"A Few Encouraging Words," by Nina Hartley (reproduced here with permission)
This essay and image appears in XXX 30 Porn-Star Portraits by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, which is available for purchase at Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center.
In the twenty years since I performed in my first porn video, society’s perceptions of pornography have evolved more than the genre itself has. With some notable exceptions, the basic product has changed little since its inception: images of people in various configurations and situations, fucking their brains out to excite the viewer. This is not necessarily bad. Showing the human species in full rut is porn’s métier.
The attitude of the general public is now more accepting and appreciative of porn than when I began. The shift is most dramatically apparent in single women under 30 and couples looking to keep the home fires burning. It’s not longer reasonable to guess who among our friends has a porn collection, or what might be in it.
Feminist thinking in particular has undergone a remarkable transformation. Into the mid-1980’s, feminist orthodoxy regarded pornography as an unalloyed evil. Porn was inherently violence against women, depicting them as sexual objects, good for only one purpose, or as “whores by nature.” Porn constituted a direct threat to women that required elimination by any means necessary, including getting into bed with right-wing religious zealots whose politics feminist otherwise abominated. Influenced by an outspoken vanguard of politically aware sex workers, sex-positive activists, and kinky lesbians, mainstream feminism has made an uneasy peace with porn’s particular vision of sexual liberation.
It was as a member of that vanguard that I shaped my porn career. I was an artist. Sex was, and remains, my subject. In front of porn’s simplified cyclorama, I could perfect the expression of my passionately held convictions about our most fundamental understanding of sexuality, got me over my fear of men, and increased my confidence. A red-diaper baby, I was always aware of the political dimension of my work. As a nurse, I was trained to care, comfort, and teach. As an activist, I used the resources at my disposal to mobilize the energies of those around me. In my guise as a blonde sex-creature, I pursued my subversive agenda through the power of pleasure.
What is my message? Sex is a wonderful, joyous, positive, transformative, healing, hot, horny gift of evolution. Its immense power demands respect. As adults, we decide for ourselves what sex means to us and how we may best utilize it to enhance our lives and relationships. Shame over our desires is useless, alienating us from love and connection. Mindlessly chasing desire is equally destructive. Sex has only the meaning we give it, so we must claim our personal responsibility anew each time, without fail. The sacred aspect of sex-play is available to anyone with the conviction to seek it and the courage to follow it through. Sexual self-acceptance is essential to becoming our authentic selves, sexual pleasure one of the great rewards of life’s arduous journey. Our bodies live in that rarefied place of the “eternal now.” Using pleasure to coax us into our physical selves, we seduce ourselves toward love and wholeness, one moment of “now” at a time. The body can’t lie to us and we disregard its warning signals at our peril. Consent isn’t the absence of “no,” it’s the statement of shared intent.
It’s satisfying in so many ways to be a public cheerleader for the healing virtues of sex. In our culture, sexuality is sick, and sick people need a nurse’s care. A nurse’s role is to comfort, soothe, to be an advocate, to be calm when the patient is restless and to push when the patient is ready. Many aren’t aware of what motivates them to seek me out in person, but I know. A strong hug, a shared breath, a deeply held gaze mirroring love and assurance that they’re fine as they are, is what they seek—and receive.
Ten honest seconds can change a life. In twenty years, my message has reached around the world, flying under the radar of conditioned thought directly to people’s hearts and loins. To the era of Sex Equals Death and Just Say No, I bring a hopeful message about sexuality rooted in my own experience and practice. The very universality of sexuality means that my message will always be vital and useful. I speak for those who say yes.