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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.

 
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