A Women's Lib Discussion With Porn Star Sasha Grey

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

About the time the economy began to completely unravel last fall, I wrote a story about the life of a few local prostitutes. The story was prophetically titled "TheReal Girlfriend Experience." I say prophetic because director Steven Soderbergh(Traffic, Erin Brokovich, the Ocean's 11 series) has a new movie out about the life of a New York prostitute during the financial collapse called "The Girlfriend Experience."

The film stars porn star Sasha Grey, whom Rolling Stone calls "the dirtiest girl in the world" in its profile of her in the current issue. Grey is also the reigning AVN Female Performer of the Year (at 21, she's the youngest woman to win the honor). She was in town this week to pimp the movie during Exxxotica Miami Beach. I watched the film (see the trailer here) and caught up with her on Friday at theCatalina Hotel.

I asked her about the research she did for the Soderbergh movie, the Rolling Stone story, her relationship, and how she feels porn fits into the women's lib movement.

We meet in the lobby of the hotel. She is with her 33-year-old boyfriend, Ian, asking the front desk if she is already on the mezzanine level. I am trying not to sweat valuable parts of my body off. The publicist introduces me as "the writer who did that GFE story."

Sasha Grey is part porn star, part businesswoman, part philosophy student. She uses expressions like "clinically speaking" and drops words like "enigmatic" as casually as words like "fucking." She is at once charismatic and distant, pleasant but still cold.

Grey wants people to be more open and comfortable with their own sexual preferences. "All sorts of people like all different things, and we just need to accept that as a society," she tells me. She prefers being choked, slapped (but not on the breasts), and sometimes getting doubly penetrated. And she says so. Sometimes on Tyra, sometimes onOprah, sometimes in Rolling Stone or the Juice, and often in her many, many adult movies. In her first-ever porn scene, she famously told her partner to punch her in the stomach before his climax.

"In our society, we use sex to sell everything. Everything! Right now there's a commercial on TV that's selling kids toys -- some SpongeBob Burger King meal -- is using sex to sell." The commercial in question stars Sir Mix-a-Lot, the architect behind hits like "Baby Got Back." "So we can do that, but we can't openly talk about who we are as sexual beings without feeling ashamed. I think that's ridiculous."

She says one of the reasons she got into this business was to encourage people to feel more comfortable with themselves. "Listen, it's OK to be yourself," she says. "You might have different fantasies or a different sexual interest than your sister or your best friend has, but that's OK. We're all human beings. Everybody's different."

In conversation, Grey references everything from hipster musicians to relatively obscure philosophers to Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the biology professor turned sex researcher from the middle of the 20th Century.

"Dr. Kinsey did a test on people's sexuality, whether they're straight, gay, or somewhere in between. For me, I see the same thing when it comes to sexual tastes and sexual interests."

The second part of her porn name, she says, comes from the term Kinsey used when describing human sexuality: shades of grey. She believes when it comes to sex, there is no right or wrong, good or bad. There is just different. Who could argue with that?

What creates this variety of sexual interests, she isn't sure.

"Is it genetic? I'm not a scientist. I don't want to answer that yes or no. But I do think it's an individual thing. I have best friends who've never had an orgasm. I have best friends that love anal sex, and I have best friends that hate anal sex.

"There's so many different aspects to our sexuality, and we can't talk about them without being vilified. It's 2009; it's time for a change."

I ask her why she thinks the country is so repressive.

"To keep women down!" she jokes. "Nah, I'm being paranoid now." She continues seriously. "It's the last taboo. Maybe it's the little secret everybody keeps tucked away in their pocket. I think it's a very moralistic, Christian way of thinking. I hate to put it that way, but it is. We live in a very Puritanical country. For as far along as we are in technology and the media and as a whole, we're not far along with sex."

She says she feels like women in this country are controlled by shame. At some point, she says, Grey would like to go on a speaking tour, with the message: It's OK to be who you are.

"Shame is bad because it inhibits you," she says. "It's fear. I'm not gonna sit here and say I'm not afraid of certain things in our society sometimes, but we live in such a fear-based society, people are really afraid to be who they are. Whether it's because of what somebody else thinks or the culture around them. Shame stops your personal growth."

She said she hasn't read the Rolling Stone story. "I haven't had time," she says. But when I read her a headline about empowering women "one gangbang at a time," she says, "That's obviously the writer saying that, not me."

She says she wouldn't call herself "a crusader," and she thinks the term "feminist" is useless. "Every woman is a feminist in her own right," she says. "Whether you're anti-porn or pro-porn or somewhere in between, feminism has become such a generalized, watered-down viewpoint. Someone can say, 'I'm a feminist because I believe in sexually empowering women.' That's my view on feminism. Someone else's opinion might be, 'Having sex is just wrong no matter what.' And both sides might call themselves feminists."

Tomorrow I'll have more from my talk with Sasha, including a discussion of prostitution, her research for the new movie, and how she deals with the emotional strains of the sex industry.

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