Netflix’s ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’ paints a complicated picture of sex and tech

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Documentary star Erika Lust talks about creating her own space in the world of porn.

Filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus pivot a bit with Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, the follow-up to 2015 Netflix series Hot Girls Wanted. The new doc turns its gaze to how the internet has changed the landscape of adult films and sex work, as well as human interaction. The Rashida Jones-produced series drew criticism in 2015 for its depiction of the industry and those who work in it, and for being exploitative. The new series doesn’t really paint a brighter picture, but figures in a few more angles.

There’s lighter fare about Tinder addiction and ghosting, and an episode about the economics of camming. Elsewhere, we revisit talent agent Riley Reynolds, who was featured in the first series. During a shoot, he casually tells a male performer to choke his female co-star. In the next scene, he’s hanging out with his mom.

We learn that nearly one-third of online porn contains acts of aggression toward women, but that troubling statistic is never unpacked by anyone involved in the industry. The case of Marina Lonina, who broadcast a woman’s sexual assault on Periscope in 2016, is given an entire episode, and it has a weight the others don’t. As we watch Lonina navigate the court system and struggle with what she did, the title of the series suddenly feels too flippant.

Perhaps trying to correct the narrow view of the first series, Turned On devotes the first episode to women-owned adult businesses, and finds its high point. Suze Randall and her daughter Holly work in erotic photography, a business that’s not as in demand as it once was. Barcelona-based adult filmmaker Erika Lust is pushing for a woman’s point of view, in front of and behind the camera.

“A big part of the porn industry is still making billions out of sexist, degrading, and racist representations of ‘sex,’” she tells the Daily Dot. “However, there are new creators that are trying to show another discourse. They don’t seek money exclusively but they aim to create adult cinema that has the power to liberate. They are creators that want to present people as subjects and sexual collaborators, not objects nor machines. This is a growing movement, which is emphasizing diversity in casting and ethics in production and it is led by women. It is the ethical porn movement where explicit films are sex-positive, so young people and the coming generations can see sex in a light that is realistic and pleasurable and aren’t only exposed to one version of the story.”

Earlier this year, Lust put out an open call to produce female erotic filmmakers, and has received about 500 submissions. She took a similar approach with the adult film series XConfessions, which was produced via crowdsourced submissions. She’s part of a new wave of producers and directors trying to create ethical porn and redirect the gaze.

It would have been more interesting to have a whole series focused on these new creators. Lust adds that in the last five years, “searches for the phrase ‘feminist porn’ have nearly tripled” and that there’s “more interest than ever in the female gaze.” One of the common threads in Turned On is that people don’t pay for porn these days, and one statistic states that in 2016, only 3 percent of viewers did so.

Lust admits the landscape has changed, but thinks people have grown tired of the massive free porn mills and tube sites. In the series, she points out an ad for a porn site that boasts teenage girls getting “destroyed.”

“When someone is interested in having a positive experience without nasty pop-ups and ads to ‘fuck the teen next door,’ they look for an alternative,” Lust says. “Thus, the higher number of articles and lists of feminist and ethical porn sites. There is a higher demand. More curiosity and more knowledge that porn is not only what the tubes show us.”

Turned On broadens its scope, but at six episodes it only touches on how the internet has both complicated and empowered us. And once again it leans a little too heavily on negative experiences and the “dark side” of technology. Lust, however, is optimistic.

“I feel this movement is reaching more and more people every day regardless of gender and sexual orientation,” she says, “[who] agree that the vast majority of pornography made by men does women and men little service and it doesn’t showcase different kinds of bodies, people, or sexualities whereas… porn can be a medium for women’s sexual expression and for people in general to get rid of taboos.”

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