Review: Smut Peddler

Smut Peddler is an anthology marketed as porn made “for women by women.” It’s sex-positive, woman-friendly, and sexuality inclusive. And while it was made with women in mind, it’s easily enjoyable for those of the male persuasion as well. (You know, like how the rest of the world makes everything for men, but ladies tend to enjoy it anyway?)

Illustration by Emily Carroll

Warning! Images below are pretty darn NSFW!

The Smut Peddler PDF was released earlier this week to Kickstarter backers (like me). It’s a pretty massive file at almost 350 pages, I’m excited to see how the physical copy looks.

Since it’s an anthology, there are always going to be stories within it that I enjoy more than others, especially considering the sheer diversity of content Smut Peddler provides. But I can say this with absolute confidence that it is good.

All the art in the book is beautiful, and the sheer scope of styles means that everyone can find at least one story to suit their visual taste. The different styles also serve to keep the reader interested; you can only draw so much sex before it gets repetitive, but each artist’s idea of what sexy looks like makes each story unique.

More than porn, each entry in the book is a story in itself. Many feel like a small peep into a greater story (and indeed, many are*), and they leave me to wanting to know about these characters’ lives beyond their bedrooms. (…Or fields, rocks, hallways, lecture halls… Hey, it’s porn. They can bang wherever they want.) It’s been said before that porn “for women” often needs to establish an emotional connection to the participants, and after reading this, I’m inclined to agree. The humanization of the characters builds emotional investment for the reader. I’m more eager to read about characters that I’m interested in. But the setups don’t need to be detailed or lengthy—much of the characterization is portrayed through the art and minimal dialog. It’s the ultimate “show, don’t tell” challenge; sex is mandatory, so most of characters’ personalities and relationships are gleaned from body language. And the variety of fantastical characters really gives the artists chances to shine. Here’s one of my favorite pages:

Once Upon a Time… by Rennie Kingsley

“Once Upon a Time…” is a very short story, but this is one page of a dryad climaxing, and it is just beautiful.

And the gorgeous art is given a full range of settings and stories to show off. There are a couple of Grecian style myths, a lot that take place in space, futuristic ones, ones that take place Victorian era , pirate ships, worlds with magic… And if the settings weren’t fun enough, the stories are just as interesting.

The Annunciation by Spike

The page above is from “The Annunciation,” a near-wordless story about a divine figure visiting and impregnating a virgin with a holy child. Holy crap. It’s only sixteen pages long, but readers experience the whole emotional journey of the main woman (naivety, fear, terror, knowledge, acceptance, zen). The other entries are similarly stories rather than set-ups or scenarios. “Thistlebed” is about a thistle-nymph who is too physically prickly to be held, until an especially fluffy satyr finds her. It’s so sweet it could crack my teeth. “Wicked Switch” is about a catty woman waking up in the body of the coworker she bullies daily.

There are a few things that make this anthology really special though. For one, the characters all genuinely look like they’re enjoying themselves and having fun, especially the women. Almost every story left me with a big goofy smile on my face; I like reading sweet stories about people who like each other. Part of what makes this a “for women” comic is the visible consent in each story. Lemme get all feminist on you for a second: our culture frequently removes the sexual agency of women. Society tells us that sex isn’t something women should enjoy, but something owed to our boyfriends and husbands to keep them around. We’re taught to limit ourselves sexually lest we encourage the attentions of somehow who will take it from us forcefully. Society teaches us so often to be afraid of sex.

That’s why it’s important to have these characters giving their unquestioning consent. Even in the story with tentacles, the receiving participant is complicit in the decision to participate. (“Consenticles,” my friend calls them, in contrast to the “tentacle rape” trope.) The warm, jovial, and loving tones of these stories contrasts beautifully to the violent unwillingness we’re taught as women to expect from sex.

Kung Fu Hustlers by EK Weaver

The second most special aspect of this anthology was, apparently, a complete accident. Upon publication, a pleasantly surprising theme of diversity became evident. Present are many people of color, a full spectrum of sexualities, trans* characters, and people of size. Typically these people are fetishized or flat out unrepresented. Here, they’re allowed romance, emotion, pleasure, and the chance to be human instead of objects simply created to fulfill someone’s sexual desire. We’re allowed a glimpse into their sex lives, but they’re written to have their own agency. Technically they’re having sex for an audience, but within the context of their stories, they’re doing it because they want to. Because they chose to.

And a special mention goes to Darby up there for also being a sex worker, portrayed as happy and healthy and human. (Some things often denied to fictional sex workers.)

It allows us to expand what we’re taught to believe is “sexy,” which in turn promotes healthier body images and self-esteem for everyone!

Travesty by Jennifer Doyle and Ursula Wood

Smut Peddler is sexy and smart, a wonderful book worth every cent. And it’s really valuable as more than just wank-material (although I’d say feel free to use it that way if you want). It’s a social statement, it sets a standard for what porn can be, it raises our expectations. I hope that the success of this project influences more like it.

Smut Peddler is available digitally now, here!

Fixer-Upper by Pupcake Jones

*”Just Friends” is a sidestory of the webcomic Flashover
“Kung Fu Hustlers” is a prequel to The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal
“Busking Beguile” isn’t technically related, but is in much the same form as Jess Fink’s Chester 5000 XYV
There are probably more, but these are the only ones I know!

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