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What Hollywood Can Learn From Porn About Sex Scenes

All anyone talked about for a while was the dick. On the Netflix series Sex/Life,Adam’s sudsy shower flash was greeted with shock, awe, and flushed faces when it was revealed in all its wet, dripping glory. He had equipment made for porn, and while an audience who would tune into a show with Sex in the title is presumed to be open-minded and positive about it, there are still girlish giggles whenever a dick pops up on screen (even if it may be a prosthetic one).

I’m used to seeing genuine porn-size talent up close and personal, so that scene didn’t make me giggle, but it did make me think. If Hollywood was ready to give us the D, on a show completely and unapologetically about sex that was viewed as massively as its starring member, is Hollywood now tapping on the adult industry’s soaped-up shower door for inspiration?

Sex isn’t something Hollywood is comfortable with. Love scenes, as they are called, on a Hollywood soundstage are something most talent and crew dread. The experience is akin to taking one of those ginger and cayenne pepper shots from the juice bar down fast, but you don’t even get the heat or the buzz from it, just the aching gut. The only instruction I was given on a love scene when I was young was to kiss, rub around under the covers, and to not use tongue. Tongues are looked upon, especially in network television, as a step too far.

I used to watch trained actors on a soap opera break a sweat the day that they had to film anything that requires them to act out the act. Part of it is nudity, of course. Not everyone is comfortable taking their clothes off, especially not in front of a crew made up of mostly sweaty, hungry men. But really, they’re only hungry for their lunchtime sandwiches, much like on adult film sets. It could also be the idea of intimacy, but as actors we tap into deep and powerful, heart-wrenching emotions on a regular basis. So, if we are comfortable with that material, then how could portraying the most natural act of intimacy make us so apprehensive?

I think it’s because nobody really knows what they are doing.

Filming sex is a specific talent that I didn’t conceptualize until I started acting in the world of porn and with Vixen Media Group. The lighting, the camera angles, the movement between the performers—as well as the coordination of the crew on sets that are small and edged with bed corners and the threat of helicoptering limbs—are all required to make an act that between regular folks in real life is, let’s face it, not something necessarily beautiful to look at, look beautiful. Who hasn’t filmed themselves and thought, should we burn this afterward? Or at least after we get off to it.

Most sex in porn is shot in one fluid take, or with as few breaks as possible, while, in turn, mainstream scenes are a constant suffering of stopping and starting with lengthy breaks in between, probably for those lunchtime sandwiches (porn waits until after the scene to eat). To be naked and sweaty and in and out of the act all day can be miserable. And there’s no way to achieve a true passionate encounter if it’s broken up every few minutes to stop and wait to get a different take. It can begin to feel stilted and lose its fire. It becomes something that isn’t real. And I know that the sex in mainstream isn’t real, but it should certainly feel that way. Especially to the audience.

The core problem is that mainstream by and large doesn’t know how to film sex. They know how to make shots look aesthetically beautiful and moody and mysterious, but porn brings something raw and untethered to the screen that I have rarely seen in film and television, and I truly believe it’s been sorely missing. Porn offers something unapologetic. A feeling of give no f*cks, even while the f*cks are being given hard. It doesn’t hold back, and quite honestly Hollywood does—not just because there’s no penetration, but because there’s a feeling that any real sex needs to be performed in a way that isn’t sinfully enjoyable.

Hollywood pretends to hate sin. There’s an art to lovemaking, with the bend and tangle of bodies turning into something intense and passionate. Something that’s captured in the breath and the faces. Hollywood productions would be served well when filming an important sex scene to have advisers from porn on their sets, or even bring in co-directors for such set-ups. Someone who is an expert at this craft—yes, pornography is a craft—that could give it an authentic feel. And it would make the actors look good and feel more comfortable in their environment. Hollywood shouldn’t be scared of this. And neither should porn. We’ve come too far in both mediums to be scared of what the other might offer us.

“I don’t like spitting in my mouth,” one girl told me as we talked dos and don’ts before a scene, as is standard practice in the adult industry.

Porn is an industry of consent. And these conversations before scenes are necessary in order to have trust in the persons you are performing with. Well before Hollywood hired intimacy coaches, the adult industry’s elite had conversations about boundaries and approval at length. No-lists, preferences on lube and how certain acts would be more pleasurably performed are done right before the director calls for action. This brings a sense of confidence and security to something that is intimate in nature and may place someone in a vulnerable position, even if it’s unintended. Sure, as porn performers we are choosing to have sex on camera as a profession, so of course one would assume that we aren’t nervous about using our bodies, but we want to use them in a way that we control.

What I have highly valued in my time in porn has been my liberation from shame. For so long I was left with the feeling that my body was something to hide, to starve, to mold into whatever a producer or director wanted up there on the screen. This confusing message of overt sexuality while holding onto your chastity has plagued women for far too long. So, no wonder we’re ashamed of our naked skin or our pleasure from sex. No wonder we girlishly giggle at dicks when they show up on the screen. Hollywood gives us blue balls when it comes to sex—just enough before cutting things off right at the good part. But why does it always have to be stopped dead in its tracks? Why can’t sex be a real part of filmmaking, with real actors and stories and creative minds working together? Now, I’m not saying that every sex scene in movies has to be the real deal, but why can’t some of it be without shame or persecution? Why can’t consenting actors and performers make epic projects and bring real, passionate, raw sex to them on a large scale? Why can’t adult audiences view what they want? No more prosthetic dicks.

“You’re being too aggressive,” I was told by a director in mainstream once. “Kiss him, don’t devour him. Women aren’t like that. This isn’t pornography.” He said it was the lowest place a performer could achieve.Why can’t consenting actors and performers make epic projects and bring real, passionate, raw sex to them on a large scale? Why can’t adult audiences view what they want? No more prosthetic dicks.

I questioned myself at the time as a young woman. I thought there was something wrong with me, so I held back, and I would hold back for many years to come. If I was too aggressive or perceived to be by an uptight suit, I believed I would diminish myself as an actress and as a human. It took me many years to conclude that it wasn’t my perceived aggression in any given scene that upset any higher-ups in Hollywood—it was the power and force I had the ability to wield. The power that all women can wield.

Sex has been a way to keep women, and specifically in this case actresses, in the places they’ve been assigned. You rarely see a woman in the role of the sexual aggressor, or a woman unapologetically loving sex. That’s why Samantha from Sex and the City was such a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, characters like that are few and far between. But in porn they’re abundant. Women are regularly seen in positions of sexual power, and the power women have in this industry is astonishing. Women are also prominent creators and directors in porn. Hollywood would be better served to have women be so influential in directing and writing. There are only so many stories that can be told, and so many films that can be shot solely from a man’s perspective.

But Hollywood can give porn some pointers, too. While the sex is hotter in the adult industry, a lot of times there’s a missing element of passion and detailed intimacy that two actors who have honed their craft can achieve. I truly believe that in porn it’s important not just to rely on the physicality of the sex, because so much more can be brought to it if there is a commitment to depth and character and realism. The hushed moments can be the most erotic and powerful. I don’t ever like to hear the phrase, which is especially heartbreaking when it comes from young performers in this industry, that “it’s just porn.” It doesn’t have to be.

Also, porn needs to move past the concept of high school musical casting, though mainstream falls victim to it as well. It’s where performers who aren’t right for—or well-equipped to play—roles are slotted into them anyway. There are so many talented performers out there in both of our industries, who are of varied ages and sexes and races and body types, who can bring a wealth of humanity and experience to their roles and also bring something new to the page and screen. Let’s not lower the quality of filmmaking by constantly shoving a 23-year-old into a role she can’t believably play.

Working on award-winning projects like Muse 2 from Deeper have shown me firsthand how it is possible to merge the worlds of mainstream and porn and create quality films. But you have to have talent and crew and production working hand in hand to do it. It was always a dream of mine to film a project that had good acting and writing and production, and I’ve been fortunate to have done many. Now is the time to take porn to mainstream and mainstream back to porn. We need to stop sitting in our separate corners of the dance, watching each other, and wondering if we should make a move. It’s time to dance.

But maybe mainstream really is changing. More and more we’re seeing productions, like Sex/Life and 365 Days, that are pushing the boundaries as to what nudity and sex mean to a mainstream audience. Wouldn’t Hollywood benefit by connecting with people in the world of sex? Wouldn’t each world’s productions be enhanced by learning from each other?

Maybe it’s time to stop f*cking each other and just hold hands.

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