Yes, she’s a porn director…

Student Life

Watching porn doesn’t normally constitute journalistic research. But then it’s not every day that you interview the UK’s first female porn director, Anna Arrowsmith, who goes by the name of Anna Span. So in the name of essential preparation, I find myself on Anna’s website, watching clips teasingly named “Toy with Me” and “One Lump or Two?”

Anna’s all about liberalism. She speaks in a friendly Kent patter, her sentences interjected with “ya know.” She says “cool” and “naff,” and gets away with it. Sorry to disappoint, but she’s not a Jodie Harsh looky-likey; she’s instead plainly dressed, with the sort of flicky brown hair you’d kill for. She’s released 75 films in three years – “I’m working towards women having their own Soho, albeit a very different one.” She made the first film passed by UK censors clearly showing a woman ejaculating, and tells the amusing story of having an Oxford clinician prove that the splurting fluid wasn’t urine, which would have made the recording illegal under obscenity laws. She’s studied at Central Saint Martins School of Art & Design and has won numerous awards at international porn film awards. Oh, and this year she stood as a Liberal Democrat MP.
“Sorry? How does that work?” I hear you cry. Her background and role in the General Election seem a little incongruous.

“We lost a member of the local party (in Gravesham, Kent) because of my job,” Anna explains. “It’s difficult to say if people would have voted differently had my background been different, but they wouldn’t have known who I was, because I got on the front page of The Times…any politician would have loved that press, which was, on the whole, positive.”

She remained in third place behind the Tories and Labour. But any of her fellow members’ prudish attitudes were futile: “I decided to work it. In the hustings, a couple of people were hostile about my background, so I thought, all I can do is prove I can win a higher number of votes.” And she did: whilst the rest of Kent “went blue,” she increased the Lib Dem share in the constituency by 2.6 percentage points.

In the late 80s, porn for women in the UK was virtually non-existent. Anna was originally anti ‘the industry’; her online biography described it as a place “where men were given free reign to subjugate the woman for their own needs.”  Anna expands a little now: “Men’s sexuality was catered for. I realised my anger [towards the porn industry] was jealousy.” In politics, she believes, “you have to cover up speech with better speech; you have to provide an alternative.” She thought the same about the porn industry at that epiphany in the 80s, and so made a career of it.

She named her dissertation “Towards a new pornography.”  Why the connotation of a political manifesto? “It was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek – let’s take things forward, even though it will be an uphill struggle.” She laughs, and it’s obvious that although she takes the porn industry seriously, that doesn’t mean her work is overlaid with outdated egalitarian feminist ideals. Anna explains how attitudes have changed. “Women were encouraged to think about themselves in their ‘to be looked at-ness.’” She doesn’t make such references to film criticism vacuously (thank God she explains where that one came from, otherwise the journos would have been clueless), but when it helps her explain how she shaped a new pornography for women: “I thought about what makes a film sexy. Since you can only use two of the five senses when watching a film, you have to fill the void of touch, smell and taste by exaggerating the sound.”
Her online clips are testimony to her “realistic casting.” That sounds groan worthy, but on closer inspection, it actually just means using all sorts of women – some skinny and blonde, some auburn and breasty. This is not hardcore S&M. “Be my Toy Boy”  and “Business Babes” are deliberately tongue in cheek and sarcastic, with deus ex machina endings after copulation. Role play features heavily. I’m not sure how erotic they are, but they are fun.

Encouraging women to engage with porn has worked. 40 percent of visitors to her website are women, and in ten years, the percentage of couples in sex shops has gone from five to 40. Anna’s take on the rise is that, “If you can enjoy sex together, you can enjoy a porn film together.”

Anna’s husband is present, and I can’t resist asking him what he thinks of his wife’s career. Without hesitation: “I think it’s great.” Oh no. Was he supposed to say that? Luckily he continues, unoffended: “Anna’s educated. I admire what she’s done for the porn industry, and she’s done a lot for women.”

Her porn revolution is certainly true. “I believe in it as an industry and like it. I believe in its ability to stick two fingers up at society and to agitate. It is not a bad thing.”

Politics or porn? Politics of porn? Maybe even… porn of politics? Anna has a lot of bases covered. She’s perhaps not wholly convinced by a life at Westminster, but, ‘“ I am thinking about what I want after porn.” She is not painfully feminist in her aims, though: “I’ve always believed in not being overly political in my work, I try to avoid preaching.  Some film directors always have a ‘rite of passage’ story in their work. But I think women are over that.  I don’t think we need it any more. We can actually just watch sex now.”

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