Homosexual women have always been considered as something apart from straight women and they’ve had to clamour separately for their rights. Given the circumstances, the world’s first lesbian pornography magazine sure made some important breakthroughs.

The beginning of a movement

However, the first lesbian pornography magazine “On Our Backs” changed the equation for a lot of things. On the cover of the summer 1987 issue of On Our Backs—a magazine with the subtitle “Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian”—a woman with winged eyeliner and boldly moussed, shorn hair bites the shoulder of another woman, who looks like she’s wearing a dog collar. Both are naked, sultrily smirking ever so slightly.

The cover of the first edition of the first lesbian pornography magazine

Mind you, this was America of the 80s. A largely homophobic America. A country which was not ready to accept the idea of LGBTQ rights.

As one of the first women-run erotica publications in American history, the magazine charted new territory with the primary aim of taking on lesbian life — and, in particular, lesbian sex — seriously.

On Our Backs didn’t have an easy journey

One would think that such a pro-woman move would be warmly welcome by American feminists. Let me reiterate that it was America of the 80s: a time when radical feminists were busy fighting each other. The question of pornography, in particular, was a fiercely debated one.

There was this particular group of feminists who felt that pornography was equivalent to patriarchy and it was the worst fate for a woman: to be subjugated to do things for a man’s pleasure and be objectified thoroughly in the process. Some radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin saw porn as the clearest possible distillation of woman-hatred and thought it should be banned outright.

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The other group had a slightly different outlook and felt that pornography could actually empower women depending on the context of its production and consumption. It granted them control over their sexuality. Sex was not just about the missionary position; it was so much more and the pro-sex feminists redefined the concept of what is to be desired by a woman.

The 1980s were also the peak of the AIDS crisis in America, as well as the height of the religious right’s influence, and the growing push among conservatives to police sexual behavior (especially behavior that was ‘different’ from the usual) overlapped with the anti-porn feminist agenda.

Before On Our Backs, pornographers (mostly men) created images of girl-on-girl sex to please the male sexual desires.

On Our Backs was seen as both unserious and a real obstacle by anti-porn feminists. The depictions of bondage, group sex, and rough sex in the pages of On Our Backs did not go down well with many.

It was a bit of a hypocrisy that they could not come to terms with the fact that some of their feminist sisters (albeit of a different orientation) actually wanted the freedom to express their sexuality as and how they wished.

The magazine was a success in more ways than one

To the founders of On Our Backs, BDSM, gang bang, rough sex was not exploitation. It was empowerment because they realized that women, and especially lesbian women could actually ‘like it rough.’

Susie Bright, one of the founders of On Our Backs

The magazine went on to find success eventually especially when founders Susie Bright, Sundahl and Kinney became the face of the sex-positive side.

The world’s first lesbian pornography magazine offered much more than porn. The magazine published letters from readers and erotic stories and almost gave birth to the new genre of lesbian fiction. It advertised itself as “the largest collection of sex-oriented business advertising for lesbians ever assembled under one cover.” There were articles about AIDS, reflections on race, and reader contests for erotic photography.

Susie Sexpert: one of Bright’s pseudonyms for her other works

But most importantly, the magazine connected lesbians internationally in a way never seen before. It thus indirectly propagated the homosexual rights movement too. What started with the objective of being easy entertainment went on to become an impactful cover.

Due to financial crises, On Our Backs was sold to a different publishing company, after which the magazine gradually extinguished. However, On Our Backs was a brave beginning and to this day, the first lesbian pornographic magazine continues inspiring feminists across the globe with its legacy of challenging conventional sex, broadening sexual horizons and most importantly, providing lesbian women their first ever vista of visual erotica.


Image credits: Google

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