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What I Learned About Humanity from Working at a Porn Shop

We need to rethink our assumptions about porn, sex work and sexuality.
 
 
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We’ve needed to rethink our perception of pornography for decades.

I think I’m fairly typical. I grew up with two parents, went to college, graduated, got married and recently had my first child. I live in a relatively suburban section of Portland, Oregon. In many aspects, I am a typical candidate for consumption of so called mommy porn. Who am I?

I’m also a sex worker.

It started with the porn shop. After a couple years dabbling in health care, I grew tired of often ending my shifts in tears. On a whim, I dropped an application at a local adult store, and was hired. The four years I spent behind the counter of the porn shop taught me much more than any psychology, sociology, or human sexuality class ever could; that the retail end of the sex industry is a clear reflection of people as a whole. Many of us are having sex. Having sex with our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, partners, and having sex with our selves. From giggling college kids to spectacle-wearing grannies, all kinds of people are getting in on sex.

Cheerful couples walking hand in hand, solo men looking for a quick masturbation in the video booth on the way home from work. Street walking prostitutes of both genders, looking to earn a few dollars. I’ll never forget the newly married young military couple, arriving at our doorstep to select the lingerie and lube that they would bring on their honeymoon. They walked the store hand in hand, her white dress trailing behind her, their eyes full of hope for their future together. Alternately, later that week, I had to summon the janitor, because someone had anonymously defecated on the floor of arcade number three, presumably post-masturbation. Yep, as a porn clerk, I saw a lot.

When I started the porn clerking, I was fortunate to have an insider’s peek into the adult industry. Two of my close female friends had become porn stars after high school. In the industry, these two girls made it big, their smiling, lipsticked faces appearing on glossy, triple X-rated DVDS, branding sex toys with major toy companies like Doc Johnson and Cal Exotics. One was often featured in music videos, the other appeared in the television show Entourage as herself.

These two girls had grown up in the same town, had the same circle of friends, yet had starkly contrasting experiences as pornographers.

Porn Star A maintained her sobriety, lived solo or with friends, had a few boyfriends, bought her mom a car and herself a modest house on the beach. She appeared in 100 titles in her first two years, on many of them she received top billing and the cover, a small feat in the porn industry. She is happy and healthy, and we speak on occasion.

Girl B admitted to a heavy cocaine habit, married twice, had two children, one of whom she never sees. She was a survivor of domestic abuse, and does not speak to her family. The last time I saw her image, she looked a decade older than her actual age of 25. I haven’t spoken with her in years. What is the simple moral of their stories? There is no absolute, these women surrounded themselves with good or bad people, and chose their own paths. Pornography was their livelihood, yet only incidental to their own happiness.

While I admired their fame and multi-digit earnings, I didn’t try my hand at porn. Rather, I took the soft core approach and was hired by a semi-nude website. At the age of 19 I was modeling nude for a world-famous website. I appreciated the random gifts I would receive from faraway admirers, and the incoherent, fantasy-laden emails that would clutter my inbox didn’t really bother me much more than any other junk mail.


Read morReactions from strangers, friends and family ran the gamut from disgust to pure admiration. Some of the other models and I became friends; the woman who photographed my wedding I had met at an airport on the way to a tattoo convention. We attended each other’s weddings.

At the age of 23 I decided to try my hand at stripping, and found that pole dancing was both lucrative and challenging, physically and psychologically. I showed up on time, drank little, never did drugs, and minded my own business. In short, I behaved as if I was working a job, because it is. I won a couple local pole competitions, and performed in burlesque shows for fun. I watched some of my peers thrive and enjoy the industry, competing in pole competitions and modeling gigs, while others would quietly cry in the backstage area, feeling trapped by their chosen profession.

In television and movies, we are shown stereotypes of men who lurk in strip clubs; gangsters, thugs, and creepy old men. My experience was different.

I met my husband and the father of my daughter at work, and he is the face of corporate America. Rarely a day passes when I don’t see a stranger on the street or on television, wearing some of his creations. Similar to my porn shop days, I meet and interact with many types of individuals and couples. I’m always delighted when a wife purchases a private dance for her husband, or if I have the pleasure of dancing for a couple.

Only last week, an unfamiliar woman waved me down as I approached the stage, and pressed a $20 in my hand. “I want you to take my husband, and give him the hottest dance he’s ever had.” I did so, and afterwards, she thanked me and explained. “I know that he’s going to come home to me, and fuck me like crazy.” It’s wonderful to be such a marital aid!

Of course, not everyone is so secure. My peers and I always shake our heads at the ladies who sit beside their partner, their fingers tightly clasping their drink, teeth set and eyeballs burning holes into our chests. These women have typically visited the strip club at the behest of their man-friend, if only to appear cool, sexy, and if nothing else, to keep tabs on him.

There’s a lot of complaining about the ‘reality’ of porn, with opponents arguing pornography presents an unrealistic representation of sex. Well, duh. True, most women don’t wear six inch Lucite stilettos while doing the dirty, and I’ll wager that most males don’t wax their entire bodies either, but much of this is par for the porno course.

Someone might want to point out that there’s not much truth to any kind of visual media or advertising. The women in H&M ads don’t wake up looking so airbrushed, and as for Victoria’s Secret, most American women won’t look like their runway Angels if they purchase a bra, no matter how miraculous it is. And while the traditional pornography has typically been of a cartoonish and outlandish aesthetic, my feminist and alternative pornographer friends know better, and are beginning to change it. Porn production companies like Abby Winters and Eon Mckai will show you the girls next door, not just the ladies from Silicon Valley. Director and performer Joanna Angel has produced her own brand of tattooed porn stars, and powerhouse porn star Belladonna has featured and fucked every flavor there is; transgender to typical.

There are women who are diehard feminists; I call them my friends. Some of them are webcam ladies. Most of them are strippers, and a few are pornographers. I listened with delight as my dear friend and adult star Sadie West detailed her love of  filming, especially her enthusiasm for blow job scenes. I can recall clearly the hot, sticky afternoon I spent in the NE Portland feminist bookstore, where queer pornographer Sophia St James explained her drive to create scenes for real people, of all genders and kinks.

As humans, we are curious. It is our nature to explore and create. How else would we have built the pyramids, crossed seas, or discovered fire? Humans are as resourceful as we are inquisitive, and we like to learn about everything. Reality television has shown us that humans are natural voyeurs: we like to witness how other people live. Pornographers know this, and they show us how other people fuck.

In truth, I have not yet read Fifty Shades of Grey. I might get to it, I may not.

In adult entertainment, in the sex industry, there is no black and white. As in life, things are rarely so simplistic. Rather, we find a grey area, and the outcome depends on the individual. I haven’t quit using porn, although “using” wouldn’t be the correct nomenclature. I utilize porn. For when I would like to relax, for when I would like inspiration, or for when I am feeling curious.

Porn, nudity, sex, masturbation, lap dances. If we as human beings are shaped by our experiences, than I cannot create a reality for any other woman or man. Is porn bad or good? I can’t tell, really. It’s a grey area, with many shades in between.

Fifty Shades of Grey, indeed.

 

The Men and Pornography series is the product of the joint call from elephant journal Love and Relationships and The Good Life on The Good Men Project. This previously appeared in elephant journal Love and Relationships


Read more at http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-women-in-porn/#ybE6vSZu8quZ8MBU.99

 
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