fisting

In an age where no sex act is off-limits on the Internet, fisting still remains taboo. 

This article contains graphic content that may be NSFW.

Given the ubiquity of kinky, occasionally objectively bizarre porn on the Internet, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a kink or specific sexual act that’s still considered taboo. But there’s one sex act that does fall into this category: fisting.

To the uninitiated, fisting is a sexual act that involves the fister inserting a hand in the recipient’s rectum or vagina. (Contrary to the name, in practice the fister doesn’t actually use a full fist; rather, the person will employ a method colloquially referred to as “the Silent Duck” or “duck-billing.” You can use your imagination as to what that looks like.)

Fisting has a reputation as an extreme or hardcore sex act, and it’s often censored in adult film for a jumble of thorny, complex legal and financial reasons. Yet a group of queer porn performers are trying to change that with International Fisting Day, an annual event on Oct. 21 that attempts to take fisting from the margins of kink to the mainstream—and take a stand against its censorship in adult film.

“In our culture, we see fists as weapons,” adult performer and writer Jiz Lee, who cofounded the event with fellow adult performer Courtney Trouble, writes on a blog post introducing International Fisting Day. “Let’s embody the revolutionary icon of the fist as a symbol of progress.”

Lee and Trouble founded International Fisting Day in 2011, when Trouble’s production company shot a film (link NSFW) featuring a scene in which Lee is fisted by veteran adult performer Nina Hartley. When Trouble started editing the film, she got in a dispute with her distributors over the scene, on the grounds that an explicit depiction of fisting could potentially lead to an obscenity lawsuit.

“We were both tired of the fact that fisting was constantly (and unnecessarily) censored,” says Lee, who identifies with the pronouns “they” and “them.” “Therefore, we decided to turn a negative into a positive by creating a day of international celebration and education.” Thus, International Fisting Day was born, with Lee and Trouble reasoning that “if more people understood what fisting was, perhaps the ban could be lifted.”


Photo via Jiz Lee
 

The reason for this industry-wide concern over shooting fisting is because fisting is one of the acts on the Cambria List, a list of sexual acts that could potentially be prosecutable under obscenity law. Drafted by adult industry lawyer Paul Cambria back in 2001 in the wake of President George W. Bush’s inauguration, the Cambria List also includes such sex acts as golden showers, squirting, “massive ejaculation on the face,” “black men/white women themes,” and “transsexuals.”  

Does a sex act’s appearance on the Cambria List stop producers from shooting such content? You bet it doesn’t. (Type in any of the above terms into Pornhub, including fisting, and you’ll likely yield dozens, if not hundreds, of results.) That’s because, aside from child pornography or bestiality, there is nothing explicitly illegal about any of the acts on the list,and many are among the most viewed on the Internet today. (“Male-on-male penetration,” for instance, was previously on the Cambria List, despite the fact that “gay” is among the most popular search terms worldwide.)

In terms of shooting pornography, Lee says that filmmakers usually discourage performers from fisting, “or will compose the shot to avoid explicit visuals.”

“We’ve had conversations over whether something is fisting enough, like it’s close enough to fisting that we can’t release it through the distributor,” says Kitty Stryker, an adult performer active in the queer porn scene who is helming International Fisting Day’s celebration this year. “Like, if it’s four fingers, or the thumb is on the clit and you can’t entirely see the hand, if it’s all the way in the front.”

“All it takes is one look at the actions listed [on the Cambria List] to see that it’s clearly problematic. (No transsexuals? No male-male sex? No bi-sex? No blindfolds? What year is it again?),” Lee adds. But the original (and current) purpose of the Cambria List was not to provide a list of explicit instructions to pornographers as to what they legally can and can’t do; rather, it was intended to provide a list of guidelines to help them avoid potential obscenity lawsuits.

“It was a historical document about the types of things that were historically being prosecuted and increased the risk level [of prosecution],” says Allan Gelbard, an adult industry attorney who has argued many state and federal obscenity cases. “But other than child pornography, there is nothing that is per se illegal in the United States. It has to be found to be obscene.”

So what qualifies as “obscene”? Under current national obscenity law, there’s a tripartite definition for whether something qualifies as obscene. The guidelines are too complex to delve into too deeply, but basically they’re as follows: Something is considered obscene if it has no inherent artistic value, if it depicts sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way,” and if it falls short of “contemporary community standards.”

That criteria is about as vague as it sounds. “The way the obscenity act is written, it says anything that the average group of people would find obscene is obscene,” Stryker says. “So it’s left to interpretation.” 

The Internet has further complicated exactly what these “community standards” entail: In the age of the porno theater and bookstores, it was much easier to determine what type of porn others were watching, but in the digital age, “you have no idea what your next-door neighbor, even your wife, is watching, so ruling on what the contemporary local community standards [are] is very difficult,” Gelbard notes.

The obstacles in determining what is and isn’t obscene has made it very difficult for state or federal governments to prosecute someone for violating obscenity laws. Although porn producer Seymore Butts was brought to court on an obscenity charge for a fisting video called “Tampa Tushy Fest Part 1” back in the early aughts (he later settled with the L.A. city attorney’s office), Gelbard estimates that he hasn’t seen a federal conviction on a fisting obscenity case in at least 15 years.

So if depicting fisting on camera isn’t illegal in itself, why, then, do so many producers and distributors “err on the side of caution by not showing it at all,” as Stryker puts it? The answer has less to do with adult producers’ concerns over potential legal ramifications and more to do with “concerns over historical context” over obscenity prosecution, says Gelbard. Given how producers like Butts have been prosecuted for depicting acts like fisting, many filmmakers just think it’s best to toe the line and avoid showing the act altogether.

There are also legitimate financial concerns over shooting fisting, particularly for companies whose revenue depends on DVD sales. For companies that distribute content via DVD (yes, there are still some left), there’s a risk of selling fisting DVDs in conservative jurisdictions—like, for instance, the Bible Belt—where the audience for such content will likely be lower, and the risk of someone filing an obscenity lawsuit will be higher.

Because of these implicit restrictions against distributing fisting DVDs, fisting is, like pretty much every sex act these days, something you’re far more likely to see on the Internet than in a rental DVD store. But regardless of its legality, there’s still a stigma against it.

Part of the stigma surrounding fisting and other nonconventional forms of penetration probably stems from a touch of homophobia, as fisting is primarily known as a queer sex act. Stryker says that’s gradually changing, and that it’s easier to find heterosexual fisting porn than it was five years ago. (“I think straight people saw it and were like, “that’s really cool, I want to do that,” she says.) But because neither a penis nor a stand-in for a penis—like, say, a dildo—is involved in the act, fisting is, to a degree, inherently transgressive and “queers the sex quite a bit.”

There are also a slew of myths and misconceptions surrounding the act of fisting itself, chief among them that it’s painful or traumatic for the recipient. This view was supported during a 2012 U.K. obscenity trial over a former political aide’s extreme fisting videos, in which the prosecution argued that fisting fell under the U.K.’s legal definition of an obscene act because it was “likely to result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts, or genitals.”

Stryker, who says she enjoys fisting in her personal life but was fisted on film for the first time just a few days ago, says there’s nothing remotely intense or dangerous about it. Unlike penetrating someone with a dildo, she says, “with fisting, at least, you can feel what you’re doing, and you can feel the muscles actively convulsing around your hand. With a dildo, you don’t have that, so you can hurt somebody more easily.

“It’s really fun, but it’s not something you tend to do casually,” she adds. “It involves being willing to open yourself up to somebody in a way that seems really uncomfortable and scary for a lot of people. I find it a very vulnerable act.”

There’s also a widespread concern, particularly among heterosexual women, that fisting is painful or will irreversibly stretch the vagina out. Lee says that is not the case. “As long as things are done gradually (so there’s no ripping or damage), they’ll be totally fine.” As for the element of pain, “anyone who loves fisting knows that it can be the most intimate and beautifully connecting experience with a lover,” Lee says.

That said, if you’re interested in celebrating International Fisting Day with some good old-fashioned hands-on demonstration, there are informational resources available

But if you don’t feel quite ready to dig in just yet, you can also celebrate International Fisting Day by following the event’s live feed on Tumblr (NSFW, of course). “We’re just trying to show that [fisting] is not something a small subsection of queer people are into but it’s something that any two people can do, regardless of sexual orientation,” Stryker says, then pauses. “Well, I guess not everyone. There are people who don’t have hands.”

Photo of Lorelei Lee and Beretta James via Crash Pad Series/Crash Pad Guide to Fisting

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.