It’s funny because, as you know, I emailed you when I was an aspiring journalist in college and I asked you for advice on how to end up doing what you were doing at the time, which was reporting on the realities of the industry. You were totally supportive but you were also like, look, whatever you do, don’t go to Porn Valley. Your exact words were, “It’s a meat-grinder for the human condition.”
I mean, studying the sex industry is really challenging work. It’s hard to be a sex worker, it’s hard to inhabit that world and it’s also hard to study it and be around it, because it’s brutal. It’s not, in my opinion, a business like any other. These are people whose jobs are to stick part of their body into somebody else’s body, or have somebody else’s body inside of their body. That’s tough work.
That’s part of why not a lot of women have written about it. The payoff after you’ve spent time writing about or working in the sex industry is your understanding of human nature is unrivaled. You just see people flayed. You see what impulses really drive us. It was hard for me for several years to come back from that. Once you’ve seen humanity laid bare, there’s a time when you kind of want to unsee it, go back to living in Cinderella land.
It’s always complicated. It’s never black and white. It’s never all misogynist or all feminist. It’s complicated because it’s a business that reflects our interior, and the interior is always conflicted and at war with itself.
Your friend’s line – the one about seeing men as they are and loving them anyway – resonates with me. I was drawn to the world of Internet porn as a curious post-pubescent girl in an attempt to figure out what boys and men wanted, and later as a journalist writing about sex. It was so much darker, and so much more complicated and foreign, than I could have imagined it would be. For a long while I struggled to reconcile my affection and love for men with the reality of what I found out there in the ether.
The sex industry can be really ruthless and brutal. If you’re around that enough, you start to wonder if everybody’s impulses are really base and everyone’s either trying to fuck or kill each other. You don’t see the flipside of healthy nuclear families and dads who mow the lawn on the weekends and swimming lessons in the toddler pool. Over time, I’ve been able to have a yin and yang attitude about it, which is that that darkness is always there, but there’s also this other part of it that is about lightness.
The thing I would say most male porn stars have in common is that they desperately want women to love them. I did a TV pilot years ago that was gonna be about my life as a sex writer and when we were done wrapping the pilot, the executive producer and I had lunch and he said, “So what is the porn industry really about?” And I said, “What do you think it’s about?” He said, “Love,” and I said, “Yeah, that’s right.” It’s like I wrote in the Forbes post, the story is that the guy always gets the girl. Women are exalted, and sometimes the misogyny you see is actually a reaction to intense desire. It’s a challenge to be able to hold those seemingly contradictory ideas in your head at the same time — you know, “I totally want to possess this woman because I love her so much, but at the same time, being ruled by that desire makes me want to kill her.” And that’s how you end up with crazy gang-bang videos.