You may have caught our three part interview with “Master of O” author Ernest Greene in previous issues of Kink Weekly. We were lucky enough to also interview his “better half” sex educator and adult actress Nina Hartley.
Dexx: So Nina, I gather that you are staunch advocate of porn and BDSM rights for people and sort of a spokesperson on those issues. What sort of lead to you feeling so passionately about those as a cause?
Nina: I come from a long line of social activists, going back to my mother’s father, who worked in civil rights in Alabama in the ‘30s and I grew up going to civil rights marches and anti war marches and women’s rights marches. That was in the San Francisco bay area in the ‘60s and ‘70s, ground zero for the human potential movement, black power, women’s power, earth day, anti-war and the Human Potential Movement. My father was blacklisted in the late ‘50s for being a communist, and I grew up in the aftermath of political persecution and seeing my parents pick up from the rubble and create another life for themselves. The idea of ongoing struggle for rights, for first amendment rights, and individual sexual rights was around me growing up. I’m the youngest by far and was exposed to my parent’s ongoing efforts to save their marriage. They did, in in no particular order, bio feedback, bio energetics, marriage counseling, group counseling, Reichian therapy, primal scream therapy, Tai-Chi, naked tai-chi and guided mescaline therapy. When I was 10 they discovered Zen Buddhism, where they stayed until they died, 46 years later. I understood from an early age that you could fight for the life you wanted, and it was honorable to also fight for the rights of others. Social activism was a thing for my whole family.
Ernest Greene: Why not the violin? (Laughs)
Nina: My dad said once, “Why sex, but not the violin?” and I just had to say that it was my Thing, the way Zen was his. He recalled that I came home from school one day and announced that I was an oddball. If I had been exclusively gay, I would probably have known that my “otherness” was about sex. I just knew I wasn’t like other kids. I never dreamt of *him*, I always dreamt of *them.* I never had Barbie and Ken weddings, I’d have Barbie orgies. From the age of 12, I had this idea of rooms full of naked people and soon thereafter determined to become competent and confident about sex. I’m a queer, bisexual, non-monogamous a top-heavy switch. I grew up with notion that I had the right to live my life the way I wanted and the responsibility to do it safely. When Roe vs. Wade was decided I was 14, and I knew at a bone deep level that unless a woman has control over fertility, she can never be equal to men. I’m happy to be a doting aunt and great-aunt.
If I wasn’t exhibitionistic or pretty enough for porn I would have been a midwife with a very kinky social life. I might still have met Ernest eventually at some party somewhere because while I wasn’t strictly BDSM oriented, I was into all kinds of sexual things. When I met BDSM I realized, “this is me too.” I would have found it sooner or later I think, even if I had not gotten into porn as a profession or met Ernest when I did.
I got into porn in Reagan’s America. HIV became big news around the time of the home video explosion. The silver lining of the HIV debacle was that we had to talk about sex in public. It simply had to be discussed as a public health crisis. I’m a nurse, so for me there’s no shame in desire, just responsibility in behavior. I don’t care what you want. I see a lot of people who are ashamed of their desires, but you want whatever you want. You can’t* do* whatever you want, but you can want whatever you want. As a sex worker I’ve declassed myself, and it’s been an eye-opener to put myself in the way of anti-sex-worker bigotry and ignorance. It’s clear to me that, no matter from which side of the ideological divide it comes, anti sex-worker energy feels exactly the same: angry, ignorant and fearful. In actual life it is discriminatory, judgmental, disrespectful and really, really mean spirited.
Dexx: And it seems like you’ve been in the forefront of publicly discussing your career in the industry.
Nina: I was the first woman in porn to say, “I’ll talk to the press, send them over to me!” I came to porn not just because that’s where the naked women were, but to study sex work from a place of practice, not theory. And porn’s full of naked ladies, so that was (and still is) a lot of fun. I call porn “all the fun of dating with none of the hassle.” I got willing partners without the burden of having to date and all the weird emotional stuff that goes with that. I didn’t want my desires to be a problem for other people, and up until I found my tribe of ethical non-monogamists, all my desires just upset the people I knew. As a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance I affirm that sexual freedom is a fundamental human right.
Dexx: In the course of being so public about that, did you encounter some negativity from some places?
Nina: Oh certainly. I still do. I don’t look on the Internet for people to say mean things about me but I know they’re there. I know for every young woman who thinks I’m an amazing feminist and a great role model for her, a Gale Dines or Katherine McKinnon or Ariel Levy or Pamela Paul, will look at me as an apostate. I’ve been called names. I’ve been called a paid shill, and much worse. So, where’s my paycheck?
Ernest Greene: Where’s my check?!
Nina: (laughs) Women’s sexuality under an Abrahamic-based culture makes an out sex worker a lightning rod. I’ve often said that I make pornography because I’m too chicken shit to be a whore. Andrea Dworkin hated porn because she felt it showed all women as “whores by nature” and what I wanted to tell her was, not all women are whores by nature, “But some are” (she says while raising her hand). Women’s sexuality in cultures such as America’s is always political. We see it everyday. We see it in the fact that we still don’t have decriminalized sex work, we still see it in the way that abortion clinics are being taken out of existence and the way that sex workers are harassed, or worse.
Ernest Greene: If I can interrupt, that repressive attitude cuts across the logical lines. The position closest to the Republican party platform on sex work is that of the green party. Worth reading their platform to see what they have to say, but sex work – they don’t even like the term sex work, they still prefer “prostitution”.
Ernest Greene: They prefer “prostituted” because there’s no such thing as a “voluntary sex worker”. Or there’s such an insignificant part of it that they really don’t register, so most of them are prostituted women who are trafficked.
Nina: These women who absolutely would fight to the death for my right to have an abortion because I own my body are on the opposite side of the coin when it comes to my right to choose sex work. So wait, I can have an abortion, that’s my body, my right, and I’m not being brainwashed, but I can’t choose to be a sex worker because I’m brainwashed? It only goes to show that people’s resistance to individual sexual autonomy and freedom is not based on rationalities, it’s based on emotion. They make up stories and theories to make it okay for them to not check their own attitudes and prejudices, and while they get to stay in their prejudice and stay in their harmful attitudes, etc.
Dexx: So on the subject of non-monogamy it seems like that is something that is really on the rise. Certainly at least in terms of the people that we see. A lot more than it was 10 years ago.
Ernest Greene: It’s a thing.
Nina: He’s never had a non-dominant fantasy in his life, just as I’ve never had a monogamous fantasy in my life. I’ve always dreamt of other people. But more importantly, I always dreamt of it being okay with everybody. My first threesome was a complete, utter disaster. If I had a normal script, I would have said, “see, you don’t get to have that, you don’t get to have those fun things.” For me to have the life I wanted I had to get to the root of my jealousy and exorcise it because I wanted to make my fantasy life real. I wanted to live in a world where my desire for someone didn’t upset anyone else with whom I was sleeping. I wanted other people like me. I didn’t want to have to sit on my own desires and pretend to be normal because that proved to be a failure.
When Ernest and I started dating, besides the agreement to have a lot of hot BDSM sex together and for me to be his slave, we agreed we’d also be free to play with others. Once I had got free of my horrible exes I was sure I was so strange that I’d be single the rest of my life. Where was I going to find a het guy with great style, age- and culturally-appropriate, atheist, who was cool with my job, who wouldn’t slut shame me, whom I found sexy as fuck and who didn’t think he owned my sexuality, who was smart enough to seduce my mind as well as my body and who wouldn’t bore me sexually after three dates.
anniebear: That’s a lot of checkmarks.
Nina: That’s a lot of checks. You can see why I never thought I’d marry again.
anniebear: And the dungeon…
Nina: That was a bonus! Ernest is the only master I’ve ever had and the only lover who I’ve never tired of fucking. I know that the magic, ritual, respect, intentionality, romance and intimacy of BDSM sex is the secret to our relational success.That, plus the fact that we love to have threesomes with submissive women.
If anyone would like a glimpse of what sex at home might be like, check out Ernest’s book, “Master of O.” The sex is very explicit and I can tell you that all of it is taken from life. It’s a hot, fun read and the autographed, illustrated edition makes a great gift for any lover interested in BDSM sex.
Dexx: So, how did you first get into porn? Tell me about your first audition.
Nina: First, I discovered written pornography at the bedside of this Swingin’ 70s couple that I babysat for. Next to the (water) bed they had a small bookshelf with classics such as “Erotic Art of the Masters,” “The Pearl,” “Autobiography of a Flea,” “Fanny Hill,” “A Man and His Maid,” and stalwarts like “The Joy of Sex,” and “The Happy Hooker.” There was a used bookstore in Berkeley that had an erotic section I would come in and sit down and start reading the books, even though I was clearly underage. I paid attention to stories that interested me, and I didn’t understand at the time stories of corporal punishment and whipping. I knew I liked women’s bodies. Between school and home was an adult theatre in Berkley, and for the longest time there was a movie showing there called “Autobiography of a Flea.” I had read the book I wanted to see the movie. So one day I took it upon myself to walk into the theatre and see the movie, all by myself. I was 17. I sat in the middle of the theatre and in the middle of the first sex scene, my inner self said ‘me want do that.’ It was so primal I was surprised. I had barely kissed a boy at that age, I had never seen a naked boy. I’d seen very little hardcore pornography. I’d seen some underground comics that drew it, but never seen a photograph of an erection entering a vulva. And I just wanted to do that.
That was ’76. I met my first husband in ’81, went to nursing school. Ran into a friend who said she worked at the Sutter Street Cinema in San Francisco and I found out about this amateur night danced on stage with people watching. So I went, and I won, because I was clearly the only amateur. It was San Francisco, so I could do a penetration show. I won and I got a weekly job doing a girl/girl peep show, in a white room with a revolving bed. The mirrored peep windows had tip slots and I thought it was just awesome because I got to do girl/girl in room full of mirrors. I learned how to dance, how to present myself in an aesthetic way, but you could also look through and see guys masturbating, which was fantastic to me. I earned in a night what I’d get for a week of waitressing. I was going to school full-time so working just one night a week was optimal.
My then partner ran into Juliet Anderson at a nearby supermarket, recognized her, got her card, and we sent her pictures, and she put me in her one and only directorial effort called “Educating Nina.” So that was in ’84, and I graduated nursing school in ’85 and went into movies full time. My promise to myself was I’d never cut class to make a movie, and I never did. I knew that I was going to be talking about this and “Nina Hartley, RN,” has a lot more weight than “Nina Hartley. college drop out.” And of all the things I could have studied in college, nursing was the best thing to study, because it grounds you in basic biology and science, plus how to be effectively compassionate. I graduated nursing school in June of ’85 and I’ve been full time in adult entertainment ever since. I feature danced from ’87-2002, and then with Ernest I did the 40-volume educational series from Adam and Eve. From that we wrote the book “Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex”.
He and I have also done a twenty-volume series for Bizarre Video, “Nina Hartley’s Private Sessions.” As well, I helped him direct three movies for Adam&Eve based on the “Story of O” books: “O: The Power of Submission,” “The Surrender of O, “ and “The Truth about O.” All are beautifully shot, all are filled with hot kink-sex and lots of bondage with penetration (something Ernest made safe for porn).
I speak whenever I can to anybody over 18. In the beginning, with people on planes saying, “What do you do?” I’d always say pornography, because it’s always a great out about it. Now, when people say, ‘what do you do,’ I say I’m an adult sex educator. A little bit broader and I let them ask questions.
anniebear: A little polarizing to some.
Ernest Greene: She certainly has had her battles, there’s no doubt about it. And she’s not a combative person, unlike me, that’s hard for her.
Nina: I really, really, really, really believe in that. A person has a right to do with their body what they want. Period.
Dexx: So now, you produce your own material for Nina.com?
Nina: I do. The Internet has completely changed the production landscape, the monetary landscape, and the relationship between the performer and fans. Nowadays, performers mostly who work for themselves. These days I get hired very rarely to do a scene for a company. But my friends and I get together all the time and exchange content. I like that because we really get to do whatever it is we want.
I don’t know what’s going to happen but I do like being able to deal directly with the fans. The Internet does make it possible for any individual person to create a sexual community for themselves. Because all any performer needs to live is 100 people in the entire world to give them $50 a month each. There are many ways now for performers to interact with fans to do all kinds of not-in-person sex work in real time.
Dexx: It’s pretty interesting because you hear about free porn on the internet kind of cutting the revenues of the porn industry.
Nina: It cuts the revenue of the producers. Sex is about relationships, so porn is about relationships. so you are my fan. I’m in your bedroom with you, in your relationship with you, with you at your loneliest or horniest moment, and I’m happy to be there. Between porn performers and fans it’s personal. I have fans who are my fans because of my ass, certainly, but because I remind them of their first grade teacher, or their first crush, or a sister in law they used to want to fuck.
Ernest Greene: Really, what happened here, by no one’s intention, was that the means of production reverted to the workers when the big companies could no longer make profits on DVD sales, they all just kind of folded up. So now, they attract a different kind of performer.
Nina: More self motivated, more self organized. More educated.
Ernest Greene: It used to be in the 90s everyone wanted to be Jenna Jameson, but now I think it’s sort of kind of gotten filtered out to the hinterlands that there will not be another Jenna Jameson because there’s no company to support that kind of thing, but you can have that kind of interesting bohemian life out here.
Nina: You can be in an Indie porno, or some kind of alt-porno. So the individual person, who doesn’t mind being his or her own boss, it’s possible to carve out a portion of the landscape for your brand of sexy. It’s still a little harder for men to make their way here, because unless you don’t mind having a large gay following, it’s hard to have a pay site..
Dexx: So Nina, more recently you’ve been doing more BDSM oriented work?
Nina: I have been. Because I no longer have a partner who shames me out of it. Actually I would have been working with Ernest back in the 80s if my exes hadn’t shamed me out of it. I’m doing it more because, I’m kinky, and with women I really like topping. I really like being the good lover I wish I’d met when I was their age.
Dexx: You must have worked with lots and lots of BDSM porn actors and actresses?
Nina: More actresses. I’m strictly a top on camera. Except with Ernest.
Dexx: What makes a really great porn actress to work with?
Nina: The most important thing for me in a performer is her desire to be on camera.
Ernest Greene: You gotta like it.
Nina: It’s not just liking sex, but liking sex that other people are going to watch later. So most of the women I work with are like me, huge exhibitionists and really love the attention. They love the camera being on them. I love showing them attention. I love stoking their desire to be pretty and sexy and have all the attention, because I like girls and seeing girls happy and having orgasms at my help really works for me. So I never, never tire of a woman who is happy to be there. Or men, either, but particularly in BDSM movies. If I’m in it, I’ll be topping women, or co-topping. I just started recently doing FemDom on camera, mainly it’s woman and woman.
Dexx: With the prevalence of so much BDSM porn, do you think there are issues of some actresses being coerced into BDSM even though they’re not really into it?
Ernest Greene: In this country? No. In other parts of the world, I can’t say. But I think here, no.
Nina: In our community, very little. The women talk a lot to each other and the concept of consent is really quite out there in the world. A 20 year old these days has more information than a 20 year old in the ‘80s.
Ernest Greene: Let me also say as a director, that there’s been a real change in the attitude of porn performers over the years. They used to come in here pretty much expecting that they would do what they were told. Now they come in here expecting to do what they want to do. So, woe betide the foolish director who tried to get someone to do something they didn’t want to do. They’re likely to get their heads bitten off right at the shoulders, which is fine by me. I never had the problem because I always say what do you want to do and who do you want to do it with? Because that makes a hot scene. One of the things that directors do that’s stupid is say, well,I think these two people look good together so I’m going to put them together, but what you don’t know is they used to be an item but they broke up and hate each other’s guts. But they need the money so they agree to do the scene. Nah, you don’t want that scene. That’s a scene you don’t want to see.
Nina: Most of the time the directors who are sleezy that way, word does get around in a way it didn’t used to back in the studio system days. The director could threaten someone with the “you’ll never work in this town again” schtick and she couldn’t know that actually wasn’t possible.
Ernest Greene: It was never possible.
Nina: Now it’s impossible. You cannot prevent me from getting work from somewhere else. You may never hire me again, but you cannot prevent me from getting hired by somebody else.
Ernest Greene: The very fact that they won’t hire you might make the other person want to hire you.
Nina: So that part’s different.
Ernest Greene: There were things about the old system that I liked, from the production side, mainly the fact that we had enough money to do it… this is what’s sad about it. A lot of you have really good ideas but you don’t have 100 thousand dollars.
Nina: Or even 50K. We have donated labor and 5 hours.
Ernest: And one place, one room. Whereas, I used to have, as I said, 100 thousand dollars, houses, and things like that. I happen to like luxury porn.
Nina: If I won the lottery, I’m making bon bon porn till the day I die.
Dexx: Bon bon porn? (laughs)
Nina: Costumes, sex, script, rehearsals, music.
Ernest: Luxury porn is just not a thing at this point. Now someday there may be, it may come back.
Dexx: Funnily enough, there was a scene in Boogie Nights in which you had a role. (laughs)
Dexx: So how was it working on that movie?
Nina: It was honestly great. First, William H Macy is the world’s nicest man. He was a decent human being, treated me like a fellow professional, like a peer. Paul Thomas Anderson was a very good director, he knew exactly what he wanted. He never yelled, he was always very clear, and what really pissed me off though is that I had two big walking-talking scenes with Macy going to and from the party where I’m fucking in the driveway.
Dexx: I remember that.
Nina: I mean, we did a tracking shot, walking two-shot, 17 takes, each of them a little bit different and I thought, “oh wow he must really want this.” In the end all of the character building stuff was left out, which sucked. Making mainstream movies is like a porno shoot, only bigger. I was absolutely comfortable because a movie set is a movie set. During the last scene where I get shot with some squibs, I had to go to the make up trailer between takes. And all the time I had to remember, “Put on robe, put on robe, put on robe.” I mean, for me being naked is my work clothes. But for other people might perceive it as being challenging..
Paul Thomas Andersen hired me partly because he was a fan when he was in high school, but also because he wouldn’t have to close the set or worry about my emotional well-being.
anniebear: Have a discussion…
Nina: Have a discussion. So that part was great.
anniebear: That was kind of why they hired porn actresses for Game of Thrones recently.
Ernest: Yeah, sure, because they can get naked without worrying about it.
anniebear: Yeah, there’s a couple of them. And they’re great, and they look great, and they were good actresses. (laughs)
Nina: You know a lot of them are actually, we could be good actresses with a good director. I always have my ideas but I like being directed. If you want me to say it a different way, I’ll say it a different way.
Ernest: Absolutely. It can be good.
Dexx: There’s a pretty strong network of ProDommes in Southern California. Are you part of that world at all?
Nina: Oddly enough, I’ve never worked aa a ProDomme, but I should because I really like it.
anniebear: I think people in the LA scene think you are.
Nina: I do know if I guested at Sanctuary LAX I would probably talk to Mistress Cyan about it. I’m a sensual dominant. If you’re masochistic, I’ll hurt you as much as you want and 2 for me. I don’t need tears, I don’t need fear, I’m a good service top and I’m not afraid to hurt you. I clearly have a lot to learn, in terms of sessioning, because I don’t usually play with submissive men. And submissive women and submissive men are not the same.
Nina: The gender thing makes a difference. And so when it comes to ProDoming, I’m a baby ProDom. I’m an experienced top, but I know nothing about rope. I’d like to develop that side of my skill set. What I’ve done so far has been fun so I’m not against doing it.
Ernest: It’s not out of the question.
Nina is still active in the porn industry as an actress and producer. You can see more at Nina.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @ninaland. Nina is a board member of the Woodhull Alliance. Find out more: woodhullfoundation.org