I’ve always watched porn with a really critical eye, probably because of the fact that when I started watching porn I was rarely watching it for its advertised purpose: my pleasure. In high school, my friends and I used to hang out and watch porn together when we were bored. Looking back, I realize how weird this is, but at the time, it was just a thing we did.

Because of this context, I watched porn almost the same way I watched any other movie. All I saw was a really poorly acted film; bad story line, bad dialogue, and actors who were really bad at playing their parts.

All of their supposed expressions of pleasure seemed forced, overacted. The sex didn’t look real. I was acutely aware that the actors didn’t seem to be enjoying what they were doing. Everything was so fake. I decided I didn’t really like porn. I certainly didn’t find it arousing.

Mainstream Porn: Who Is It For?

When I learned what the “male gaze” was, it clicked pretty immediately that one of the reasons I didn’t like porn was that most of it is produced for the male gaze. Almost all mainstream porn is made by men, for men, so the finished product is based entirely on what men think sex should look like, what men think is sexy, and what men want to see. I didn’t enjoy the mainstream porn I was watching because it wasn’t made for me or with my pleasure in mind.

And women have very little agency in the sexual encounters in these films. They usually aren’t the initiators of the sexual encounters, they typically don’t choose the sex acts that they engage in, and their pleasure is not the focus.

Plus, the sex I saw in porn happened in ways that I wouldn’t want a sexual encounter to happen in my life. The actors displayed their supposed pleasure in ways that didn’t match the ways I’d ever seen anyone display pleasure, and everything I saw in porn seemed like a caricature. What I really wanted were authentic portrayals of sex that were mindful of consent, agency, autonomy, and female pleasure.

How Feminist Porn Is Different

I’d heard of ethically made, feminist porn; that is, porn made by women, focused on women’s pleasure, and actively focused on consent and female agency. At the time, I’d never watched any. So, I decided to actively seek out feminist porn and see if it was as awesome as it sounded. And ... it kind of was.

The films were different from anything I’d ever seen. Each film had a discernible and believable story line. The characters didn't just run in to each other and start fucking; they met at parties, in coffee shops, at Airbnbs, or in their suburban neighborhoods ... the normal ways people meet in real life.

Most of the videos I watched spent at least a third of the length of the film setting up the sexual encounters. The actors spoke to each other and got to know each other a bit before any physical contact occurred and before any clothing came off. The sexual tension was built up through the dialogue and acting. So when the first kiss happened or the first piece of clothing hit the floor, it was clear that this was a natural progression of events. Rather than feeling like this build-up was a waste of time, it felt authentic. These videos were representing how I've experienced sexual encounters in my life, and how I've dreamed up sexual encounters in my fantasy life.

I Saw Enthusiastic Consent

When I learned about enthusiastic consent, it also occurred to me that I’d never seen enthusiastic consent in mainstream porn. In mainstream porn, there’s very little focus on how the sex starts. It just ... starts. Feminist porn, on the other hand, tends to show what enthusiastic consent looks like in real life.

There are many ways to communicated consent, and sometimes, being verbal is important. The actors in the feminist porn I was watching didn't have conversations about consent, but they did model what non-verbal enthusiastic consent looks like. They made eye contact with each other, a lot, and used facial expressions to convey their feelings and their desire. And they spent time making non-sexual physical contact before moving on to sexual physical contact.

Read: Yes! Why Consent Is Totally Sexy

It Felt Real

Most importantly, none of the feminist porn I watched felt fake. I believed that these actors wanted to be involved in the sexual encounters they were setting up. By the time the sex started, I understood how the characters got there and I believed that every single one of them wanted to be having sex.

And the sex itself was so real. It looked like someone just set up a video camera in a place where people happened to be having sex. And to me, it looked like the actors were making all the decisions about how they were having sex. Little things they did indicated this. In the middle of a scene, one of the actors would just reach out to another and initiate a kiss, not because they were told it would make the scene better, just because they wanted a kiss. Or one of the actors would literally ask their partner to change what they were doing, move a hand, move their own body, or start pleasuring themselves. All the transitions between positions were shown, and actors communicated with each other constantly, trying new things and adjusting to increase each others' pleasure - just like in real sex!

There's a Focus on Women

The women in these films weren't there just there to pleasure their male co-stars. They had an active say in which positions they tried with their partners and which sex acts they performed. They decided when to change positions, when to move on to a new sex act, and when to let their partners guide the encounter. And, most importantly, they had orgasms - sometimes multiple orgasms - throughout the film.

While mainstream porn tends to be all about the money shot, female pleasure is the focus of feminist porn. These women controlled and facilitated the circumstances that gave them the pleasure they were seeking; they demanded that pleasure from their partners, and they received the pleasure they demanded.

All of the actors in these films were having real, enjoyable sex. They were making their own decisions about how to have sex and they were communicating with their partners about how to have better sex. This was authentic, healthy, mind-blowing sex - and I was lucky enough to get to watch.

I’d never been so turned on watching something on a screen.

Feminist Porn Makes You Think

I never realized how important it is to see authentic, consent-driven porn that's focused on female pleasure until I actually, well, saw it for myself. When mainstream porn ignores consent, they're saying that consent isn't necessary. When mainstream porn ignores women's pleasure, they're saying that female pleasure is an afterthought to male pleasure. When mainstream porn shows staged, fake, caricatures of sex, it's giving people unrealistic expectations of what sex should be. When mainstream porn represents women without agency and autonomy, it's telling women that they should defer their agency and autonomy to men in order to please them.

Feminist porn counteracts all these messages, which is exactly what we need in order to start to heal our society's fucked up relationship to sex.

I spent years thinking that porn just wasn’t for me because I wasn’t finding any porn that represented what I wanted to see. Now that I’ve discovered the wonderful world of ethically made, feminist porn, I’m finally understanding that not all porn is the same. In fact, some is radically different in all the right ways.