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Lynn Comella is a women’s studies professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she teaches courses on gender, sexuality, media, and popular culture. Her research focuses primarily on the adult entertainment industry, and the history of the women’s market for sex toys and pornography. Her work has been published in Feminist Media Studies, The Communication Review, and Contexts, and appears in Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry (2nd edition), New Sociologies of Sex Work, and Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times. She is a frequent media contributor , and writes a popular monthly column on sexuality and culture for Las Vegas Weekly. Introduction For six months in 2001 I worked on the sales floor at the feminist sextoy retailer Babeland’s Lower East Side store in New York City.1 My daily tasks included everything from restocking vibrators to ringing up sales to talking with customers—young and old, male and female, straight and queer—about the G-spot, the P-spot, and everything in between. Hands down, my favorite part of the job was helping novice porn consumers navigate the store’s expansive collection of porn. On a regular basis, customers asked: Do you carry porn for women? Porn with a plot? Couples porn? Lesbian porn? Something I can take home to my girlfriend, boyfriend , wife, or husband? For some, figuring out where to begin was a daunting prospect. Many welcomed a little hand-holding and guidance along the way, and I was more than happy to supply it. Babeland’s porn collection was housed in a smart-looking display case at the back of the store. Unlike more traditional sex stores, where shelves of porn tend to dominate the inventory, at Babeland, if you weren’t specifically shopping for porn you might never notice it. The bulk of the video library was discretely displayed in three-ringed binders organized by genre—heterosexual, LGBT, instructional, and classic From Text to Context: Feminist Porn and the Making of a Market Lynn Comella porn. Each binder contained clear plastic sleeves with a flattened video box cover slipped inside, and brief yet detailed video reviews written by Babeland staff. Staff members at Babeland had spent a considerable amount of time and energy curating the store’s porn collection. They had waded through catalogs with hundreds of porn titles to pick the ones that best fit the business’s sex positive ethos and commitment to quality. They did their best to find porn with high production values, as well as porn made by companies with reputations for treating their actors well and compensating them fairly. Babeland took pride in offering its customers a mix of titles that weren’t readily available at other stores in the city. Babeland’s porn collection was nothing if not eclectic. You could find porn made by some of the biggest and most profitable porn companies in the San Fernando Valley, such as Wicked and Vivid, sitting alongside porn by small lesbian-run production companies in San Francisco that had maxed out their credit cards to fund their projects. There were titles from porn’s “golden age,” such as Debbie Does Dallas, The Opening of Misty Beethoven, and Café Flesh, and a variety of how-to videos, including How to Female Ejaculate, Bend Over Boyfriend, and Selfloving. Babeland’s porn buyer was committed to carrying titles that reflected the company’s mission to promote sexual vitality and education, encourage personal empowerment, and support a more passionate world for all. And the more examples she could find that featured female pleasure and genuine orgasms, the better. A great deal of research on pornography focuses on the pornographic text as the primary site of analysis. Far less attention has been paid by researchers to the broader cultural matrix in which porn texts circulate. With the advent of the VCR, video technology, and desktop publishing in the early 1980s, feminists had access to affordable means of production, which they used to create new kinds of sexual imagery for straight women, lesbians, queers, and couples. Yet getting feminist porn into the hands of consumers required much more than simply making it; it demanded new modes of marketing and distribution that could reach previously marginalized groups. Enter the feminist sex-toy store. Babeland is part of a much larger network of sex-positive retailers whose raison d’être is providing customers—especially women—with quality products and accurate information in warm and welcoming retail environments. These...


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