethics: Part 2 of Mindbrowse with Candida and Jacky

by Rich Moreland, July 2015

This is the second segment of Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals’ discussion with Candida Royalle and Jacky St. James. I neglected in the first installment to let everyone know that Mindbrowse is produced by Sssh.com, an erotica for women website that keeps the modern sex-positive female up-to-date on issues that move her world.

The owner of Sssh and Mindbrowse producer is the well-known voice for women’s sexual growth and exploration, Angie Rowntree. Launching Sssh in 1999 as one of the first “for women” sites on the web, Angie’s fame has moved forward in leaps and bounds. In 2014, she entered the AVN Hall of Fame Founders Division, a mark of elite recognition in the adult business. At this year’s XBIZ awards in LA, Sssh was honored as the “Alternative Adult Site of the Year.”  Sssh.com continues to grow and has been featured on MSNBC and Nightline and in publications such as Playboy, Psychology Today, and Time Magazine. It can be visited here.

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“I hoped that I would inspire other women to get out there and have the courage to . . . create their own vision,” Candida Royalle says.

Jacky St. James offers her view. “I really want to create content that reaches people . . . challenges them to think about their sexuality and their own sexual fantasy.”

The topic is porn and its nuanced expression of fantasy and art and the female influence in shaping both. Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals’ mindbrowse interview featuring Candida Royalle and Jacky engages the discussion from a feminist perspective.

Fantasy

Though a porn generation apart, Candida and Jacky represent a style of movie making that reflects the growing liberalism in our personal lives. We are freer today to talk about our sexual imagination. This is particularly true for women who realize that there is “fine line,” as Jacky says, between art and porn. Women can swirl them together to create their favorite fantasy.

An example for Candida is the rape fantasy. It’s “one of the most popular fantasies for women,” she says. Because society circumscribes female sexual behavior, women need “permission,” a way of “letting go enough” to be “pleasured and have an orgasm.” Sometimes that involves “being forced.” But remember its just fantasy, Candida insists, “you’re in control.” That’s important because no woman wants “to go out and get raped.”

Jacky on the set of "fauxcest" film, Our Father, with Steven St. Croix and Carter Cruise. Photo courtesy of Jeff Koga

Jacky on the set of “fauxcest” film, Our Father, with Steven St. Croix and Carter Cruise.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Koga

Jacky brings up another fantasy that is on the popularity radar: incest. “But, it’s not like they really want to have sex with a family member,” she declares. Jacky is now filming “fauxcest” porn that tells stories about step-relations. However, a bit of the luster is lost because legalities insist that “step” is emphasized in the film (none of the performers are related) and everything is consensual.

Despite their feminist critics, both filmmakers agree that women find empowerment when they fantasize about giving up control. BDSM movies, another hot topic for porn these days, is a perfect example. It’s the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.

Dr. Tibbals asks about the future. Where will porn be ten years from now?

Candida hopes it will be less stigmatized as more women get involved in the industry. Jacky’s focuses on financial survival. Creating content people are willing buy is the key to stemming the rising tide of tube sites.

“Higher quality” porn will keep the companies going, she thinks, “the scripted kind of content that people do pay for.” For her employer, New Sensations, DVD sales are still strong, an indicator of success.

Truth and Ethics

Before the interview wraps up, Jacky asks Candida about her greatest hurdle in her early days as a filmmaker. Not surprisingly, the pioneering director mentions the industry’s male-dominated attitudes. Money talks in adult, Candida says, and her movies sold well enough that she gained respect quickly.

There was, however, “this sort of gang of outlaws in California back then,” she mentions. A time of transition, the industry was leaving the East Coast to settle out west and Candida was based in New York.

“They wanted to keep it [the industry] a renegade world. They didn’t want women entering it and they were very critical of my work.”

Candida took them on and held her own. Overall, she concludes, “I’ve been treated well by the industry.”

The question of ethics in filming comes up and Candida explains that her “rule of thumb” concerns female performers. “As long as the woman appears to be enjoying herself and seems to be really into it, I can enjoy what I’m watching.”

A Candida Royalle Classic Photo courtesy of Adam and Eve

A Candida Royalle Classic
Photo courtesy of Adam and Eve

Candida believes it is important to be as ethical as possible. Porn companies have to stand behind the content they produce and how they treat their talent. When  anything “ethically questionable” arises, freedom of expression is tested and everyone might suffer if the Feds intervene.

To stress her point, the owner of FEMME Productions comments that too many young people in adult today don’t remember the 1990s when the government “assaulted” the industry. It could happen again.

Jacky St. James gets that picture.

“I live and die by ethics,” the multiple award winner declares. She has three important tenets in filming: make sure talent is aware of what is expected before they are booked, let them know who they are working with before they arrive on set, and always communicate limits.

As for content, some of hers is considered “unethical” by the occasional critic, but Jacky reminds everyone that she’s “creating a fantasy.” Of course, with BDSM and “fauxcest” the risk is promoting certain activities that make some people uncomfortable.

In the end, it’s up to the individual, whether performer or viewer, to decide if porn is for them. It’s called responsibility.

Candida departs with the hope that the industry will be legitimized as “another form of entertainment.” If that happens, the renegade reputation that has surrounded porn for decades will be pushed aside and the number of talented and ethical people who want to work in the business will increase.

Finally, both women encourage fans to support porn and pay for what they enjoy.

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Many thanks to the good people at Sssh.com for their permission to use portions of this important discussion.

Angie Rowntree Photo courtesy of AVN

Angie Rowntree
Photo courtesy of AVN

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