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Should Doing Porn Ruin Your Life? (No, Of Course Not. But It Might)

Should Doing Porn Ruin Your Life? (No, Of Course Not. But It Might)

If there’s one thing everyone in the adult industry wants you to know, it’s this: The internet is forever. And whether you only do one scene or 500, people will know. Your family will know. Your church will know. And, even if you’re using a pseudonym, it won’t be too long before that’s figured out

If there’s one thing everyone in the adult industry wants you to know, it’s this: The internet is forever. And whether you only do one scene or 500, people will know. Your family will know. Your church will know. And, even if you’re using a pseudonym, it won’t be too long before that’s figured out too. Should performing sex on film ruin your life? No. Will it? There’s a pretty good chance it can.

Over the four days I spent at the Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE), I learned a great deal more than I expected about the pornographic film industry. I learned about why some big names got into the business (they love sex, the money’s good, etc) and I talked to hopefuls who’ve done just a few movies and won’t ever blow up in the same way a Jessica Drake or a Jenna Jameson has. There’s no telling who will be here for the long haul, but every new performer’s future will be affected by the adult films they’ve done and, likely, in a very negative way.

“People call me and ask me to take things down,” Spike Goldberg, the CEO of Homegrown Video (one of the most successful amateur video companies in the business) tells me. “And I say, sure, of course, I’ll take it down, but it’s on the internet. It won’t ever disappear.” The silver lining to the internet, Spike says, is that your performances won’t quickly be forgotten. But that’s cold comfort for the performer who’d like nothing more than to forget.

Why is it that we still treat porn performers with such derision? As a society, we’ve celebrated people who’ve done much worse than engage in intercourse on screen for the entertainment of the masses. Paula Deen, a woman who openly made racist remarks, is supported as she goes on her comeback tour. Rebecca Martinson, she of the famed cunt-punt email, has a job at BroBible and is writing forewords to books. Why do R. Kelly, Chris Brown and Sean Penn still have careers considering that what they’ve done is much worse than some consensual thrusting? Why should having sex publicly be seen as worse than barely-concealed abuse?

The simple reason may just be that sex still makes us uncomfortable. Maybe we have a belief that a person who’s done double anal/double vaginal is somehow tainted, and no longer fit for anything else. Sex is feared—as a college instructor once told me—because it’s one of the few things that society can’t ever regulate or control. “It’s why just the word porn is so provocative,” says Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, a renowned academic who’s made porn the focus of her work. “Shoe porn, food porn. People want to click on these things. They want to see them because they’re forbidden.”

And if these things are forbidden, then the people doing them must be some kind of savages. They can’t be people like us—fine, normal people who don’t perform sexual acts for money (even though we may do more subjectively degrading things at our own jobs) or take pleasure from doing so. And that’s why we mythologize and stigmatize the men, women and nonbinary people who star in adult. They must be sick, we tell ourselves; they must have had an awful childhood, they must have taken a wrong turn somewhere to end up on our screens and in our magazines, providing us with pleasure.

The question of feminism and objectification in the adult industry is incredibly complicated, but for now, let’s focus on the fact that many performers want to be there. At the Adult Entertainment Expo, I asked some of them: Why is it still seen as wrong to have sex on film?

“It has a lot to do with a lack of sex education,” Nina Hartley tells me. “We don’t talk about sex and we don’t use proper names for things and no one knows what sex is.” Hartley has been both a porn actress and a sex educator for decades and she doesn’t think that the roles are mutually exclusive. In the past few years, she’s put out several videos which are both graphic andeducational: teaching male and female viewers how to make sex more enjoyable while demonstrating on a willing partner. Wicked Studios has also released a line of such videos, Jessica Drake’s Wicked Guide to Sex. The videos, which range from BDSM to anal play for men, are popular, and focused not only on sex but on communication.

“If you’re using euphemisms all the time, no one’s ever going to learn that saying the proper name is okay and they’re going to feel ashamed. You don’t have a euphemism for intestines or feet, why have one for penises and vaginas? It’s ridiculous.”

Hartley, who says that she made a rule for herself that she’d never do in porn what she wouldn’t do in the bedroom, is passionate about this topic. Her thesis is that if we were all more comfortable with sex, and our bodies in general, we’d more easily be able to communicate our desires and treat sex as a regular part of life instead of something illicit and sleazy.

“What you see is the vulva, not the vagina,” Hartley corrects me when I ask a question about anatomy, and I’m embarrassed, but not by the fact that we’re talking about vaginas in front of hundreds of people while she wears a bra and panties. I’m embarrassed that I don’t know basic anatomy. The AEE has really turned my world upside down. On the first day, I was embarrassed to even put my badge on lest people think that I was going to the convention, but by the third day I’m eating lunch next to a giant futuristic blowjob machine I’d been given by a PR person just for being me.I found myself talking with the other attendees and convention-goers with more confidence—not in a novel way, but in a way that suggests that we’re all human beings who like looking at porn sometimes and that doesn’t mean anything bad about us.

Hartley’s views are shared by Tommy Pistol, star of countless adult films, host of this year’s AVNs and the father of two children. While we drink a coke in the Hard Rock Hotel hallway—interrupted only by Farrah Abraham marching past us with a blow up doll of herself—he tells me that he doesn’t get why violence is okay in mainstream media but that bodies are taboo. “It’s like that Sin Cityposter that people thought was too sexy. Yeah, she’s wearing lingerie, but she’s also holding a smoking gun. She just killed a whole bunch of people!”

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