Nina Hartley, Evangelist For Porn
Her pulpit: the Learning Annex

Usually, I have sharp retorts for lecherous geezers, but when the aspiring porn mogul turned to me and leered, I was at a loss. He had every reason to think I'd act out his coed fantasy: Along with a handful of cute liberal-arts-type girls and several dozen virulently unattractive men, we were all at the Learning Annex to study "How to Break Into Adult Video."

See also...
... by Michelle Goldberg
... in the Scope section
... from September 10, 1999

Teaching the class was veteran triple-X starlet and sex industry booster Nina Hartley. Encased in a skintight black minidress with a plunging white neckline, owlish glasses, and a big mass of long blonde hair, she looked like a naughty librarian or a nympho nurse, exactly the kind of roles she's famous for playing. As she teetered in front of her 40 or so students, Nina exhorted us to seek a utopia of unrepressed libidinous expression and flattered us for being open-minded enough to register for her lecture (and pay the $49 fee).

Educated, articulate, and genuinely in love with porn, Nina is one of the industry's favorite spokespeople and the darling of the transgression-obsessed academics who made her a star on the lecture and conference circuit. A mix of straight-up business advice and '70s sexual liberation rhetoric, the class went over hot topics like pay scales ($500 a day for directors, $1000 a day for high-end girls) and on-set etiquette ("it's considered bad form to let the crew fondle you, which I think is crazy because I like being fondled"). Then Nina handed over the phone numbers of amateur porn distributors (and porn-savvy lawyers) and told us where to get model release forms.

Nina's real mission was somewhat quixotic given that the group was a living example of cognitive dissonance -- any liberated feminists were outnumbered by the traditional trenchcoat mafia. Still, she encouraged us to focus on making more PC porn -- especially smut for that mythical untapped triple-X market, heterosexual females.

"Everyone is focusing on 50 percent of the market," she lamented. "They disregard older people, people of color, people with handicaps, spirituality." She also suggested that the market for tasteful pregnancy porn is being woefully under-served. See, for Nina, porn is less a business than a religion, and this class was another chance for her to spread the gospel. "For me, porn is a calling, not just a job. It's an avocation," she said. "The possibility to transform the world using explicit movies is very real -- it's going to happen. It has the potential to open minds and hearts."

Porn, says Nina, should be about expanding your horizons, not your wallet. "Why are you here? If it is strictly money, leave now. Money is the last thing you're going to get from this business." As if porno wasn't a lucrative game, but rather, as she said, "an encounter group on a bigger scale."

Granted, the guys in the class seemed unlikely to become millionaires anytime soon. Comb-overs and elastic waistbands abounded, though there were some young bucks in search of easy money, mostly moussed frat boys or tattooed hipsters looking well scrubbed and smug. Even when Nina warned them about the difficulty of maintaining an erection for an hour in front of a bored and jaded crew, they seemed unfazed.

"If you want to know what it takes to be a porn stud," said Nina, "Get ten of your best friends in a circle. Then get naked, get in the middle of the circle and masturbate to ejaculation while all of them point and laugh."

The boys didn't appear disturbed that they'd only make $200 a scene -- they'd probably be willing to pay that much to have sex with porn girls. But a few of their faces dropped when Nina broke the bad news: The only way for a guy to break into the acting pool is to have a beautiful girlfriend who refuses to work with anyone but you.

Still, a few had honeys willing to support their career ambitions, which left just one question. "How big does it have to be?" asked a weaselly boy in a powder-blue polo shirt. "A fistful plus a couple of inches," Nina replied, to his evident relief. In fact, bigger isn't necessarily better: "I don't work with horse dick," she said. Then rodent boy said, obnoxiously, "Shouldn't we get paid more money since we do all the work?" Nina gently put him in his place: "You're a prop. You're a piece of wood."

From there, the level of discourse devolved. A dark-haired man in faded jeans and a white button-up shirt raised his hand to ask a question. He was holding a copy of Nina Hartley's Guide to Better Fellatio. "I bought this video for a woman who was then my wife and it worked very well. It worked too well, and she had to try it out on a few other guys," he said glumly. And his question? "Why don't they show women's feet in porn videos?"

Next, a white-haired man in a navy sport coat provided what may be the world's best reason for women to object to their partner's porno collections. "The average woman finds anal sex very painful, but in movies you see these girls taking two foot dicks and they seem to love it. Do they know something we don't know?" he asked plaintively. Perhaps how to a fake an orgasm for the camera?

The class wound down, and Nina recommended we form a porno consortium among ourselves and collaborate on a movie. But by then, half the audience had their noses buried in the blown-up vulvas pictured in Amateur Porn, one of many titles for sale at the class's concession stand. The aspiring porn mogul, with his face like a moldy tomato topped with wisps of muddy Brillo pad, was approaching me again, and I bolted. Somehow, I don't think female empowerment was what he had in mind.

Michelle Goldberg is a freelance writer in San Francisco. She is the music columnist for Shift Magazine and a regular contributor to Salon, Speak, and The San Jose Metro.