The title of the article was the first indication of something awful. Ok, the fact it was Cosmo was the first indication, but the title, "11 Differences Between Porn Actresses and Real Women," certainly hammered the point home. Not that I expected better from a glossy magazine known for terrifying "sex tips" that get the mocking they deserve.
The pitting of sex workers, pornstars, and escorts, with their perceived artificiality and on-screen, always-on sexual consent, against the notion of a "real" woman and her proclivities is nothing new. As a culture we live off of female competition, and the best way to make sure the scales remain uneven and women feel insecure regardless of their behaviour is to keep us judging each other without any real critique. Especially in a society that wants women to be sexually available and knowledgable without being too interested in sex, this competitiveness tends to manifest in multiple forms of whorephobia.
I think there's some resentment and anger at women who work in the adult industry for seemingly enacting unrealistic standards. What the women who write these articles don't realize, of course, is that porn performers are still women working at a job that's often dominated by a capitalistic and patriarchal system; that complaints about faked orgasms and blow jobs being shown over pussy eating is due, at least in part, to what directors and producers think will sell to heterosexual men.
These producers often lack imagination, which is why so many porn films are formulaic (one of the biggest complaints women have about the genre, in fact). But rather than these women then getting angry at the men who hold sway over the industry, or critiquing the way intersectional oppression interacts with pornography, they get resentful at the women performing under these conditions. When porn steers us wrong, or teaches our partners unpleasant sexual practices, or makes us fee self-conscious about our bodies or abilities, it feels natural to blame the performers rather than the construct, even if it's illogical.
It's not an easy balance for any gender identity -- figuring out how to be sexual in a way that feels both safe and genuine when desire is so constrained by what we're taught and these prescriptive market forces. Our sexual education is lacking, and so many of us learn about sexual positions and activities through some form of pornography. Negotiations, consent, safer sex -- these are all aspects we (hopefully) pick up along the way through real life interactions as we fumble our way trying to find pleasure and fulfillment. Rather than talk about what we want, we hint at each other...and end up potentially disappointed.
But as a porn performer reading this Cosmo article, I was shaking my head throughout the text. It was incredible to read something that managed to shame women both for being excited about sex and variety and also for not being interested enough in it. You get to be ridiculed for enjoying doggy style while simultaneously being laughed at if it's not your thing. Passionate sex seems to be something only porn stars are able to have, and they're just performing anyway, because "real" women lie back and think of yesterday's reruns. How...dull.
Articles like this, of course, further stigmatise porn stars by making them out to be emotionally damaged nymphomaniacs unable to be genuine. That attitude and reputation is part of why porn performers struggle to get hired at other jobs when they leave the industry, as well as why they get fired if they don't disclose. It's part of why they risk having their children taken away; porn stars can't be responsible adults, of course, because they're not "real". The idea that working in the adult industry means you never turn off and the expectations of sexual performance can be incredibly draining, and yet if we talk about that we're told to just quit our jobs.
Of course, these articles also sneer at women who aren't in the adult industry by creating expectations of what "real" women do that basically won't get them slutshamed. "Real" women, according to Cosmo, don't bother to keep communicating to their lover how to give mindblowing cunnilingus; "real" women give up and decide to watch TV instead! "Real" women are uncomfortable with anal sex and are embarassed by roleplay! Never mind that "real" women are also consistently told by Cosmo to learn techniques that will "blow his mind", often that include the very things they're being shamed for in this article.
No wonder clear communication about sex is so difficult for so many.
The porn that I've performed in involves a lot of eye contact, giggling, communication, lube, and black non-latex gloves. There's a chemistry that develops in the porn work I do, probably because I choose to work with companies that let me choose my co-star and that shoot our sex in non-invasive ways. I prefer to work with companies who care about workers' ethics and make sure I have a relaxed time both off and on set. I don't fake it in my work, because I don't have to; I'm getting to have great sex that is similar to the sex I have off camera, and I'm getting the freedom to call most of the shots. I suspect the author of the original article was watching some crappy porn.
Another issue is the idea of what makes a "real" woman. Is it the outfits and the makeup that creates this sense of fakery? As a porn star in queer porn, I probably invest a lot less time into my makeup and hair than many women do to go out on a date. Or is it the willingness to do particular sex acts- which ones are for "real" girls and which are only for the elite class that is porn performers? The way I read this, it seemed like the line for being "real" vs fake was enthusiasm, which you would either exaggerate or not feel at all. How depressing, to think that women are just stuck having sex they don't like with lovers who bore them!
Finally, porn stars ARE real. We come home and sometimes we feel like sex and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we think about grocery lists while we're being pounded by our lover, and sometimes we just can't get enough of giving head. Sometimes the sex we have at home is totally a switchup of what we do professionally, and sometimes it's more similar. Sometimes we only perform in porn for the money, or the freedom of scheduling, and we just can't rustle up that chemistry today. Sometimes we get off on the exhibitionism of it. As with anything, it depends on the performer, how our week's been going, how much we're making, how much job satisfaction we have. Like any other job.
Next time, Cosmo?
a) remembering that porn stars are real people, and
b) that porn is simply sex on film.
There's a huge range of types of porn, from real life couples, to queer porn, to amateur, to parody porn, to romantic porn, to sites like I Shot Myself or Beautiful Agony. Don't add to our stigmatisation by asking porn stars for sex tips and advice while simultaneously making us sound like we're being victimized at work and just can't see it. We can absolutely be excellent resources, not simply because of experience but also because we can say yes, it's normal to need a long time to orgasm, and yes, your libido can come and go in waves and that's typical. I'm a porn star who maybe has sex a couple times a month some months, and that's ok. Rather than pitting porn stars against all other women, we should be sharing our notes and increasing our sexual awareness, so that sex isn't either forbidden OR compulsary, but safe and genuine for us. However that manifests, from gangbangs to celibacy, is a-ok.
Put that in your rag, Cosmopolitan.