My Hero…the Porn Star?

NOTE: This post contains explicit language/sexual content. 18+ Only.

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Late last year, I read a romance novel featuring a porn star hero. It was steamy, and I enjoyed it, but it was clear that the author either knew nothing about adult entertainment or, if she did, she knew the realities of the industry might prejudice readers against her hero. So, conveniently, even though he was a “star,” the hero had made only a handful of films and had a very small number of sexual partners. He also loathed his job and gave it up immediately after meeting the heroine to pursue “worthwhile” work. The words “porn star,” when applied to men, often conjure images of virility, endowment and sexual prowess, and that was the case in this book—the hero was skilled in bed. However, he was a porn star in name only—the character was completely unrealistic, with no basis in reality, and the story was essentially a fairy tale. When I finished reading it, I wondered: “Wouldn’t there be a lot of messy realities to sort through if/when a porn star fell in love with a civilian (i.e. someone who doesn’t work in the adult industry)? What if he’d been with hundreds or thousands of women, as would be likely for a veteran star? What if he loved some aspects of his job? And what if she had her own baggage? What if she was absolutely repulsed by his career? Is there a way through all of that to a happy ending? How?”

FYI, romance novels about porn stars seem to be in vogue right now. A quick check of Goodreads reveals that nearly a dozen porn star romances were published over the last couple of years, with at least two more due this spring. Only one of these stories features an adult performer heroine (I would guess this is because society is more accepting of men having lots of sex partners than it is of women—porn men can be “alpha males” but porn women are “sluts”—but that’s a subject for another blog post); all of the other books pair a male porn star with a civilian. And in pretty much every story, the hero is cocky, confident, sexy, has a minimum of emotional baggage and is happy to quit porn at the drop of a condom for the love of a good woman, which my gut tells me is superficial and probably flat-out wrong.

A few days after I’d read this novel and mulled over all of the above, I woke up at 2:00 a.m. with a new character in my head. Yup—a porn star. I could picture him so vividly that I knew trying to sleep would be futile, so I grabbed my laptop and spent the next five hours furiously writing down everything I saw. When the dust settled, and I read through a rough draft of the first two chapters of something, I realized that to tell this story truthfully—to make it as gritty and realistic as the characters needed it to be—I needed to learn more about porn.

Previously, porn was only on my radar in a general sense—I knew crossover pop culture figures like Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson, and I’d flipped past the odd softcore clip on Cinemax or the Playboy Channel when I was a kid, but it had never held any interest for me, and I had never watched a film, or even a scene. I knew that had to change, so I put Google on the case and soon had a handful of clips of top male stars to view. The first surprise was that the men were more attractive than I expected—and not one of them had a Village People/porn ’stache. Okay. Time to hit “Play.” Clip #1: A little intro dialogue set the scene, which took place in a bathroom, and that was the extent of a plot. The male performer, a 40-something veteran, and his much younger co-star rolled through a series of sex acts—various intercourse positions, plus oral—like they were ticking them off a checklist. When she went to give him a blowjob, he grabbed her head and forced her to deep throat him. She immediately came off of him and (off-camera) vomited into the sink; after a brief fade in the footage, she was back to work. Okay. Time to hit “Stop.” Needless to say, I found nothing about this arousing—dude was just too rough. #NotMyJam

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The Village People knew how to rock a porn ‘stache.

The next two videos were, content-wise, almost the same: Each pair of performers rotated through a variety of acts and positions with a minimum of dialogue, touching or affection. I found it all very soulless and mechanical. I wish I could say I was titillated at some point but, quite frankly, I was only bored.

On to clip #4, which starred a performer named Mick Blue. As soon as the scene began, I could tell it would be different, as Mick spent a lot of time up front kissing and caressing his partner. Once they began having sex, he continued to touch her and maintain eye contact throughout. I’m not sure if Mick was attempting to bring romance to the storyline, or just showing care and consideration for the girl with whom he was paired, but his actions were actually romantic—unlike anything I’d seen in the other clips, and more akin to what one would find in a mainstream film. Maybe this was an atypical scene for Mick—I haven’t watched others to know—but his demonstrative actions were a million times sexier than the emotionless gymnastics of the other clips, and he impressed in a way no one else did.

Feeling sufficiently familiar with porn content, my next step was to gain a better understanding of how the industry works, and of the personalities of the performers and their fans. I decided to do this by interacting with the community on Twitter, so I created a secondary Twitter account exclusively for my research and dug in. (I want to emphasize that I’m not embarrassed to interact with adult performers on my primary account—in fact, I have—but I thought I’d be better able to talk with people honestly if I didn’t advertise that I was a romance writer: Romance novelists—like porn stars—are often discounted/disrespected.)

After only a couple days of reading tweets from stars and fans, one thing jumped out at me: Loneliness was rampant—among both performers and their followers. The first person with whom I chatted was a 30ish male fan from the Netherlands, who followed many female stars. He often tweeted comments to them along the lines of “Thank God for porn. I wouldn’t get off without it, since women hate sex.” After reading a string of his tweets on this theme (none of which were acknowledged by the stars or other fans), I felt obliged to respond, telling him that I enjoyed sex and thought most women did, and wished him better luck. He replied with his thanks, saying he felt as though he were “in an ocean with not a drop to drink” and that he’d felt lonely and invisible to women for years. This was a theme I would see repeated constantly.

Since the porn star in my story is male, and I wanted insight into his potential mindset, I spent much of my time reading tweets from the men and their fans. However, I did follow some key women, and had a few takeaways on female performers: 1) They are younger than I realized—many as young as 18 and few over 30. While many male stars are in their 30s or 40s and have been working for a decade or more, the shelf life of female performers is much shorter. 2) The girls/women who were in relationships were almost exclusively with men also in the industry. I’m sure there are some, but I didn’t run across a single woman who was dating a civilian. Many ladies who were unattached tweeted regularly that they were horny, lonely or wished they had a significant other. Their reluctance to date anyone who isn’t tested for STDs every 14 days (as porn performers are), and the fact that many men look down on women who’ve had so many sexual partners, seems to make dating civilians a rarity. 3) Drug use is common and acknowledged (this is true of the men, too—not even counting the ED drugs/injections most men use on-set), especially smoking pot, and there were scores of tweets about using, as well as complaint tweets about shoots being cancelled because various female performers flaked/were no-shows/were high, etc. 4) The wish list phenomenon (in which female performers ask fans to buy them clothing, jewelry, etc.) is distasteful. Not all of the women have wish lists. And some state that in lieu of gifts, fans may donate to a favored charity. Others, though, spend a lot of time angling for gifts. 5) Garish stripper platforms and over-pronounced eyebrows are (mostly) prerequisites for filming. As a woman with a penchant for beautiful Italian heels, I found the shoes baffling. Men must like them? #AlsoNotMyJam

As much as you can get to know anyone from his/her tweets (and some Twitter accounts read like virtual diaries), I found the women in porn to be just like any other cross-section of women. Some were uneducated, depressed, troubled, from abused backgrounds, etc., and seemed fragile and very ill-served by their present careers. Other performers came across as disingenuous, their bios stating how much they loved their work, when what they really appeared to love was that the work is lucrative (top stars can earn low- to mid-six figures annually); these were the performers whose tweets were always in sales mode—“buy my movies/clips, look at my wish list, watch my Cam Show, come see me feature dance.” Such relentless shilling and manipulation is a feminist’s nightmare. However, there are also women in the genre who are strong, business savvy, compassionate and intelligent. One star live-tweeted a Republican debate with such wit and insight that I found myself wishing she were the moderator. And I was particularly impressed with Anikka Albrite, whose tweets about art and animals consistently entertained, and who on multiple occasions reached out with kind words to someone in need. (FYI, Anikka happens to be married to Mick Blue, and I fell a little in love with this couple. They both have a lot of heart and humanity.) I didn’t have any preconceived notions about female performers, and I was not surprised to find strong, smart women in porn—we as a society have a tendency to paint everyone with the same brush, and that is always a mistake.

That’s what I gleaned from the women. But the point of my research was to get insight into male stars, and their fans. So what did I learn? I learned that there is no one stereotypical porn star—that’s for sure. Several younger stars seemed to be in it for the obvious reason: lots of sex. Some of the men clearly loved women, while others were blatant misogynists—one performer even regularly offered “fat-shaming” tweets. Mick Blue? Well, he adores his wife and is awesome, as expected.

In my timeline, one star stood out: a veteran performer who was a man’s man but also thoughtful, sensitive, romantic and sensual, successful in his field but also conflicted, and he wore his heart on his sleeve—or at least on his app. In short, he shared many traits with my character. In his tweets, this man spoke frankly about the clinical nature of his work; about his loneliness and longing for a relationship; and his desire for purpose and meaning in his life. He shared his past struggles with addiction and depression. On multiple occasions, his words were tinged with sadness and near-despair, and I felt compelled to reply. He subsequently ended up following me and we exchanged DMs. Though he never said it outright, I inferred that he’s ready for a different path—one without porn. And though he’s usually dated fellow porn stars, I inferred that he’s open to a new path there, too. It appeared that he had few people in his life who were not either in the adult industry, or fans; at one point, I offered my (more objective?) friendship, as I felt empathetic—I am a Pisces and he is a sign I understand—but as a stranger, my purview was limited. Nonetheless, I ached for his struggles and felt…sad. I still do.

Whenever this star tweeted about his feelings, he was inundated with replies. A handful were always of the “Cheer up. You da man. You’ve got the greatest job on earth” variety, but most were sympathetic men and women commiserating, stating that they, too, were lacking love in their lives. As I mentioned earlier, if there was one theme that dwarfed all others in the Porn Twitterverse, it was the sadness/loneliness in the hearts of so many performers and fans. I found myself wondering why. Were fans drawn to porn in part because they were lonely? Or was their attraction to and reliance upon porn isolating them even more from the “real” world? From meaningful human interaction? And how does porn affect its performers? The inherent intimacy of making love—the eye contact, the emotional and/or physical connection—is largely stripped away in porn. And, repetition can lead to desensitization. Do those things affect stars when they step away from the camera? Is porn a product that is potentially harmful to both its creators and its consumers, making them lonelier than most? Or, are these performers and fans just more vocal and honest about something—loneliness—that is an epidemic across society? As Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The answer is probably a mix of all of the above.

One more note about that male star: He’s my age, and a chunk of his fandom is women in their 30s/40s/50s. These ladies regularly flattered and propositioned him, and their tweets almost always went unacknowledged. However, when women in their early 20s with model-ish profile pics tweeted him, they almost always received a reply, occasionally with an invitation. Why men in their 40s/50s so often want to date women in their 20s—even when the traits they profess to desire are most likely found in women their own age—is another subject, but I raise it here because of the frequent age difference between men and women in porn. When 50ish men are routinely sexing up 19-year-old girls, it can’t help but impact performers and viewers.

After weeks of immersing myself in the XXX world, I went back to work on my manuscript with a new perspective…and a rather heavy heart. My heroine’s heart was heavy, too, sadness permeating her words. One of the first things she told the hero was that she felt she had nothing special she could give to him…there was nothing he hadn’t already experienced a thousand times over. Fortunately, they’ve since begun to realize that there are some things they can give each other that neither has had before. It remains to be seen if and how they’ll get to happily ever after.

It’s funny. At first glance, porn and romance novels make strange bedfellows (pun intended). While explicit sex scenes are welcome and often important, a great love story ultimately succeeds because of the characters’ emotional bond. Porn, on the other hand, is purely physical. Yet there is no denying that the two genres feed some of the same needs and desires. It’s well known that men respond more to visual stimuli, while for women, our brains are our biggest erogenous zones and we are turned on by the written word. Is it fair to say that romance novels (largely written by/for females) are empowering to women, while porn (largely produced by/for males, although that’s changing a tiny bit) gives the control to men? Whatever your opinion, I think we can agree on one thing: Romance reader and/or porn fan—all of us are longing for connection.

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Playing with the Queen of Hearts: Chance, Choice and Fate

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Photo credit: Unknown

For obvious reasons, many people are thinking and talking about love and romance today, me included. My Twitter pal Mollie, who is single, wrote a lovely blog piece on what she is looking for in a relationship (molliewallace.wordpress.com), which inspired me to do the same.

As background, I’ve been in love a couple of times, but I’ve never married, and it’s been a while since I was involved with anyone. For me, being single is a mix of chance and choice, with perhaps a dash of fate. I’ve been accused many times of being “too picky,” but when it comes to love and attraction, you either feel it or you don’t. When I am alone, I enjoy the person I am with–most of us know from experience that it’s far lonelier to be with someone else with whom we have no connection, than it is to just be by ourselves. I was surrounded by divorces and unhappy relationships growing up, and I think that made me determined that I would never settle. I’m also not someone who has ever actively sought to meet men–no Match.com or Tinder for me. I’ve always believed that the thing to do is live my best life, and if I’m out there living it, what’s meant for me will find me.

But what do I want? As I’ve gotten older, the list has gotten shorter, and the criteria more important. The only true nonstarter for me is a smoker. Clearing that hurdle, these are the qualities in a man that I value most:

1) Creativity, with his head and/or hands. Whether a man is a painter or musician or writer, a furniture-builder or another sort of craftsman, I’m drawn to people with imagination…people who can look past reality to see possibilities. I’m (cursed to be) a Pisces, so I’m a dreamer and an idealist, and I’ve learned that men who don’t share these traits usually don’t mesh with me.

2) Funny and possesses a good sense of humor. This is one of those traits that is crucial, but hard to describe. Either someone makes you laugh, or they don’t. They see humor where you do, or they don’t. I’m reminded of the Seinfeld ep where Jerry falls in love with a character played by Janeane Garafalo, who is basically a female version of himself. When someone points that out, Jerry agrees: “I’ve swept myself off of my feet.” That’s kind of what I’m looking for.

3) Intelligence/sensitivity. I couldn’t care less whether someone has a college diploma. In fact, I’ve met some very unintelligent, uninteresting people with advanced degrees. However, I could never be with someone who wasn’t smart…able to reason and think critically, and take an interest in the larger world. Spirituality and political and social issues are important to me, and I want to be with someone who is also engaged by those things. Hand in hand with this is someone who is also in touch with his feelings, and willing to share them.

4) A healthy attitude about money. I have dated a spendthrift, and a miser. Both were equal turn offs. I (believe I) have a healthy attitude about money. I have no debts and have always been a responsible saver/investor, but I also don’t hesitate to treat myself to things that enhance my life–be that food and drink with good friends, travel or personal luxuries. A partner who doesn’t have similar financial beliefs is a recipe for disaster.

5) Chemistry. Ah, the most elusive trait of all. We either feel it or we don’t. With the exception of (the exceptional) Jamie Dornan, I don’t have the tastes of the masses. I mean, I went to college with Brad Pitt, and I thought he was “okay”–cute, but just not my type. (Nor I his, needless to say!) But I do have a physical type, usually guys with brown hair and brown eyes. And nice forearms and hands make me swoon.  Chemistry–to me–is both that can’t-keep-your-hands-off-of-each other physical desire, and a spiritual/emotional connection. I want my lover to be my best friend.

6) He has to want me. As I mentioned, I’m a Pisces. If you believe there is something to astrology (as I do), then you may know that Pisceans are intuitive and nurturing. We are sensitive and love to take care of others in every way possible, and in my past, this always manifested as me doing all of the giving. I take full responsibility for it; I was drawn to black holes of emotional need, and they eagerly took all of the nurturing I gave. But there was no reciprocity. Now, I recognize that flaw, and anyone I choose to be with in the future will have to really want me, and demonstrate the same.

There are many other, more superfluous, things I could add to the list: I love music, love to travel, to cook, to hike, to watch sports, and someone who shares those interests would be great, but the core values and traits above are my priorities.

I have a lot of female friends in their 30s, 40s and 50s who, like me, are single and (mostly) never married. They are all bright and attractive women. I think ideally, we’d all like to be in relationships. I would. When you get right down to it, we are really only here on earth for two reasons: 1) to love others; 2) to use our lives for some good purpose. I believe people operate at a higher frequency and have more to give when they love, and are loved. And I wouldn’t be a romance novelist if I didn’t believe in the fulfillment that a romantic partnership can offer. Through knowing and loving another, we discover more of ourselves, too. I certainly want that for myself, and everyone else. That said, anyone who has ever picked up an issue of Cosmo has seen the stats and statements on the odds of a 30+ woman finding love: “The odds aren’t good, and the goods are odd.”

So, for me, I plan to keep my heart open, but never settle. I’ve read a lot of HEAs, written a couple, and even seen a few in real life, so I know they do exist. In the meantime, I have to be true to myself. We all do. Chance. Choice. Fate.

On my next blog post: What I Learned about Love and Relationships from Studying Porn.