Nina Hartley Reflects On Career in Porn

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Nina Hartley, a well-known porn star and sex education advocate, recently sat down to answer questions about her experience in the porn industry as well as to give advice to hopeful graduates looking to break into adult entertainment. Hartley, a Berkeley native and San Francisco State University graduate, has made a career out of porn for over two decades. She said her knowledge and familiarity with the porn industry has allowed her to travel the world and tp inform others about what it takes to truly make it in the porn industry.

The Daily Californian: How did you get involved in adult entertainment?

Nina Hartley: I started as a stripper in SF when I was attending SFSU-I have my degree in Nursing-to explore my exhibitionism in a safe environment, as well as to get access to naked women. I made my first movie in '84, when I was a junior and went full time in '85, when I graduated. I wanted to explore my sexuality in a controlled environment, as well as get my message out there about sex. (My husband) Ernest came for a lot of the same reasons: to speak his truth about sex and sexuality, particularly kink sexuality.

DC: What made you decide to get involved?

NH: Access to naked women and sex without having to be in a "relationship," all the fun of dating with none of the hassle, to talk about sex in the bigger context of society, to explore sex and sexuality while getting paid.

DC: Do you think people pursuing porn as a career has become less taboo?

NH: Only slightly. It's still hard to leave porn and do something else. How (do you) explain the resume gap? A former performer won't be able to work with kids, for example.

DC: Is there a lot of rejection involved when aspiring adult entertainment hopefuls try to break into the industry?

NH: For men, a lot. For women, some. If you're not what they're looking for ... Mainstream entertainment is even worse, by the way. So, yes, rejection is rife. Pay is low and very intermittent. People with low self-image should stay the heck away from the entertainment business. Porn is a little different: if you're willing to have sex on camera they can overlook a wide range of "imperfections" in appearance, and do, but there are limits there, as well.

DC: What has your experience in the industry been like?

NH: Overall, positive. I've traveled the world because of it, met lots of cool people, had lots of amazing sexual experiences, met my husband. But I knew what I was here for when I started. Things that have happened to me that would have really upset someone else I was able to handle differently. I was older than most when I started, for one. I had an established feminist identity for another. I was here for me and my needs, not for anyone else or their needs, so I've kept emotionally well-insulated for all these years. I get plenty of validation from my fans and the end users of my product, so the opinions of those who hate me don't really affect me, except to piss me off sometimes for their ignorance and hostility.

DC: What are some of the pitfalls that come with being in the adult industry?

NH: All that you think, and more. Rejection by family and friends. Loss of job, family, children. Being ejected from one's church. Non-lethal STDs. Insecure employment. People's projections onto you about who and what you are. Your own self-image may take a beating. Pick your own.

DC: Would someone with a degree (in English or Film) have more of a leg up trying to get into the industry as a writer or director?

NH: No. The business doesn't want new blood, overall. Porn is a bastard art form. It's legal, but not truly accepted by mainstream. Most people in porn are here because they're not cut out to do anything really different. There are some exceptions, of course, but it remains true that porn is a ghetto of sorts for most who find themselves there and there aren't many ways out once in.

If a filmmaker is okay with being a starving artist, he or she can make arty films that deal directly with sexual matters, but it may not work as porn. Porn is to incite masturbation and sexual release. This is why "Brown Bunny" and "Short Bus" don't work as porn. They're sexually explicit art films, but not "porn," since they don't inspire masturbation.

DC: How do you solicit yourself as an editor or writer for porn and how do you become a performer in front of the camera?

NH: They don't want writers or directors. We have all we need in the mainstream porn business in LA. It's nearly impossible to "break into" porn on the production end.

As a performer, women are paid because they're willing, men because they're able. The whole business now is shrinking, mainly due to piracy issues. The business model that I knew so well for so long is shifting rapidly and it's not settled yet into its new configuration. The porn business in the future will be smaller and employ fewer people on both sides of the camera. Once a person understands the paperwork requirements for model releases/proof of age forms, etc., he or she can go into business for him or her self and see what happens.

DC: What is the one thing that most hopefuls don't expect when trying to break into the industry?

NH: How insecurity can be triggered when others judge you on your appearance/performance. The pressure to sometimes do things you don't want to do. How boring being on a set can be. How bad their family's reactions can be (or) will be. How much fun it can be. Meeting cool people. Meeting jerks.

DC: What are some tips you would give hopefuls trying to break into the industry?

A: These days, with the business shifting so rapidly my usual tips aren't so up to date. So, for performer wanna-bes, try other, non-porn, non-permanent-record ways of getting your jollies. I do not recommend porn for anyone under the age of 25. Be young. Be sexy. Be experimental. Be kinky. Be freaky. Be curious. Make home movies and lock them up so you can see yourself having sex. Just don't do it for money and other people's idea of what is "sexy."

If, at age 25, you still want to make movies, check back in.


Contact Kelly Strickland at [email protected]

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