Porn in Public?!: Notes on attending porn screenings

So it finally happened. You got an invite to a film screening – but this one is different. It’s for *adult videos* (read: porn).

Instantly, your mind may be filled with the seedy adult film houses of the past. Dank theatres with sticky floors and tissues scattered about. A wash of shame might come over you as you realize that other people might see you go to this thing.

But. You really want to go.

I’m not saying that porn theatres don’t still exist. They do, in pockets, here and there. But largely, the porn that we consume today is consumed in private. Away from the eyes of strangers. The advent of the home VCR really brought this about. Before they were common, folks had to go out of the house to see their adult films. The Golden Age of Porn began in approximately 1969, with huge directors like Andy Warhol having their explicit works screened in theatres. The film Deep Throat pulled in 600 million dollars at the box office!  These were not small productions, and many many folks went to see them at local theatres. Unfortunately, laws in the US changed in 1973 after a short-lived Golden Age, and obscenity legislation dictated that pornographic films could no longer be played in mainstream movie houses – relegating the films to the above-mentioned seedy theatres. This created a needless stigma on seeing porn in public that has really stuck with North Americans for more than a generation at this point.

Porn is now, however, experiencing another renaissance of sorts. With smaller production companies producing porn that is feminist, queer, ethical, etc, we’re seeing more and more art house porn screenings. Trouble is, with this long of a gap between 1973 and 2016, how are we supposed to know how to act when seeing pornographic films in public?

To help you out, here are 4 things to do/expect when you go to a porn screening near you:

  1. What am I getting myself into?
    You’re going to watch movies with a big group of people, and those films are going to have some adult content in them. The group putting on the screening will generally give you an idea of what to expect, trigger/content warnings if applicable (this means that if there are events that happen in the films that might trigger someone in a PTSD type reaction, organizers will generally post what those triggers might be. ie: fantasies of non-consent, restraint, etc).

    There is no contract to enter into when you walk in the door. You are free to leave at any time if you feel uncomfortable, and organizers generally make sure to say this at the beginning of the event.

    All that said, watching porn in public isn’t all silence and heavy breathing. The first event that I attended was a screening for the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto. I really had no idea what to expect – and it turned out to run the entire gamut of emotions. There were moments when the crowd would burst into laughter, fits of giggles, or gasps. There were moments when the entire crowd fell silent and few folks dared to breathe. There were sweet smiles, bitten lips, and hands grasped. Everything.

    It really is an amazing experience to be immersed in a crowd of people doing something that is normally such a private thing. It brings out the honesty of the whole thing. A porn film can be appreciated just as a film – with the ability to evoke emotion and spark conversation.

    So really, expect to watch some films! But do be prepared to experience the energy of an entire crowd of people just kind of letting go!

  2. What do I wear?!
    Ah, the age old question of what to wear. In my personal life, I tend toward cute dresses, black tights, and a standard pair of little booties or flats. Hardly kinky, hardly edgy, hardly anything I would have considered sexy. When I started attending porn screenings, I thought I really had to look the part. I put on a tight dress and some heels and wiggled my way to the screening.

    Surprisingly, even some directors that were in attendance were wearing my usual uniform. Some were even wearing jeans! JEANS! And a tshirt! Maybe with a scarf!

    Since going to public porn events, I’ve learned that it’s a very come-as-you-want situation. Some folks like to get dressed up, and some people just don’t. And all of those are fine. Nowadays, I own exactly one faux leather dress for times that I am attending specific kink events, but otherwise, this is how I go to screenings/the grocery store now: 12348014_942934639119821_7408034664679722403_n

    All that said, no two porn screenings are going to be exactly alike. Check into the event to see if there is a dress code.

  3. Am I expected to get touchy? What are the rules around this?
    In general, these are not sex parties unless explicitly described as such. Many of these events take place in regularly licensed bars, theatres, or art galleries. There are a lot of folks in the same space, and generally respecting their boundaries and the situation they agreed to get into is awesome.

    I’ve definitely held people’s hands at screenings. Sometimes it’s because they’re getting all hot and bothered, sometimes it’s because something has triggered them, sometimes they just want to feel connected in this vulnerable situation. But I’ve also sat alone and chilled out.

    As always, consent is huge in this setting. Don’t reach out and grab someone’s hand without asking, ya know? And if someone is getting too touchy near you and you feel violated, well-organized events will back you up in getting those folks to tone it down.

  4. I’m really just in this for the films, how do I make myself feel comfortable?
    So you’re here because your friend made some films and you really want to support them. That’s awesome. Here’s how to make yourself feel comfortable.

    Go, and have fun. Leave your expectations at the door, and maybe you’ll find something that you didn’t know you liked! It’s really that simple. Remember that you can leave anytime, and everything will be alllllllright.

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