Hi. If you’ve found your way to this page you and I already have something important in common, that being a shared interest in sex, sexuality and sexual expression. You may be novice to this kind of exploration or a seasoned player, but we’re all here because we love sex (or want to) and to discover more about it.
I’ve been thinking about sex, sexuality and sexual expression pretty much full time since I was in grade school, so much so I’ve made a career of it since 1984. My job is as exciting to me today as it was when I first stepped foot on a stage when I was in nursing school preparing to be a nurse-midwife. I’m so happy to be able to share what I know with those who want to have the conversation.
I believe that in our culture sexuality is sick, and sick people need a nurse’s care. What do I mean? Simply this: instead of our innate sexuality being a reliable source of pleasure, love, compassion, bonding and mental and emotional health and comfort, for many people it’s a reliable source of pain, isolation, anger, alienation and very real mental and emotional anguish.
What do I mean by “a nurse’s care?” In a word, TLC. At the very least a nurse creates a safe place to experience, and express, pain. A nurse does everything possible to ease suffering without themselves being adversely affected by it, including providing compassion and simple human connection and recognition, to go along with any physical care needed.
Until we can do this for ourselves we sometimes need assistance to learn this skill. So, thank you for being here willing to take a deeper look.
My intention throughout my career has been to be, as they say, “the change I want to see in the world.” Toward that end I practice what I preach and have learned that any motivated person can succeed at this work because learning to experience, share and accept pleasure is personally revolutionary. It doesn’t matter who we are or what our history may be. When we turn our attention toward it, the power of consensual pleasure to transform our lives in lasting, positive ways is astounding.
I envision a world with more peace, love and active compassion. I envision a world where each person can feel at home in, and one with, their body, free of shame or guilt over having, or wanting to have, simple, safe, pleasure in whatever form.
I believe truly that consenting adults can do whatever they please. I don’t have to like it and have the right to an opinion, but if it’s not harming self or others I support their right to do it.
I’ve had enough sex to lose my fear of it but never my respect for it. I want everyone to have, in the words of a friend, “Only the sex you want with only the people you want, in the way(s) that you want, for as long as you want, and no other kind.”
You can ask me about:
Anything to do with sex, sexuality and sexual expression and your relationship to it.
I’ve been asked about:
“I don’t feel monogamous but my partner says it’s important to them. What should I do?”
“I feel monogamous but my partner says they’re not. Can we be in relationship?”
“I fantasize about (insert fantasy here). Am I normal?”
“I want more/less sex than my partner does. What can we do?”
“I asked for something new and my partner got upset/angry/mean. Are we doomed?”
“My partner has a very large/small penis. What positions or toys could help?”
“My partner has a vey lose/small vagina. What can we do to accommodate our needs?”
“I/my partner wants anal play and I’m okay with that. How can we do it safely?”
“My partner wants anal play and I’m grossed out by the idea. What can we do?”
“My partner doesn’t want me to do anything with their butt and I’m really interested! What can we do?”
Hi! If you're reading this we already have one important thing in common: a deep interest in sex, sexuality and sexual expression. I'm confident that with the right support, you can develop your own best sexual life. if you've been working on this issue for awhile I will likely have a take on it that sheds new light on your situation. If you're new to this area of inquiry I've done and seen a lot and don't judge, so you can ask me anything. I'm the perfect blend of cool aunt, big sister, school nurse and guidance counselor. As part of my public image and private lives I've been physically intimate on some level, from eye gazing to full-on sex, with thousands of people of all ages, orientations, abilities, desires and needs and still find it exciting to go to work! I offer a practical insight into sex that few can match and a sincere desire for everyone to experience the full benefits of a satisfying erotic life.
As I've said, I'm a nurse so you can't gross me out and I make porn so you can't embarrass me, so ask me anything!
To get the most out of what I offer it's important to let you know what I am, and am not qualifies to do.
I AM NOT A THERAPIST
If you are suffering from mental, emotional, substance or physical abuse, past or present, you and your partner are at the phase of fighting all the time, about sex or anything else, I recommend a licensed therapist or counselor first. I'm not trained in crisis or anger management. I'm not going anywhere, so put your essential needs first.
CALL OR SKYPE
$ 500 for couples that include two-three person partnerships.
$ 300 for one on one.
$ 9,000.00 for lectures outside the U.S. plus travel and accommodations.
$ 5,000.00 for lectures in the U.S. plus travel and accommodations.
$ 1,000.00 Fraternities and Sororities 2 hour Skype Session.
$ 10,000 for business outside the U.S.
$ 7,500.00 for businesses in the U.S.
ASK NINA LIVE
$25 per webinar.
$90 per 4 webinars in a one month period, webinars do not roll over into next month.
$290 per 12 webinars in a one year period, webinars do not roll over into the next month.
ASK NINA AND ERNEST
CALL OR SKYPE
$ 1,000.00 for couples that include two-three person partnerships.
$ 600.00 for one person with Nina and Ernest..
$ 10,000.00 for lectures outside the U.S. plus travel and accommodations.
$ 5,000.00 for lectures in the U.S. plus travel and accommodations.
$ 1,600.00 Fraternities and Sororities 2 hour Skype Session.
$ 20,000 for business outside the U.S.
$ 1,500.00 for businesses in the U.S.
ASK NINA AND ERNEST LIVE
$ 50 per webinar.
$ 180 per 4 webinars in a one month period, webinars do not roll over into next month.
$ 580 per 12 webinars in a one year period, webinars do not roll over into the next month.
Director Nina: $1,000 hourly
Director Ernest: $1,000 hourly
Photographer Tries: $700 a session
Makeup Artist: $150.00
Director Nina and Director Ernest are available for pre-shoot outfit consultations upon request.
$100 Non-refundable retainer payment ceremony only (You must purchase marriage license at the County Clerk).
$800 Ceremony and Confidential Marriage License: The price includes confidential marriage license; quick or romantic ceremony; rehearsal; instant proof of marriage; request of certificate of marriage, signing and mailing the marriage license to RRCC.
$1,000 Customized wedding vows, vowel renewal, alliances and coupling poetry.
$1,000 for wedding attendance (two hours).
Travel outside Nina's covered areas is $50 plus 50 cents per mile round trip from 90012. Locations more than 80 miles from 90012 requires a 1 night hotel stay. Long distance travel rates will vary.
Nina Hartley has amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in her storied career. As a writer, performer, activist, and educator, her influence in the classroom and workshops is bar none. I've had the pleasure of attending her presentations and have invited her into my college human sexuality courses to share her wisdom with students on topics such as sexual health, the pornography industry and porn literacy, feminism and sexuality, and sexual communication and negotiation. Her energetic nature, humor, and relatable style is perfectly suited to captivate a classroom filled with students thirsting for accurate sexual education information and life skills preparation.
-Hernando Chaves M.F.T., D.H.S.
Doctor of Human Sexuality, Pepperdine University and Orange Coast College Professor
She is a published author. A registered nurse that graduated magna cum laude from San Francisco State University. She also has an honorary doctorate degree from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.
A sex educator, she tours the country speaking at colleges to students about how to enjoy sex safely. She has released a series of entertaining and instructional videos on nearly all forms of human sexuality over 30 volumes long.
She is a liberal. She is the ultimate feminist.
She is Nina Hartley.
David Brinkley once said that a successful person is one that can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at them. How true in the case of Nina Hartley.
Whatever your opinion of her or her chosen field, Nina Hartley is a pioneer for female and sexual empowerment. Long before Traci Lords and Jenna Jameson were selling books in mass, long before Sasha Grey was making headlines working with Oscar winners, Nina Hartley was a “crossover” star when the term didn’t exist. Despite her protests about the source of her fame, would Kim Kardashian be the celebrity she is now if it weren’t for Nina’s sexual pioneering?
She unflinchingly stood her ground against Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue and their legions of fans who berated and condemned her. The feminists of the New Feminist Movement of the 80s, the very women she was fighting for, ostracized her. It wasn’t easy or cool or edgy or trendy. It was downright dangerous. But she met, and continues to meet, every obstacle, personal and professional, head on.
Her message, then and now, is simple.
"Sex isn't something men do to you", she proclaims. "It isn't something men get out of you. Sex is something you dive into with gusto and like it every bit as much as he does."
Nina still lives by her words. Her fans -- and her fan base is global -- have watched her age from 25 to 51, and she remains one of the top performers in her industry, one where crash and burn is the norm. She is in better shape and has more enthusiasm than women half her age. And she does it all with a sense of humor that is wickedly brilliant. She doesn’t take herself too seriously...
"But I do take sex seriously. Despite that what I do for a living is absurd”, she says.
Maybe. But what she stands for isn’t.
At her very core, Nina Hartley has the courage to live the way so many of us wish we could -- truly free. That commitment to being free and living authentically and defending, not just her own right, but the right of everyone to do the same is what makes her a preeminent symbol of female empowerment.
By simply living her life her way, she encourages women to own their bodies and to be unapologetically comfortable in their sexuality, no matter what it is and no matter what their age.
“Boomers are aging and we are not giving up our sex lives”, she has said. “We are not our mothers who, back then, were happy to give up sex.”
You don’t have to like what she does, and she’s fighting for your right not to.
That also makes her a humanitarian. With a great ass.
Buck Angel: buckangel.com
Barbara Carellas: urbantantra.org
Charlie Glickman: charlieglickman.com
Kate Loree: kateloree.com
Nicoletta Heidegger: nicolettavheidegger.com
Reid Mihalko: reidaboutsex.com
Center for Sex and Culture: sexandculture.org
Guttmacher Institute: guttmacher.org
Woodhull Alliance: woodhullfoundation.org -Nin
SEXUAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
Alcohol Abuse: aa.org
Anti-Sexual Violence: rainn.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline: thehotline.org 1 (800) 799-7233
Non-12 Step Recovery: smartrecovery.org
Planned Parenthood: planned parenthood.org
LORD'S PRAYER REDUX
Conscious Pleasure, which is heaven,
Hallowed be this gift.
Its Bounty come,
Its Magic be done in Spirit
As it is in our bodies.
Give us this day our daily Joy
And heal our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
Lead us away from strife
And anchor our community.
For herein lies the Bounty,
the Power and the Beauty,
Ever and always,
LOVING KINDNESS AND SEX
Lovingkindness is a basic Buddhist concept, one I've found to be very important when one is doing the painful, scary and difficult work of becoming sexually whole and integrated. It works in all other areas of spiritual inquest of course, and in the context of Sex Positive living we’ll apply it to our sexual selves.
Lovingkindness is what we use when we find ourselves upset, angry, frightened, despairing, lonely, horny, judgmental and hurt, be it about sex or anything else. It’s a set of behaviors as well as a mindset.
I'm not religious but when I was ten my parents became dedicated students of Zen Buddhism. Their teacher, Shunru Suzuki, was the man who introduced Zen to the US in the mid-1960's. His most famous book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," was very influential in my life and I use these concepts when dealing with life's inevitable painful moments. Over time I’ve found them to be very effective. The concept is simple but not always easy to apply, since we’re fighting uphill against our conditioning. It’s only when we start to use lovingkindness that we see how far our daily lives have strayed from it.
The Dalai Lama has said, "There is no greater wisdom than compassion." I've found this to be true. As we gain awareness of our own emotional processes we learn to recognize when our feelings are rising to the point of us losing control over our behavior. Until we do so we’re often faced with having to apologize for doing or saying something horrible or mean, which we then have to take back. Often, the damage has been done and apologizing does little to address it. When faced with the choice to either lash out in anger or pain or remain silent, most of us choose lashing out. We do it out of habit and don’t realize that it’s really our hurting “inner child” crying out for our attention.
Until we can head off angry behavior at the pass, we’ll often be left to deal with the aftermath of a blowup. When this happens try to get a little distance from the incident with two or three breaths and then attend to that hurting inner child with the compassion that's been missing up to this point. When we do this insight is gained, pain is released and love gets a toehold. Since we're often in painful situations we have many opportunities during the day to extend to ourselves the compassion we need. Usually, all an intense emotion needs in order for it to calm down is simple acknowledgment of its existence and value. At that moment nothing needs to be done except understand what just happened, and why.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that all feelings want is to be acknowledged. If they can’t get your attention quietly they’ll act out until you do pay attention, even if it means embarrassing you in front of your lover(s). We can’t hide from our feelings no matter how we try so we might as well turn and look directly at them and how they influence us. Of course, this takes time and countless moments of embarrassment until we decide that the old way isn’t working any more (if it ever did). At least, it worked this way for me. I was incredibly stubborn and resisted this fundamental lesson for many years. In the end, I learned the lesson the hard way when I could have learned it the easier way.
How might you be embarrassed by hidden feelings? You may fall asleep in the middle of lovemaking. You may disassociate from your body and mentally and emotionally be far away until you’re called back abruptly. You may lose desire for sex with your partner, or even for masturbation. You may say something disparaging, snarky or snide before you can clap your hand over your mouth. You may be unable to get aroused or have an orgasm. You may call your lover by the wrong name. You get the idea.
No matter the source of our upset, fear, panic or anger, lovingkindness is the antidote for that difficult moment. In the moment of emotion, logic is useless and one must speak directly to the heart of the matter, feeling to feeling. Meeting any so-called "negative" emotions-anger, jealousy, fear, panic, grief and more, with another "negative" emotion serves only to make things worse. No, the feeling that will be most effective to change things in the moment is compassion, lovingkindness, acceptance and understanding. Once the "negative" emotion has been seen and recognized it can, and does, dissipate rapidly. To quote Cheri Huber, "What you resist, persists."
Our sexual lives often thrust us into the very heart of our deepest fears. If we use our sexual expression consciously we can scare ourselves juuuust enough to keep us on our toes but not so much that we skid out of control and hit the trees. Being compassionate to ourselves when we're scared like this reaps great benefits. Sex is good for this kind of inquiry since it's portable, universal, needs no batteries and can be turned on and off as need be. Plus, we can scare ourselves in exactly the right way, for exactly as long as needed, as strongly as we require, for the good to be done. Ah, the benefit of sex are neverending!
Lovingkindness starts with ourselves: we never put ourselves into situations where we may come to serious harm. We make sure we're safe and then give ourselves permission to dive in fully into the moment. We also don't use sex to harm another person's body, mind or spirit. We do our best and don't beat up on ourselves for being human but we don't indulge our weaknesses too much, either. As a wise person once said, “Forgive yourself everything, but not in advance.”
Most sexual pain is due to cultural conditioning, something over which we have no control, so we must be kind to ourselves as wake up to our lives as they are and not as we think they should be. In fits and starts, lovingkindness smoothes the way for growth and happiness, and sexual pleasure is the vehicle by which it can happen.
How do I exhibit lovingkindness during sex? Simply by welcoming my partner (and myself) in all of our naked glory. By being generous. By being patient. By being kind. By communicating clearly. By keeping my boundaries secure.
It takes practice and it's worth every effort and it totally works over time.
Bodhisattvas Among Us: Compassionate Sex Workers
According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: Bodhisattvas are being that compassionately refrain from entering Nirvana in order to save others.
I doubt that many of the thirty thousand men I meet and greet each year ever fathom that I’m looking at them as much as they look at me—and I’m usually naked! When they finally meet me in person (some after more than a decade of waiting), they are often too dazed, giddy, dumbfounded, boisterous, or shy to have any serious conversation with me.
There are exceptions, of course (I’ve had many wonderful conversations with fans over the years), but it remains true that most are not aware of my perception of them. After sixteen years as an adult entertainer I can now place any fan accurately into one or more of the many categories of fandom. Although there are significant differences among subgroups most fans are bound together by one thing: they, almost to a man, are the walking wounded of the gender wars.
They don’t often realize that their pain and confusion, ignorance, hope, anger, and longing are obvious to anyone with my experience. Some would be mortified, others relieved, to have their most personal secrets known without having to actually speak them. This transparency makes a fan as vulnerable as a newborn. It is healing to me to practice compassion when confronted with such primal feelings and to reflect back to these men a healthier and saner sexuality so that they can take it home with them and use it to make their lives and relationships a little better. There is great power in dispensing that “balm of Gilead,” and that power must be tempered by compassion.
Being open to their pain and helping to soothe it is greatly aided by my status as a veteran sex professional and registered nurse (RN). Raised in Berkeley, California, the youngest of four children, my parents were middle-class Communist professionals. By the time I was ten, they had metamorphosed into Zen Buddhist refugees, overwhelmed by the trauma of my father’s blacklisting. My parents remain active in San Francisco’s Zen community to this day. I expected to complete college and I did, earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, magna cum laude, in 1985. I started dancing while attending school full time. My class and educational background prevented me from feeling or being victimized by other’s lack of respect for sex work/workers. I know my value, and my fan’s admiration and devotion demonstrate it.
There are many venues where I meet my fans: conventions (where I’m scantily dressed); peep shows (where we can both be naked); Polaroid photo sessions (where I can be dressed, topless or naked); and university classes and on the street (where I’m dressed). At each of these places (except peep booths), they can hug and touch me. This contact is incredibly powerful and intimate, and I cherish it greatly. For the most part, my fans understand and accept that they are probably never going to sleep with me, so the significance of the touching is magnified. I look them in the eye, hug them, and let them hug me and feel my body (within legal limits, that is). I love the physicality so I caress them as much as possible (ruffle hair, nibble earlobes, squeeze shoulders, smack their butts, etc.), making tangible my affection and acceptance.
In our repressed, pleasure-phobic culture people, particularly males, are chronically touch starved. The difference in how we handle male versus female infants is well documented. The connection between the nature of the touch received by babies and how it impacts their future “emotional intelligence,” must be acknowledged by society so that we can address it calmly, change our understanding of the role of sex work and eliminate the laws that criminalize so much of it. It is a sad fact that men generally have few, or no, socially approved nonsexual outlets to experience caring, human(e) contact. For many, this absence of positive touch adds greatly to the growing psychosis of our times and is manifested, in part, by an increase in violence in our culture, especially among the young.
The revolutionary eruption, thirty years ago, of long-suppressed feminine rage and anger that so characterized the early days of the feminist movement also created the culture wide fallout that we are still sorting out today. Many are still reeling from the initial blast: collateral damage includes a wide-scale abandonment of the nurturing of mates, children, and society that is only now beginning to be addressed. In this confused landscape, there are few and fewer places where a wounded spirit can seek shelter and comfort, recognition and acceptance. The sex worker can, and does, provide this comfort, whether they are aware of it or not, and even when the consumer is unaware that they are seeking these things. Sex workers are the medics at the front lines of the gender wars, the Clara Bartons and Florence Nightengales, patching up the troops, reviving their spirits so that they want to live another day. When sex workers are also educated, conscious and willing the healing potential increases exponentially. Banded together as part of a larger movement, this potential staggers the imagination. As has been said before, “When prostitutes unite, powerful men tremble.”
At clubs across the country where I dance, there are usually one or two women who really like their jobs and, more important, don’t resent or hate the men for their sexuality. These dancers are drawn to me because they can tell that I’m empowered and don’t disrespect either the customers or myself. In mentoring these precious few, I let them in on the biggest secret of live sex performing (particularly dancing): the men don’t know it, but they are coming to church. They are seeking absolution, acceptance, understanding, compassion, kindness and caring from a willing, friendly woman—if she is pretty, so much the better. They believe themselves to be fundamentally unlovable because of their sexuality: if women really knew what go them off they would be cast into the void.
Granting these men acceptance and understanding instead of disgust and ridicule is the single most profound aspect of sex work. Reinforcing that understanding with an orgasm is, in my opinion and experience, the most effective way to get this message across permanently. The more a sex worker understands their role in both the psyche of the customer and the scheme of the greater society, and history, the better they can do their job. The fringe benefits for the worker are maintaining mental health and building a loyal customer base.
Being a “star” instead of an anonymous worker, I am treated differently by consumers of commodified sex. Media exposure (TV, movies, print, video) has served to make me more visible and to grant me legitimacy in the eye of many. As a deliberately open sexual woman, people come to me as to a confessor, doctor or therapist. They tell me very personal and private things with never a thought that I might find it distasteful or might not keep it a secret. Their relief at finally being able to simply talk to someone without being judged is palpable. After unburdening themselves they wait anxiously for my response. That response can make or break someone’s self- image, their intimate relations, even their ability to respond sexually (alone or with a partner).
Fans hand over a lot of power to such an “adored one.” My code of ethics demands that I honor that and always treat them kindly. My position as a respected “expert” obligates me to keep my ego out of it, to be firm (or even stern), and to urge them to keep working toward wholeness and love. The average person is still like a child when it comes to their sexuality. All of their fears, insecurities, shame, guilt, self-esteem, capacity for joy and love lie jumbled together in an inchoate mass of quivering need. They yearn to be known by one wiser, and loved anyway, accepted to the core, if only for a moment.
I provide this service, along with others in my field, willingly, grateful for the opportunity to help my fellow humans and satisfied that i can do what I do best. As is true of any effective art, what gives my work resonance is its emotional authenticity. What is wonderful about sex work is its dual reality as both a bona fide healing art and legitimate artistic expression. Sex workers should take pride in the important work they do and the essential service they provide: simple human kindness in time of need. As the Dalai Llama said, “What greater wisdom is there then compassion?” I work toward a society that can honor sex work instead of fear it. I work toward a society that will no longer need to commodify sex, one that does not equate sex with evil or debasement. Although I dream that one day people will be able to look to one another for love, support and community, until that day arrives sex workers are desperately needed.
Owning Your Sex: Insights into Sexual Agency Autonomy & Personal Responsibility
Welcome all sexualities and genders, Aces, Introverts, GLBTQ and Hets, etc
Before we get started I want to take a moment to talk about triggering and how one might address it as it’s happening. Since today’s topic is sex, sexuality and sexual expression, it’s entirely possible that some of you will have occasional, unbidden, unexpected and/or startling physical or emotional responses to what you hear. You may notice something of which you have been previously unaware, signaled by a clenching of the jaw or a tightening of the throat. Perhaps you’ll tear up or feel your face flush with anger shame or sudden recognition. Your stomach may start to ache or your breathing become shallow and fast. Maybe you’ll start shaking or feeling dizzy.
If this happens, practice centering yourself. Once you notice what’s going on close your eyes, take a deep breath, offer yourself some support and acceptance, and breathe out. Repeat as needed. Let’s try it together. (do so). Good! If you need to leave in order to deal with what’s going on, thank you in advance for practicing self-care. Here’s a nice mantra I learned that has proved invaluable in this effort: “Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile. By focusing on the present moment I know that it is a wonderful moment.”
Hello. My name is Nina Hartley and I’m delighted to be here today to share with you the good news about sex. We see so many headlines about how sex is bad, dangerous, addictive, harmful and scary, that the good news about sex and pleasure gets buried on page six.
The good news is that consensual pleasure, however expressed, is an unalloyed virtue in the world, full stop. That’s been my story for over thirty years and I’m sticking to it.
The good news is that each of you is entitled to autonomy over your own body, agency over how, when, why, whether and with whom to share it and the responsibility to do so in an ethical manner that positively reflects your values and beliefs. I want nothing less than for each of you to have only the sex you want with only the people want, always. However far away that seems now I assure you that such a life is within the reach of each and every one of you. Full disclosure - there is work involved, not all of it fun but all of it important to the final result: your complete comfort in your own skin and with your own desires. A question: How quickly do you look away when someone makes eye contact with you? Until well after college I couldn’t manage more than a second or two. Imagine no longer it being painfully uncomfortable to look into the eyes of another or have them look into yours.
After a lot of work, work that anyone can do, I can gaze into the soul of another and allow them to do the same with me, without fearing what they’re seeing. This is the essence of confidence and self-love, and these qualities can be cultivated over time. Our culture encourages us to seek other’s approval for our sense of self-worth instead of building our own, but in the end only our opinion of ourselves matters. Think about it. When someone pays you a compliment, do you deflect it? If someone disparages you, do you believe them? This is not permission to be a thoughtless jerk who takes advantage of others but we must love ourselves before anyone else’s love can find a good home with us.
Despite what you see in media portrayals of sex, good sex doesn’t “just happen,” it’s co-created in real time by the people involved, every time. Hot and heavy, sweet and romantic, for-life or for-the-night, the capacity for safe, healthy, respectful, fully consensual, mind-blowing sex is based on a skill set which can be developed over time. I’m much better at sex now than I was at your age, though no less interested in it. I’ve simply collected the tools to make my dreams a reality, with plenty of mistakes made along the way. You’ll make your own mistakes. You shouldn’t have to make mine.
Learning to navigate the world of sex and negotiate safe boundaries is the task of young adulthood. Now is the time in your life to look closely at and test the lessons, values and beliefs of your familial and childhood cultures, deciding which of them to keep and which to discard as not right for you. In my case I kept my parent’s admonition to be a kind person but had to ignore their unease at the public nature of my work, as well as their preference for monogamy, in order to find my version of happiness. I won’t deny that it was stressful for everyone but it was a necessary rite of passage nonetheless. You’re creating your own sense of self as an independent sexual person. What does that look like? How does it feel? How do you envision your erotic and intimate life? How do you learn to make it real?
The first step on this long road is taking to heart my version of the Prime Directive: Do not use sex to harm self or others. It bears repeating: Do not use sex to harm self or others. Believe me, it’s far better to graduate from college a virgin than to, out of fear, ignorance, revenge, disassociation, rebellion, social pressure, inebriation or a desire to self-harm, be party to sexual assault. There is no honor in having sex with a person who is drunk or high. It’s unsporting as well as illegal. There is no dishonor in being safe over sorry, even if it gets you teased. Each of us is charged with the task to approach sex, sexuality and sexual expression in our own way, in our own time, on our own terms and for our own ends. It’s our right as well as responsibility to create the life of our dreams. If we don’t recognize, acknowledge and respect our unique needs, how can we expect anyone else to do so?
You’re all now legal adults and adults research, plan, discuss and take responsibility for their behavior. They understand their motives. They understand that actions have consequences, including unintended ones. Of all the things people can do in bed, intercourse has the biggest potential negative consequences: death and babies. Do you really want to have that in the back of your mind as you fumble with that condom? Adults know that results matter as much as, if not more than, motives. A child says, “The mittens got lost.” An adult says, “I lost the mittens.” A child says, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” An adult says, “I’m sorry that my actions hurt you.” A child can’t consent to sex, only an adult can. It’s often the case, however, that our so-called “inner child” is running the show when it comes to sex and intimacy, leading to embarrassment and confusion at best or deep and lasting physical, emotional or legal harm at worst. Most of us don’t get age-appropriate discussions about sex, sexuality and sexual expression, leaving us all to glean from the culture at large sexual information and values. We know how damaging and unrealistic these messages can be. Some of you may even be dealing with the aftermath of them already. As overwhelmed as you may feel it’s nonetheless true that you, right now, have all the tools you need to develop a great sex life that is exactly right for you.
You’re at the age when sex can become real, no longer a fantasy that you conjure from books or online depictions, TV and movie tropes or dreams in the night. There is danger in traversing this boundary between our minds and the bodies and minds of other people. Please keep in mind that all media portrayals of sex and romance are acting, and that goes double for porn and triple for anal. In case I’ve not been clear, please note that porn is a paid professional performance of a fantasy scenario, like the driving in the “Fast and Furious” movies. Not real. Not intended to be real. Your mileage may vary. We’re professionals, so don’t try this at home. Yes, the media we consume and to which we are exposed affects our thinking about, and view of, the world and our place in it, including sexually. That’s its job. Your job is to think critically about the world in which you live and its effect on you. No matter what anyone says, all the media exposure in the world does not, for one moment, cancel out personal responsibility for one’s actions. “Porn made me do it,” “Alcohol/drugs made me do it,” is no more defensible than “The Devil made me do it.” Your parents aren’t shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year for you to attend this college for you to be stupid. Own your actions and you won’t be sorry.
In my life I’ve had enough sex to lose my fear of it but never my respect for it. The more sex I have the more awe-some I find it. After a rocky start when I was about your age, (I hadn’t yet discovered the Prime Directive), along with any moments of fun and competence I may have had, I endured more than my share of embarrassing, scary, clumsy, ugly, awkward, sad, weird, unexpected, jarring, odd, spontaneous, protracted, fleeting, confusing, hurtful and disassociated moments in bed with other people and I can’t blame it on alcohol as I don’t drink. [Insert Teacher joke here.] All that practice paid off, big time, I’m happy to report. Now, thirty-eight years-and-counting into my sexual adventures, I never, ever have bad sex any more.
How did I manage that Herculean task?
As all difficult tasks are accomplished, I did it one step at a time. The first, fundamental one was learning how to inhabit my body, which meant learning how to breathe fully and deeply into my abdomen, while paying attention to my thoughts and feelings, the better to become self-aware. That task alone took years. More than oxygen is carried in the breath, I discovered. Feelings and emotions are, too. When we suppress our breathing in order to inhibit awareness or experience of painful or difficult feelings, positive, happy ones are suppressed in equal measure. This can lead to depression, alienation and insecurity, which in turn can lead to other undesirable situations. News flash: in order to experience any feelings, we must be willing to feel all of them. Feelings are like letters in the alphabet: we need all of them available to us in order to “write” our lives. This is why meditative/prayer practices advocate mindful breathing as the best and most effective way to bring our minds and bodies onto the same page at the same time, no drugs needed. As you’ll discover, feeling states are transitory, even very intense ones and if, rather than force them into a locked box out of fear or prejudice we give them our attention, they will pass w/out us having to do more than simply witness our humanity and accept ourselves as we are right now. This fact is summed up well by a Buddhist poem: “Thoughts come and go like clouds on a windy day. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
The smallest unit of sexuality is the individual and it behooves said individual to become completely at ease with him-, her- or themselves before bringing anyone else into his, her or their sexual orbit. This means you. Become an expert on your orgasm, your sexual response pattern, your turn-ons and –offs. What brand of condom annoys you the least? How does it feel to masturbate while wearing a condom or latex gloves? What kind of lube feels best? Do you prefer same-sex partners or are you heterosexual or bi? Do you prefer one partner at a time or does the idea of a room full of naked, happy people resonate with you? Do you like to take charge or have your partner take the lead? What birth control is best for you? Have you made friends with your butt? Yes, you’ll learn of more aspects and angles about yourself as you incorporate partners into your sex life, if you ever do, but having solid baseline awareness as a solo operator will hold you in good stead as you forge your sexual identity. A critically important step is becoming comfortable being naked when alone, to simply be in your body as it is. Take as much time with this as needed. Years, if need be. The benefits of this are life long and will positively affect all other aspects of your relationships with others, be they sexual or platonic. Secure people have a low center of gravity and are pretty immune to shaming from others, recognizing such behavior as childish and based on fear. It’s your body and you deserve to live in it comfortably so you don’t hurt it through misuse.
The next step involved paying attention to my sexual fantasies and desires, to better understand what I wanted out of sex and what I thought was its purpose The beautiful thing about this form of exploration is that there are no wrong thoughts, though it might feel so at the beginning. It took a while to not feel guilty about my fantasies, as they were deemed “un-feminist,” but it was my sex life I was building and the only person I have to satisfy is me. It’s very important that we don’t censor our thoughts and desires, though it’s vitally important that we limit our behavior to other consenting adults. By paying attention to what kind of sexual media resonated with me I developed an idea of my self as an autonomous sexual being. Useful questions to resolve: do I prefer visual porn or stories and poems? Moving pictures or static images that I can study? Drawn art or photographs? Hard core action or subtle erotic shadings? What themes are most compelling to me? Believe it or not, no matter how “out there” your fantasies may seem to you take it from me: someone out there is having the same ones, wondering, “where on earth is my partner?”
A word about consent, which you can also think of as the Second Directive: Consent is not the absence of “no.” It is a statement of shared intention. Let that sink in for a moment. “A statement of shared intention.” If one is mature enough to actually have another person in bed with them, one needs to be mature enough to ask direct questions of one’s partner, hear the answer and, if need be, recalibrate. Whether it’s as simple as, “May I kiss you?” “I need to stop for a minute,” “You’re amazing!” or “More fingers, please!” use your words. Your partner may not like to hear what you say but you need to say it, anyway, though I won’t minimize the difficulty in learning how to tolerate another’s disappointment, especially if it’s expressed as anger or in a shaming way. (Anyone who shames you for stating a boundary is not worthy to share you bed, btw.) Better to end the date and masturbate once you’re alone than to press on with an uncomfortable partner or to be that uncomfortable partner. Negotiating consent should not be burden but rather an enabler for having a joyfully active partner. If you’re not able to have a conversation about what you want to do with another person you’re simply not adult enough to have that experience. So don’t force it. A word on the new thinking about consent and the restrictions that have, in some places, been built around it: a completely legalistic approach may be effective in some situations but excessive in others. Better partner compatibility from the start is the goal and makes the conversation less freighted.
If one is taking care of one’s erotic needs on one’s own, then the time between stating mutual attraction and doing anything about it can be as long as needed. Anticipation is fun and allows for a more complete negotiation to take place. Case in point: I met Barbara Carellas (urbantantra.org), at a conference years ago. We had an instant connection, which we acknowledged at the time. Being who we are we let that be enough for the time being, feeling no need to “hurry up and make something happen.” For years we would see each other at conferences, always being warmly affectionate and happy to see each other. About six years in to this dance, at yet another conference, the Moment was right and we had an amazing sexy, friendly, healing, delightful time together, complete with delicious orgasms. Just perfect. Worth the wait to create the space for it to “just happen.” That was six years ago and we’ve not seen each other since, though we know we each hold the other in highest esteem.
If it’s the right thing to happen between the right people, it can wait for the right time, when no one is stressed, when both are free to fully engage. It’s more fun that way, anyhow.
A word on trying to date or hook up while horny: a potential partner can tell when you’re desperate and desperation repels quality partners like oil from water and attracts predatory ones like ants to honey.
How do you handle this? Before you attend a party or gathering, masturbate to a great orgasm. Not a quick toss-off while cursing your fate at not having someone, but a real self-lovemaking session. Your skin will glow, your eyes will twinkle, your step will bounce, confidence will emanate and fill your personal space. You’ll be relaxed and happy and happy people have a strong gravitational pull, bringing people into their orbit seemingly without effort. Try it. Your change in attitude when you hit that room full of people will affect whom you attract all night. People are not put here for your sexual gratification. YOU are responsible for that and the sooner you understand this the better your sex life will be.
Open and honest discussion up front lays the groundwork for an amazing time, where no one is hurt and everyone is satisfied. I know it’s hard and embarrassing to speak of these things, especially when all the lovemaking in TV and movies “just happens,” but remember, it’s a movie, not real life. In real life successful outcomes can’t be left to chance. To quote a friend who was in the service, recall the “7 P’s: Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” This goes double for sex, as it includes others beside you. “I think you’re cute but all I’m up for till I get to know you better is a make-out session.” “Man, you sure look hot! Can I get your number and get in touch when things aren’t so crazy?” It’s up to the individual to know their boundaries and to state them. If one person wants intercourse and the other isn’t ready for that, sharing that while still dressed avoids a lot of awkwardness later. The people aren’t wrong in their desires; they’re simply incompatible at that moment.
Adults make sure both people are on the same page, that there is agreement on what this encounter means to each participant. To illustrate, here’s a crass joke that hits home, while at the same time highlighting the problems with rigid gender roles and expectations: “Q: What’s the difference between fucking and making love? A: Making love is what women are doing while you’re fucking them.” This is why active consent is important. If one person wants a quick romp and the other is looking for True Love, they should stick to being friends. You’ll make plenty of mistakes purely by accident and by virtue of being new at having sex with others. Don’t compound them by taking advantage of other’s emotions for a quick thrill. Eww.
Men and women are not natural enemies. A word to the wise: when consuming media explaining the roles men and women have regarding sexual interaction, pay attention the feelings the author is trying to elicit from you. The author who incites feelings of shame, self-loathing or victimhood, or feeling powerless in the face of some Horrible Thing, is not your friend and is not on your side. The author who gives you actual tools you can use to make your life better and to increase your skills, who helps you understand what you can do to improve your experiences, is the one to heed. This is your body we’re talking about and you have agency over it.
Unexamined assumptions about the motives of others are an obstacle to getting to know each other as unique individuals. The better people know each other before they initiate physical contact, the better the outcome. Until proven otherwise, the other person’s motivations are considered to be benign. If you feel any apprehension from their words or body language, you should run, not walk, to the door. “Argh! I just realized I have a [fill in blank] due tomorrow! Gotta go. Bye.” The world outside is full of opportunity. No matter how it feels, any one encounter is NOT your only chance at love, pleasure or intimacy. Almost all of my less-than-optimal-experiences, including my first marriage, occurred when I was unable to give voice to my deepest feelings of discomfort, disinterest, fear or anger. If a “little voice” tells you to stop and leave, do so. You can figure it out later when you’re safe.
Since this is college and many women feel pressured to have sex or may be conflicted about wanting or having it for themselves, I want to say a word about that. Ladies, once you know how to give yourself pleasure reliably you can then decide what hoops a potential partner must pass through before they gain access to your sexual space. These hoops are what you need to keep yourself safe enough so you can show up fully to whatever it is that you agree upon. It doesn’t matter how many or complex they are. This is your body we’re talking about! Be clear from the beginning, as this will cull those unwilling (and therefore unworthy) to put in the effort to get to know you. Carol Queen calls this Putting the Filter Up First. It saves a lot of time, embarrassment, annoyance and hurt feelings. The kicker is that, once a potential partner has well and truly jumped through the hoops, you must then deliver whatever it was that you negotiated for. No changing rules in the middle, no going back on your word. That makes you a capricious bitch and that’s not okay.
Or you can be the Hand Job Queen, dispensing pleasure (and eyeballing the goods) while remaining fully clothed. You’ll need babywipes, a good lube and latex gloves. The gear fits into a baggie. How a partner receives pleasure is a good indicator of how they may be if/when you get naked. Not to diss men your age but a cheery offer of, “I think you’re cute but the only thing on offer tonight is a hand job while I keep my clothes on. You game?” usually will get an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Plus, it’s fun to make out while you do so. If it gets difficult, simply let him finish himself off while you watch his technique and take notes. Win-win! If it helps to have support, enlist a girlfriend, as what boy would say no to two women offering a fun, safe time? Not all porn tropes are bad, you know.
Guys, I know you all want to get laid but the measure of a man is not how many notches he has on his belt. That way of thinking is sooo last Century, when women were considered sexless maidens who had to be talked into sex, drugged into sex, manipulated into sex, or worse. To be a man that women want to be with, cultivate manly attributes. The easiest way is to simply apply Boy Scout rules to your sexual escapades. Do a search for them online and follow them. Men have control over their bodies and have developed cock control, while Boys just want to shove it in whoever will allow them to do so. Men see women as individual people, each with her own needs, value and opinions, while Boys just see tits or ass or something about which to brag to their friends. Men understand about both their own bodies as well as the bodies of women, while Boys just want to get off, regardless if she had a good time or not. Men don’t tell tales out of school, while Boys brag about what they did. Men understand that respecting women as people first and potential sexual partners next, will increase the pool of potential partners, while Boys can’t concern themselves with what’s between her ears, only between her legs. Men understand that the biggest, most important sexual organ is the mind, and seek to engage the mind of a potential partner before engaging her body, while Boys think the biggest sexual organ is their own penis. You’re transitioning from being boys to becoming men. Pay attention.
As a queer person whose hobby as well as profession is sex, I have a lot to offer heterosexual people about how to approach sex. Queers know that “sex” doesn’t automatically equal “intercourse,” the way most people assume that it does. Instead of saying, “I want to have sex with you,” I’ve learned to say, “I’d love to share sexual space with you.” It’s a more general statement of intent and I’ve promised no particular behavior or involvement of a particular body part, nor do I expect it of my partner. It allows us to make it up as we go along, once we’ve decided the parameters. It also takes off the pressure to do any particular thing. And it’s a lot more fun that way. All shared pleasure is the Real Thing and intercourse, while it’s fun, doesn’t have to occur for “sex” to have happened. If erotic pleasure and orgasms were involved, it was sex. My favorite, super-safe and super-sexy way to share sexual space with someone for the first time is trading help with orgasms. After general making out, etc., I’ll have my partner lie against me with their back to my chest with our heads close enough so we can kiss. I take care of what’s above the belt: kissing, pulling hair, biting their neck, playing with nipples (lots of men like this, too), while they take care of their own pleasure. Then we’ll switch. You can flip a coin to see who goes first.
Some resources that are very helpful: anything written or edited by Carol Queen, SexAndCulture.org, ReidAboutSex.com, “Sex at Dawn,” by Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., CharlieGlickman.com, WoodhullAlliance.org, my book, “Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex,” my online vlog, “Tuesdays With Nina” (mom approved, so you can share it with her), my video series from Adam&Eve, the “Nina Hartley Guides,” “The Ethical Slut,” by Easton and Liszt, “More Than Two,” by Veaux and Rickert, “Sex and Punishment,” by Eric Berkowitz, “The Multi Orgasmic Man,” by Mantk Chia, “Mating in Captivity,” by Ester Perel. You’ll find others as you investigate on your own.
Sex is a lifelong journey and you’ll always be learning something new. Happy travels!
The HUMANIST Interview
Atheism, Ethics, and Pornography: An Interview with Nina Hartley
by Ryan Shaffer
Marie Hartman graduated with honors from San Francisco State University and is the author of two books published by major publishing houses under her stage name, Nina Hartley. She is also the star of 650 adult films spanning three decades. In addition, Hartley is a humanist, a proud atheist, and a vocal feminist. In many ways she is in complete contrast to the other celebrities in her profession; one of the most famous adult film actresses and reality television celebrities in recent years is Mary Carey, a college drop-out who ran as a Republican in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election and has attended high-profile conservative events. Carey grew up attending church on a regular basis and remains a Christian who prays daily. I wanted to explore the opposite side of the political and religious spectrum by studying celebrity nontheists. In my research I came across Hartley, who enthusiastically accepted my invitation to discuss her life and her philosophical and social views.
Hartley’s father was a Lutheran and her mother was Jewish, but she was raised in a home without religion where ethics and education were always emphasized. During her three decades in the adult film industry Hartley has been a free speech activist, critic of drug use, campaigner for women’s rights, a vocal opponent of racism, and a guest speaker at several universities. Justice and equality are an important aspect of her life, but so is her criticism of religion as a superstitious belief.
The Humanist: Describe your childhood and your family life.
Nina Hartley: I was born and raised in Berkeley, California, during the 1960s and ’70s. I have two older brothers and one older sister. They were gone by the time I was twelve. My father had been blacklisted in 1957, two years before I was born, so the family was in a bit of turmoil when I arrived. I was lonely as a child, but I have a lot of good memories of listening to music and of family gatherings with my aunts, uncles and cousins. We had very nice holidays, in spite of being non-religious and my mother being Jewish. We did a little Hannukah, a little Christmas, a little Easter, a little Passover.
Religion wasn’t much discussed and we never went to church or temple. We had a dog and cat and I babysat as a teenager. I was active in theater in high school, in the costume department. I love theater and dance to this day.
My parents have been married since 1947, though the ten years after my father’s blacklisting were tough on them. They came close to divorce before finding Zen Buddhism. They’ve been practicing it since 1969, when I was ten and they were middle-aged.
The Humanist: I’m curious about your hobbies and education growing up. You mentioned that your grandfather had a PhD in Physics. Were science and medicine an important part of your life?
NH: Both of my parents are science folks. My mother was a chemist and statistician for the State Department of Public Health and my dad has a good layman’s understanding of science and biology. I loved all natural science as a child and wanted to be Jane Goodall when I grew up. I especially liked human biology and anatomy. I’m an RN with a BS in nursing and I love science to this day. I keep up with the latest advances in science and enjoy physics, biology, psychology, brain science, and more.
The Humanist: You weren’t raised in a religious home, but one full of values. For the religious, values and religion are synonymous. Could you explain the difference?
NH: We were taught social justice at home. My maternal grandparents were early supporters of civil rights in Alabama, where my mother is from. As secular Jews (my grandfather refused Bar Mitzvah) they were already a minority, but when my grandfather turned to socialism for its sense of social justice it put the family in jeopardy and they were subject to harassment by the Ku Klux Klan. My grandfather almost lost his life to goons.
This sense of social justice carried over into my parents’ marriage, and I grew up participating in civil rights marches and anti-war demonstrations in my stroller. There was never any mention of God as a reason to do right. It was just the right thing to do. I feel strongly to this day that right and religion don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
As a believer in evolution, we can “take the best” from religion and “leave the rest.” We no longer need the story of “God” to explain why the rain falls, or the wind blows, or spring comes again each year. I’m comfortable with there being things about people or the world that I can’t know, or that we don’t know yet. I’m fine with life as we know it being random or an “accidental” result of chemical and physical processes.
The Humanist: Was there a particular moment or reason that made you question religion?
NH: I clearly recall in second grade, as I was standing in line to go into class, having the thought, “There is no God and it’s all ridiculous.” I’ve never had any reason since then to seriously question that notion. The whole idea of religion seemed utterly alien to me, and religious people seemed silly. Watching people pray was too personal and I didn’t understand how they could do it in public. In Berkeley it wasn’t hard to avoid religion, as it wasn’t really in the public square at that point, though there are plenty of churches and temples. My grandmother joined the Unitarian Church later in life for the social aspect, but as she said to the pastor when he came to visit her when she was sick, “I like the Unitarians. It’s almost like not going to church at all.”
The Humanist: Richard Dawkins’ “out campaign” drew parallels between the difficulty atheists and homosexuals have in coming out. Did you ever have trouble acknowledging your atheism to others or yourself? If not, why?
NH: For me, it’s been no problem. There are no God-believers in my family, though all of my siblings, as well as my parents, follow a faith tradition. Two of my siblings are Orthodox or Conservative Jews, keep kosher at home, but don’t believe in God. I don’t know a lot about the faith practice of my oldest brother but I do know he’s not a believer. I think I have a cousin by marriage who’s a believer.
The Humanist: You’re a self-described radical feminist. Please explain what a radical feminist is.
NH: I’m a feminist and some of my ideas are radical, but I’m not a “radical feminist,” which occupies its own sub-division of feminist thought. Radical feminists, for all their bloviating and over-intellectualizing about it, really, really just don’t like men. Period. Their philosophy boils down to “Men bad. Women good.” I reject that notion categorically. Unfortunately, the “men bad, women good” meme has taken hold in the public consciousness and people now think that feminists don’t like sex or men, which is bunk.
I’m more a classical liberal feminist: equal pay for equal work, on-site day care, single-payer health coverage, equal opportunity through skills and aptitude instead of gender, generous maternity and paternity leave, and the like.
I believe that men and women are both victimized by the patriarchal culture, just in different ways, by different means, for different reasons, and with different results. Most people are “victims” of the patriarchy, since there aren’t too many actual patriarchs left.
I’m well hated in radical feminist circles for the supposed harm I do to women and by the fact that I have sex on camera, both for and with men. I no longer try to talk to them, as I realize radical feminists are just another form of hate group. They really believe that women can’t consent to any sexual encounter and I categorically reject that.
The Humanist: Some feminists have criticized pornography as an industry that subjects women to men’s desires. While others, notably Nadine Strossen and yourself, have the opposite opinion. How do you respond to the feminists who criticize pornography?
NH: Nadine’s book, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights, is brilliant and I can’t add to her argument. In essence, though, feminism means that I have choice in my life—autonomy. It’s hard to imagine now, but fifty years ago a woman couldn’t get birth control if she was single, and even married women needed their husband’s permission to get it. Back alley abortions killed or maimed thousands of women each year. It was nearly impossible to bring abuse charges against a husband or wife. Younger people don’t realize how bad it was, or how recent. Feminists of the 1960s and ’70s really busted the door wide open and we’re still sorting it all out. We take for granted now that spousal abuse is a crime but it wasn’t like that then.
Women also fought hard for the right to be sexual on our own terms (having sex before marriage, not becoming mothers if we didn’t want to), and really made a lot of headway in raising consciousness surrounding rape, which is now taken seriously. A woman’s sexual history can no longer be used against her in court when she faces her attacker.
In a nutshell: my body, my rules. Other women don’t get to tell me what’s “right” for me, just as no imam, rabbi, priest or minister gets to tell me what to do with my body. You don’t know better than I do what I need and don’t presume to do so. If I need your help, I’ll ask for it, thank you very much.
The Humanist: Your own experience aside, have you encountered a fair amount of coercion in the adult film business?
NH: In twenty-six years of on-camera work I've witnessed very few instances of coercion of performers on set, and none of a physical nature. Compared to how workers may be “coerced” by superiors in non-sex work employment, I’d say that there are no more instances of this in adult entertainment than in the general population. For people with the right temperament, adult entertainment can be a great way to make a living. The work hours are flexible, the pay scale excellent for semi-skilled labor ($300-1,500/day). Women have the right of refusal, always, and exercise it.
There is a stigma still attached to having “adult entertainment” on one’s resume, but that’s a function of the culture’s deep ambivalence toward women and sexuality, plus the projections of a potential employer onto those seeking to leave porn for a so-called straight job. I never experienced discrimination until I came out as a sex worker, and most of that has been from other, educated women who identify as “feminist.”
The Humanist: Specifically, would you say many women are not doing it purely by choice?
NH: Absolutely not. Whether or not we agree with or approve of them, the choices made by young women are theirs. If we’re to grant autonomy to people over the age of eighteen, then that means accepting their choices as valid, even if we’d never do such a thing. This includes being able to join the army and get shot or maimed, or become a miner or construction worker. Those are deadly jobs (no one has died from making porn in the thirty-seven years it’s been legal) and no one thinks to tell a young adult, “Don’t do that job it’s dangerous.” Or, if we do tell them, we accept that, being young people, they may disregard our advice.
If we accept that a young woman can consent to have an abortion or become a parent, then it stands to reason that we must accept that she can consent to make pornography. Of all the branches of sex work available porn is the safest, as it’s legal to make and we have an excellent testing program in place (aim-med.org).
These are ambitious, competitive young people, strivers, if you will. Most are not college-educated, nor do they plan to be. Porn is highly paid blue-collar labor and, for many performers, beats the heck out of wearing a paper hat. As entertainers, as well as simply being young people, performers have a high need for excitement and attention, and porn fits the bill, as the barrier to entry is fairly low.
The Humanist: What do you think could be done to improve the industry in this regard?
NH: The widespread notion that legal porn production is a sink hole of abuse and coercion that takes advantage of poor, innocent women, is the biggest smack leveled against the business. It’s almost entirely a function or projection of people’s fears and discomfort about women, gender relations, sex, sexuality and the graphic depiction of sexual acts. The idea that a woman could choose, on purpose, to perform in pornographic videos for her own reasons still goes deeply against the notion that women are somehow victims of male sexuality, that they’re delicate flowers who need the protection of a good man, or the law.
The best protection for women everywhere, especially in the sex trades, is full decriminalization of all consensual sex work. Porn is legal to shoot in California. We pay taxes, buy permits, and the like. Any woman can pick up her phone and call her agent, or the police, and get full support if anything happens on a set.
My biggest complaint these days is how the anti-sex work camp has, for the purpose of public confusion, conflated legal, consensual sex work, specifically pornography, with illegal, non-consensual trafficking of women for forced labor (some of it of a sexual nature). There is no connection between the legal material we make here in California and any trafficking of women. Full stop.
Are there some directors or agents with less-than-stellar reputations? Of course. This is not a business of selfless do-gooders (of course, the entire entertainment business is not run by selfless do-gooders). But the world can’t be made a child-safe day nursery. We either accept that performers are adults making their own choices (no matter how we may feel about those choices), or we go back to pre-Women’s Liberation days, when women couldn’t get credit in their own names, obtain birth control without their husband’s permission, or wear pants in the work place. Do we really want those days back?
The Humanist: What types of books do you read in your spare time? What are some of your favorite books?
NH: I prefer non-fiction, usually science-related. Some I’ve enjoyed are: The Soul of Sex [Thomas Moore], Harmful to Minors [Judith Levine and Joycelyn M. Elders], The Female Brain [Louann Brizendine], Outwitting History [Aaron Lansky], Some Girls [Jillian Lauren], Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society [Peter McWilliams], and, interestingly, R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated. I do enjoy some fiction, especially the Golden Compass trilogy [Philip Pullman] and most anything by Gregory Maguire.
The Humanist: Have you read or followed any of the best-sellers written by the new atheists (Such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor Stenger) about non-belief?
NH: I have read the books and liked them well enough. I’m not that angry at religion, as I was not indoctrinated with it. I don’t care for it, or how other people’s religious beliefs impact my life (the abortion debate, consensual adult sex commerce, adult entertainment, recreational drug use, and so forth), but I don’t harbor an abiding hatred of it. If I had been bullied by believers, or harmed by the church, I might have stronger feelings.
The Humanist: Ethics is a complicated subject since morality has changed over the centuries from outlawing slavery to allowing women to vote. There is a great difficulty in explaining morality, but how would you best sum up your ethics?
NH: I’m a secular humanist. I’m a believer in the Golden Rule. I’m not out to hurt anyone, but will defend myself if need be. I think most people are good at heart, though I do believe that some people are inherently bad, like sociopaths (usually born that way, sometimes made so by circumstance). I operate from the assumption that people’s motives are good (if, at times, misguided) until proven otherwise. I seek to enable people’s growth and liberation, especially in the sexual realm.
The Humanist: In your industry, there are several well-known Christians and conservatives (notably Mary Carey—who dined with then-President George W. Bush and ran a faux-campaign for California Governor). What would you tell an outsider about the adult industry’s religious and political demographics?
NH: Most have been raised in Christian homes, though few are currently practicing. That’s because most people in the United States are raised in Christian homes, of some sort or another. A number of us are from Jewish homes, also non-practicing. Most people in the business have some conflict regarding their upbringing and behavior, as would be expected in such a conflicted culture.
The Humanist: Is there any hypocrisy in being a Christian (or religious) and working in the adult industry?
NH: I would think so, but there are several people in the business who identify as Christian. I think making movies would violate the adultery prohibition. Though one gets around it by saying that work is lust, not love, so it’s okay. Convoluted thinking is nothing new in religion.
The Humanist: You have an open relationship with your husband. Several notable anti-Victorians had similar relationships or were opposed to marriage entirely. Some had lasting relationships and others didn’t. What do you want people to know about these relationships?
NH: Open relationships are good for people who are not, by personal nature, monogamous. Open relationships have their own challenges, of course, as well as their own satisfactions. Don’t judge what you don’t know. Open relationships aren’t cheating, as all is above board.
The Humanist: Such relationships have been denounced as immoral by the same leaders of the religious and political right who are the victims of scandals (Ted Haggard, John Ensign, Mark Sanford). What do you say to those who denounce it as immoral?
NH: Stop being hypocritical jerks. I’m reminded of the adage of people who live in glass houses. I don’t lie about what I do or with whom I sleep, or present myself as some moral authority.
The Humanist: What would most people be shocked to know about you? What’s the biggest misconception people have?
NH: The biggest misconception is that I have sex all the time, with anyone; that I’m amoral; that I must hate myself; that I’m unable to have a real relationship with a partner; that I’m rich; that I must be stuck up; that I’m an abuse survivor. They may be shocked to know I’m a doting aunt and devoted daughter.
Ryan Shaffer is a PhD candidate in history at Stony Brook University who holds an MA in history and a BA in philosophy. He’s published articles in a variety of magazines, including...
QUOTES FROM NINA
"One need never be unsanitary while one is being dirty, as 'sanitary' is a state of fact and 'dirty' is a state of mind."
"Do not use sex to harm self or others"
"We can desire anything we want. We just can't have everything we want."
"There are no wrong thoughts, only wrong actions."
"Consensual pleasure is an unalloyed good, full stop."
"No one owes anyone an orgasm."
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