DURHAM, N.C.—Consider it a study in contrasts. On the one hand, we have Tasha Reign, a seventh-year student in Gender Studies at UCLA who recently appeared on a panel at the university titled "Porn, Prostitution and Censorship," which was attended by nearly 100 students and others, many of whom knew that Reign stars in XXX-rated movies during her non-school hours, and several of whom were even in classes with the award-winning star—and they even knew her real name! In fact, they seemed proud to know her, and one of the forum's moderators kept reminding the audience that she shared a class with Reign.
And then there's "Lauren A," not her real name, a freshman at Duke University in Durham who also appears in hardcore movies under a stage name that—thankfully, considering some of the comments and tweets she's received or seen—is not generally known, though some of her fellow students and others have spent hours trying to nail down and expose it, as they have also tried to do with her real name.
Of course, despite the fact that the headquarters of popular adult mail-order retailer Adam & Eve is in Hillsborough, a Durham suburb, few would accuse Durham of being a bastian of progressivism—its motto is "Eruditio et Religio" ("In education and religion"); its basketball team is The Blue Devils—and since the university's newspaper, The Duke Chronicle, ran an interview with her last month, the vitriol has not only continued but ramped up—and now, Lauren is fighting back.
"I am not ashamed of porn," Lauren states in an essay posted on xojane.com. "On the contrary, doing pornography fulfills me. That said, I vehemently want to have my privacy respected—and I ask that anyone who knows my real name respect the fact that I am only discussing this publicly because it was made a public matter when I was confronted by a fraternity member who chose to tell hundreds of other men in the Greek scene.
"That's why I am writing this," she continues. "That's why I gave an interview to the student newspaper at Duke. Because if people are going to talk about you, you might as well control the conversation and use it to start a dialogue, which in this case is about the abuses we inflict on sex workers."
It might be worth noting that according to Duke's own website, students there can expect to pay $61,404 in tuition, fees and living expenses for the current school year—a fact not lost on Lauren.
Asked frequently, "Why would you do porn?", the erudite student responds simply, "I couldn't afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love. Because to be clear: My experience in porn has been nothing but supportive, exciting, thrilling and empowering."
In so saying, Lauren stands against the plethora of ignorant organizations and anti-porn activists who claim, with no evidence, that women who have sex on camera are "victims"—of a too-liberal society, of pimps, of sex traffickers, whatever. The list is wide and varied, but one thing's for sure as far as they're concerned: No decent, intelligent female would ever consider letting a man (or woman) penetrate her if she were not forced to do so by another person, or because of a rampant drug habit.
For Lauren, such charges are horseshit.
"For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy," she declares. "When I finish a scene, I know that I have done so and completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.
"I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else," she continues. "In a world where women are so often robbed of their choice, I am completely in control of my sexuality. As a bisexual woman with many sexual quirks, I feel completely accepted. It is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be. It is the exact opposite of the culture of slut-shaming and rape apology which I have experienced from certain dark corners of the Internet since being recognized on campus a few months ago."
Duke University is ranked Number 7 in U.S. News & World Report's list of the nation's best colleges, so we're guessing that, absent some sports talent, one has to score fairly high on the SATs or similar tests to get in—and going by her essay, Lauren's no dummy, especially when it comes to being sane about sex. Check out what she says about it:
"My entire life, I have, along with millions of other girls, been told that sex is a degrading and shameful act," she writes. "When I was 5 years old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified, told me that if I masturbated, my vagina would fall off.
"The most striking view I was indoctrinated with was that sex is something women 'have,' but that they shouldn’t 'give it away' too soon—as though there’s only so much sex in any one woman, and sex is something she does for a man that necessarily requires losing something of herself, and so she should be really careful who she 'gives' it to.
"The prevailing societal brainwashing dictates that sexuality and sex 'reduce' women, whereas men are merely innocent actors on the receiving end. By extension, our virginity or abstinence has a bearing on who we are as people—as good people or bad people, as nice women or bad women.
"Women's ability to be moral actors is wholly dependent on their sexuality. It is, honestly, insane.
"The virgin-whore dichotomy is an insidious standard that we have unfairly placed upon women. Women are supposed to be outwardly pure and modest, while at the same time being sexually alluring and available. If a woman does not have sex after a date, she will be labeled as a prude. If she does have sex, she will be referred to later as a ho or a slut.
"Society thus sets up a norm in which women simply cannot win."
Uh-oh; could Lauren actually be both a porn star and ... a feminist?!?
"We must question in this equation why sex workers are so brutally stigmatized," she asks, referring apparently not only to adult movie performers but all sex workers. "Why do we exclude them for jobs, education, and from mainstream society? Why do we scorn, threaten and harass them? Why do we deny them of their personhood? Why does the thought of a woman having sexual experiences scare us so much?
"The answer is simple. Patriarchy fears female sexuality. It terrifies us to even fathom that a woman could take ownership of her body. We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy. A woman who transgresses the norm and takes ownership of her body—because that's exactly what porn is, no matter how rough the sex is—ostensibly poses a threat to the deeply ingrained gender norms that polarize our society.
"I am well aware: The threat I pose to the patriarchy is enormous. That a woman could be intelligent, educated and CHOOSE to be a sex worker is almost unfathomable." [Emphasis in original; some paragraphs reformatted]
However, Lauren is aware that not everything about sex work (or porn acting) is sweetness and light.
"Of course, I do fully acknowledge that some women don't have such a positive experience in the industry. We need to listen to these women," she warns. "And to do that we need to remove the stigma attached to their profession and treat it as a legitimate career that needs regulation and oversight... I find it interesting that porn (a billion-dollar industry) is consumed by millions of people—men and women (and all other equally wonderful genders) alike—yet no one is willing to consider the lives of the people behind the camera. No one wants to hear about the abuses and exploitation that take place, no one wants to hear about the violence committed every day against sex workers, no one wants to consider that we have hopes and dreams and ambitions. No, all we are is 'whores and bimbos.'"
Lauren closes with some advice to the haters and slut-shamers, a group that appears to include "anti-pornography feminists": Listen to sex workers and sexual minorities; they may know things that you don't, and have had experiences that you haven't.
"As for my professional career," she states, "I have no current plans to quit porn and I refuse to let ignorant people deprive me of the education that I have worked incredibly hard to achieve. I am going to graduate, I am going to pursue my dreams and I will hopefully galvanize change in a world wrought with gender norms and sexism.
"Just try to stop me."
It's an astonishingly good piece of writing that hopefully will change a few minds on the Duke campus—and with luck, many other places in society. Members and fans of the adult entertainment community owe it to themselves to read this woman's story and take it to heart. We hear a lot about the younger generation lacking interest in politics and social justice, but here's a shining example of one person who's cast off societal labels and is willing to fight for her freedom—in part, through porn.