How Vintage Pornography Made Me Finally Feel Sexy

If you’re not into the porn you see online, there are alternatives to explore.

How Vintage Pornography Made Me Finally Feel Sexy

How Vintage Pornography Made Me Finally Feel Sexy

How Vintage Pornography Made Me Finally Feel Sexy

5 minute read

With a seemingly limitless catalog of entertainment, I was frustratingly unaroused by the majority of mainstream modern pornography. It wasn’t until I discovered vintage erotica that I finally realized why. For the most part, the de-stigmatization of sex workers has been a positive and necessary move for society, but as the industry gets more demanding, the standards for the performers are raised. Adult actress Sasha Grey tells CBS News, “The challenge is to craft yourself so that you're appropriate for what people want and need to see.”  

These days “crafting yourself” may involve plastic surgery like labiaplasty or sculpting your body to fit rigid standards of beauty or to be a “fetish type.” While a woman can do whatever she wants with her physical appearance, it’s important to recognize that most bodies don’t look like that without investing a significant sum of money. When I was introduced to modern mainstream pornography, I personally felt bombarded with distinct body parts that had been altered, which I immediately recognized as detrimental for my body image and mental health. Vintage porn is much more inclusive of “natural” bodies because surgical enhancements and alterations were not as accessible. Plus, the beauty standards have changed significantly throughout history.

I found vintage pornography can be empowering to explore as an alternative, due to its varied beauty trends and what used to be prioritized in production. Representation in the media isn’t only important in mainstream television and film. It is fairly common to seek a film starring an actress visually similar to the viewer. Some women (including myself) search for imagery that is a depiction of their own sexual fantasies. My own introduction to mainstream pornography was not an erotic experience. Rather, I was bombarded by an unvaried representation of the female body and struck by the celebration of artificiality both visually and in the performance. Additionally, the highly-manufactured production value made it difficult to believe the genuineness of the performer’s pleasure. 

Of course, if anything is true of pornography, it is that you can find pretty much anything if you search hard enough. I didn’t want to give up on finding visual stimulation that made me feel sexually powerful, so I kept searching. I quickly discovered that diversity in modern pornography does exist, but it is often heavily fetishized. Although I recognize that the specificity makes sense from a marketing perspective, I was once again put off by how the interface seemed slightly artificial. That is, until I stumbled upon vintage pornography.

Initially, I was impressed by the fact that the pornography from the 1930s to the 1970s was commonly defined by the relationship between the characters rather than the actress’ appearance. The second revelation I came to is that even with the primary focus on the storyline, it was much easier to find women with natural, varied body types in the porn of the past. The simplicity of the production value along with the ability to see myself in the actresses made for a much more empowering experience.  

The combination of the increased consumerism and society’s collective dwindling attention span has also caused declining production of full-length pornographic films. "On the Internet, the average attention span is three to five minutes. We have to cater to that." - Steven Hirsch, co-chairman of Vivid Entertainment, tells The New York Times

Now, I’ll be the first to admit my unwillingness to sit through cheesy dialogue and lengthy introductions. However, there seems to be a lost art in creating a pornographic movie that includes a range of elements and varied fetishes. Modern porn is almost hyper-specific, to the point where cross-genres and more lengthy films are few and far between. With modern pornography, you have to know exactly what you’re searching for. Full-length vintage pornography, however, can surprise you with offbeat tropes and unexpected scenes. From the car-centric first full-length erotic film titled A Free Ride (1915), to the iconic forbidden picnic porn in Mona (1970), you might just discover fantasies you never knew you had. 

It’s important to note that retro erotica isn’t just for viewers who are conservative or prude. Sure, those classic nudie hotel films exist, but there has always been a demand for the kinky. Before true films existed, you can even find moving pictures from the 1910s to the 1920s that display acts so risqué, they would even make PornHub blush. Niche, independent book stores frequently carry books about the history of pornography and erotic photography where you can learn about which eras carried which trends. It just takes a little research to find the period of production that appeals most to you. Some popular female naughty film directors of the past include Candida Royalle, Roberta Findlay, and Doris Wishman. 

The world of erotica and pornography is expansive, but sometimes it takes a little digging to find what makes you feel sexy. Representation of different types of female bodies can seem scarce, but that may be because modern media pushes certain stereotypes to the forefront of our consumption. Plus, you’re not going to be equally captivated by everything stylistically. In the past, filmmakers operated under the exciting notion of potentially revealing a kink or a taboo that had not yet been explored on screen. Discovering vintage pornography was like opening a whole new world of erotic confidence for me, and maybe it will be for you too.

Giselle DaMier

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Giselle is an award-winning screenwriter with a passion for progressive lifestyle journalism. If Giselle wasn’t a writer, she would probably be a sea nymph from Greek mythology, a permanent resident in an Art Nouveau painting, or a professional exotic fruit taster.

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