The adult news site AVN has a bitter article up in response to a piece on the about adult performers, other than Belle Knox, who attend university.
The AVN article adds a number of names to the short list begun by Huffington Post associate editor Tyler Kingkade, saying, "Not to be snarky or anything, but the point is that the mainstream media does a disservice to the history of adult entertainment when it applies its all-too-common myopia to porn, and as a result continues to perpetuate stereotypes about the industry and the people in it for their own self-aggrandizement. HuffPo is a relative newcomer, of course, and as such it can pretend to be unaware of some things because it wasn't around to experience them."
The problem with these comments is that Kingkade doesn't say anything in his post that AVN itself wouldn't say — in fact, AVN itself points out that it has covered the collegiate achievements of the two women that Kingkade brought to the attention of the mainstream media consumer. The HuffPo's point that "There Are Other Porn Stars On College Campuses, You Just Don't Know About Them," as the title reads, is buttressed by the number of names that AVN adds to the list beyond Tasha Reign and Spencer Scott: Joanna Angel, who founded her alternative porn site BurningAngel while at Rutgers University; Lorelei Lee, who juggled NYU and porn before finally graduating in 2009; and Nina Hartley, who started doing porn in her junior year at San Francisco State University’s undergrad nursing school, before graduating magna cum laude in 1985. AVN also throws another name in for good measure: Lexington Steele, who double-majored in history and African-American studies at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences three years before entering porn in 1996.
It's difficult to see how the Huffington Post is, in this case, perpetuating stereotypes about the adult industry. While they could benefit from a little more research, this is true of all information outlets. That said, the stories told about Reign (who is working toward a degree in gender studies at University of California, Los Angeles) and Spencer (who’s studying cosmetology) are complete and, more importantly, fair.
So why the rage? The tone of the article and the use of the word “self-aggrandizement” suggest a different concern on the part of AVN. When the trade magazine Adult Video News, better known as AVN, was founded in 1983, there was very little in the way of attention from the mainstream media when it came to issues facing the adult industry. Unless something horrific had happened in porn or at the hands of a porn star, no journalist could be bothered to cover it. AVN had a beat and owned it. They wouldn't see a serious contender until XBIZ entered the arena toward the end of the 90s, around the same time that AVN went online in 1998 — before there was a Facebook or even a LiveJournal.
When it comes to adult industry news — from lawsuits to legislation, from sex workers rights to the hijinks of high-profile members of the industry — AVN is our historian. Undoubtedly, it has hurt them to be a trade journal — before the web, that reduced their impact by making it difficult for anyone outside the industry to gain access to its content. But the trade aspect of their coverage doesn't do them any favors even in the open world of web: AVN is still, first and foremost, an industry site, which means that press releases will always run free among news items, making it difficult for readers to trust what they read. And there is, of course, the issue of the imagery on the site and on its advertisements. Suggestive or outright sexual imagery makes it difficult to safely access the site while at work — which, face it, is when most of us browse the web.
But there is another, much bigger thing happening — and this is part of a success story that owes much to AVN and XBIZ and members of the adult entertainment industry who battled to enable people in this country to enjoy access to erotic materials and fought to normalize sex — adult is not just mainstream now, it’s mainstream with increasing momentum.
I started blogging about sex because I thought it was disgraceful that newspapers had no “sex” section. When I eventually founded what would become , that’s the model I went for. But we now live in a world where sex is often reported — not just on trade publications, weeklies, and alternative sites, but in places like the New York Times and the Atlantic.
Sex toys are given away in the street — you can even find them in drug stores, and not behind a counter, either. Sexology is on television, getting critical acclaim from viewers, and raves on TV Guide. Sex is the subject of a dizzying number of surveys and research, and science communicators are increasingly comfortable talking about it. Pornography has its own peer-reviewed journal!
This is a wild triumph — and it begins with the adult industry, which fought against censorship and oppressive Comstock laws. Whether you like porn or think it's a destructive force, remember that the ban on sending "obscene" materials wasn't limited to pornography, but included information on birth control and scientific articles that so much as mentioned the genitals or reproductive system. We are richer because of these battles, and we are well on our way to a place where sex is so commonplace that it can be seen through a sane lens, free of sensationalism and moralizing.
But where does this leave AVN — or sites like mine, for that matter? It is a bittersweet thing. But it is a good thing.
There is much, still, to be done. Mainstream media remains to some extent full of sensationalist causal claims that are without basis and it continues, in many cases, to moralize. For now, that is how we can differentiate — by bringing the humanizing angle that mainstream media sometimes forgets in the rush to publish first with eye-grabbing headlines.
But lets try not to be bitter. Winning this war means becoming irrelevant.
It's very tempting to believe there is something wrong or "not okay" with people who do things society views as inappropriate. This is especially true the more these people are "like" us. The reason, I suspect, that people are shocked about an educated sex worker is because higher education strikes against the idea of the sex worker as victim. We've accepted the possibility of sex workers who are underprivileged and working because of circumstance. But that's as far as we'll go in a society that doesn't accept sex work as work.
The idea of a person with higher education and "normal" childhood who chooses willingly to do sex work and enjoys it can only be threatening. The response has been an avalanche of assertions that she's "not okay." She must be broken somewhere because people just don't do this.
But we do. We do this. And until we can agree to stop seeing all sex workers as somehow broken and incapable of making decisions about their own lives, we're going to remain unable to help sex workers lobby for healthy and equitable working conditions. It doesn't matter if you would go ape if your kid went into porn -- what we want for our children doesn't change that workers need rights. There are a lot of industries that I don't like. That doesn't mean their workers should be given no protections. Sadly, in porn, the sex aspect keeps people from seeing that.
The worst part is that there are victims in sex work. But seeing everyone as incapable of making their own choices makes everyone a victim, so we can never get to those who genuinely need our help.