Bryant Goes to Sundance, Part II

By Mona Malacane

You may have read in a recent IDS paper, or on the IU Viewpoints website, or (hopefully) in my December blog post that Bryant Paul co-produced a documentary, Hot Girls Wanted, that follows several young women and their entry into the amateur pornography industry. If you’re one of our faithful readers (thank you if you are!), you know that the film was accepted for the Sundance Film Festival, and this week I caught up with Bryant to talk about his trip and the film’s reception at the prestigious festival.

On stage with the directors and producers of Hot Girls Wanted.

On stage with the directors and producers of Hot Girls Wanted.

Sundance is held annually in Park City, Utah, described by Bryant as a “sleepy little ski town, 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.” The festival lasts about nine days and this year it was held from January 22 to February 1. Bryant arrived a few days into the festival, avoiding most of the celebrity hoopla paparazzi frenzy. Unfortunately this meant that he didn’t get to meet actress and producer, Rashida Jones … :(

One of the screenings during the Sundance Film Festival.

One of the screenings during the Sundance Film Festival.

The documentary aired five times during the film festival in front of audiences ranging from 200 to 500 people. Not surprisingly, Hot Girls Wanted gained popularity early-on and each screening sold out quickly, with many unlucky moviegoers getting turned away. At each screening, the directors took stage to introduce themselves and the film (and to inform the audience of the adult content).  After the screening, the directors and producers, including co-producers Bryant and Debby Herbenick of the Kinsey Institute, came on stage to answer questions from the audience and discuss the film.

The film was an eye-opener for many of the viewers, who were, I’m sure, older than the 18-to-20 year old women in the film and grew up without the unfiltered access to media content we have today. “One of the big things that this movie does is, I think it really points out the disconnect between generations and people’s communication environment, such that kids that are growing up now grow up with such a different environment than people who are 40 and over … even 5 years ago, the environment was totally different.”

And that disconnect was apparent when Bryant fielded questions from audience members, who wondered what they could do to prevent the potential negative effects of easy access to mature content. “You’re not going to be able to ban [access to pornography], you’re not going to be able to censor it out of people’s lives. And if you do that for a certain amount of time, eventually kids are going to come across it anyway. If you watch the film, the parents that are depicted in the film … they’re good parents, they seem like nice people who just probably never had a discussion [with their kids] because they don’t even know that this discussion needed to happen, they weren’t aware of what their kids were consuming. They weren’t aware of their media ecology … It’s not something you want to run away from. Not having a conversation is what is going to make it bad. Freaking out when you catch them looking at something is going to potentially create a boomerang effect.”

Audiences at these screenings were also curious whether there was a place for pro-sex, feminist pornography in the world. Bryant responded affirmatively but pointed to a potential

The slopes in Utah, from Bryant's Facebook.

The slopes in Utah, from Bryant’s Facebook page.

reason why female-oriented pornography was not yet mainstream. “That was kind of interesting because there are two other girls that they followed [in the documentary] that are still doing it and they were happy and well-adjusted and they seemed fine … And my response to that was that I think there is [a place for pro-sex, feminist porn] but it comes down to socializing people.” He went on to explain that porn literacy discussions should be part of sex education and/or ‘the sex talk’ to raise awareness that pornography is a performance and shows behaviors that may not actually feel good (specifically for women) even though they are portrayed that way.

The documentary followed several girls but focused on one more closely, Tressa, who was able to attend a few of the Sundance screenings and answer audience questions. The directors are hoping to bring her and the other women to future film festivals in Miami and Toronto.

Since being released, Hot Girls Wanted has been dubbed one of the top 5 feminist films from Sundance  and was bought by Netflix! The Netflix release date will be after it has been shown in theaters, but Bryant is hopeful that the directors will come to IU for a screening and talk this semester.

Bryant Goes to Sundance

By Mona Malacane

“Hot Girls Wanted” sounds like just another video that was analyzed in Bryant Paul et al’s project on content analysis of pornographic videos. Normally this would be a safe assumption, but in this case, it is a documentary on the experiences of 18-and-19 year old girls entering the amateur porn industry.

Bryant got involved with the film through Dr. Debra Herbenick of the Kinsey Institute, who was contacted by the film’s directors, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. In the initial stages, Bryant gave consultations mostly on the pornography industry. Over time these conversations evolved into research on pornography and the effects of viewing. “It started out as inside industry stuff and then they were asking about usage statistics for how popular certain sites are … and some [research] on effects. And they wanted to know numbers on how many people join the industry per year, so I used some contacts that I’ve made over the years to try and find some of this stuff out.”

While Bryant helped fill in some information holes with research and data, Jill and Ronna continued to edit the film. When the first rough cut of the film was ready, Bryant offered to do a test screening in his undergraduate class and give feedback over Skype. Jill and Ronna found the feedback very useful.  They started implementing the recommendations and offered Bryant a co-producer credit on the film. (Fun fact: Actress Rashida Jones is also a producer on the film!)

Rashida Jones on the very popular show, The Office. More recently she has starred in the show Parks & Recreation (also hilarious and popular).

Rashida Jones on the very popular show, The Office. More recently she has starred in the show Parks & Recreation (also hilarious and popular).

Having seen a short clip of the film myself, I have to say that in true independent docu-film style it both tugs at your heart and makes you think deeper. It adds another layer to the cultural conversation of pornography by showing both pros and cons. Bryant in fact commended Jill and Ronna for their unbiased stance. “They really are objective. They are not anti-porn but they are not pro-porn either, they were just reporting on this topic … It’s actually amazing to me how objective they have remained through all of this.”  According to Bryant, the film not only shows the dark side of the porn industry but also shows that not all of it is bad – some people even make a career in it.

The film is now in the final stages of editing.  Last Monday (December 1) Bryant organized another screening and Skype meeting with graduate students and a few professors. Shortly after the screening, the directors and everyone else working on the film got a huge surprise – they heard that their film had been accepted for the Sundance Film Festival! Of the 12,166 submissions to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, only 118 were selected and “Hot Girls Wanted” was among them. (In case you’re wondering, that is about 1% acceptance rate.)

hot girls wanted

If you’re interested in learning more about “Hot Girls Wanted,” here is their website. Fear not, this link/website is SFW (safe for work). I can’t say the same for the Google searches though … (That was a naïve mistake on my part.) They currently don’t have a video trailer for the film on the website yet, but now that they have been accepted to Sundance it should be forthcoming.

Bryant’s Sex Talk

By Edo Steinberg

Dr. Bryant Paul was the guest at the inaugural Bloomington Sex Salon at The Bishop on Sunday. The Salon, hosted by Dr. Debby Herbenick of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the School of Public Health, will be a monthly occurrence with a different guest each time.

“I was a little nervous when I saw how many people showed up,” Bryant said about the well-attended event, but after a few minutes and a few dirty jokes by Debby he felt at ease and had a great time.

The conversation covered quite a lot of Bryant’s history as a sex researcher, beginning with what drew him to the subject in the first place. Bryant attributes his research interests to the fact that his puberty and teenage years coincided with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. He was first learning about sex at the same time as he was learning about the dangers of it, as well. Years later, thinking back to coverage of AIDS, he was amazed by how little was known and what the public was told by the media.

Bryant wanted to conduct sex research in graduate school, but was persuaded to steer away from the subject while he studied for his MA at the University of Miami. Members of the faculty told him he would never be able to find a job as a sex researcher. He took the advice and temporarily turned to political communication.

Bryant Paul and Debby Herbenick at The Bishop

Bryant Paul and Debby Herbenick at The Bishop

Determined to study sex in the media, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, “where all the perverts were,” Bryant joked onstage. While there, he was hired to write briefs for court cases involving the question of whether or not strip clubs and similar businesses were harmful to the communities in which they operated. His research found no harm. One of his briefs was even cited by the Supreme Court.

Bryant also talked about his current ambitious content analysis project. With the help of MA students Yanyan Zhou and Michelle Funk and others in his Sex in the Media graduate seminar, he will analyze a very large number of videos and pictures from two porn sites. Bryant made sure to contact those in charge of technological services to make sure the sites would be accessible from campus computers. The authorities were worried about what this would do to students exposed to large amounts of porn. Bryant saw this as a legitimate concern, but has seen that rather than desensitizing coders to chauvinism, it has made them more sensitive to sexual bias.

Bryant decried the negative focus of much of the research into sex and porn in the media. He believes more research should be done into its positive effects. One of his examples was the fact that in areas in which the internet was adopted more quickly, sex crimes had a greater decrease than in areas with slow internet adoption rates. Since this did not happen with any other kind of crime, internet pornography may have had a positive effect.

The conversation and questions from the audience covered many other topics. The common theme of the night was the desire to learn more about how sex in the media affects people and to make research into the area more accessible to the layperson, who would then be able to use it to make informed decisions.

Third Brown Bag of the Semester – September 14, 2012

The audio from last Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown Bag – September 14, 2012 (Debby Herbenick)

Debby Herbenick

Every Space a Sexual Space: Teaching about Sex in Print, Digital, and Social Media

Dr. Herbenick discusses a number of her experiences working as a sex advice columnist and human sexuality expert.  Her talk offers unique insights into the perspective of a practitioner of sexual science who is often called upon to explain and discuss issues of human sexuality across diverse media.

Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is an Associate Research Scientist and Co-Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Public Health-Bloomington at Indiana University. In her capacity as a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Dr. Herbenick writes the Kinsey Confidential and hosts its audio podcasts. Her primary research interests relate to perceptions of male and female genitals, sexual pleasure and enhancement, and women’s sexual health. She has published over 60 scientific manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, and is the author of six books about sex and love.  Dr. Herbenick has a strong commitment to translating scientific information about human sexuality to various audiences through various media including television, radio, print, and social media.