The Porn Debate: Anna Span

HELEN BRANNIGAN delves into the world of adult film with award-winning pornographer ANNA SPAN. “Ask yourself, why is it wrong to look at people having sex?”

Feminism feminist gender gender studies interviews lib dems porn pornography shelley lubben

Welcome to the life of Anna Arrowsmith – better known as Anna Span: politician, feminist, entrepreneur and pornographer.

At the age of 38 she has a degree in Fine Art,  is working on a PhD in Gender Studies and  recently ran as a Parliamentary Candidate for the Liberal Democrats. She has also spent over a decade filming two hundred or more scenes of hardcore pornography.

Anna’s path to success into such a contentious industry was both ballsy and bumpy.

Straight out of St Martin’s School of Art, she grabbed a camera, went out and began making porn.

Part of her first film was shot at a working train station. Takes had to be paused to allow commuters to filter through every 45 minutes. “The film was just a shambles. But, it was good fun. The guy didn’t get it up, or the woman… it was October; it was freezing!”

She eventually got the hang of it, and, 12 years on, Anna has received numerous awards for her portfolio of films: Best Director at the UK Adult Film & TV Awards in 2007 and 2008, ‘Indie Porn Pioneer’ at The International Emma Feminist Porn Awards 2007, and a nomination for Best Film at the 2009 ETO Awards (the Adult Film Industry awards) for Be My Toy Boy.

“I’ve always had a very sort of strong imagination; especially a sexual imagination, so I’ve actually never had any problems coming up with ideas,” Anna explained, admitting that she does no market research.

It’s not about close ups of serious, sweaty faces. Bestsellers such as Pound a Punnet and Uniform Behaviour locate a unique humour, with cheesy puns and ludicrous scenarios framing raw, rampant sex.  “I think [humour] can relax people. Couples use my work together – perhaps people who’ve never watched porn. The film sets are always quite humorous, if you came and visited the set…you would see that the whole thing’s a bit bizarre.

“It’s also things like detail, getting the right uniform. Say I was doing a police scene; I use uniforms from the company that supplies The Bill, because reality is important to women. My films are kind of like soap operas really.”

But surely to describe such work as a soap opera ignores the raging debate about the damage porn can do to both users and makers? Anna’s seen this one before.

She sighs,”The anti-porn argument actually comes from the ’80s. The debate’s moved on.

“There’s been a huge change in attitudes of women … I pretty much always get positive feedback, especially from women, saying that they want something to look at.  I make stuff that is very female-friendly, where actually guys like it as well because I develop characters, and show different sides to people.

“There’s nothing per se about pornography that has to be bad – though I’m not saying all of it’s brilliant – ask yourself, why is it wrong to look at people having sex? It’s a performance like any other … I don’t think porn is art but I do think it’s culture, a valid part of culture.

“Sexual culture in general seems to be moving on along with pornography. We have really gone through a sort of semi-sexual revolution in the last 10 years … I always call it the ‘silent sexual revolution’. People are convening in different ways: they’re doing swinging, they’re dating online et cetera. But, also, they’re consuming different sexual products, women are learning to use vibrators much more regularly now – a lot of women will have their first orgasm using a sex toy.”

I have to say, this world of swapping couples and an array of sex toys sounds pretty good. But isn’t it supposed to leave an emotional deficit?

Anna retorts that such arguments arise because, “people have a very fixed idea of what sex is, and that is an expression of emotional love. And actually sex is many things; it’s better to have a bit of excitement in your life as well as the ’emotional thing’ and the two aren’t mutually exclusive.”

Anna is also concerned with women as a dominant force within the industry: “Think about the Berlin porn festival,” she says, “all of the film-makers were female. Women are just beginning to find a voice in the industry. We’re positive that we’re replacing bad speech with good speech, instead of doing what the anti-porn lobby wants to do which is just silence everybody.”

I ask whether it is challenging putting together films that are liberating for women and politically charged, whilst keeping their sense of fun and humour.

“I’m not being sort of didactic with it, and trying to teach people how to live their sex lives. I don’t do that – which some porn directors do.

“It’s all about taking the politics for granted. The women are just treated well.”

Anna Span will be speaking for the motion ‘This House believes pornography does a good public service’ at the Union on 17th February.

Read Shelley Lubben’s side of the porn debate here.