Feminist porn community mourns the death of pioneer Candida Royalle

Candida Royalle BW

Photo via Candida Royalle/Facebook

“”What would it be like if a woman made these movies?”

The feminist porn community is mourning the death of pioneering director Candida Royalle, who succumbed to ovarian cancer early Monday morning.

Royalle, whose legal name was Candice Vadala, died at her Long Island home surrounded by many of the leading figures in the feminist porn movement—a chosen family of sorts that included porn star and educator Annie Sprinkle, crossdressing school founder Veronica Vera, and attorney Mary Dorman of the pro-porn group Feminists for Free Expression.

Royalle, whose legal name was Candice Vadala, was a porn actress who founded her own production company, Femme Productions, in 1984. The first major female porn director, she is credited with creating the “couple’s porn” market that caters to a female consumer.

“It’s been my ambition to help women bring their erotic explorations into the public arena,” Royalle told fellow director Petra Joy in a 2010 discussion posted to YouTube. “We are empowering women to accept and become comfortable with, and relish in our own sexuality. It’s permission-giving. And really, in this culture, we so desperately need that.”

Royalle was one of the first proponents of authentic female orgasms in porn, shunning the faked performances of the past in favor of longer shooting times and a focus on women’s satisfaction. In a short biographical feature for Femme Productions, Royalle said she asked herself “What would it be like if a woman made these movies, if someone with a social agenda made these movies?”

Before the creation of Femme, there was no such thing as feminist porn. The Internet had yet to transform the landscape of erotic consumption, and buyers were left with whatever could be found on the shelves at the local adult video store. Porn stars weren’t yet activists for the rights of sex workers—but Royalle greatly contributed to the founding of that movement as well by creating the first support group for women in porn, Club 90. She was also a policy activist, an early member of the porn industry’s lobbying arm, Free Speech Coalition, who spoke to the California Senate to try and discourage a pornography tax. 

“To assert that adult entertainment is to blame for the centuries old misogyny that creates violence against women is confusing and demeaning to us in our new found sexual liberation,” Royalle told the Senate in 2008 after California Democratic Senator Charles Calderon introduced a bill that would add a 25 percent tax onto adult materials and then funnel the money into a victims’ support fund.

In more recent years, Royalle received an honorary doctorate recognizing her lifelong work in human sexuality and joined the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT).

According to Annie Sprinkle, who wrote a Facebook post publicly announcing Royalle’s death, her final days were difficult but made more bearable by the presence of friends and family. 

The ovarian cancer that Candice had gracefully and stoically kept at bay for over five years finally became too much to bear. She had an incredible will to live, yet had suffered a lot of physical pain. Now she is free. A few weeks ago she had to go to the hospital for a few days. Her doctor, whom she loved a lot, told her she had run out of treatment options and to begin basic hospice care. She had planned to move to Manhattan this fall to be closer to more friends in what she thought would be her last few months or year. Then just about five days ago, Candice started slipping away quickly and it became evident that it was unlikely to recover.

Royalle had never met her birth mother, instead being raised by her father and stepmom after her mother abandoned the family when she was still a baby. According to the New York Post, when Royalle finally tracked down her birth mother’s location through a private detective, the woman had already passed away—also from ovarian cancer.

A documentary about Royalle’s life and search for her mother was in production when she died. The film, While You Were Gone, started shooting in December 2014.

On social media, prominent figures in porn, sex education, and the sex workers rights movement mourned Royalle’s passing, noting the strides that she made which paved the way for many of their careers.

Memorials for Candida Royalle will be held in November in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, according to the obituary post written by Sprinkle.

Photo via Candida Royalle/Facebook

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.