LOS ANGELES—It was billed as a panel on "Porn, Prostitution and Censorship," but that middle term never seemed to come up in the roughly 100-minute give-and-take between the two moderators representing the university's Sexual Awareness Network for Activism through Art (SANAA) and a panel that included adult stars Jessica Drake and Tasha Reign, industry publicist Adella Curry and two UCLA faculty members.
The forum was held Tuesday evening in Moore Hall on the UCLA campus, and was open to everyone—but despite an article in that day's Daily Bruin, less than 100 students, faculty and others attended.
Most people are, of course, familiar with Drake and Reign, and many with Curry, but Jennifer Moorman, a Ph.D. candidate in media studies, who's interviewed several adult performers and has written several articles on the industry on websites including Porn.com and will be teaching cinema courses next semester, and Dr. Christopher Mott of UCLA's English Department, who besides courses in 19th- and 20th-century American literature has also taught a course titled "Pornography and Political Representation," made valuable contributions to the discussion as well.
Some of the earlier questions were almost embarrassingly facile, but the panelists often had no problem answering the question they wanted to answer rather than what was actually asked. For example, in response to a question of why porn is so popular, and why it's called "adult," Reign answered, "I think people view sexuality as not a talent; in their minds, it's not a form of acting, which I personally believe it is, but I think it's hard for some people to be illiterate and to be able to watch an adult film because they haven't had that education about what exactly it means and why it's for entertainment; maybe they don't know very much about sexuality and they see it and they feel uncomfortable, so it's easier for them to make jokes about it."
Similarly, when asked whether porn objectifies women or creates appreciation for them, Dr. Mott tried to distinguish "objectification" of women from seeing women as what he called "desirable objects."
"Desirable objects are both the objects that are acted upon by others, but also become those things which attract and change behavior in other people, which I would define as power, right?" he asked, somewhat rhetorically. "Power is the ability to change the way people think or the way people behave, so to become a desirable object is to change the way people behave."
Curry, on the other hand, dealt with the objectification head-on, noting, "I don't think pornography evokes disrespect of women... It happens more in your home and how you were raised and your value system. I think there's people who can watch porn and maybe have disrespect for the women, but I don't think that has anything to do with the entertainment they're watching... I don't think porn has anything to do with whether or not the viewer is objectifying or empowering the woman."
"As a performer, I have never felt objectified; I feel empowered and I've always looked at myself as a whole person and sexuality is only one of my characteristics," Reign said, adding later, "What people tend to forget is that women performers are the highest wage earners, so that's a complete reversal of Hollywood... Because women's bodies are objectified, they make a hell of a lot more money than the men do."
One of the moderators asked Drake about her recent experience giving a talk at the University of Chicago's Sex Week, and how the protests against it affected her.
"I saw no physical presence of any type of a protest," she replied. "Granted, it was snowing a lot, but it was jam-packed with students."
Drake was later asked how she got into the sex education field, but part of her response here spoke to that issue.
"I decided to begin doing sex education about three years ago because I sensed that there was a real need for a more modern, sexy, pleasure-based, non-fear-based or abstinence-based sex ed, but a real need," she explained. "I was going off of the feedback I got when I was doing store signings and convention appearances. I've done them all over the world, and people started showing up, feeling comfortable to ask me sex-advice questions."
"I have a right to choose what I do with my body, and a right to choose what my career has been over the years and what it will be in the future," she later added. "This is a really great segue to the lobbying I did against Measure B, which is the condoms in porn law. People were really confused as to how I could do that because I work for the only studio that is 100 percent condom only, that I was still lobbying against the government coming in and making us use condoms. I feel it's a very, very personal choice, and as a woman, to be told what I'm putting in or on my body is a violation, so it's something I feel very strongly about."
Another question asked the panelists to give their views on how the mainstream world's "culture of beauty" affects or plays out in the adult industry.
"I think porn is much more diverse than people give it credit for," Moorman began, "but I would argue that the mainstream industry values different bodies differently... For example, when I've spoken to women who have become filmmakers that are women of color, they have slightly different perspectives on the industry than the white women I've spoken to, and tend to describe the industry as being racist, where the white women I speak to don't."
Drake also gave her perspective from inside the industry.
"When I started my line of instructionals, it was always meant to be very inclusive," she noted. "This week, I'm shooting my Guide to Plus-Sized Sex, and when I was first doing my research, Kelly Shibari is a friend of mine who's codirecting it with me, and I was really appalled that there was a BBW rate difference. To me, that was not fair at all. I don't think that anyone should be paid less because of their body type, and they won't in any of my movies."
This discussion led to the question of labiaplasty and the mainstream charge that porn is largely responsible for its proliferation among some segments of society, but neither of the adult entertainers nor Curry were willing to accept the blame, noting that in porn, just about every shape and size of labia and vulvae are represented. Drake suggested that audience members Google "wall of vagina," an art exhibit with its own Web page, so people could see the variety of labia out there, and noted, "I don't like my vagina Photoshopped."
About halfway through the discussion, the topics became meatier, such as the question of whether porn makes people sexually violent and/or promotes male dominance, and while Dr. Mott opined that "there is some porn that is horrific," he also noted that, "there is some pornography that is being produced that is absolutely liberating. We've got some folks up here right now who are trying to use sexual expression to actually undo domination, to undo the logic of oppression, to undo the politics that give one person an unfair advantage or privileges more than another."
"There are rape fantasies in porn, and some of it certainly does have misogynistic overtones," Moorman observed, "but I don't think that that necessarily leads to real-world violence. I think that's a separate issue. I think studies have suggested that there's no one-to-one relationship between what people watch and what people do."
She suggested, however, that one of the reasons why modern porn depicts less interpersonal violence was because such activity in a sexually explicit film would make the production be more likely to be charged with obscenity than a tamer movie.
Reign, on the other hand, had a more nuanced view.
"My idea of something that is empowering or something that is pleasurable or something that might look like a violent act against a woman but turns me on," she said, "that's my freedom of speech if I choose to watch BDSM, if I choose to watch something where I lose control. Because in my life, I am so bossy, all the time, telling people what to do; when I have a boyfriend, I'm the one in control, so of course, in the bedroom, that's not what I want to see. Does that mean I shouldn't be respected in my real life, and have my fantasies and things I want to do in my bedroom be separate?"
Drake also noted that often, it's the production companies and even credit card companies that serve the adult industry that have given moviemakers lists of unacceptable practices that must not appear in their productions—but she also noted that studies of porn watchers in the "Bible Belt" are finding that BDSM movies appear to be popular with them.
The moderators then began taking questions from the audience, and after both Drake and Reign assured one questioner that no one who appears in an adult movie is there against her will, they took on the issue of whether porn contributes to the degradation of women, viewing them simply as "cum dumpsters."
"There are women who enjoy being called 'cum dumpsters,' but I do think my individual experience and Tasha's... speaks volumes," Drake said. "I think that what I'm doing by harnessing a built-in fan base, the built-in platform that I have, so many people have watched my movies over the years. If I can influence their sexual beliefs or sexual experiences or their sex education at all by my life of experience, not just in front of the camera, but all my sexual experience—the good, the bad and the ugly—if that knowledge can help people then who cares if I enjoy being called a cum dumpster?"
Reign largely agreed, saying, "It's ridiculous that some person thinks they have any control or any judgment on the sex that I want to have in my bedroom, the vulgar words that I want to use and when I want to use them and what I want to be done to me, it's just outrageous."
"I think if the people that use that term are using it in a disrespectful way, again, that goes back to the home," Curry opined. "I don't think that has anything to do with pornography; I think it has to do with how you were raised."
"I think we're all here today because we want to play a role in deshaming sex and our sexuality," Curry added later. "It's huge, and there's so much power that comes from shaming. It's destructive, it's hurtful and we are all sexual and I think people do that because they were taught to be ashamed of how they're feeling and I have to say, a lot of it comes back to the power that the churches have."
"It's very easy for people to generalize about the industry when they're not in it at all and don't know anything about it, and a lot of the time, when we don't know about something, we tend to be afraid of it," Drake observed.
One audience member seemed miffed that the sex acts depicted in most adult movies don't resemble the types of sex that ordinary people have at home, and she felt that adult producers and performers had a duty to portray sex in a more realistic way.
Drake responded by noting that she had once counseled a couple who felt they were "doing sex wrong" because the woman couldn't easily engage in anal sex as so many women she's seen in movies were able to, but Drake assured them that, "What you're not seeing is the movie magic, everything that goes in scenes we're performing, whatever sex acts we're portraying... We don't go for 25 minutes; our scenes last an hour and a half and we're taking breaks and using lots of lube."
"I don't think it's my position or goal to teach people how to have sex," Reign countered. "That's not what I'm here for. People need to have an education, but that's not my position... When I produce porn, or even perform it, I want to make it a fantasy, and if I'm hired to do something more realistic, I'll absolutely adapt to that and take on that role, but if I get control of the movie, the scene, I want to make it something that is almost unnatural in a way because it's entertainment."
"I also think that if we had the resources for sex education, we wouldn't turn to porn for sex education," Curry added. "If you want to have a threesome, for example, how do you figure out who you should have a threesome with? How do you figure out how to talk to your boyfriend? How do you find out whether you should do it when you're drunk, or with your neighbor or your boss or who not to do it with? These are real questions that people have... Until the Obama administration, we taught abstinence for sex... We need to have the resources so that the next generation isn't in the same position where they have to watch entertainment for their education."
That discussion seemed to spark the evening's final question, which was how, in the age of the internet, parents could properly educate their younger children about sex?
"I would love to be able to reach people before they're your age, but unfortunately, due to the official job title that I currently hold, I'm not able to, because parents might think that I'm going in for some type of a job fair or a recruitment," Drake lamented. "The onus really does fall on the parents, and being as I can't reach the kids, I like to talk to people that have kids about it."
"The internet is having a huge effect on what we're learning growing up but especially when the parents aren't talking about it beforehand," she continued. "Because I think kids are gonna do what kids are gonna do, right? They're going to talk to their friends about sex, they're going to Google everything, they're going to download free porn, much to my dismay, but they're going to learn it their way, and unless they have really a strong foundation or a good resource or someone to give them real information, it's going to be a lost cause, so the onus really does fall on the parents, and I encourage everybody, everybody needs a resource to go to. I didn't have that growing up... I wish I had learned masturbation. You know, if I had known all these things going in or had some sort of working information about how these hormones were going to go crazy in my body, it would have made a big difference earlier on in my life."
And what can one say about that except, "Amen"?
Pictured, l-r: Jessica Drake, Jennifer Moorman, Tasha Reign, Adella Curry, Dr. Christopher Mott