"For Me, Pornography Is Performing": Sasha Grey On Sex, Work, Communication

Despite claims that her opinions are worthless because she does porn, Sasha Grey has a long and insightful interview with Dazed Digital about acting, relationships, sex, and prostitution.

As some commenters pointed out, Grey's words in Newsweek, though unfairly slammed by Kathryn Jean Lopez, were actually kind of annoying. In response to the Mark Sanford scandal, she wrote,

Americans act so shocked when they hear about politicians, celebrities, and athletes having affairs, but I have to believe that many women who are married to men with power are aware of affairs, and accept it. Don't ask, don't tell; as long as they receive something in exchange from their husband-whether that exchange be children, money, material items, or sex. We create our own morals. It's once the affair goes public that morals change. The wife feels shame and humiliation because of public awareness, yet felt no desire to speak out prior. [...] Ideally, we should all openly have something extra on the side.

Commenter Old Jean Gallagher called this response "shockingly victim-blaming," which is pretty accurate. Grey criticizes political wives for making a public stink about their husbands' cheating, and sort of implies that they are all violating some previously agreed-upon quid pro quo. But while we may "create our own morals," when we're in relationships we need to agree on some of them, and it's unlikely that all wives of powerful men agree, even tacitly, to infidelity. As to her suggestion that we should all have something on the side, that's just as prescriptive as saying we should all be monogamous.

Grey seems much more thoughtful in her Dazed Digital interview with John-Paul Pryor. Pryor asks, "Do you think without prostitution and pornography there would be more instances of rape and so on? Or do you think that they actually allow for an arena where those kinds of abuses can take place?" The idea that porn and prostitutes act as a safety valve for men's natural desire to rape isn't new, but it is offensive — luckily, Grey handles it pretty well:

I think it depends. You have women on the street who are obviously being abused and they have pimps, I mean all you have to do is watch a few documentaries to see what that's like and how raw it is. That just perpetuates the negative stereotypes of prostitution, or pimping, or the johns. And then you have the women like Christine – they are like call girls, and they might not have a pimp; they are doing it on their own. I don't think that those necessarily perpetuate the abuse and the violence, but in the same vein, I don't think they help stop it at all. But the guys who are paying for the higher echelons don't beat the girls up – well, that's generally speaking from the research we did, maybe some politicians are going to go out there and beat some girls up, I don't know.

She makes the streetwalker-versus-call girl distinction that's been so much in the news lately, but she's careful to qualify it. She recognizes that just because she hasn't heard of violence against call girls doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Here's Grey on sex and communication:

Well, I just think it's 2009 and we're still so afraid to talk about sex. I think ignorance breeds fear and vice versa and the less you know the more negative things can happen, such as teenage pregnancy or the skyrocketing rate of STDs in young adults. It is about sexual freedom but it's about more than that, it's about communication and talking and learning. I think people are so afraid to do that; people are afraid of the truth – we'd rather hide inside a bubble.

And on acting:

I think the technical aspects and the people and the crews are all very similar but as far as performances go, I really hate it when people say, ‘Oh this is reality porn!" No. Because any time you put a camera in front of anybody, even if they have never been in front of a camera, they are going to act differently. For me, pornography is performing – it is what it is and I am an extension of myself, I am hyper me, whereas in a film like this, I am doing character research and I am stepping into the shoes of someone else, and I am thinking about my mannerisms.

It's nice to hear someone point out that pornography isn't real without denigrating it — Grey's words remind us that we can enjoy porn as a performance without expecting our actual sex lives to mimic it. Throughout the interview, she comes off as smart and appreciative of nuance — Kathryn Jean Lopez is missing out by dismissing her. However, Grey's also only 21 years old. While in most of the interview she sounds very mature and articulate, she occasionally makes statements like this one: "Before Christianity and Catholicism took over most people were in poly-amorous relationships."

I don't have the entire sexual history of the pre-Christian world at my fingertips, but I do know a little bit about Greece and Rome in the centuries immediately BCE, and I know that while upperclass men there often did have sex with multiple partners, the lives of their wives were pretty rigidly circumscribed. Of course, this doesn't mean women never had "something on the side," and it's frankly a little hard to tell who was screwing who thousands of years ago, especially among groups that didn't leave written records. But men were trying to control women's sexual behavior long before Christ, and the idea of a polyamorous pre-Christian golden age doesn't really hold water.

Maybe it's ageist of me to chalk up some of Grey's more sweeping statements to the fact that she's barely old enough to buy booze. I'm a half-decade older, and while I bet I could beat her in an ancient-history trivia contest, I may not actually know more about relationships. K. Lo's apparently 33, but being old enough to run for Senate hasn't taught her not to judge other people's personal choices. Grey can be judgmental too, but even in her short and very public life, she's managed to learn the value of "communication and talking and learning." A 21-year-old could do a lot worse.

Sasha Grey / The Girlfriend Experience [Dazed Digital]

Related: Governor Sanford's Appalachian Adventure

Earlier: Newsweek Too Hot For National Review Writer