Interview With A Feminist Pornographer

In a bleak world of abstinence-only education and sexual repression, Tristan Taormino is a crusader, a guardian angel bringing empowerment and entertainment to everyone she meets. Who is this miraculous woman? She’s a feminist pornographer. Certainly this wasn’t her dream job as a child. Tristan set out to become a lawyer, but after being rejected from a dozen-odd law schools, her advisor said to her, “I don’t think you want to go to law school. I think you want to write about sex.” And so a star was born. Tristan is the author of seven books, the editor of twenty-three anthologies, has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, and lectures at universities across the country. She has produced and directed twenty pornographic films, not to mention actually appearing in two of them. I got to sit down with this ambitious woman and ask her a few questions.

Thought Catalog: Can you tell me briefly how you came to be a feminist pornographer?

Tristan Taormino: I wrote my first book in 1998, “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women,” and I wanted to make a video based on the book, a movie that was instructional and educational and full of hot, explicit anal sex. So, I approached a number of porn companies who all turned me down, and then eventually one of them, John Stagliano (you may know him as Buttman), decided that he would put up the money to make my movie. After I made that movie and the follow up, I went about my other life, which was as a writer and a speaker and teaching workshops and as a sex educator, and then in 2005 I came back to porn. I just felt like there still weren’t enough women behind the camera. There certainly weren’t openly identified feminist directors in mainstream porn, and that the porn that I wanted to see still wasn’t being made.

TC: In such a male-dominated workplace, what was your experience venturing in as one of the few women?

TT: There’s this experience I have repeatedly which is so symbolic. I work for this big company, Vivid Entertainment, and you walk in the second floor, the editing suite, and there are anywhere between five and eight men, sitting in front of computer screens, watching naked women have sex. I am the only woman in the room, and I am the only woman with clothes on. And that sort of says it all, right? I’m interrupting this hetero-normative male-dominated space. All of a sudden I show up, and all the women they’ve been interacting with for the past eight hours have been naked and moaning and I am not doing either of those things! So I feel like it’s symbolic of the industry, because, in fact, I am a total minority as a woman, and even more so as an out queer woman and as an out feminist. Ultimately, the people who are in my bubble, my production crew, the performers that I work with, everyone at Vivid, is 100% awesome; they really support my work, they believe in it, they get it, if they don’t get it, they trust me enough to go do what I want to do.

TC: You talked about the role as the director. What would you say your relationship with the stars you’re working with is like?

TT: I mean, for me, the performers are everything. They are the focus of the film, they are what makes or breaks the film, it’s their performances, it’s their energy, it’s their skill set, it’s their experience, it’s what they bring to the film that makes or breaks it. You can have the best location in the world, and the best cinematographer, but if the performers are in a cranky crappy mood, or are phoning in a sex performance, it’s going to suck. So for me, it’s important for me to work with people who know that I’m trying to do something different, they listen to me, they get it. Like, ok, this isn’t a typical day at work. This isn’t like the movie I did yesterday, or the movie I’m going to do tomorrow. Tristan wants something different.

TC: What would you say to anyone who was looking to get involved in the porn industry?

TT: It depends on where you are looking to get involved. I think that the first thing you have to do is treat it like a real job and do your research. Figure out who the players are, figure out what the deal is. The community is pretty small, and I feel like it’s better to kind of go to people with an established reputation than some sketchy person who posted an ad on Craigslist. I think people have all these crazy expectations about what it’s going to be like and it’s different than they think and it’s much harder than they think…I would say talk to performers and really get a sense of what the job is like before you commit to it, and when you commit to it, you have to be all in.

TC: Now, you’re not just a pornographer, you also work as a sex educator. What’s the number one piece of sex advice you find yourself most often giving?

TT: I think it’s not specifically like a technique or a tip, it’s more reassuring people that they’re ok. I mean, I feel like people’s number one issue is “I have this desire/turn-on/kink/fetish/fantasy/whatever it is, and I feel like it’s not normal.” And I need to give them permission, to say “Oh my god, I’ve heard this a million times, that’s not weird, I totally get that.”

TC: What’s your opinion of period sex?

TT: Wow, this is so timely in so many ways, I can’t even, I don’t want to get into it… but the thing is that this issue always comes up for people because there is still this kind of ultimate shame that women have around their periods, and this fear of menstrual blood. When I talk to men and even women who have female partners about why they don’t like period sex, they’re like “There’s blood! On my dick! On my hand! Oh my god! There’s blood!” well, it’s not like blood like you just killed someone, it’s a different thing! You know, sex at it’s best is pretty messy, and we’re swapping all sorts of bodily fluids so why is it that this one fluid is taboo? But it is. It really is. I mean, even in porn, it’s taboo.

TC: Is that one of the things on the “no list,” things you are not allowed to film?

TT: No, it’s not on the “list” but it’s something people get real freaked out about. It’s like, there’s no growing burgeoning market for period porn.

TC: On a slightly different topic, what do things like MTV and HBO portrayals of the sex industry do for the public image?

TT: In general, when the mainstream media covers porn, they always get it wrong. It’s like a huge frustration but part of what happens is it’s the mainstream media that perpetuates this image that all the pornographers are these seedy sleazy creepy guys with cameras who want to take advantage of these underage girls they’ve pick up at a bus stop, who feel like they don’t have any options, and they’re going to be coerced into doing something they don’t want to do. That is traditional narrative, and the mainstream media just loves to feed that. You never hear about people who came away from porn not scarred or traumatized or messed up. You don’t hear about the success stories. You don’t hear about Nina Hartly who loves her job, and will tell you, incredibly articulately, why she loves her job, what she gets out of it. She has been in this industry for twenty years and she will not tell you it chewed her up and spit her back out. She’s completely in control of her career. But you don’t hear those stories. You only hear the horrifying, desperate tales that create an unbalanced portrayal and it’s really not fair.

TC: You spoke of Nina Hartly loving her job. What do you love about your job?

TT: What I love about my job is that it is an outlet for creativity, it feeds that creative part of me that gets to create something from nothing. And I love the people I work with. I have met some amazing, fascinating people who work in porn, and I never would have met them if I hadn’t made porn.

TC: What is your next step?

TT: And my next step, gosh, there’s always like 100 pots on the fire in my life, but in the very near future, on Valentine’s Day, my next SexEd movie comes out. It’s called “The Expert Guide to Pegging”: ladies, giving it to their guys, in the butt. It is fantastic, I am super proud of it, and I think it’s some of the hottest strap-on sex I have ever seen.

TC: Last question. May I have an internship?

TT: Well, it’s actually very competitive. My interns have gone on to become famous writers, professors of Women’s Studies at major universities…so you would have big shoes to fill.

Game on, Tristan. Game on. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – wonder14

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