Rants, Feelings & Opinions

My Weekend at a Porn Festival

April 15, 2015
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Words and photos by Vera Papisova /

This isn’t a Vegas convention center filled with fake tits and Mr. Clean lookalikes handing out complimentary butt plugs. Contrary to what you might expect from a porn fest, the NYC Porn Film Festival takes place in an experimental art gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The vibe is somewhere between your favorite dive bar and a Fassbinder film. The event staff looks like a group of Bard graduates. Miley, you would’ve thrived.

Friday is the first day of screenings, and tickets for the public are sold out by the time I pick up my press pass. There were 12 cops outside in anticipation of protestors that didn’t show up until the next day (more on that later). The first screening features MySpace star Tila Tequila in a performance that won an AVN award for Best Celebrity Sex Tape. “My dick sees the light,” Tila Tequila’s faceless paramour muses, “it wants to go in your butt.” The crowd roars with laughter. This was my first taste of something bigger—yes, my wide-eyed children, something bigger than Tila Tequila. 

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Watching porn in a room full of people is empowering. It reminds you that sex and porn are nothing to be ashamed of, that we’re here to celebrate sexuality in all of its forms. I realized very quickly that the crowd at the NYCPFF is the best you can ask for: incredibly friendly, supportive and genuine. There is a palpable kinship, which is arguably the direct result of socializing porn. This is something festival organizer Simon Leahy should be proud of, especially considering the main goal of the weekend is to facilitate a comfortable environment that encourages a greater discourse around pornography. But enough about Tila Tequila.

The next hour features a serious discussion about the future of porn led by MakeLoveNotPorn.TV’s founder and total badass, Cindy Gallop. She talks about how the porn industry functions on broken business models, after which we’re prepped to watch a compilation of Make Love Not Porn #realworldsex videos—something they claim is a completely separate category from porn and amateur content. This is something entirely new to the internet – real people, having real sex. (E.g. no screaming, fake orgasms here.)

The video compilation begins. There’s a 70-year-old couple using a sex swing (#GOALS), a cheeky lesbian couple explaining “how to f- butts without hurting people,” and a hipster couple so natural and in love that you’d never guess they were porn stars IRL. The compilation received some of the best, if not the best, audience reception at the festival. After the presentation, I overhear Gallop saying MakeLoveNotPorn is the only place on the Internet where current or former porn stars submit videos of themselves having #realworldsex with their partners. (I’m in!)

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I spend some time talking to festival goers, most of whom are Brooklyn transplants in their 20s who are very excited to watch porn with their friends. “I didn’t know porn had a sense of humor,” said an NYU student to her friend. This is a popular reaction all weekend.

I miss the majority of the Yaoi screening. Yaoi is Japanese manga porn featuring men banging, and—plot twist!—the authors and viewers are mostly women. I entertain the idea of cartoon sex, but only because I long to be Sailor Moon.  Next, the opening night party starts up with a screening from CockyBoys that, among other things, features artist Colby Keller. Keller’s work is a standout, and not just because it’s a big gay acid trip. I try to stick around for the clothing optional party, but it takes too long to get started.

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The following day, anti-patriarchy protestors show up right before James Franco’s screening. I ask them if they’re protesting Pornhub as a sponsor, which would make sense given the countless degrading and misogynistic titles in their database. But nay, they’re protesting porn in general. Sigh, anti-porn feminists. When I ask one protestor how feminists feel comfortable telling women what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies, she gets flustered and hands me a pamphlet as wildly misinformed as she is. I decide against asking how protesting gay porn is fighting patriarchy, or if they bothered reading the content in the festival program, which is consciously feminist. I politely tell them that the point of the festival is to get people talking about porn, so their protest is actually helping the cause.

But back to James Franco: Interior. Leather Bar is not porn as much as it is straight actors having emotional breakdowns about filming gay scenes. My boredom is on a level that can only be compared to the time I had to read Watership Down in 7th grade.

At this point, I get hungry and go buy a cupcake with a vagina on it. It’s delicious.

Sunday is filled with more art porn, BDSM, and horrorporn. Yup, horrorporn is a thing. Paralyzed by content overload, I spend the majority of the day getting drunk with drag queens at a porn festival. In Bushwick.

When people experience adult content as a group rather than in secret, it influences a public reaction – a discourse. Without a doubt, the NYC Porn Film Festival achieved what it set out to do: I found beauty in all different kinds of sex. I felt a connection to other gender identities and sexual orientations on a deeper level than I had before. In porn we trust.

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Vera Papisova is a freelance writer and sometimes standup comedian who’s written for publications like Yahoo Style, Complex and Teen Vogue.

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