Sasha Grey

"I myself don’t believe in feminism"

An Interview with Sasha Grey about her years in the porn business, feminism in Germany and her new projects as a Hollywood actress.
JOURNAL FRANKFURT: You became a pornstar "to revolutionize the business" - could you explain that a little?
SASHA GREY: One of the things that disappointed me when I watched porn was the lack of originality and creativity. When studying the adult industry for seven months before I made my entrance, I realized I could accomplish this with my body and my voice. It’s not that I necessarily wanted to revolutionize the business, but rather change the perception of women in the adult industry, and change the perception of what’s socially acceptable for women to enjoy sexually.

Were you successful with your revolution? What's changed since 2006?
I personally feel that I accomplished all of my goals. I feel that over the next five years, as I continue to garner more media attention as being a great actress, the shadow of my years in adult films won’t be so heavy. I think that as this happens, more people will be interested in what I had to say about sexuality, and it will have even a greater impact than I could have imagined.

Several months ago you announced your retirement from adult films - why and what are you‘re plans right now?
I actually quit over two years ago. I briefly mentioned it in interviews, but realized not a lot of my real fans were aware, so I decided to make a personal (and public) announcement. I felt I accomplished all of my goals as a performer, and I was simultaneously receiving offers for other television and film projects. It was time for me to move on so I could show people I’m serious about acting, and I’m not using my sexuality and experience in porn as a gimmick. Acting isn’t something you just think about and do, it’s a full time commitment, so it was personally important for me to give all of my time and resources to the art.

I‘ve seen, that you‘re in a film about Linda Lovelace - with Matt Dillon ...
It’s a very interesting story this film, and that’s the only reason I’m doing it! Linda Lovelace isn’t just a pubic controversial figure, but she’s very controversial (to this day) within the adult film community. Her past was checkered before her destructive relationships with the adult film industry. Anyone that knew her, can attest she was seemingly the sweetest girl, but truly she was a manipulative person who could be your friend one day, and turn her back on you the next. That’s exactly what she did when she left porn. She didn’t want to be responsible for her actions, so she blamed it on a business and other people.

How did you manage to get into the Hollywood-business? It is, after all, not the normal option for a pornstar to star in a Soderberg-movie …
I was only living in Los Angeles for two months, when I was approached by a writer to have a feature story written about me for “Los Angeles” magazine. I was very angry at the final article, but it was a domino effect for my career, so luckily I’m not bitter about it, hahaha! This led to profiles on several American day time and primetime talk shows; Steven Soderbergh also took note of the article, and called me in for a meeting. Two years later we were making a film in New York.

For most people pornography seems to be very centered around a male perspective - do you agree?
I agree and disagree with this idea. I myself do not get aroused by viewing what’s traditionally considered romantic, “vanilla” sex. I think most people that watch porn are watching it from a visceral standpoint, it’s a fantasy. Statistically more men watch porn than women, but I think the women who are into porn want the same visceral experience. Watching a woman receive oral sex is usually boring. This idea is the reason why I challenged the way people think. Most women are uncomfortable with porn because they are fed an idealized Hollywood image of romance, and expect that attitude from the man they want to be with. They want to be sexy, but are uncomfortable and don’t understand their own sexuality. Conversely, most men want a woman who is more comfortable with her sexuality, but this doesn’t mean she needs to emulate porn stars in the bedroom.

In Germany there is an ongoing discussion about the author Charlotte Roche (maybe you know her debut Feuchtgebiete - Wetlands?), who writes about besides many other things about anal sex, various body fluids and haemorrhoids - she became also quickly a spokesperson for a so-called new feminism. Is this really a new feminism to be open about such intimicy details?
I myself don’t believe in feminism, it’s such a watered down term, and everyone wants to own it. I’ve been called one, and if I was one, I’d be a post-modern feminist. I simply stand for independent sexual empowerment. I think it’s important to share with other women that just because you fantasize about sex in a different way (which may be perceived as wrong or dirty by most people), it doesn’t mean you are lesser than, or a bad person, or that you have no self worth. Conservatives push these ideas into our society to keep the fear alive. If women continue to be placed in a box in any area of life, we will continue to live in fear, and the cycle of ignorance will continue. I believe it all comes down to the money. Corporations want to maintain control by branding themselves as family friendly (let’s dare not educate our children about sex), yet CEOs are caught in sex scandals all the time, and they peddle a soft brand of sex through commercials, television, and PG13 movies.

Charlotte Roches counterpart is Alice Schwarzer, who was back in the 70s one of the leading feminists in Germany. She opposes pornography (her latest campaign is called porNO), an critisizes the oppression of women in the business. What‘s your opinion on that?
Has she ever done porn? It’s always easier to judge people from the outside, when you haven’t walked in their shows. However, I think I already addressed this throughout the interview. I presume she must know about pre-war Berlin. I’d love to hear her opinion on that time and place.

In some of your movies you‘re spit on, slapped and are in general not treaten very well by various men - that is oppression, don‘t you think?
Absolutely not. Again, as I’ve stated throughout this interview, not all women are created sexually equal. Just as all women aren’t created intellectually, or physically equal. Some of us have diverse sexual desires, it’s simply that we have been taught to lay down and shut up, so when we see something that we were taught to be extreme, then it means it must be wrong!

I wanted to experience these sexual acts through my performance art, in fact half of the time I demanded these things. I always maintained control, and had a premeditated approach every day. People have this idea that porn stars show up to set ,and things just happen to them, and that they have no say. You can thank Linda Lovelace for that. Seriously, I mean... she put coca cola in her vagina, and then cried wolf. Everyone has the opportunity to say no. I personally would speak with my partner in the scene and the director, and would give a set of rules of things I wasn’t comfortable doing. Nobody ever crossed my boundaries.

Do your movies send a wrong message about how to treat women?
That’s subjective. But I do not believe so. Porn is fantasy, and sometimes art as well. Does Star-Trek teach us that aliens will be intellectuals with pointed ears? People are always trying to take away the fact that porn is fantasy, they want to view it as simple documentation as if we are watching the animal channel, and that it can somehow be judged independently of all other modes of fantasy.

You describe pornography as part of pop-culture. When does pornography become art?
Well I for instance approached my scenes through the lens of performance art. Some people will hopefully take this away with them, because I feel my work continued off camera, but others will be finished in two minutes. I think there are a few individuals in the adult industry that approach their work as art, and that will always be up for debate by the audience.

What‘s your opinion about the movie 9to5, which will be shown in Frankfurt? Is this a realistic documentation about the industry?
To the best of my memory, I thought it captured the lives and stories of a few individuals in the adult industry in a very true way. It allowed the audience to make up their mind, rather than manipulating them to feel sorry for these people, or provide a false sense of empowerment. I also remember it to be very visually captivating!

What are you‘re expectations about your trip (and your gathering with Peaches)?
I was in Berlin a few years ago; I hope to enjoy myself as much in Frankfurt as I did there! I can’t wait to get a photo of me and Peaches doing the “schocker” know the hand symbol!

More about the festival "Bodies of Babel" right here.

The abridged german version of this interview appeared in Journal Frankfurt, issue 20/2011.
22. September 2011, 11.36 Uhr
Interview: Nils Bremer
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