By Prof Paul Maginn
Geographies of Porn
Like most people, I am interested in porn. My interests are niche. In short, I’m interested in the geographies of porn.
I know! I know!
You’re probably sitting there scratching your head with a bewildered look on your face and saying:
“He’s into the fucking geographies of porn? Is that some kind of new porn category? Why’s he not
into normal porn like anal, big tits, or MILFs?”
Let me explain. I’m what you might call a ‘sexademic’. Stop sniggering at the back please!
Put simply, I’m an academic geographer/urban planner that studies the sex industry! To elaborate a little, I am interested in the social, political and economic production, consumption and regulation that surrounds commercial sex venues and activities such as retail sex shops, strip clubs, BDSM venues, brothels, sex/porn expos and online porn consumption.
In a sense, then, I am into anal, big tits, MILF, gay and any other category of (legal) porn you can shake a stick at. It’s just that I am interested in the where, what, when, how, how much and how long WE view online porn!
Porn Performers: Humans NOT Sexbots!
My research interests on the geographies of porn are about breaking down society’s stereotypical perceptions of porn performers as nothing more than just a porn performer. Just as Tom Cruise is not Ethan Hunt, or Jennifer Lawrence is not Katniss Everdeen 24/7, the same applies to porn performers.
Despite society’s stereotypical idealised bodies of female porn performers, the above average appendages of male performers and the sexual athleticism portrayed in porn movies, porn performers are not some unique species from a far off galaxy called Pornutopia.
Nor are they life-sized sexbots manufactured by some sex-tech firm in Silicon Valley. Although, as many of you might know it is now possible to purchase a life-sized doll of performers such as Stormy Daniels, Jessica Drake and Asa Akira; replica vulvas of performers such as Joanna Angel, Angela White, Ana Foxxx and Stoya, and replica penises of John Holmes, James Deen and Lexington Steele.
Ultimately, porn performers are just like the rest of us – sexual, human beings!
Moving Beyond Stereotypes
It is impossible to get a handle on the exact demographic profile of the porn community – there’s no tick box in the census that says “porn star”.
Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the porn community is diverse in terms of age, gender, ethnicity/race, sexuality and body type. This is evident, for example, from the categories of porn magazines and DVDs in adult stores and online, the wonderfully rich mix of people who webcam, and when you see performers working their booths at events such as the AVN Expo.
Despite this diversity, the porn stereotype, especially of female performers – ‘platinum blonde with surgically enhanced breasts’ – seems to persist within our collective imagination. However, analysis of the Internet Adult Film Database (IAFD) by John Milward, a big data journalist, showed that blondes only accounted for one-third of female performers, and 34B, as opposed to the stereotypical 34DD, was the most common bust size.
Porn Performers as a Migrant Community
Geographical studies of migrant communities tend to focus on minority ethnic, cultural or religious communities and seek to explore the when, why and how of their migration and resettlement experiences.
California has long been the epicentre of U.S. and global porn production. Hence, it should come as no real surprise that the many thousands of women, men and trans folks who have worked in the porn industry over the last 40 years in LA, as well as San Francisco and Las Vegas, have migrated there from other parts of the US and the world.
For example, Stormy Daniels is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jessica Drake is from San Antonio, Texas; Asa Akira is from New York; Tanya Tate is from Liverpool, England; and, Angela White is from Sydney, Australia. In terms of male performers, Johnny Sins is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Lexington Steele is from Atlantic City; Manuel Ferrera hails from Le Raincy, France; Tommy Pistol is from Queens, New York; and Keiran Lee is from Derby, England – yes, Derby! An industrial town in the middle of England.
The porn community – performers, producers, directors, agents and so on – arguably constitute a minority migrant community. First, porn is a unique form of labour with only a small number of people engaged in the adult industry. Next, most people in the porn industry in LA have migrated from elsewhere in the US or internationally. Finally, the porn community, especially performers since they are the public face of adult entertainment, are ‘othered’, stigmatised and often portrayed as abnormal or deviant because of their labour.
When migrant communities resettle in a new city it is fairly common for particular groups to live and/or work in certain neighbourhoods and for those neighbourhoods to be associated with that group. In geography such places are referred to as ethnic enclaves or ethnoburbs. ‘Chinatowns’, which are found in all Australian capital cities, are a classic example of an ethnoburb. Other examples include, ‘Koreatown’ in Los Angeles; ‘Little Italy’ and ‘Little Odessa’ in New York; and ‘Kangaroo Valley’ (i.e. Earls Court) in London.
Migrant communities also often face discrimination in their resettlement journey when it comes to accessing housing, employment opportunities and being accepted as part of the so-called host community or nation.
All of this got me thinking about whether or not the migration and resettlement experiences resonated with more traditional migration stories.
CARPOOLXXX: A Porncast
As part of my podcast, The (Sub)Urbanista Podcast, and partly inspired by James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, I initiated a special series – CarpoolXXX: Porn Performers as a Migrant Community – in an effort to explore the migration and resettlement experiences of adult performers.
The basic plan was to drive around LA and Las Vegas and chat with performers about their migration stories. Easier said than done! But, thanks to a friend (Ari Bass), networking, tweeting and a sprinkling of luck, I managed to set up a bunch of podcasts.
In January 2018, whilst working with two other sexademic colleagues – Prof. Barb Brents (UNLV) and Prof. Crystal Jackson (John Jay College, NY) – on another project on porn consumption, I conducted a number of podcasts with former and current porn performers. In LA, I drove around Venice Beach for 1.5 hours with former porn actress, writer and director Melissa Monet. A few days later in Las Vegas, at the 2018 AVN Expo, I did podcasts at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel with: Kiki Daire; Ela Darling; Charlotte Cross; Alana Cruise; and a young married couple, Lyndsey Love and Michael Scott, who shoot amateur porn.
Then, in April, on my way to New Orleans for a geography conference, I stopped off in LA and conducted podcasts driving around the San Fernando Valley with Kira Noir (thanks to Mark Speigler), Dana Vespoli (thanks to Ari Bass) and Mike Quasar, who I had met at the Circle Bar at the AVN Expo back in January.
All those that took part were friendly, candid, and totally down to earth. A fascinating array of issues were explored. These includes: city/town migrated from; family backgrounds; employment histories; educational attainment and aspirations; accessing and sharing housing in LA; social networks within and outside of the porn community; places of social and community significance for porn performers; raising family; coming out as a porn performer; and negotiating stigma and discrimination.
More insights and reflections on the CarpoolXXX podcast series will be revealed in the next issue of the EROS journal. For a taste of things you can check out the CarPoolXXX podcasts with Melissa Monet – “Show Me the Monet”; Kika Daire – “She Who Daires Wins”; and Ela Darling – “VR Porn Queen” on my Soundcloud page – https://soundcloud.com/user-954459790- or Youtube page – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqFwVHzxSoreGXVBEq3f8Iw.