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The recent book Philosophy, Pussycats and Porn by the pornstar known as “Stoya” certainly isn’t the first someone in the porn industry has penned. Instead, this new collection of essays that discusses different topics from technology to religious iconography, is just the latest product from a new generation of porn performers taking an intellectual stand on social issues. They’re filling a niche that, in many ways, has been created by modern capitalism—an economic system that robustly supports human desire. In a way, these intellectual porn stars have turned into the avant-garde academics in this field, philosophers of the flesh and some of society’s most serious thinkers on human sexuality.
Porn is now more mainstream than it has ever been. Pornstars appear everywhere from blockbuster TV shows like Game of Thrones to political podcasts. But the industry’s unique complexity breeds. Of course, the porn industry remains a contradictory place where feminism and sexism intermingle and the line between public and private is constantly erased. Yet it’s precisely this complexity that has empowered these pornstars to become intellectuals, who help us all to understand the nuanced world in which they live.
Award-winning, U.S.-based Australian pornstar Angela White is known for her advocacy of women’s rights and body positivity. She consistently pushes for a culture that celebrates diversity in both bodies and genders. Conner Habib, an American gay pornstar of Middle Eastern and Irish descent, was a college lecturer of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst before he began shooting porn scenes. Now he’s also known for his writing and his thought-provoking podcast “Against Everyone with Conner Habib,” in which he interviews guests about different issues and articulates his own thoughtful views on the intersection of philosophy, sex, and anthroposophy.
And this isn’t an exclusively American phenomenon. In Europe, similar characters are appearing. Valentina Nappi in Italy and Amarna Miller of Spain are both porn stars who attended art school and grew up in countries where the Catholic Church held a firm grip on the social and political life. Yet these women have boldly voiced a feminist and hedonistic worldview, pushing the boundary of public opinion.
In the Trump era, porn’s political connotations are particularly important—and ironic. Despite the 2016 GOP resolution dubbing porn a “public health crisis,” Republican president Donald Trump is accused of having had an affair with pornstar Stormy Daniels. Many conservatives have spoken critically of Daniels—former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani has mocked her job and her looks. Despite the attacks, Stormy has been able to capitalize on her moment in the sun, running a strip club tour and releasing a book about the affair. Unlike many Trump critics, she hasn’t been silenced by the president or his loyalists. Indeed, she has persisted with her version of the story, disallowing anyone from shaming her and transforming herself into a feminist hero of sorts.
That isn’t to say the porn industry is a beacon of morality in the fallen world. In spite of its status as a pioneer in the world of social change, there remain issues stemming from the #MeToo movement as stories of sexual abuse inside the industry start to emerge. Reports of racism in the industry, too, have cropped up, and performers, on the whole, are making less than they have at any prior time. Indeed, there have even been some efforts to unionize the adult entertainment industry in order to change this reality.
Porn, of course, is always a complex issue—one that has generally been ignored in academia, with few exceptions. This seems neglectful since porn is often at the forefront of significant social change. Recently, it has embraced body positivity and the sexual empowerment of mature women. But historically, the industry has been busy depicting interracial, gay and trans relationships that, for a long time, weren’t featured in more mainstream media.
The porn industry used to thrive only in society’s marginal areas, but it has successfully managed to develop into a billion-dollar business. Now, the porn has the room to reinvent itself every day while poking fun at the deepest taboos of society. It can laugh at both presidential candidates and social activists, comment on the social problems of today and push for reforms in areas that other industries are scared to. After all, there is simply a market for everything.