True Story: My Crash Course In Porn And Empowerment

women sex money

It’s easy to say that pornography is empowering for women, or that it degrades them. Oversimplifying, certainly, but easy.

The truth is it’s much more complicated than that.

I was 19 when I realized I could go to college without the debt that my friends were already beginning to complain about. I could take care of myself. It was when I held in my hand $100 for one hour of nude modeling, something I never even realized a chubby girl could make money doing. I was juggling three jobs that paid me only twice that amount per 40-hour week doing physically stressful work for minimum wage.

At the time, it was simple mathematics.

Financial security is not something my generation or class has grown to expect. Like an oasis, it looks luxurious and attainable, yet somehow always remains just out of reach. Being in the adult industry (first as a nude model, then as a professional dominatrix, then as a porn performer) allowed me space to breathe, the ability to put money into a savings account while getting the medical care I needed.

I had been in the adult industry for 10 years when I decided I was ready to change careers. I felt burned out, ready to take the skills I had gained in marketing and social media management and move into a new stage in my life. I still held onto the dream of a 401K and a stable job. I knew that in other cities, more conservative cities, women had been fired for having been in adult films. Naively, I figured that in San Francisco, a city known for its love of diverse sex and technological savviness, that stigma wouldn’t affect me, especially as I didn’t want to work with children. I wasn’t a famous performer, after all. I didn’t work with LA companies, but rather with small, local, independent companies. Who would possibly care what I did in my personal time as long as I could demonstrate my skill?

After several interviews didn’t pan out, I realized I might need some help. Not knowing anyone who had successfully transitioned out of sex work into another career, I asked for advice from a faith-based organization, Solace SF, that offered particular non-judgmental help to people wanting to leave the adult industry. They told me, kindly but firmly, that I had two choices — work as a freelancer, continue to hustle and be unabashedly myself… or say goodbye to Kitty Stryker. I would have to delete everything I had ever done under that name and try to start over again from scratch. Every university I had lectured at, my SXSW lecture, my contacts … everything would have to go.

It didn’t matter how indie pornography helped me love my body and discover my talent for marketing. However empowering it was for me personally, I was (and am) restricted by the society we live in, one in which all porn performers are seen as simply sexual objects and helpless victims, mindless puppets duped by patriarchy. We do not live in a culture where any of that matters. What does matter is a media who will rush to tar and feather someone for engaging with the adult industry (or the company that employs them), particularly when the someone is a female sex worker.

I started out as a bright-eyed sex positive feminist who really believed that my body was mine to do with as I wished. I have learned, since, that it is not: my birth control choices are limited by class, my sex worker history limits my employability, my fatness limits my ability to be treated with respect. My body is under surveillance.

Is porn empowering for women? I want to say it is. Unfortunately, we still live under patriarchy, and any empowerment we gain from it is still restricted by our beliefs about “the whore.” The same people who consume pornography still say they would never want their daughters to do it because ultimately we as a culture still believe that porn performers are “those” kinds of women — not Duke students, not loving mothers, not business owners. There are directors and performers who are known to be abusive working for companies who claim to be ethical. There are porn performers who have their fundraising efforts unrelated to their work shut down because they’ve been naked on film, ever. It has many of the same institutionalized power structures that other industries have, while also having a stigma attached for those for whom it’s their job.

As long as the one industry in which women consistently earn more than men (and even then, only as performers, not as producers or distributors) is one that carries such stigma, I have to question how empowering it can really be.

Even so, I don’t regret being a porn performer. I’m proud of the work I’ve done for ethical, queer companies not run by straight white men, companies that provide diverse content and treat performers with respect like TROUBLEFilms or Pink and White Productions. I think performing in and producing porn can be a fantastic way to make some money, showcase sexual and physical diversity, and learn to be comfortable in your body.

However, I would tell anyone considering making a few bucks through porn this: you’d best be prepared for a crash course in how the personal is political. Think long and hard if you’re prepared to explain to your parents, your doctor, your professors, potential partners that performing in an adult film does not reflect poorly on your intelligence, your self esteem, or your upbringing.

Money may be power … but so is privacy.

Read more from KittyStryker.com. Follow me on Twitter!

[Image of sex, women and money via Shutterstock]

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