Guest column

In the 1970s, “Deep Throat” was lambasted by feminist writers like Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dworkin for its degrading depictions of women.

Twenty-five years later, porn is more popular than ever with women, as I was recently reminded.

As the closest thing Daily Variety has to a porn industry reporter, I get a lot of free adult films. On a recent spring cleaning, I wanted to give some of my tapes away so I posted an ad on FreeCycle.com, an online group devoted to people who want to give and get free stuff. The ad said: “Offer: 17 brand-new X-rated VHS tapes.”

Seconds after I pressed Enter, the responses started arriving with popcorn-like frequency. A half-hour later, a guy (mid-30s, polo shirt, glasses) arrived at the door. “Thanks so much,” he said. “My wife is going to love these.”

A few minutes later, I came to the door again with a handful of screeners as a consolation prize. “This is great!” she said (50s, short salt-and-pepper dreadlocks). “I really appreciate it.”

“Man, I’d buy them from you,” said a young man who watched the proceedings while smoking a cigarette. “I send them to my mom.”

All of this, combined with the current revival of porno chic, makes me wonder: Can we get it right this time?

I know women who like porn. I know women who hate porn. I know women who like making porn. I know women who make porn and don’t like the sex, but love the money and attention. I know women who stopped making porn because they no longer liked it. I know women who are horrified that I know those women. And all of that, to me, equates perfectly with feminism: the inalienable right to a point of view.

Feminism, however, has always had a hard time allowing for women who like porn. Some of feminism’s most extreme advocates, such as Dworkin, have considered porn to be no less than a representation of “cultural truth … woman, her role as victim adult and explicit … her end annihilation — death or complete submission.”

I don’t know too many people, men or women, who would consider that perspective to be their truth, cultural or otherwise. And yet there’s something in Dworkin’s view that continues to resonate, even as porn has grown into multibillion-dollar business.

In 1969, Jackie Onassis inadvertently validated the public’s curiosity to see naked people on film when she was photographed leaving a screening of “I Am Curious (Yellow).” By the 1973 release of “The Devil in Miss Jones,” feminist groups organized women to march on porn theaters, wagging their fingers as they chanted, “Shame, shame.”

Even Judith Regan, who published Jenna Jameson’s bestselling autobiography, told a recent panel following the New York premiere of “Inside Deep Throat” that she thought the porn biz had made her author really “miserable.”

There are women who see no inherent conflict between feminism and pornography. Writers like Village Voice sex columnist Tristan Taormino, sex writer Susie Bright, porn star Nina Hartley, former porn star Annie Sprinkle and prostitute-turned-Ph.D. Carol Queen are quick to counterpunch, but their views often are viewed as voices from the fringe. (Should that seem too harsh, consider that their work often comes with the label of “sex positive” — an adjective that would be as redundant as “carbon-based lifeform” if it described a man.)

Still, anyone who thinks porn is comfortably part of the American mainstream should consider the Senate subcommittee that’s holding hearings this week on obscenity charges brought against porn distributor Extreme Associates.

The most sensible approach to porn won’t come from Washington but from people happy to take porn from a stranger, or those who speak up when they’re told their desires are wrong.

Along with Regan, the “Inside Deep Throat” panel in New York also featured Dworkin’s frequent ally, attorney and antiporn activist Catherine McKinnon. She decried the act of “deep-throating” as an act of force that’s physically possible only under hypnosis.

I wasn’t in attendance. But “Inside” co-directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey say few people in the audience shared McKinnon’s viewpoint.

As recounted on their production company‘s blog, Worldofwonder.net, “(Director) Todd Graff’s hand shot up — ‘I can do it,’ he said, and the room echoed with a chorus of gay men going ‘Me too!'”

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