Amelia Airheart, anal penetration, Anal Sex, biography, Eleanor Roosevelt, Family Guy, Feminism, Gender Expectations, Hook, How to Make Love like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, Jenna Jameson, Jumanji, Legend of Zelda, Mrs. Doubtfire, Playboy, Pornography, Pornography Industry, Pornosexuality, Rape, Robin Williams, sex, Sex Workers, Sexual Fantasy, Sexual politics, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, slut, The Other, Tropic of Cancer
I’m part of a generation raised with porn. Before the reader begins to imagine my upbringing I need to clarify. While I did stumble upon my dad’s Playboys, and then eventually an actual porno VHS tape, porn was never “laying around” the house when I was growing up. My days were largely spent either playing Legend of Zelda on my Super Nintendo or else watching Robin Williams movies like Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, or Jumanji. The lines “My first day as a woman, and I’m getting hot flashes” are sealed indelibly upon my psyche for the record. Pornography did eventually make its way into my life, but I was spared the hardcore stuff, in every sense of the word, until I had hit puberty in which case that was purely based upon my own research.
Still despite this porn was everywhere, I just didn’t recognize it as such. When I would read a statistic early in puberty that by age thirteen most kids of my generation will have seen at least 100 sexual images I was surprised and then at the same time not surprised. Films always seemed to have sex in them (I’m thinking of American Pie and that infamous flute), books like Tropic of Cancer or For Whom the Bell Tolls would contain descriptions of sensuality, advertising was brimming with sex based imagery, and Family Guy, my favorite television show, relied regularly on sex for jokes. Pornography then was really just the core media from which every aspect of visual culture was derived.
Still despite this prevalence, and free usage let’s be clear here, I never discovered the work of Jenna Jameson until I was at least sixteen or seventeen, and even then I didn’t have much consideration of her, her work, or what impact she would have upon society. She was yet another blond face in the seemingly endless ocean of naked bodies enjoying the mechanical performance of a sexuality I’ve taken to classify s pornosexuality. This is a sexual expression in which individuals engage in sex with members of the same and opposite sex and exhibit a near insatiable desire for single or multiple partners.
Jenna Jameson may not be the President of the United States (yet, if Trump can run now anybody can), neither is she a diplomat nor an accomplished public orator, but her voice and body has been part of many individual’s personal sexual experiences, and also their reading habits. Including mine.
About two years ago I stumbled upon How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale when I was working up my courage to actually stand and stay in the Sexuality section of the Half Priced Book Store. My hormones hadn’t completely calmed down, but I was getting to that point where a picture of boobs no longer left a me two-hundred-pound ape grunting and groping the air. More importantly I was becoming interested in sexuality not only as a fun activity, but also as a discourse unto itself. Buying up books about homosexual men, sexual expression, the history of lesbianism in early Europe, the history of cultural attitudes about the penis, and sexual behavior in history was intoxicating and while I gathered up a small pile I turned and saw Jameson’s book. I’d seen it before on book shelves but I never had the nerve to actually open it and read it. I added it to the pile, bought it, and began to read.
When the biography was published in 2004 it spent six weeks on the best seller, for all the reasons you probably suspect. One passage alone can probably reveal everything:
Anal Sex. Anal fucking sex. Brown-hole spelunking, rusty-can-expanding, colon tickling anal fucking sex.
I know you’re interesting now because just about everyone is interested in doing it up the butt, whether it’s because they want it, their partner wants it, or they’re just curious. (323).
Now personally before throwing the concept of anal sex into my writing I like to start off either with a joke or an amusing anecdote about Beanie Babies, but then again I’m not a porn star. These few lines are similar to numerous passages throughout the book, and while this particular example of bad rhetoric is designed to entice the reader further, it should be noted that it actually does serve the larger purpose of starting a chapter dedicated to the realities of being a female porn-star. It also is an opportunity for Jameson to reveal a bit of herself, and given the fact this book is a memoir first a bit of self-disclosure is appropriate:
For me to allow a man to have anal sex with me, I must have trust first. Because to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to give yourself completely to your partner. […] And that’s why despite the fact that it is practically an industry standard to have anal sex in every sex scene, I’ve never done it in a film.
It has become a constant issue for me. I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal. But even if I walked away with $300,000 for having done it, I would also be taking away the feeling that I gave up something that was really important to me. This is almost embarrassing for a porn star to admit, but I’ve only given that up to three men, all of whom I really loved. (323).
She follows this on the next page with:
If you come into this industry as a woman, you need to have a clearly defined set of guidelines and boundaries for yourself. That’s how you maintain your sanity. And every person I know has a different standard they hold themselves to. (324).
This passage may in fact hold some kind of feminist statement though I recognize immediately just writing that puts me in a precarious position. A cisgender man, even if he is bi-sexual, writing about a pornstar’s memoir and arguing that it’s a feminist document, or contains feminist sentiment, reeks of bad apology and by that I mean it sounds fucking pathetic and sad. Many men before, some of them good writers but most of them just terrible, have attempted to make the argument that a woman starring in porn can have a feminist position, but when you’re making the argument with your dick in your hands it’s a little difficult to take that argument seriously. Even if I don’t watch Jenna Jameson videos regularly, I do believe this passage has some feminist argument behind it.
Whether or not you like porn, or agree that it should even exist, the fact that Jenna Jameson places responsibility of her body, and more importantly control over her body in her own hands rather than in someone else’s is a feminist statement. As such the contesters of this position typically fall back upon the standard yet reliable weapon, namely the word slut.
The arguments against female pornstars are often reduced down into the sentiment that they’re simply sluts. As such nothing they say or do should really be taken seriously because no slut should be taken seriously. There’s a conflict with this however because it is “othering.” By reducing a woman into the title of slut, a critic turns her into an “other” a being that doesn’t represent any kind of humanity and therefore any and all treatment of them is acceptable. I’ve written before that I don’t care much for the word slut. It’s not a pretty word linguistically, it’s almost always used as a pejorative term, and the individuals who typically use it usually seem to possess a holier than thou stance in their approach to life. Slut is used as a weapon to reduce women rather than raise them but at this point the contester emerges.
So what? Jenna Jameson is a pornstar, and the memoir isn’t written by Tolstoy, so why should I bother reading it?
This is a fair question because not even I have full answer to this one. How to Make Love Like a Pornstar: A Cautionary Tale is not literature or art by any means, and in terms of biographies of famous women the lives of Amelia Airheart and Eleanor Roosevelt are almost certainly more the model most parents would prefer their daughters to aspire to. The lack of creativity concerning prose, and the actual details of Jameson’s life creates a conflict when trying to defend this book as art, or at least an important cultural object. However, I will argue that part of the importance of this book was the conversation it started.
Pornography is, at least in America, is an institution that is beloved and despised simultaneously. Before Jenna Jameson’s biography few sex workers had the bravery, or even outlet, to write about their life outside of a few publishing companies sympathetic towards the industry. When Jameson’s biography was published this changed. How to Make Love Like a Pornstar not only proved that pornstar biographies could reach a mass market, it validated the idea that sex workers were a functioning figure in the American cultural landscape. Traci Lords, Asa Akira, Terra Patrick, and Monica Mayhem are just a few of the well-known pornstars to have written memoirs following the success of Jenna Jameson, and in the last few years Belle Knox, the Duke University Student who starred in porn films to pay for her tuition, told her story effectively writing herself into a feminist icon for her generation. Women in pornography are no longer just sluts, they are in fact individual women creating a career and life for themselves that actively involves their bodies.
Jameson’s book addresses this old argument however, by offering her reader a real moment of her humanity. Later in the book she describes an interview she gave during the height of her career on the Howard Stern Program. Stern asked her the usual sexual based question, it is Howard Stern and he has a reputation to live up to, but during the interview he began to ask her if she was in porn because she had a rotten childhood, or if because she was ever abused or molested. Jameson reveals that she said no but that the question summoned the memory of being viciously gang raped by a bunch of football players when she was a teenager. She says no and describes the attack, and just to be clear I won’t repeat the attack here because I refuse to out of general principle. What is important is her reflection on the experience and why she told Howard no:
It had only flashed through my consciousness a couple of times since then, but Howard’s question—I’d never been asked anything so direct—brought the images flooding back. I understood what he was trying to get at. The question had crossed my mind before: Was I in this business because I was victimized or because I wanted to succeed at something? I examined it from every angle I could, and every time came to the same conclusion: that it didn’t make a shred of difference. It occurred too late in my development to be formative. Whether it happened or not, I still would have become a porn star. I’ve been through enough therapists to know that.
I’ve never told about either the Montana experience or the one with Preacher because I don’t want to be thought of as a victim. I want to be judged by who I am as a person, not by what happened to me. In fact, all the bad things have only contributed to my confidence and sense of self, because I survived them and became a better and stronger person for it.
Ultimately, what really matters is not just the experiences you have at a young age, but whether or not you are equipped—by your parents, your genetics, by your education—to survive and deal with them. (395).
This passage for me is ultimately what demonstrates the value of How to Make Love Like a Pornstar, and what should compel the reader to at least attempt this memoir. I recognize going forward that I haven’t addressed the issue of the pornography industry for the most part, and so it may appear that I condone the manipulation of young girls entering the industry hoping for the kind of fame that actresses like Jameson have achieved. For the record, I don’t. The pornography industry is a business that regularly leaves young women metaphorically and literally screwed and Jameson’s book factually and unromantically addresses this problem.
Porn captures the imagination of the culture it entertains and Jameson’s book ultimately reveals that. Millions of people bought the book with its colorful passages and numerous photographs showing boob after boob after boob, and this desire to know and understand Jameson revealed something about American culture. It’s unlikely that the book will survive the battle against history, but it does stand as an important document that revealed that almost everyone’s browsing history held some dark sticky gem. Those readers eager and desperate to read a tragic story were horribly disappointed, while those readers eager to read about sex got their money’s worth while also reading about a woman who possessed a strength which defied an industry which has, and continues to do so, leave many women defeated, used, or destroyed.
Rather than besmirch it, deny it, or call it a slut however, Jameson’s book allowed a glimpse into the life of a real woman who achieved her success by the choices she made.
It’s not Gloria Steinem, but it’s difficult to find a more feminist message than that.
I’ve tried my best to explain why I feel that this book is a relevant document for contemporary society, but let me make one last argument. Sex workers face a real stigma in our society because their work exists within the double standard. People like and enjoy sex, and they enjoy watching sex, however because no one wants to acknowledge their sexual desire sex workers are typically dehumanized, cast as sluts and perverts, and receive verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Reading Jenna Jameson’s biography in many ways is an act that liberates the reader from this behavior because it forces the reader to acknowledge that she is actually a human being. Pornstars are people, living breathing people with their own personalities, dreams, ambitions, desires, and problems and the sooner society acknowledges this then there can be real progress in combatting the stigma that leads to negative behavior that these people typically have to suffer from the self-righteous or sexually frustrated who usually make their lives miserable. It also helps society by letting people admit freely that they consume pornography as a product, thus opening public, and honest, conversations about sex and whether or not the porn that is being produced honestly conveys a healthy sexual response and behavior.
Here’s a few links to articles about porn-star biographies, either the individual books or else the larger trend of pornstars writing biographies. Hope you enjoy or else find them interesting:
**Writer’s Note UPDATE 8-23-2017**
Since this article was published the periodical WIRED, a technology based magazine, has recently written an article about the inevitability of children being exposed to porn and what that will mean for parents. If the reader is at all interested they can follow the link below and read the article, which, I would highly recommend.