Vice Week: On Lust (Or How James Deen Taught Me To Let Go)

Editor’s Note

After multiple women accused James Deen of rape and sexual assault in November 2015, The Frisky made the immediate decision to end our affiliation with the porn star and to cancel his sex advice column with the site. In addition to believing it would be inappropriate to continue publishing sex advice from someone facing such serious allegations, The Frisky is firm in its commitment to believing and standing in solidarity with victims/survivors when they come forward. After serious consideration and input, we decided to leave the previously published columns up on The Frisky with this disclaimer, as we believe the glaring divide between Deen’s consent-focused advice and the rape allegations against him should be part of the public record. For a more thorough explanation on our decision to end this column, click here.

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I get why, from a religious standpoint, lust is considered a deadly sin. Like the six other vices, lust — that is, uncontrolled, intense, often sexual desire — puts the Self first, distracting humanity from following the word of God and ultimately burning in eternal hellfire. Or whatever. But in modern times, especially as a non-religious person who can still understand why Greed is not good (sorry Gordon Gekko) or Wrath leads to cruelty, classifying “Lust” as a deadly sin seems almost entirely about instilling shame. And shame is so very easy to feel.

I vaguely remember the first time I had an orgasm. I was probably around age 12. My parents had given me a thick blue paperback book called Woman’s Body: An Owner’s Manual, which was filled with everything I could ever possibly want to know about my biology, but of course all I really wanted to know about was “down there.” I had long been especially curious about my body and what it could do, and the book answered many of my questions and showed me its potential for pleasure, but there’s something very isolating about sexual discovery at that age. Small incidents or words have the potential to flip your lust on its head, the prevailing narrative that such things are to be kept private keeps you quiet, and shame takes the opportunity to dig in its claws and hold on.

For me, that shame came, heh, in the form of anyone actually witnessing my lust at its most out of control, that magical moment when your body and mind completely let go. I’ve had more orgasms than I can count in the nearly 24 years since the first, but only a tiny fraction of those — which I could probably count if I tried — have happened in the presence of another person. I know the statistics about women and orgasms, so I’m aware that I’m hardly the only one to have difficulty reaching orgasm through penis-in-vagina sex, something that occurred once — maaaaayyyybe twice, though the maybe makes it kind of moot — without the aid of clitoral stimulation. I’ve come to terms with the fact that even in the best of circumstances, with the best possible sexual partners, my body will probably always need a little help. But it wasn’t until I was in a long-term relationship that I was able to even come in front of someone else, through any means. Though he was perfectly great in bed and that certainly helped, it was the safety and comfort that he provided that finally made me feel safe enough to allow someone to witness how vulnerable my lust made me.

When that relationship ended, that feeling of safety and my non-solo orgasms went with it. In the years since, I’ve doubled my number of sexual partners, experimented with what turns me on and become more open-minded. I’ve been open too, making lust my calling card, often on this very site, where I’ve waxed on about my porn habits and shared my vibrator collection. I’ve had some serious fun in bed with some great dudes (there has been plenty of lackluster sex too, of course). But none of them made me come, through any manner of effort; nor have I been able to lay back and bring myself to that point, always too aware of their eyes watching me behind my closed lids. Despite all my efforts, that shame has still held on. As I’ve gotten older and the years have passed, as I’ve struggled with dating and developing intimacy with another person, I have seriously started to wonder if I would ever experience that kind of pleasure in the presence of a man again. It has been depressing.

A few weeks ago, I got a chance to interview porn star James Deen. His publicist had told me I would have an hour and a half with the 29-year-old, who was in town filming a SFW spot on the new Showtime show “HAPPYish,” but the conversation (yes, conversation!) was so good that it easily stretched into over seven hours. James, as my then-second favorite porn star (and now he’s my very favorite — sorry, Manuel!), had tangentially given me plenty of solo orgasms over the last few years, but I’m convinced that our conversation helped me to find it again in the presence of another.

Like me, James discovered his lust at a young age. He’s the told the story a million times in interviews, of stumbling upon a porno mag as a young boy, and knowing that was what he wanted to be when he grew up. It’s an odd story, a young child seeing pictures of people having sex and feeling the same inspiration as, say, a little girl putting on her firs tutu and deciding she wants to grow up to be a ballerina.

“I have no idea what I was thinking,” he told me. “I was so young. It could have been me thinking that I liked the way it felt to touch my penis and I wanted to do that for money, I have no idea what I was thinking. Who knows?”

Unlike me, young James’s lust was the opposite of isolating. Just a month after his 18th birthday — the same age as when I had my first kiss — James filmed his first X-rated scene and the rest is history. In his 11 years in the business, he estimates he’s performed in upwards of 4500 scenes. (These days, he produces many of them himself, which members of his website, JamesDeen.com, get to view for a nominal fee.) Sexual shame is something he has managed to escape and it’s the thing I found most fascinating about him, that such a thing was even possible.

“I’ve never had shame associated with anything,” he said. “The most embarrassing thing about my life is the fact that I go tanning. I do it for camera. I don’t like doing it, it feels weird, it’s so not like me, but I do it because you can’t just be ghostly white, it affects the camera. That’s the most embarrassing thing I can think of. Other than that, I’m an open book. I’m very comfortable with me.”

Still, he understands that shame is something many people, especially women, struggle with. “Sex is weird, sex changes things,” he said. “I think that’s the reason why people have shame — and of course religion gets involved — because sex is weird and scary and makes us feel things and because of that people don’t understand it. Look at that blue and gold dress situation: people fucking flipped out and were fighting and ending friendships over perception, and being confused and having their understanding of reality challenged. Now imagine having your understanding of reality challenged with another individual … it’s weird.” He made a grossed out sound. “And some of its unexplainable. The idea that something is scary makes you feel vulnerable or weak and that makes you defensive.”

“I’m sure that I have a bit of that too,” he went on. “There’s no way that I’m the only person who’s cast away all of my social conditioning. There’s no fucking way. The only thing that I have that benefits me is that I get a regular dose of therapy through interviews like this where I can converse about all of this shit and analyze it and go back and forth and communicate different perspectives.”

I haven’t always found it very easy to talk with men, including men I’m sleeping with, about the way in which my shame gets in the way of pleasure and fully letting go, but with James it was easy. For starters, there wasn’t the pretense that the conversation was just a precursor to sex, so I could speak honestly without fearing that my words would be taken as really just suggestion or invitation. Sitting across from someone who enjoys sex in such a genuine way, free of shame and embarrassment was downright inspiring. James’s lust does not discriminate. He is down to experience and give pleasure to women of all sizes, shapes and races, regardless of where they fit within society’s hard-to-reach beauty standards; all it takes to turn James Deen on is genuine desire and consent. With each partner, he falls in love. During those 45+ minutes of sexual intimacy, there is nothing else.

What if I could stop being scared long enough to do the same? Those fears that get in the way of my ability to let go and lose control of my lust — of being vulnerable, of being seen at my most unbridled, of being hurt and heartbroken and ugly and weird and intense — are things I can’t actually control at all. They are me and I am them.

A few weeks before my interview with James — the rest of that interview will run next week, along with a call out for reader questions for James’s new Frisky advice column! — I had started hanging out with someone kind of great. I have all the same fears and insecurities that I always do in dating, and, as per usual, am sort of stumbling at striking the right balance between getting to know someone slowly and having fun while also looking for red flags of incompatibility or potential heartbreak. These are all thoughts that have, in the past, made me feel too vulnerable to fully let go and made having an orgasm with someone feel so impossible.

A couple weeks ago, that changed. I CAME. In front of a man. And it was fucking awesome. A good amount of credit is due to the guy in question of course, so props, but I can’t help but wonder if James Deen had a little something to do with it too. It’s hard to put into words, but I’ve felt a subtle shift in my perception ever since, specifically my perception of myself and what I’m capable of. I can’t control how others see and feel, but I do have power over how much I allow those fears to hold me back. So, for the first time in a very, very long time, I let go. Lust did the rest.

Vice Week is our seven-day exploration of all the indulgences that surely will ruin us sooner than we can imagine. But hey, what a way to go. You can check out all of our Vice Week coverage here.