by Rich Moreland, January 2014
This is the first in a series of posts about my most recent trip to the Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) in Las Vegas.
Wednesday January 15
Moderator Lynn Comella of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas begins the discussion with how porn is framed on campuses today. The genre, she states, is a mixture of sex education courses, academic research, and the opposing views of feminist porn supporters and anti-porn specialists.
At this years’ Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE), the opening day of seminars features “Porn Goes to College,” a discussion showcasing how pornography can be examined positively and why it often is not. The Hard Rock Hotel’s Festival Hall is hosting the panel. The room is packed; some attendees stand.
Three women represent the industry, Jessica Drake of Wicked Pictures, Tasha Reign of Reign Productions, and Courtney Trouble of TROUBLEfilms. From the academic side, Constance Penley of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Canadian student Tanesha Darby of York University, fill out the five seats.
The first round of thought and opinion reflects the premise generally expressed in current porn conferences: there is value in studying porn because it is a part of popular culture.
Big Ole Sex Education Class
Professor Penley mentions her course is the “class that keeps on teaching.” She uses guest lecturers to help students situate themselves with pornography. From her hands on experience, Penley explains that industry people tend to be “nicer, more open, smarter and more elegant” than those who come to campus with an anti-porn agenda. As a historian and journalist, I’m on board with Professor Penley. Too often anti-porn spokespersons display a malevolent “chip-on-the-shoulder” annoyance, approaching porn with an unassailable monologue of moral reductionism. In other words porn is bad, any fool can see that. As a result, discussion is unnecessary.
Jessica Drake and Tasha Reign, who is finishing her degree at UCLA, agree that porn on campus tends to consolidate into a handful of issues: consent, women and violence, date rape and alcohol, and discussions on sexual activity in general. The agenda eventually drifts into negativism with many students admitting they do not have a true understanding of sexuality, particularly their own. Drake believes these are valid concerns because peer pressure exists to watch porn. When she is invited to speak to classes, Drake wants her status as a porn performer to be educational. “I want to be that type of resource,” Drake says, informing students who may not understand sexuality’s cornucopia of possibilities. “Ask me anything,” she tells them and they do.
Her role as an educator is important, Jessica Drake believes, because porn often represents unrealistic expectations of what sex is all about.
Tasha Reign likens adult performers to a minority group whose behavior is seen through a public lens mired in the negative. “The adult business as a minority group” needs to be addressed, she believes, and colleges offer the right atmosphere. Attitudes toward porn people are similar to those that marginalize blacks and gays, Reign says. Understanding what it is like to be in porn needs expanding. Because the camera tends to objectify performers, students become misinformed about them and the sexual activity they see on film. Adult entertainers aren’t perceived as real people.
Courtney Trouble addresses queers and sexual minorities because her film company focuses on queer porn, a “subgenre of alt porn.” For Trouble, gender studies groups are important because queer people in college “feel different” and a revelation occurs when they see themselves positively for the first time. Later she adds that her art celebrates sexual minorities, “transpeople, transwomen, and transbodies,” shaping a favorable or constructive view of lifestyles easily dismissed by broader society.
Jessica Drake supports Trouble’s assertion. Everyone wants to be reassured of their normality, she says. “Yes, you are ok” is her affirming message.
Constance Penley understands all of these concerns and that’s exactly why her course turns into “a big ole sex education class,” she says with humor. The students can’t stop asking questions.
Created with a Conscience
Canadian Tanesha Darby brings in the student view. A concern she has is “the body being sexualized,” and this can be troubling for young people many of whom are still learning about their sexuality.
Responses to Darby highlight an assumption: porn is an umbrella term that collects all the negative aspects of sexuality. Tasha Reign summarizes the misrepresentation. Sex is painted with a broad brush, sweeping over porn with a conflation of sex work and sexual abuse. Professor Penley weighs in with the porn myths that perpetuate themselves: child porn, violent porn, snuff porn.
Discussion moved to academic course disclaimers informing students of possible negatives they might encounter in the class. Though such statements seem appropriate and college administrators use them as a cushion against public pressure, Jessica Drake mentions they are just another version of shaming that prompts some students to avoid such classes.
Perhaps the best solution is Constance Penley’s. She has no course disclaimer and sees no reason for one.
In defense of porn, there is a difference between the good and bad variety. Courtney Trouble notes that selling porn in today’s social media age is no easy matter. Consumers will buy porn if they know the conditions under which it was made. If they believe performers are treated fairly and consent is upfront in filming, dollars will be spent. There is more to be gained if porn is created with a conscience. Porn offers “opportunities of reach out to people,” Trouble says. Porn is “inflicting change” in our culture, she adds. Perhaps breaking barriers, might be more appropriate.
Tasha Reign could not agree more. “My videos are sex positive,” she says, “I’m a feminist.”
Certainly not the sex-negative kind, I assure you.