by Rich Moreland, February 2019
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Whenever someone learns that I write in the adult film industry, he (or she) will ask if I know Nina Hartley. Nina is the universally renowned super star associated with adult entertainment. Anyone who knows anything about porn in our culture has heard of Nina.
So, my answer to the question is, “Of course.” I met Nina several years ago and without her input, my book on the history of feminism in porn would never have happened.
At this year’s Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, I found out that she is entering her thirty-fifth year in the industry. Wow, what an opportunity to celebrate porn’s greatest living icon.
So, we got together and talked about her career.
She began with politics.
What stands out for her, Nina says, “is the ongoing efforts of sex workers around the world to organize on their own behalf.” We live in “a post-feminist revolution world” with a current generation that is “proud, angry, outraged, and finding each other,” she tells me.
The best news is that the “pro-sex side” of the cultural battle over sexuality and sex work is evolving. “The sex-positive movement works hard to be inclusive of everyone regardless of race, class, gender expression/identity,” Nina says, which makes it stronger.
The upshot of inclusion is this: our conception of “sex, sexuality, sexual expression, and consensual sexual commerce” is moving forward while “the people aligned against us are the same as they ever were with the same tired arguments they’ve always used,” she explains.
Among her proudest accomplishments, Nina points out, is her service “on the board of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance, a non-profit organization working at the intersection of human rights and sexual rights.”
Without doubt Nina has been, and is, more politically active than anyone in the industry. As always, freedom of speech and sex worker rights are at the top of her passions. Her feminist statements may not always vex her sex-negative adversaries, but they pass the test of historical importance. Nina Hartley speaks out against oppression with as fine a voice as will ever grace the adult industry.
The Nina Frequency
Nina next moves to her on-camera career.
“What sticks out is how happy I’ve been with my decision to enter porn in the first place,” she says. While dancing in San Francisco, Nina earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing. That was in 1984 and she was readying herself for the jump into hardcore.
She decided that culturally we needed a sex makeover to broaden our understanding of human relations.
“Sex is my area of study and interest. Porn proved a fantastic way to have a lot of it with a wide range of people in a controlled, semi-public environment, without the encumbrances of romantic entanglement,” Nina explains. It allowed her to present her ideas to “the broadest possible audience.”
Not surprisingly, sex education has always been on her radar. She’s broadcasted on the ‘Nina frequency,’ as she humorously puts it, since the beginning of her career, trusting that “the people who need to hear my message will find it.”
Reaction to her work has been beyond rewarding and reinforces that her professional choices were the best they could be. She elaborates,
“This personal connection with my fans is one of the best aspects of my job. The original ones have grown older with me and I continue to gain new, younger fans who also like my message about sex. My 2006 book, “Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex,” is something of which I’m still quite proud.”
Sex Worker Rights
Nina takes immeasurable satisfaction from the social changes she seen over the years and the part she has played in them.
“What stands out,” she begins,” is the ever-expanding social acceptance, at least in the bigger cities/college towns, of so-called “alternative lifestyles.”
In her younger days, swinging, “a very heteronormative sexual subculture,” was the only vehicle out there, she remembers. But things have changed today.
“Now, social support for trans inclusion, anti-racism, anti-White supremacy, sex worker rights, polyamory rights and non-traditional families, is nationwide and gaining traction,” Nina says. “Feminist scholars who are supportive of full bodily autonomy for women now populate more universities, helping to balance the hegemony of the older, all-sex-work-and-male-desire-are-bad camp of professors.”
Nevertheless, Nina offers an observation couched in her years of fighting for sex worker recognition and rights.
“The progressive movement [today] seems to be splitting along similar lines as the feminist movement did back during the “Porn Wars” of the mid-1980s, between pro and anti-censorship/sex worker rights wings.”
Power to the Performer
So, I ask Nina, “What about the state of porn today?”
“Porn-wise what stands out is the ongoing transfer of power within the producing community from company owners/producers to the performers themselves, fueled by technology.”
“Now, any performer can make direct contact with the end-user, charge what they want and keep the money.”
But that is just the beginning of the changes we’re going through.
Nina declares that “any consumer can find multiple performers who enjoy pleasing a wide range of fetishes.” This includes male performers who now have “equal access” to porn’s fan base.
“This is important because male performers never had the additional income stream opportunity afforded by feature dancing,” Nina adds. Throw in “content trade” (the collaboration of models and photographers that gives models input beyond their hired studio scenes) and “fans get to see their favorite performers doing exactly what they please.”
There is also another important change Nina has discovered. “Performers are also staying in the business longer, and coming together as a proud community. I find this satisfying to witness,” she adds.
From Pain to Empowerment
Finally, what’s on Nina’s agenda for 2019?
“Going forward life looks good. I have love in my life with a new partner, which is the icing on the cake.” She is also pleased with “the outcome of the work I’ve done over my career, both on camera and off.”
Nina continues to speak at academic institutions about sexuality, personal responsibility, “and how to get all the fun out of sex while minimizing the potential for negative outcomes.” Porn is a vital part of any talk she gives.
Of course, Nina remains a staunch advocate “for sex and sexual freedom.” She touts her “SFW (safe for work) site, nina.live. There she offers “counseling, consulting and coaching on sex and relationship issues.”
In closing, she says, “Sexual suffering is real and helping adults process and transform that energy from pain to empowerment, never loses its appeal and power. When we can learn how to make friends with our bodies and desires, true happiness and contentment is possible. For everyone.”
Indeed! We wish Nina Hartley another thirty-five of years of presence on the sexual stage!
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To contact Nina Hartley, go to the following: