What I Learned From Doing Amateur Porn in My 20s.
Nancy Jainchill recalls a ’70s sexcapade that helped her make (one month’s) rent, and began her exploration into women’s pleasure and sexual parity.
“Peter, I can’t do this.” I grabbed my boyfriend by the arm.
The crew with whom we were making a porn movie had just arrived, their footsteps like drum beats as they made their way upstairs to our second floor flat. I stared at the doorway. I must’ve been crazy to say yes. Their footsteps continued. Maneuvering past me, their tripods were like hulking robots, their metal legs clattering along the wooden floor. Peter stood nearby, lit a joint, and turned to me. “Where’s Charley?”
Of course he was concerned about our dog.
My star turn began in a Berkeley, California flat on a summer morning in 1970. As our kitchen was heating up from the sun, Peter stripped off his flannel shirt, rubbed his hands up and down on his chest, and pointed to a classified ad, “Bus boy wanted. Starts immediately.” He took a sip of coffee.
Okay, he was right. We were short on rent money, and Peter solved problems. Except Peter wasn’t bus boy material. No way that would be happening. His mother had served him dinner in front of the TV every night until he left for college, and he didn’t do dishes. Sitting down next to him, I leaned over to see what he was reading.
We were short on rent money, and Peter solved problems…“Wow. Nancy, look at this. Become a porn star overnight.” He tapped his pen on the ad, and circled it…I sputtered on a sip of coffee. “Are you kidding me?”
Balancing his cigarette on our kitchen table’s edge — one of those fifties-era Formica tables, mottled red and white with a metal rim that couldn’t burn — he flattened the paper out with both hands. “Wow. Nancy, look at this. Become a porn star overnight.” He tapped his pen on the ad, and circled it.
I sputtered on a sip of coffee. “Are you kidding me?”
Peter’s voice quickened as he read. “Listen. ‘Having trouble paying your bills? Enjoy yourself while you earn your way out of debt.’” He shoved the paper at me. “Why not? We’re short on rent money. This looks easy.” He wasn’t joking.
After scanning the ad, which offered cash for taking off my clothes, I got up and walked to the window. While I wanted to make Peter happy, this hadn’t been part of the plan. Not for me. It wasn’t that long ago that I never took off my coat. Summer or winter, my coat stayed on. My body wasn’t good enough, so I kept it hidden.
“C’mon Nance.” He gave my butt a light slap.
He knew I’d give in. When was the last time I’d said “no” to Peter?
Opening the refrigerator and glancing inside, I thought about breakfast. Not this morning. Not if being a porn star was in my future. I didn’t want to look fat. Closing the door, I lit a cigarette. What did one wear for this kind of interview? Jeans? A dress? A teddy? I didn’t have one of those. I paused. “Wait a minute. Do we have to audition?”
A year had passed since I’d arrived in California at 19 on a mission — to get in touch with my inner sex goddess, no holds barred.
Ignoring me, Peter began dialing. His voice was low and throaty. “Howdy,” he said, “your ad got my attention, and my girlfriend and I are interested.”
Interested? Not exactly. I reached for the banana I’d started peeling. Hopefully, they no longer were looking for anyone, and I could eat.
“Wednesday at noon?” he asked.
Wrapping my hands around my cup, I stared into the coffee. Maybe this would mean I was sexy, even Playboy sexy. All of a sudden I pictured us like Tarzan and Jane, gliding across satin sheets, entwined with lust. Two days away. I barely had time to shave my legs and do my eyebrows. At least my breasts were okay. I gave them a reassuring squeeze and put the banana back down on the counter.
Peter nodded at me. “And we’ll bring my roommate. Can you use him?”
“Barry?” I asked, shaking my head. “No.” I put my index finger in my mouth, and made a gagging noise. Barry’s thick lips were always wet, as if he couldn’t control his spit. There was no way I’d let him touch me.
Putting his palm over the receiver Peter whispered. “Why not? He’s broke. We can get some work out of him.”
“Are you nuts?” I said. So what if we needed the rent money. I turned and faced Peter. “He’s not coming near me.”
Continuing to ignore me, in his excitement, Peter started pacing, uncurling the telephone cord to the end. “See you Wednesday.”
Uh oh. This was going to happen. Lighting another cigarette, I read the ad again. I still had a chance to say no. Exhaling, I looked at Peter. Maybe he’d love me more. Maybe he’d love me as much as I loved him. I wished I didn’t care. A year had passed since I’d arrived in California at 19 on a mission — to get in touch with my inner sex goddess, no holds barred. Though I hadn’t thought it through clearly, I knew that feminism — and I was a feminist — was about doing what I wanted, wherever and however. You’re on the path to letting go, I told myself. I wanted to love my body like the women I’d watched in Golden Gate Park when I’d landed in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. Noontime, the girls would be in the park, half-naked, dancing — they appeared euphoric to me — their eyes closed, their arms airborne and waving, their hair flying. A brief stint nude dancing at a bar in the North Beach area hadn’t done it for me. Maybe my emancipation would come through porno. Maybe I’d find orgasm equity, which would make me politically equal.
Hanging up the phone, Peter wrapped his arms around me. “Hey babe,” he said, “this doesn’t mean anything.”
Nestling into his neck felt comforting and reassuring, which made no sense. A minute ago Peter had agreed to me having sex with another man. And he’d be there. Watching. Peter with another woman — no way would that work for me. Slipping out of his arms to pour us both more coffee, I frowned, took another sip, and told myself not to be so uptight. Somehow this didn’t feel like sexual liberation, which was also supposed to be about choice. I couldn’t shake the misogynist message I’d internalized that what I was about to do was something cheap, that smart girls didn’t do porn. Except they did and they do.
I wanted to love my body like the women I’d watched in Golden Gate Park when I’d landed in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. Noontime, the girls would be in the park, half-naked, dancing — they appeared euphoric to me — their eyes closed, their arms airborne and waving, their hair flying.
Little did I know that not long after my debut beneath the sheets, Candida Royalle, a very smart woman who introduced the potential of women-centric erotica — would be getting her start in adult films across the Bay. For her, though, that would merely be the beginning. As she was flying down the street on a skateboard in Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls — We Deliver, I doubt she foresaw that one day she’d have an honorary doctorate, be instructing a conference of psychiatrists on human sexuality, and teaching them about female desire. Most of us didn’t think of porn as a career. More than that, most of us didn’t anticipate the power of porn. Awakening to the role that porn could play in helping women take on authority was slow in coming. Unlike me, Candida figured out what women are beginning to realize today, that sex and porn could be as much for women as for men. She was the future of porn — feminist porn. Smart enough to envision porn as a women-led industry, she was the first woman to run an adult entertainment production company.
Later that evening, alone, staring into the mirror in our bedroom, I pondered my body as my hands caressed the curves of my breasts — cupping them momentarily, holding their roundness and their weight — before moving on to my hips, my ass, coming back around to trace my neck and throat. I felt giddy — aroused, even. It wasn’t what I’d expected.
Lying down on the bed, closing my eyes, I imagined myself under the lights, creamy and luscious, my hands tracing the contours of my body, my breath quickening, and then releasing in a slow moan. In my imagination, Peter’s hands find me and he begins stroking my legs, his tongue tracing my belly, flitting and gliding until he is licking me, sucking my fingers. His breath is warm and smells of me as he covers me with his body and his mouth. At the end of my daydream, my toes curled and I smiled as if I had a secret. Maybe I could do this.
They’d given Peter an address in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco, a neighborhood filled with families with carports, and children’s bikes with streamers flowing from the handlebars in driveways — not where I expected to find a porn film business. The front door of a white ranch-style house opened, and we were greeted by a man wearing khakis, a pink polo shirt emblazoned with the Izod crocodile, and tan loafers — hardly the urban cowboy with slicked back hair and flashy rings of my imagination. “C’mon in,” he said. Everything was white — the chairs, two couches, and the shaggy rug. The sparkly ceiling — perhaps meant to look like stars — made me feel cheap.
“Peter and Nancy, this is my wife,” the man said, nodding toward a woman seated on an ottoman, which was also white.
I bit my lower lip. We’d given them our real names.
“So, we’ll pay you each fifty dollars to make the movie. We’ll film at your house.”
Peter quickly rattled off our address, as if he was afraid the man might change his mind.
They’d given Peter an address in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco, a neighborhood filled with families with carports, and children’s bikes with streamers flowing from the handlebars in driveways — not where I expected to find a porn film business.
They weren’t going to ask us to take our clothes off. I stopped holding my breath and let out a sigh. Fifty dollars each; with Barry we’d make enough money to pay our $150 rent.
In researching the pornography industry of the ’60s and ’70s, I discovered that sex was paying for a lot of people’s rent during that time, some performers earning enough for dinners and wine, too. Much of the porn made back then involved actors who’d come to the area to experience the sexual freedom of the Summer-of-Love. Peter and I fit the profile of free-spirited hippies and broke UC Berkeley students. There were other people involved who weren’t hippies living month-to-month, and who hadn’t answered a Berkeley Barb classified ad as we’d done. Those people earned more than the beginner’s wages offered to us. We were amateurs, willing to work for whatever we could get as long the rent got paid. We had no idea what scale was, and it turns out we were seriously underpaid. A San Francisco Chronicle article about that era reports that men typically earned $75, while women could hope to get $150 for a short feature. This was one of the rare industries paying women at a higher rate than men, presaging the opportunity for porn to be a paradigm for feminism. Like Candida, like my hippie sisters, who’d been raised on The Nun’s Story and Father Knows Best and who’d been told to keep our knees together, I was exploring the connection between sexual freedom and pornography. If only we’d stopped being ashamed and banded together. If only we’d figured out how much power and control was in our hands.
So there I was standing on the second floor landing of our Berkeley flat a few days after being hired by the Izod shirt man and his wife, as two strangers heaved their equipment into our bedroom.
I drew a hit off the joint Peter and I were smoking. Being stoned was the only way I’d get through this. In contrast to the polished look of the people who’d hired us, these men, already sweaty, wore jeans and tee shirts. In a few minutes, they’d taken over our bedroom, which had a double bed, two scuffed up night tables, and nothing on the walls beside a mirror hung over the dresser. Though it was daytime, a candle might have helped to soften the ambience. The crew didn’t seem to care.
With their lens focused on our bed, they corrected the lighting before filming began. This was just another day at the office for them. Not for me. I didn’t feel sexy. Having never so much as seen a porn movie, I’d yet to learn about arching my back, about posing with my mouth half open, my lips pursed and wet, about my hands caressing my thighs as my legs parted. I didn’t know about cum shots or whether performers’ moans were real. Porn was just emerging as a force then, buoyed by the upfront ’70s celebration of sex. The distinction between good and bad films would emerge with the Golden Age of porn, which reached its apex between the mid-’70s and mid-’80s, and which saw movies with a story and dialogue, involving would-be actors like Candida Royalle and her co-stars. The producers and actors of that period were concerned with making art, which happened to incorporate hands-on sex — celluloid and coitus. This kind of porn would be defined as intellectual porn, different from the boom-boom variety with its focus on the cum shot — different from what I was about to do. If I’d been in one of those films I might have felt differently. But, that didn’t help me now.
In preparation, I’d changed the sheets for the occasion and they gleamed white and starchy under the camera lights. Shielding my eyes with my hand, I glanced at the cameraman who was fiddling with his light meter. “God, those lights are strong,” I said.
I licked my lips. Okay. This was an opportunity for me to be anyone I wanted — Gina Lollobrigida or Sophia Loren. Or I could be a dominatrix, which would really be about taking back the power.
“They have to be that bright,” he replied as sweat dripped down his face. He wiped it with an already soggy looking neck scarf. “I’m Harold, and that’s Jim,” he said, nodding toward a head hidden beneath a black cloth. “Hey, hot lights will keep you warm.”
Yes, obviously. I’d need to be warm because I was going to be naked. Looking down at my shirt and jeans, I wondered if I was crazy. So what if the women’s movement had given us permission to explore our sexuality? Same as for men, sex didn’t have to be about anything more than pleasure, I told myself. Wait a minute. You’re a feminist and a sex object. You’re a feminist sex object. Yes. Yes, but. The film we were about to make had nothing to do with mutual pleasure and orgasmic balance. No amount of marijuana would make this easy.
Watching them set up, Peter tucked his hair behind his ears and exhaled noisily. They hadn’t objected to his full beard, which surprised me. Between the hair and the beard there wasn’t much face showing. I could tell he was nervous too from his noisy exhales. He was snorting like a worn-out pickup truck. I reached out to touch his shoulder, but then pulled my arm back. This was what he wanted to do with the girl he was supposed to love. Would he still love me afterwards?
“All right, both of you get on the bed,” the director said. “Keep your underwear and shirts on.” Harold nodded, wiping his face again with his limp bandanna. “The other guy can join you later.”
I licked my lips. Okay. This was an opportunity for me to be anyone I wanted — Gina Lollobrigida or Sophia Loren. Or I could be a dominatrix, which would really be about taking back the power. A different kind of feminism. I pictured myself dressed in black — lace and net — dagger heels, seamed stockings, and my nails, carmine, peeking through fingerless lace gloves that reached my elbows. Slowly revealing myself, my heels come off and I peel my stockings down my legs, where they nest at my feet. My breasts are swollen and rise above the satin corset, as I arch to reach and release the hooks. Now, lying back against satin sheets, only my glovelettes remain on, and my crimson tipped fingers play with my nipples. “Darling,” I whisper. “Darling.”
Needless to say that isn’t what happened. Instead, scurrying beneath the worn cotton sheets, I crossed my arms over my chest to cover myself, and staring up at the ceiling, I couldn’t believe that was me, lying there, with two strange men about to film me. Were they going to use my real name on the credits? I hadn’t thought about that. Who sees these movies?
Too late I discovered that people who were seriously involved in adult entertainment didn’t use their real names. Candida, which means pure, was the nickname given to Candida Royalle by a favorite uncle, and is the Latin derivative of Candice, her birth-given name. He’d already died before she became Candida, an alias which she admitted might not have pleased him. Suppose I’d come up with a name like Orchid or Narcissus. Then the filming might have gone better.
Scurrying beneath the worn cotton sheets, I crossed my arms over my chest to cover myself, and staring up at the ceiling, I couldn’t believe that was me, lying there, with two strange men about to film me. Were they going to use my real name on the credits? I hadn’t thought about that. Who sees these movies?
“Move a little to the left.” A muffled sound came from beneath the black cloth. “That’s it. Perfect. Now, Peter, you start removing her top.”
Forgetting about Harold and Jim was going to be a challenge.
Peter pulled back the sheet and one hand groped around in an attempt to unbutton my shirt — definitely not a bustier — while his other hand had found a breast and fondled it. Those days I went braless, but I was wearing one for the shoot so he could take it off, and now he was grappling with the hooks. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d tried wrestling me out of my clothes. Meanwhile, as I was figuring out how to get him out of his briefs, one of his legs momentarily got stuck at an angle and his knee jammed into my chin. Suddenly we were both naked. Now what?
My fingers searched to feel if he’d grown hard, but there was no sign of any life down there. They hadn’t said anything to us about a rain date. As in an out of body experience, my brain registered that Peter was edging his way on top of me. For a moment, beneath the weight of him, I felt shielded from what was happening. What a joke. My mother used to undress in her bedroom closet contributing to the message I’d gotten from her that sex didn’t exist.
Nevertheless, somehow, here I was, naked and a sex object for anyone who wanted to pay to see this movie, which would doubtless be “a silent quickie,” one of the 8mm porn films sold by mail at about $20 for a ten-minute reel, or watched in “peep show” booths at a quarter-per-minute. Our audience: young men flushed with wanting, every morning awakened by hard cocks, looking to let go; older guys whose marriages had withered who still remembered how good it could feel. And there were men who always only got their sex this way, furtive and alone.
Harold’s voice again. “Okay, let’s see you go down on her. Now, Nancy, that’s your name, isn’t it, throw your head back and wet your lips.” The camera was whirring like a cake mixer, beating the hell out of the egg whites. And there was Peter, his head lowering in front of these guys, his hair tickling the inside of my thighs. Usually turned on by oral sex, I was as unmoved as he was.
The camera hummed and paused. “The other guy can come in,” the director said.
My mother used to undress in her bedroom closet contributing to the message I’d gotten from her that sex didn’t exist.
Barry couldn’t remember when he’d last had sex, so he was busy masturbating in another room to keep from coming too quickly during the filming. How was Peter going to feel watching Barry climb on top of me? He’d better be upset. I didn’t want this to be a kinky story he could tell about watching his girlfriend get it on making a porno movie with his friend. How much was I willing to do because I thought it would make me more loveable?
How I was going to tell my version of this story wasn’t clear to me. After all, no one was forcing me to do this. In my version, I hoped, I’d become the woman who discovered the truth about the power of her sex, realizing that was at the heart of gender equality. And Barry wouldn’t matter.
Only, I wasn’t that woman, if she even existed. Which, in fact, she would in another decade. They were the young women — like Candida Royalle, like Annie Sprinkle who was renowned for her live performances, like Nina Hartley who said “My body, my rules” — who learned to embrace their bodies and accept their sexuality while spreading their legs in porn films. Just as their heiresses today are claiming their right to sexuality and pleasure, claiming that their needs and desires are as big as any guy’s and need to be validated.
I wasn’t feeling remotely sexy and tugged at the sheet, trying to pull it up over Peter and me.
Bounding in, grinning stupidly, Barry climbed out of his blue jeans and onto the bed, his legs bristly against me as he slipped under the sheets. Peter had found his way out of my thighs and had begun kissing me, his tongue parting my lips, his mouth covering my own. This was how I always wanted him to kiss me, minus the audience. Perhaps this was his way of taking possession, letting Harold and Jim know that we belonged to each other, and that Barry was an outsider.
So why was I thinking about my mother again? Because of the tonguing? She’d once asked me, when I’d returned home from a date, whether the boy had kissed me with his tongue. She must have tongue-kissed at least once, in order to know about it. Known how it felt as your body blushed and you wanted to be swallowed. As Barry drew in closer, his hot breath blowing against my neck, I squirmed. Keep kissing me, Peter. Keep kissing me.
“Both of you move closer together,” the director said. “Peter, straddle her, and Barry.”
I could wrap myself in the sheets and float away. Never happy with my appearance, how could I expect this to be a good time? This wasn’t making me feel any freer than I’d felt the day before.
The camera lights were hot, and my face felt flushed and wet, which had nothing to do with being aroused. I wanted to be anywhere but here. Anywhere. If only I could wrap myself in the sheets and float away. Never happy with my appearance, how could I expect this to be a good time? This wasn’t making me feel any freer than I’d felt the day before.
Barry’s hands groped me. I wanted out. I wondered, how did Peter feel watching this?
In less than an hour filming was over, not because there was no action on the guys’ part, but because it was a quickie scene without plot or script. This was a cum shot film, I later figured out, but without the cum shot. A non-event.
“Don’t worry, guys,” the director assured us, “this often happens. We dub it.”
“Oh geez, I’ve blown my big chance,” Barry said, sounding sheepish.
I was glad when we were dressed and it was time to leave. The mid-afternoon Berkeley sun was bright as usual.
So ended my career as a porn star. Except afterwards, the thought of having breakfast with Barry in the kitchen made me squirm. My nakedness wasn’t mine anymore. Although I understood the political relevance of the public sexuality of that time, which I was now part of, the idea that I was participating in a movement wasn’t comforting. By 1971, more than 30 theaters were showing hardcore, degrading films in San Francisco. I had a difficult time conceiving that porn could be an important and healthy revolutionary ingredient in the progress of feminism, actually affording an opportunity for women to assume ownership of their sexuality.
I told myself that my porn debut was an attempt for me to experience sexual freedom, but I knew it was equally about pleasing Peter — not something I wanted to admit.
That reality was a process even for Candida, who had some of the same doubts I did about what she was doing. As she writes in “The Call,” an essay in Jiz Lee’s 2015 anthology, Coming Out Like a Porn Star, Royalle told herself that her foray into porn would be “brief and unremarkable,” that “one day, all these film reels will be left in some dark, forgotten storage room to collect dust and fade away, and no one will even be able to recognize who’s on screen.” Her self-acceptance about her choices wasn’t immediate, but ultimately led to her decision to create films that would reflect her values. In the end, Candida seemed to know that her body, and her soul too, belonged to her alone. Her personal discomfort likely fostered her pioneering work as a director and producer of women-centric porn.
Talk about a modern day fairy tale: teenage sex starlet, twenty-plus films later becomes a producer of women-oriented porn, goes on to receive an honorary doctorate in human sexuality, teaches a room full of New York psychiatrists about female sexuality, and has her archives housed at the Schlesinger Feminist Library at Harvard. That’s a story. A story that established the foundation for an evolution in the adult entertainment industry, an industry that is increasingly influenced by women, run by women, and which has the potential to be the largest women-lead industry today.
Feminist porn. Sex positive porn. Politically correct sex. Whatever you want to call it. Candida, a former “boom boom” porn nymphet, was the first to demonstrate that pornography — the films she directed and produced — can embody the ultimate feminist act for women. Candida’s Femme Production films — good porn — were revolutionary, depicting sex and pleasure that wasn’t humiliating, and gender equality presenting a feminist ideal. When she went behind the camera in the 1980s, focusing on women’s pleasure and on relationships, she was attempting to produce films that weren’t degrading, that were egalitarian. She invented the concept of couples porn, and everyone laughed at her until they stole the idea. Sexually stimulating, even romantic, her movies involved mostly normal looking cis-hetero couples who got flushed and sweaty like the rest of us. Candida transcended industry limits, taking porn in a different direction — one that aligned with her allegiance to feminism — prioritizing female sexual empowerment and expression. Sensual loving sex, what she called erotica, with “real” couples, illustrated the importance of romance and sensitivity, and of orgasmic equity. With that, she also transcended and countered the prevailing attitudes toward women. In the late 1960s and 1970s “hip” counter-culture still didn’t treat women much differently than the dominant culture did. To them, we were mothers or goddesses or bitches. The demand for female sexual parity made everyone uneasy.
Certainly what Peter and I did was anything but romantic or sensitive and didn’t bring us any closer to equality. I told myself that my porn debut was an attempt for me to experience sexual freedom, but I knew it was equally about pleasing Peter — not something I wanted to admit.
I don’t remember what happened after the guys and their hulking equipment had gone — whether we joked about the experience, whether Peter opened a bottle of beer and poured me a glass of wine, or maybe I started getting dinner ready, since it was already late afternoon. Sex wasn’t something we ever talked about before the filming, and we still didn’t talk about it afterwards, neither of us able to say what felt good or didn’t, at best communicating wordlessly, by moving a hand left or right, barely letting a sigh escape. I could never find “our” film, which was more than likely one of the myriad ten-minute scenes that characterized “regular” 35 millimeter porn movies, and may or may not have made it to a peep show.
Feminist porn. Sex positive porn. Politically correct sex. Whatever you want to call it. Candida, a former “boom boom” porn nymphet, was the first to demonstrate that pornography — the films she directed and produced — can embody the ultimate feminist act for women.
In the following weeks, when we made love and Peter caressed me, I wondered whether sex had changed for him. Not surprisingly, my concerns focused on Peter, rather than myself. I tried not to think about our hour in front of the camera during sex, I tried to stay in the present, with the two of us lying together because we wanted to be there. Except being the clumsy young woman under the sheets and glaring lights, disembodied from the moment, wasn’t something I could easily forget. I’d wanted our love-making to be the kind you read about or saw in the movies. There’d be no awkwardness, or misplaced limbs. Peter and I had met as protesters during the Berkeley riots and I imagined us arm in arm on the front lines of justice, similar to radical journalist John Reed and socialite Louise Bryant in their early years, portrayed by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton in Reds. Watching some good erotica might have helped, if not with the revolutionary fervor, then with the mismanaged limbs, but that was before such porn existed.
I was a feminist who had no idea that not only Candida, but so many others — Nina Hartley, Veronica Hart, Erika Lust, Ela Darling, and Petra Joy o name a few — realized how porn offers a means to empower women. At a Toronto International Porn Festival, the evolving face of porn — in particular the diversity of sexual orientation and the absence of the money cum-shots — reflected women’s influence on the industry. Adult entertainment can become a bastion for feminism—for intersectional feminism, which also honors a nonbinary perspective—a venue where political and economic power can be attained, as women increasingly gain control. Historically, porn unsettled most feminists. Although we’d done consciousness raising and had intellectually examined issues about sexuality, we weren’t convinced. We were still squeamish about revealing and enjoying our bodies, and trying to figure out the provenance of our pleasure. We didn’t understand the relationship between sexual autonomy and personal choice.
There’s been a change, though, as ATTN, a digital media site, detailed in 2015 — one in three porn viewers are women, 90 percent seek out porn for stimulation, while 76 percent of 18 to 30-year-old American women report that they watch porn at least once a month. Only a few years ago, Marie Claire ran a six part “Porn Project,” examining how women interact with porn. Porn is hardly for boys’ eyes only any more. Some millennial performers have described porn as an opportunity to engage in sex without romance, and say that porn is an expression of their sexual autonomy. They are confronting the reluctance that persists in our society to recognize that sex is here to stay, that everybody needs it, just as everyone needs water. The millennials could be on to something, understanding better than Candida or me the necessary relationship between sexual freedom, satisfaction, and equality.
However, porn is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s still perceived as subversive because it’s all about sex, and sex continues to lurk in the shadows for many people in our culture. More than that, going against the grain of keeping women’s sex in the closet, the trope of women desiring sex, and having sex, and thriving, undermines the underlying patriarchal message that denigrates the industry in order to keep women down. Nonetheless, female sexuality is emerging as paramount to a male’s, and the status of porn is shifting. If you’re a woman and you’ve done porn, you can move through the world without wearing a scarlet letter the way you used to, although, you can still be discriminated against when seeking to buy or rent a place to live. Yet, Maggie Gyllenhaal, the producer and star of the HBO series The Deuce, legitimized the show’s heroine, a sex worker turned producer of porn, who is a character based on Candida Royalle. As more women admit to their sexual feelings, using porn to cultivate their own sexual agency, porn will become increasingly ubiquitous — even sanctioned.
Like a lot of women of the ’60s and ’70s in search of sexual freedom, I didn’t know how good I could feel, how much to show of myself, how much to ask for. I didn’t know much about the connection between love, and sex and equality. I never anticipated learning from the life of a porn queen that feminism is about pleasure as much as it is about anything else. And that pleasure and love can work together. Now, knowing what I know, I wish I could have it to do again. Have more fun. Back then, when I was 20 years old, nobody had made a film yet that showed couples who’d figured out how to mix love and a lacy bustier, taking turns fifty-fifty with who was on top. I didn’t yet know that I deserved to be there.
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