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Dutch station Dusk discovers that women like to watch sex that looks real.
HILVERSUM, Netherlands — The play needs spicing up, and critics have panned the sexual chemistry between actors Daniel and Mariah.
Then in one afternoon performance, she changes the plot, stripping off her silk robe and pulling him on to the bed. Soon they are naked and enjoying real sex in front of the delighted theater audience.
Welcome to the world of Dusk, the Dutch TV channel which claims to be the first in Europe providing non-stop pornography and erotica targeted at a female audience.
“We call it porna, to give the idea that it’s porn made for women, something different from traditional porno,” said Martijn Broersma, the man behind Dusk.
Set up three years ago, Dusk, with its distinctive chili pepper logo, now shows 24/7 on three Dutch networks including the Netherlands’ two largest cable providers, making it available to 1.2 million viewers.
“Women really like to see explicit content,” Broersma explained. “They want to have proof that it’s really happening, that it’s not fake.”
Surfing the networks on the flat screen in his cool, white office in Hilversum, a city east of Amsterdam where much of the Dutch media is based, Broersma shows off some of Dusk’s content.
First up is an S&M scene featuring a leather-clad woman and man tied to a chair wearing nothing but a kitchen apron and a gas mask. A click of the remote changes to the soft-focus eroticism of the Hollywood series "Black Tie Nights" (for daytime viewing, explained Broersma). Next up, comes a clip from "Matinee," the award-winning drama by American erotic filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell which stars those daring onstage lovers.
“Holland is lucky to have Dusk. There is definitely a market of under-served women [in the United States] who would love to have something like this,” said Bell. “There is a revolution going on right now in porn, in alternative and feminist porn, and yet there aren’t a lot of outlets for it to be sold.”
A Harvard-educated psychologist, Bell is now based in Amsterdam. Besides making female-orientated porn for her Blue Artichoke movie company, she teaches a course in erotic film at the Dutch Film Academy.
While working in the cable industry, Broersma heard networks complain about the lack of erotic content for women. With a partner, he investigated the market and found that just a little over half of Dutch women watched porn and 78 percent would welcome a channel showing female-orientated erotic content.
“We sat down together and decided that we don’t know what it is, but it’s about time we figured it out,” Broersma said.
Dusk viewers can join an online panel to give their opinions on the films shown, and Broersma bases his scheduling on that feedback.
The viewers’ current top 10 include the cougar adventure "My Mother’s Best Friend;" "Barcelona Sex Project," a documentary involving inhabitants of the Spanish city describing (and filming) the intimate details of their sex lives; and "The Gift," a 1990s classic directed by the godmother of women’s- perspective porn, Candida Royalle.
Broersma says his viewers’ tastes vary from hard-core lesbian bondage to soft focus romance, but a number of qualities set porna aside from traditional porn. They include realism, respect and inserting the sex into a storyline.
“You want to see that people are actually having fun,” he said. “Often in porn you can see that the woman is thinking ‘when do I get paid,’ or ‘do I have to get the groceries.’ She is not there with her mind.”
Getting the actors to put their hearts into it and produce a credible plot to frame the sex makes porna much more challenging than following the formulas of traditional porn, said Bell.
“Casting is my No. 1 challenge. Within the porn industry, some of those people can act but it’s hard to find them,” she explained. “I’ve had more luck working with performance artists, dancers … theater and film actresses who are willing to take a risk or just regular people who are very open and honest about their sexuality.”
Bell and Broersma have been surprised to discover that men are also tuning in to porna.
“I think a lot of men are fed up with traditional porn and they want to see something else. They are always interested to discover what women want to see,” Broersma said. “Couples are also watching together.”
Broersma is a pornographer with a mission. He wants to make female porn mainstream.
He plans to expand Dusk in Germany this year and has inquiries from several other countries. With the erotic TV market being squeezed by the internet, Broersma says cable companies realize they don’t have the luxury to ignore the female half their audience.
“When we started here in Holland we had the ambition that the word porna has to be within the dictionary within three years," he said. "We only have one year left and I think we will succeed.”
Editor's note: For more on pornography, read Iva Skoch's investigation into Prague's booming gay porn industry, in which most actors are straight.
This story was updated to correct a name.