Bellesa, A Free Porn Site For Women, Is Changing How We View Sex

Ashley Batz/Bustle
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UPDATE: After receiving criticism that Bellesa, a free porn site for women, was actually disempowering women in the industry by being "a piracy curator," the site apologized and removed the video platform on 9/21. In a statement shared with Bustle and posted on Twitter, Bellesa founder and CEO Michelle Shnaidman explains that the video structure unintentionally conflicted with their initial mission of "supporting and respecting the women of the sex-space." The video section was removed from the site, and in October the company partnered with Mile High Media, a production company, to feature exclusively videos through direct partnerships they've made with studios.

EARLIER: It’s hard enough to find porn that isn’t totally degrading to women. And then, when you finally come across porn for women, it’s usually behind a paywall. There’s a good reason for this: It’s hard to produce porn ethically without charging customers. But Michelle Shnaidman, founder of Bellesa, has found a way to bring women porn they’ll actually enjoy without draining their bank accounts.

Here’s how it works: Bellesa’s community of female users share videos from all over the web that appeal to them (and don’t make them feel like objects — unless that's what they're after). They also share erotic stories, sexy photos and GIFs, and feminist blog posts. Then, anybody can scroll through and enjoy them.

Shnaidman first came up with this idea after feeling completely alienated by mainstream porn sites. “There was this sobering moment,” she tells Bustle. “I was hit with one of those ‘grow your penis by 4 inches’ ads. It became glaringly obvious that this website was not meant for me. I couldn’t help but feel like I was trespassing. I kept thinking: women account for 50 percent of the population. How could this entire demographic be so overlooked?”

Unfortunately, the market for services meeting women’s sexual needs is often neglected due to the myth that women are less sexual than men. Shnaidman encountered people with this assumption often in the process of building Bellesa.

Courtesy of Michelle Shnaidman

“‘That kind of makes sense, though’ was something I’d hear over and over when talking about how porn is male-dominated,” she said. One male friend who worked for a porn company even told her, “For a company like ours, female sexuality… it makes for a good story to tell our viewers, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a myth.” These reactions showed just how necessary it was for women to have a space where they could be openly sexual beings.

Before launching the site, Shnaidman did extensive research with one big question in mind: What would porn look like if it were built from the ground up — by and for women? “What we found is that women are interested in the true nature of sex,” she says. “We want the storylines to reflect reality. We want the performers’ pleasure to be authentic and the bodies relatable. In general, we want the sex to feel… real. There are elements of fantasy, for sure, but mixed with realism. We call it 'fantasy fuel' and it’s what really powers Bellesa.”

The other feature distinguishing porn made for women from mainstream porn, Shnaidman found, was how much you see of the men. While men in mainstream porn are often reduced to “humping torsos,” as she aptly put it, women wanted men to be seen and heard just as much as women are in mainstream porn.

The end game, of course, is to get this kind of porn all over the web, not just on one site. That would be good both for women and for men who want something outside what our patriarchal, heteronormative society dictates they should like. In fact, Shnaidman hopes to transform not just how we think of men, women, and sex in porn, but also how we think of them in every area of life.

"We need to put an end to slut-shaming and to the antiquated idea that sex is something men do to women."

“We need to put an end to slut-shaming and to the antiquated idea that sex is something men do to women,” she says. “Or something women do for men. Because it’s not. Once society finally accepts the notion that women like sex (like, really like sex), we can begin shattering the stigma surrounding female sexuality — and of course porn.”

Shnaidman points out that "young people today are often watching sex before they’re having it" — which means that if we can intervene in the messages people are getting from porn, we can change sex and relationships. And not just romantic relationships. We can change how men and women relate to each other.

“Society has placed a weird stigma around female sexuality,” says Shnaidman. “And if we could neutralize that, if we could truly end slut-shaming, sexual inequality, sex-related violence, I think that would have a massive ripple effect in the everyday female experience.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated from its original version.