Solidarity with My Sisters in Porn

Sisters
Sisters

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to view a presentation by Donald J Hilton, MD, a neurosurgeon and Clinical Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School. Dr. Hilton is an expert in the neurological basis of pornography/sex addiction, and for any sex addiction therapist, studying his work is a must.

I expected to leave more informed about how porn harms the brain (but feared my own brain’s boredom or distraction - ugh, neuroscience, dopamine, DeltaFosB - could I keep up? Did I want to?). What I did not expect was to be so moved emotionally by what he taught. Moved, as in sad. Hurt. Haunted. I did not expect Donald J. Hilton, Jr., MD, to teach me empathy for female porn stars, but he did. By showing what they actually say about their experience in porn.

I like to write, though after first publishing about my own sex addiction in Naked in Public: A Memoir of Recovery From Sex Addiction and Other Temporary Insanities, the creative well felt a bit dry. I needed to rest up and see if inspiration returned on its own timeline. Thanks to the 2016 elections, social activism became a passion. And today, thanks to the neurosurgeon, I awoke with a blog post title that wouldn’t let me rest until I at least made an attempt: Solidarity with My Sisters in Porn.

I know a bit about porn. I stumbled upon it in magazine form in my dad’s sock drawer when I was eight years old. I saw more on a cable TV channel. I secretly decided I wanted to look and be sexy and powerful just like “those women.” I started fantasizing to pass the time, especially the scary time. I created some amateur porn in my 20’s. It pleased my then-boyfriend. I was curious. He said he erased the videotape (remember VHS?). I always hoped he did, but had a back-of-the-mind anxiety that it would show up somewhere, and I’d be humiliated like my girlhood shero, Vanessa Williams. I was thirteen when she was crowned Miss America, and she became one of my primary beauty icons. But when Williams resigned her sparkly crown because nude photos of her were published in Hustler magazine, I learned that no matter how beautiful and talented a woman is, if she’s exposed with nude photographs, she can’t keep her crown (of course today she can be the First Lady of the United States...progress?). As a girl I thought Vanessa had sold nude pictures of herself to make money, never hearing her version of what occurred. Today I believe Hustler was guilty of Williams’ exploitation, and she was the one who shouldered the shame for it. Apparently, when publisher Bob Guccione published her unauthorized photos in Hustler’s September 1984 issue, he earned a windfall profit of $14 million, and Williams never saw a dime. Welcome to the politics of porn.

For more of this herstory: Williams was the first ever African-American Miss America; she “reigned” with character, kind service and poise; she repeatedly endured racist death threats and harassment during her tenure; and when her nude images were about to be released without her consent, the Miss America organization forced her to resign. In 2012 Williams claimed her own vindication by publishing a snappy memoir called You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other) and two years later, received a public apology by the Miss America organization (32 years after their offense - better late than never!). She was reinstated as the head judge of the 2015 Miss America Pageant. As an adult I admire Vanessa Williams for enduring so much sh*t and coming out stronger for it, and being a successfully published memoirist to boot.

When I first got Internet in my studio apartment in my later 20’s I eagerly became a porn consumer, and rapidly a porn captive. When I found recovery from sex addiction in my early 30’s I included no porn as part of my “sexual sobriety” definition. At first I was white knuckling staying away from porn. I blocked home Internet access for a year (”smart” phones did not exist yet, thank God). The first week after I got Internet at home again, I relapsed.

With time and much, much more healing in 12-step sexual recovery groups and therapy, the behavior and even the desire to look at porn went away. With even more time in recovery I developed an aversion to porn. I knew that stuff was toxic to me and I didn’t just not want to look - I reacted to porn portals like someone was holding up a cup of bleach and saying, “Here, have a sip or gallon.” No.Thank.You.

I also became clear that there were people behind the glamour, gloss, grit, and gore of porn. I watched a Frontline news special on called American Porn that sensitized me to the deception and violence in the porn industry, particularly against women. I heard Dr. Gail Dines speak about her movement Culture Reframed to address violent porn as a public health crisis. I read articles about how the “mainstream porn industry” is really a monopolized, organized syndicate with little to no antitrust accountability due to the taboos surrounding porn. I continue to learn about porn as a major marketing funnel for prostitution. But none of this quite moved me as much as the words of the women porn stars themselves. And it is these quotes - the harsh reality behind the fantasy - that I want to wrap up with today. I share these with permission in solidarity with my sisters in porn, in admiration for their speaking out, in grief for their suffering, and with a call for all to adopt an attitude of protection, not exploitation, of sexuality.

"Most girls get their first experience in gonzo films -- in which they’re taken to a crappy studio apartment in Mission Hills and penetrated in every [way] possible by some abusive [jerk] who thinks her name is bitch. And these girls... go home afterward and pledge never to do it again because it was such a terrible experience. But, unfortunately, they can’t take that experience back, so they live the rest of their days in fear that their relatives, their co-workers, or their children will find out, which they inevitably do.” —Jenna Jameson, pornography performer https://againstpornography.org/takeacloserlook.html
"The images that we reenact over and over again have absolutely nothing to do with our personal sexuality. I would say that what's shown is basically -- it's not revolutionary, it’s not different, it’s the same old, same old, it’s women in uncomfortable positions pretending they feel good, and what's revolutionary about that? What's liberating about that?" -- Porn actress Sarah-Katherine, interviewed by Chyng Sun
“Over the course of my porn career I have been belittled and treated like a piece of trash more than I could have ever imagined in a lifetime...I wasn't a woman in any of these directors’ eyes, I was nothing to them. I've had men choke me, slap me, thrust me so hard until I couldn't walk, and this would happen even after I would tell them to stop. They have no respect for women. I left because I was on the verge of suicide. I hated who I had become. I hated looking in the mirror.” —Elizabeth Rollings, ex-performer
“I would cry on the set and scrub my skin so hard after scenes because I felt dirty and just hated myself and how I was being treated. I couldn't sleep at night and began taking up to twenty pills a week! While in porn I had money stolen from me from the agent I had. I did scenes for cheap rates and was told that if I canceled a scene I would have to pay a kill fee so at times I was forced to do stuff I didn't want to do. “ —Nyesha, ex-performer
“I did somewhere around 200+ movies. I also escorted all over the country as a porn star escort. Yes, porn stars are prostitutes too. I got further and further into drugs and the whole lifestyle. I had a string of boyfriends, each one worse than the last. I have been hospitalized many times from being physically abused by men, put into rehab at least 4 times. I became horribly addicted to heroin and crack.” —Becca Brat, ex-performer
“You may see a 45-minute set that took us 13 hours. We’re ripped, we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re bleeding, we’re cut up, we have dried semen all over our faces from numerous guys and we can’t wash it off because they want to take pictures. You have this stuff all over you and they’re telling you, “Hold it.” You can say anything you want and they don’t listen. There’s the ultimate thing where you squeeze their leg to ease up and most of them don’t care. They have another scene to go to. It’s all about the money. They’ve forgotten who they are and they don’t care who they are hurting. You have no soul in the porn industry.” —Jersey Jaxin, ex-performer

*Source: The Anti-Porn Resource Center at http://one-angry-girl-archive.tumblr.com/

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