pornLorelei Leeporn, feminism

Ask a Porn Star

pornLorelei Leeporn, feminism
Ask a Porn Star

Our mission at tabú is to empower young adults with engaging, trustworthy sexual health content. With 60% of college students learning about sex from porn, we thought, “why not get insight from someone in the industry?” While porn is a healthy and natural form of sexual expression that allows us to play out our fantasies, it is important to remember that what you see in porn does not reflect reality. We’ve teamed up with the witty, brilliant, and insightful Lorelei Lee to dispel the myths and answer all your questions about sex!

Everyone has questions for a porn star. I get these questions by email and on Twitter. I get them at the hair salon or on an airplane or at a bar or a dinner party. They are asked excitedly or furtively; I’m pulled to the side of the room by someone who has just learned what I do for a living, or I’m cornered coming out of the bar bathroom. It’s as though the question burns in their mouths, the asker has decided this is the moment they’ve been waiting for, the opportunity to say this most urgent of things. It seems everyone wants very badly to talk about sex. It seems there isn’t a place where most people get to do that.

One Monday when I was in middle school, our science teacher sent all the boys out of the class and down the hall. Those of us who had been, up to that point in our lives, assigned the gender label of female, remained in our seats shifting nervously. We knew what was coming. Two female teachers stood in front of the class and held up a pink plastic package. They unwrapped it, unfolded the white thing inside, and said, “this is a menstrual pad.” They passed it around the room so we could feel its sticky thickness. Its texture was diaper-like, impressing on us the return to infantile helplessness that our adolescence was about to bring. There was no telling what our bodies would do next. We were learning to bleed, just as the boys were becoming monsters. Our teachers told us about the “urges” boys would have. They told us with Reagan-era firmness that soon would come the time when we would need to “just say no.”

In case we had not yet been sufficiently frightened, they wheeled in the TV and VCR, still warm from doing its job in the boys’ classroom, and pressed play. What followed was a gore-filled cartoon with baritone voiceover, warning of the twin terrors of sexually transmitted infection and teen pregnancy.

Sex, we learned, was something terrible that boys wanted to do to us. If we let them, we would certainly suffer.

Sex education in the U.S. has not changed much in the twenty years since we passed around that menstrual pad. These public school scare tactics pair with the totemic gendered myths in women’s magazines, romantic comedies, and fairytales to make very clear to us that the only socially-condoned sex happens within monogamous, heterosexual relationships, and that all such relationships are intended to march steadily toward marriage and procreation. Being a “good” woman, according to nearly all of the stories told in popular culture, means walking a thin line of looking pretty without looking slutty, and saying no to sex until the “right” man agrees to trade you committed monogamy and occasional cut flowers for access to your body. Sex, if you are a “good” woman, is always meant to be a means toward an end. A currency of which the amount you hold is limited. A currency that must be cautiously spent.

It became clear to me pretty quickly that I was not going to be a good woman. Not long after that first sex ed class, I knew that I was bisexual. Not long after that, I realized that despite every warning I’d heard, the actual act of sex did not scare me. I had sex as a teenager and I enjoyed it. When I was nineteen, I shot my first adult film. In college, I took every class on human sexuality that I could sign up for, and by the time I was twenty-two, I was making my living as a sex worker. At twenty-five, I trained to be a sex educator and volunteered at a non-profit, answering strangers’ emailed and phoned-in questions about sex and bodies. I made more and more adult films. I worked as a stripper and as a professional dominatrix. I toured the country, talking about sex work and then about gender roles, orientation, about the ways that ideas about sex and gender and bodies are tangled up in every part of our identity.

Along the way, I thought a lot about the terms I use to describe my own identity: queer, sex worker, sex radical. I’m a feminist, although my brand of feminism is not the one that I grew up learning about. The feminist ideologies I learned from my mother and her friends, from reading the books by Steinem, Greer, and Friedan that my mother kept on her shelves, talked a lot about what men wanted and what men expected and about how to break the rules that men had set for women. These books described the desire to wear high heels and makeup as internalized misogyny. They talked a lot about gendered inequalities without talking a lot about how those inequalities were complicated by class, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other elements of the self that we present to the world.

The ideas in these books were undoubtedly revolutionary, but as I grew older I realized that they were in fact too simple. Thinkers like Steinem and Greer challenged social mores and made progress against social and economic inequality, and I’m grateful for the ground they broke. But the lack of diverse perspective behind their ideas meant that feminism as a movement under their leadership could only progress so far. Their ideas about race, class, and gender were limited and limiting. Their ideas about sex — most dramatically represented in the writings of Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin — were firmly entrenched in the same gender binary, heterosexually monogamous, oppositional model as were the patriarchal ideas that they intended to speak against.

As an adult I realized, very simply, that putting on high heels and glitter made me feel good in my own skin. I realized that I wanted to own these pleasures regardless of what anyone else expected or did not expect of me. I learned from trans and gender-variant friends who broke all the rules and worked to feel good in their bodies, to present their truest selves to the world.

I realized that my choice to put on a miniskirt and demand to be taken seriously was no different than my mother’s choice to put on overalls and demand the same. My belief that my dignity and integrity could not be depleted by the kind or amount of sex I might have was no less important than my mother’s belief that having a child should not preclude her from succeeding in the workplace.

Our choices as feminists were not oppositional. My feminism evolved from hers. She was the one who taught me: your body is yours. You are the only person it belongs to.

I believe that physical pleasure is good for you, and I believe that only you can truly know what is physically pleasurable for you. I believe that knowing your body is the first step toward loving it, and that loving your body is a big step toward letting it give you all the pleasure you deserve. I believe that a healthy sex life is an integral part of a healthy life, but I do not believe in prescribing a specific amount or a specific kind of sex for everyone. I believe that understanding consent is the most important thing anyone can know about sex.

I do not believe in compulsory monogamy or compulsory heterosexuality or compulsory anything. I do not believe in the gender binary, or in princes who will only rescue you if you maintain your virtue. I do not believe that women are born with a finite amount of virtue that diminishes every time we’re touched. I do not believe that “boys will be boys.” I do not believe that white women are more virtuous or more uptight, that Asian men have small penises and black men have big penises, that black women are more lustful, that white men can’t help themselves, that people of color are more “in touch” with their physical selves, that growing up Catholic makes you kinky or growing up with an attentive mother makes you gay or growing up with an absent father makes you slutty. I don’t believe in the word slutty as a pejorative. I don’t believe that sex equals putting a penis inside of a vagina. I don’t believe that you will have an orgasm as soon as you meet the “right” person. I don’t believe anyone can teach your body to you.

I will not tell you that I have all the answers, but I have spent a lot of time reading and talking and thinking about all of this, and I can tell you that I am not afraid of any of it. I can tell you that I have done nearly everything a person can do without clothes on, and someone has probably photographed me doing it. I can tell you there is almost nothing about the human body that disgusts me. Whatever it is that you are afraid to say, it’s likely I’ve heard it, seen it, or tasted it before. I know that you have questions, and we may or may not meet at a dinner party or on an airplane, so you may as well send them to me now. If I don’t have the answers, I will find the person who does. So go ahead, ask me anything.

Want your question answered in next month’s column? Send your questions to: xoxoloreleilee@gmail.com or tweet them @missloreleilee

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