NSFW Sunday: What Does a Lesbian Sex Magazine Look Like?

ON OUR BACKS:
Time for a little lesbo-porn herstory! All ye who are too young or have not been obsessively following the ascent & success/decline of all lesbian/feminist/grrl/outsider media for years may not know about On Our Backs Magazine: Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian. The rest of you already know. Although the mag ceased publication in ’06, the website and its ancient material remains online, which’s weird, yeah? Like an internet ghost town.

See, once upon a time, there was an American lesbian porn magazine with national distribution, and now there isn’t. With a title inspired by anti-sex feminist newspaper Off Our Backs, sex-positive feminist On Our Backs launched in ’84 and was named one of Utne’s “ten magazines to make a difference in the 80s.” Early contributors included Pat Califia, Tea Corrine, Dorothy Allison, Joan Nestle, Sarah Schulman, Sapphire, Honey Lee Cottrell, the magazine is credited with bashing down the anti-sex sentiments simmering in lesbian feminism at the time and making lesbians talk about stuff like dildos and FISTING.

More about On Our Backs:

A model from 2000 posting her On Our Backs pictoral. This interview with Beth Ditto of The Gossip mentions that she posed nude for On Our Backs.

Felice Newman, author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book, describing how she was a “somewhat shut-down lesbian living in middle America when On Our Backs came along and totally flipped me out.”

A 2007 “interview with Lesbian Pornographer” [and OOB co-founder] Nan Kinney who also started Fatale Media, the video-production offshoot, about how although she knew lesbians loved sex, she couldn’t find anything about it anywhere – “the problem was that the anti-porn lesbians controlled the general lesbian culture, including the press.”

Salon interviews Susie Bright about the “sorry state of American porn” and the experience of starting On Our Backs.

Susie Bright has a complete history of On Our Backs available online, and it’s fascinating; all about the early photographers and models, the response from feminist bookstores and queer women, the challenges of finding advertisers and even printing presses and stories of the politics & operations behind-the-scenes, including their eventual falling out.

It was no coincidence that the S/M, punk-era women were the first to show their faces to the public… they were the first to have the nerve. It was as if you had to be a career whore, a dedicated outcast, to show your face in a lesbian magazine… let alone your pussy.

In the Boston Phoenix in ’98, by Tristan Taormino writes about what On Our Backs was supposed to change and asks, “In the lesbian sex wars, the ‘pro-sex’ contingent came out on top. So where’s the porn?”

The On Our Backs Guide to Lesbian Sex and On Our Backs: The Best Erotic Fiction are still totally available at your local internet bookstore.

On Our Backs went bankrupt in ’95. H.A.F. Publishing outbid The Advocate in ’96 to start publishing On Our Backs again in ’98 [this MetroActive article had mixed feelings about the relaunch]. H.A.F. also published Girlfriends. Both magazines went under in ’06, much to our collective dismay.

So, what do you think? What would you want to see in a lesbian porn magazine? Did you read On Our Backs? Would you? Are there lesbian sex ‘zines out there that we don’t know about?


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Avatar of Riese

Riese is the CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1678 articles for us.

29 Comments

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    Most of those tandem boob pictures where just uncomfortable to me. There was one where they were lifting their breasts up and the one girl is smiling like “See! I TOLD YOU we could make our nipples touch!” and the other looking down at them like “Huh, yeah… wouldya look at that.”

    But the description of “one girl short of a boob circle” cracked me up.

    Doing it Ourselves sounds rad. Great to see people who don’t just complain about the way things are portrayed but instead get to work on creating their own alternative. More of this attitude, please.

    I love Sundays.

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      Nothing says gay for-for-pay like a tandem boob press!

      While there can still be things for the queer lady to take away from pictures such as these, for me they will always be the images that define precisely how the male vision of sexy lesbianism is on a different planet from girls’ own identification and turn-ons.

      An aside: The Tandem Boob Press would be possibly best name ever for a publishing house?

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    I don’t think you mean “viscous” falling out, unless it involved some seriously gummy bodily fluids.

    Also I remember talking about On Our Backs in queer theory class in college!

  3. Thumb up 0

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    two things… totally cool article/post on “On our backs” never heard of it, totally would read it.

    …and maybe it’s just the artist in me but did you ever notice that a perfect TANDEM BOOB PRESS (with kissing) makes a “void” heart between the models/lovers/fratgirls?? And we all love hearts.

    I’m patenting “void heart” it’s going to be the new “sic”

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        Oi, I was concerned enough about the resemblance that I was wary of posting for fear of accidentally uncovering a dark corner of Rachel Maddow’s past and causing a huge stir that ends up with Gland Back somehow forcing her to step down from her post at Ms. Newsy But Commentary-er.

        After writing this comment, I have decided to scramble other keywords that might somehow lead to such a terrible end.

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    If Doing It Ourselves is based in SF like Pink & White is, then I’m 95% certain that I’ve hooked up with the woman on the cover of DIO.

    Ahhh, the San Francisco Bay Area. Where you’re friends with porn stars, and your friends become porn stars. I love it. :)

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      What? Beth Ditto is great!
      I always expect lesbians to be more body-positive, but I guess that queer people can do fat-hate just as well as the breeders. Beth Ditto is hot in general, but the hottest thing about her is that she loves her body as it is and is not afraid to wear her skin proudly. She may be chubby, but I daresay she gets laid way more often than many skinny girls. She is also a total badass.
      And you should probably leave this site alone if all you want to see is lipstick lesbians making out. Go look at the tandem boob press for that. This site strives to represent the spectrum of female-related queerness.

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      Trick question! It’s your comment! I know, totally weird, right? Like how does a third substantive in a comparative with the two compared substantive already named end up being the “worse”? I don’t know, but it happened! Might help explain why you were having trouble deciding!

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    The On Our Backs pictorial of Beth Ditto changed my life. I saw this girl, two years younger than me, comfortable enough in her body and sexuality to fuck her boyfriend in a bathroom for a porn magazine and I was like “I need to get over my shit and start living my life.”

    I have a friend who is super sad it doesn’t exist anymore and wants to start a new On Our Backs. She’s an old school butch who doesn’t like the internet for porn.

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    *GASP!* On Our Backs!!!!!1!1

    Thank you for reminding me of this WONDERFUL mag. Holy shit!! I can’t believe I’d forgotten about it!! I was doing the whole exciting coming-out-process back in the early 90s, trying to find both a source and outlet for a lot of the pent-up frustrations, and I found a subscription card in the library one day, stuck in one of the many lesbo-themed books I was feverishly devouring at the time. (Whoever stuck that card there, I still wanna marry you.) This mag helped me get out of the closet. It helped me see women in more shapes, colors, and sizes than I was getting in the straight press. It really helped me develop a thorough appreciation for womencentric, lesbocentric sexuality. It helped gay me up! Hot damn I miss it.

    We need something like this so badly, right now.

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      Hear, hear. I totally forgot about On Our Backs and Girlfriends which helped me tremendously (in many ways) when I was first coming out in the late 90s. Definitely opened my eyes to some things and different ways of thinking.

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    I know I’m like 5 months late to the game but a friend sent me this link and it was so nice to see it.I was one of those editors who worked at On Our Backs; it was my first job in lesbian publishing and I totally knew I’d never work at a mainstream magazine after that. ALl the women who contributed were amazing. I was one of the co-founders who launched Girlfriends (and later hired my old boss and OOB founder Nan Kinney to work for *me* for a bit) and when we had the chance to buy OOB and launch it again we were thrilled. Even though I left OOB and GF in 2000, I still hear from women who were so profoundly affected by having a magazine that showed real dykes having sex and talking about the power in controlling your own sexuality. Thanks again. Kudos to Nan Kinney (who still runs Fatale Video–the division of the company that also produced the first real lesbian porn videos), Debi Sundahl (who still shows women how to find their G-spot) and Susie Bright (who is, of course, as brilliant as ever).

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    I am REALLY late to this game, but this whole post is making me nostalgic. I have scoured the internet for signs of another magazine like this one, and I haven’t been able to find one. I want to write for something like this. I’m already writing about lesbian sex, and it’s a passion of mine (har har). Seriously, though, I really wish something like this still existed.

    Anyone know if something has filled the void and I just haven’t heard of it?

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