This might sound trite and very duh-inducing, but I was just looking through my pictures from Miami and watching the interview I did with Sarah Vandella for WHACK! and it got me thinking. Sarah was at the LA Direct Models booth right across the thoroughfare from the WHACK! booth for most of the weekend, and her crazy exhibitionist antics got us a lot of extra attention by drawing huge crowds to her signing table. She was wearing just matching bra and panty sets, posing provocatively, letting fans and other performers touch her, and generally being what most people would call “slutty.” And she was having a blast. I don’t think she stopped smiling once the whole time. She bounced in on time (or relatively, anyway; these things are defined differently in the porn world) every day with a grin, ready to spend hours talking, posing, and enjoying herself completely. She was beaming, radiant.
It occurred to me in very blatant terms for the first time in a while that the adult entertainment industry and other outlets for sex work aren’t just important steam-release valves for the undersexed masses. Porn is important for the people who work in it and love it, not just because it’s a source of income, but because it’s a (relatively–again, different rules apply) safe place for people like Sarah who thrive on sexuality. Our culture constantly reminds people with active sex drives to shut up about it, shaming them for being “abnormal” or “overly sexual.” It especially shames women for whom sex is the ultimate joy, calling them any number of derogatory names heaping upon them irreversible damage to their reputations. Our culture tries to tell us that women who love to give oral sex are shameless sluts, that those who enjoy pleasuring others and themselves are too horny, that there’s a problem with letting sex be a prominent factor in one’s life instead of a quiet, understated part of it. We’re told that people, particularly female people, who love sex and do it for money and attention are “damaged” somehow, that nobody normal could act like that. That there must be something wrong with those of us who love sex, love sexuality, and love showing it off.
But for plenty of people, sex is a huge part of daily existence. For most of us, in fact, it’s at least a decent proportion of what we think about during the day. It’s just that most of us deny this or suppress it. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about sex a lot, and in fact there’s probably a lot more wrong with not thinking about it or enjoying it. Those who have a healthy sex drive and feel beautiful, appreciated, and invigorated when we have it are more healthy than many of us who feel shame, sadness, or emptiness in our sex lives. Right? And yet we pretend we don’t think about it when we do to avoid the shame of being “slutty.” But the porn industry gives people who can’t or don’t want to shut up about how much they love their bodies, other people’s bodies, and the pleasure they provide a home. It’s a place where, even if those on the outside might look in and shake their heads in disgust, people on the inside can be free to be themselves. They don’t have to pretend not to be thinking about sex instead of that spreadsheet due in an hour. They don’t have to cover up if they like showing off. They don’t have to feel ashamed of their sexuality. Sarah Vandella can celebrate her vitality, her infectious joy at being a sexual being, in a safe and supportive environment in the porn industry. Sure, she has to deal with protestors outside convention centers toting signs that read “Porno Sex is Sin” and shouting through megaphones. And sure she’s probably been called a few names by people who don’t understand. But as I watched her prancing around in her heels and bra and panties, loving the attention people gave her for her beauty and becoming more beautiful because of how they enjoyed watching her, I realized that this is the best place for her to be.
Sure there are plenty of ways in which the porn industry, particularly the straight side of the mainstream industry, exploits people and degrades women and men alike. But so does every industry, in its own way. At least in porn, people don’t have to shut up about what they love to fit in. They fit in already.