Sex & Relationships

What It's Like To Be a Male Porn Star

A male porn actor, popular with female viewers of porn, discusses the perks and drawbacks of the industry.

‘My name is James. I am a simple guy who likes to eat, sleep, and watch TV. Oh yeah, I also bang chicks for a living.’

So goes the Twitter bio of 25-year-old porn actor James Deen. 24,000 followers might not stand out in the ranks of mainstream celebrities, but for a man who most would say is merely a prop, Deen has quite the fan base. Most of those followers are women, and they are not quiet about their affection. “Reading James Deen’s blog until my parents walk in,” tweets one young woman. Another bemoans forgetting to downloadTrue Blood because she was too busy fantasizing about him.

A step further, to Deen’s personal blog, reveals an intensity of adoration normally reserved for swishy-haired pop stars. Among declarations of love and lust and women begging for personal visits—more than one requesting devirginization—a vocal group coalesces around this sentiment: “im a girl, and most dudes in porn do nothing for me. then i stumbled across a clip of you … its been lust at first sight ever since.” What magic pheromones does Deen emit that he’s earned the infatuation of his fans, the respect of his costars and the porn industry’s top awards? There’s something special about this guy, and it isn’t his penis.

♦◊♦

Sunday afternoon, while large chunks of the country cheered on the women of Team USA, I detached myself from my television to talk to a porn star who maintains a firm “no panties” rules on his website (and I call myself a feminist). I wanted to know where he came from, and how he thinks about his work. How, in an industry known for its seedy underbelly, did a decent guy like Deen come out on top?

He’s objectively good-looking, with curly brown hair, long sideburns, and very blue eyes. The word “impish” comes to mind. “I’m not hideous,” he says, while trying to explain his popularity, “I’m not old and ugly. For the percentage of women interested in porn, I’m a guy who they would talk to in a bar.”

He says “percentage of women” like it’s a teaspoon of water in the ocean of smut, and it occurs to me that he doesn’t know how popular he is. I tell him that the latest data from Nielsen shows that a third of porn site visitors are female. “What? That’s awesome! I had no idea it was so high!”

I ask him why he’s so pleased, and he says, “The world is becoming a more sexually liberated place, you know? People are more out there with their porn watching. It’s super cool.”

Deen is a behind-the-camera guy, too, directing, producing and editing for punk mega-site BurningAngel. “If you’re going to make porn, you should make something you’re really passionate about, it’ll be good, and people will watch it. Like me, I’m not really into feet … unless it really turns a girl on. But boobs? I love boobs, I could play with boobs for hours. If I make porn about boobs, it’ll be good, because you can tell how much I like them. Not so much with feet.”

From the other side of the camera, he pushes for pleasure, too. “Whenever I’m directing, I hire performers that love what they’re doing. I put them in a room together and tell them to do whatever you want, and they go at it.” He laughs and tells me a story about a friend who spends “too much” time on foreplay: “Twenty minutes later, I’m like, ‘Dude, this is hot, but would you fuck her already?’”

We talk about rough sex, a specialty of his. “A lot of the porn for women and couples is intentionally inoffensive and soft, but I don’t know any girls who have ever watched Playgirl. Sometimes girls just want to see a guy who will fuck the shit out of them. Rough sex is a science, and I’m really good at it.” Thanks to his experience in this arena, Deen is regularly requested for scenes at BDSM conglomerate Kink.com.

He speaks like a teenager, chortling at his own jokes, punctuating sentences with “whatever” and “fuck it.” But when talk turns to the industry, Deen peppers his conversation with lingo like a consummate professional. Degrees of degradation, levels of consent, variations of kink, this is the language of the biz, and he’s more than fluent. “It’s a job, you know? Like a bank job,” he explains. “You show up on time, don’t be drunk, don’t bring drugs, be polite, be professional.” It sounds too good to be true.

♦◊♦

I bring up the M-word, misogyny. Are sets actually as polite and above-board as he’s implying? “I just had this conversation! This dude was like, ‘You can’t get sexually harassed on a porn set,’ and I was like, ‘Dude! Are you kidding? Of course you can! A guy can’t just randomly come up to a girl and start waving his dick in her face—that’s sexual harassment!’”

What about those other sites, with names so offensive I wince as I say them out loud? He tells me a story about a scene so aggressive and violent that he received hate mail and death threats.

“I was like, ‘Hey man, that was my girlfriend.’” The point, he emphasizes, is that “it’s all totally fake.” All of it? “Take these two different sites that look the same,” he says, describing sites that play in the space of extreme degradation. One site is “brilliant. Everyone thinks it’s about degradation and making girls cry, really rough, fucked-up stuff; before every scene, they do an interview with the girl. They talk very specifically about what kind of scene it is. ‘It’ll be degrading, there will be this and that.’ The majority of girls are like, ‘OK, awesome, bring it on.’” But what about the other site? “Oh, well those guys are misogynistic assholes,” he says. “They just want to hurt women. They suck.” As a viewer, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.

 

The lines get blurry when porn gets as rough as Deen likes it. He tells me about a site he recently stopped working for because he didn’t like the premise. “Girls acted like they did something ‘bad,’ like step on my shoe,” he describes, “and then I’d have rough sex to punish them. It made me feel icky.” I want him to clarify, after all, he makes a living slapping women around onscreen. “At Kink, this girl and I are having awesome sex and she likes to get slapped in the face. The sex isn’t punishment. It’s BDSM lifestyle, and they make it super clear it’s the girl’s fantasy.”

It’s the distinction between power play that is built on a foundation of consent and pleasure, and sex that comes from a place of anger and resentment. His fans have noticed on which side of the line he falls. “He gets the difference between dominance and domineering. It’s so sexy!” says one, a 30-something mom from Missouri.

I read that Deen once bemoaned the lack of cunnilingus on camera, explaining that he loves giving oral sex, but directors didn’t want to waste film on it. Is this a problem, that kids grow up seeing blowjobs but not “box jobs,” as Dan Savage recently called female oral sex? The younger we are, the more porn influences what we think is “normal.” Does porn give kids the wrong idea? He pauses, carefully considering my question. “Yes,” he says, “Yes, you’re right. Young kids are learning that pussy-eating isn’t part of sex.” He laughs, emphatically declaring, “There should be more pussy-eating in porn!” Work on that, I tell him, and he says he will. Then he reminds me that viewers only watch what they like. “Their hands are on the fast-forward button the whole time.” He’s right. A quick and dirty search shows that pussy-eating isn’t as popular as one might hope.

♦◊♦

During this interview, at every point where I’ve asked him to choose a side, Deen defaults to “equal rights.” Are you a feminist, I ask?

“I hate feminism!” he blurts out, but rushes to rephrase. “In its truest form, I’m down with feminism, but the feminist movement has gone from being about equal rights—something I really believe in—to telling me how horrible I am because I have a penis. That shit drives me crazy.”

I tell him I’m a feminist and I don’t hate penises; he seems pleased. Our conversation is winding down. It is, after all, a Sunday afternoon, and porn star or not, Deen has laundry to do. I feel strange, like in the last two hours my best hopes and worst fears about pornography have been confirmed. There are good, smart people like James Deen and his friends, who are committed to making super-hot porn that is grounded in equality, pleasure, and consent. And yet, Deen has proven, perhaps inadvertently, that I won’t necessarily know it when I see it. None of us do, and that should make us all a little uncomfortable.

 

Emily Heist Moss writes about gender, media, and politics at her blog, RosieSays. (Follow her: @rosiesaysblog)