Recently, I was having a conversation about porn with my friend Andrew Richardson, the man behind the smart sex magazine, Richardson, which once featured Stoya as a cover star, shot by Steven Klein. “Millennials are so enlightened,” he said, unironically. “Women my age, when they were in their twenties, their image of a powerful woman was Princess Diana. For your generation, it’s Stoya.”
Stoya is the antithesis of the pornstar cliche: a skinny brunette with milk-white skin, armpit hair, small tits and a big brain. She is a natural beauty in a world that praises the unnatural. But she is a welcome anomaly. In her eight years in the porn biz, Stoya has become a slutty feminist icon for the educated, sexually liberated masses. And her growing status as a respected, mass media commentator on sexuality and sexual health gives me faith in the world, because even a handful of years ago it would have been hard to envision a pornstar in that role (with all due respect).
Aside from fucking professionally, Stoya is a writer – she’s written on subjects like sex workers’ rights and identity politics for publications like the New York Times, VICE, The Guardian and Refinery29, and she currently has a regular sex-advice column for The Verge. And now she’s an entrepreneur, too – she recently launched a site of curated smut called TRENCHCOATx with fellow adult star Kayden Kross.
On the subway to her Brooklyn apartment, I read The Feminist Porn Book, as foreplay. When I showed up she was in sweatpants with wet hair and no makeup, playing with her beloved cats (they are pretty much the only thing she Instagrams). That morning, she’d been memorising lines for an upcoming (non-porno) film she’s starring in – an indie, sci-fi feature in which she plays a very sophisticated A.I..
She talks fast and frankly, with a cigarette constantly in her mouth. She’s bubbly and laughs a lot, but there’s clearly a dark side. I mean, she dated Marilyn Manson, so there’s that. While chain smoking and drinking black coffee, we talked about casual sex, open relationships, and why being a slut is super fun but can also be stressful.
Are you a Tinder person? I recently got kind of obsessed with it because I like that it allows me to have sex with total randoms – to escape my social scene.
I know that feeling. It’s not for me anymore, but when I was 18 I used to love coming up to New York—because Philly is basically a small town—and meet total strangers and have sex with them in the bathroom of a bar, and we’d just be bodies. But enjoying being just bodies is unsettling to some people, because the dominant philosophical narrative has been pushing away from bodies – we’re fighting objectification and saying, “No, we’re brains; brains are the things that make humans special.” We’re subverting our physical urges in favour of being in control of everything.
Yeah, there are times when I want to be objectified. Like, if during sex I was always a whole person, that would be fucking boring.
Yes! Objectification isn’t necessarily bad. When you wake up and watch one of your sexual partners make coffee in the kitchen, and there’s beautiful light coming through the window and you’re like, “My god, you’re just gorgeous” – that’s objectification. You didn’t think, “My god, you’re gorgeous and smart and caring and your soul is beautiful” or whatever.
Lol, true. So when you were having bar bathroom sex, was it just about the thrill and fulfilling bodily urges, or would you actually be able to have good sex and to cum?
I could cum – I have a hair trigger. Of course if I’m worried about other shit, like “OMG did I forget to feed my cats,” then all bets are off, but if I’m in the moment I’m good. Also if we’re not communicating well, then I’ll just do it myself – it’s fine: I can push my own buttons.
I feel like I’m “good” at sex, but sometimes I still end up having really bad sex with people, and I assume it must be partially my fault, right?
Well, you might just have been with the wrong partner for you. In the sex advice column I write for The Verge—and for Refinery29 before this—so many of the questions I get go something like: “I want X in bed but my partner wants Y. How do we fix our sex life?” But the truth is, they’re just not matching sexually, and I don’t know if that can be fixed. If you applied the same logic to anything besides sex—to music, for example, or religious beliefs—you would just accept that you have basically nothing in common. But when it’s sex, for some reason, we think: “I need to change who I am as a person so my partner and I can get on the same page.” When maybe the real answer is that you just aren’t sexually compatible.
That’s true. Another thing I learned recently is that you can have really good sex with someone but not be romantically compatible. Like my recent ex-girlfriend and I: she wanted a closed relationship and I wanted to be open, and it was just never going to work out. What do you think of open relationships?
Actually, just yesterday I broke up with this amazing guy. He was such an attentive lover and so considerate. He was the good kind of male feminist – not the “Oh, I’m so sad about women’s issues in the world” kind. Anyway, our relationship was open. For me they basically have to be open, because every time something slides into monogamy or someone expects monogamy, then invariably it’s trouble when I go to work.
Do you prefer “don’t ask don’t tell” or did you discuss your hookups? Did you have rules?
I know a lot of people do the “don’t ask don’t tell” thing, but that’s not for me. I think you need to have expectations and agreements in open relationships, but any rules, in my opinion, seem to eventually not serve people well. I can’t be in a relationship where I can’t talk about everything I did in my week with my partner. I don’t need to give them a full blow-by-blow report—pun intended—but if the most important thing that happened that week was that I had some crazy sex adventure, then I have to be able to at least mention it.
Are you a relationship person, or do you default to being single?
There were three consecutive years when I was younger when I didn’t have significant other; but now it’s rare for there to be a patch where I could actually be called single. To date, I’ve luckily managed to find a lot of people who are super pro-slutty – but for me the issue is time: I travel a lot.
Do you find it easier to date people inside the porn industry?
I’ve dated one. Other than that, I prefer to keep the professional relationship clean. And then sometimes, after you have sex with someone 10 times or so, you’re like, “Ah, that was a fun fling, but now the spark is gone.” And I’d rather save those 10 times for work, rather than use them up off-set. Although… I do like to play with fire sometimes. Like I’ll get drunk and be finger-banged on the street outside of a bar, but then I’ll be like, “No, we’re not going to home together, I’ll see you on set tomorrow!”
Do you think it’s possible for a woman today to do sex work and not be perceived, by wider culture, as either desperate or insane?
I do. For instance, with me, people love to say: “We love that you’re making a political statement with your body!” Or “We love how money-motivated you are!” But I’m like… Um, I do porn because it sounded like fun, and a great way to pay rent. And when it’s not fun it’s stuff I can deal with – like how I would evaluate any other job.
It’s often referenced that porn is one of the only industries where women are paid more than men. Is that true?
Well, that’s a cute, girl-power soundbite. But let’s think about this: generally, yes, a female performer will take home a larger paycheck at the end of a day than a man will. However, there’s no direct formula for how long a career is going to last. Generally, women’s careers are a lot shorter, partly because of the gendered implications of aging. If we’re talking about hetero-typical focused pornography, as long as the man isn’t too annoying and has an erect penis, then he can work every day for decades. But the women who can do the job well, and resonate with people, don’t get to do the job as often or as long as men do. I would be curious for someone to look at what Rocco Siffredi or James Deen have made in their careers compared to what I’ve made.
You get a lot of anti-porn feminists—particularly in academia—being bitches to you on the regular, realistically because you’re a pretty, smart, sane woman doing porn. You’re the worst enemy to their cause.
Yeah. There are many established academics out there today who truly believe that a woman having a public sexuality keeps us down – that it’s this patriarchal plot. But porn isn’t inherently more oppressive than anything else under capitalism. The problem with this branch of feminism is that, specifically when it comes to sex work, it neglects to consider capitalism. Like, what about the demonstrable wage disparity, and the fact that you can’t have food and a roof over your head and medical care when you need it without money? And where the fuck is the money supposed to come from? Maybe [anti-porn activist] Gail Dines skips to work at her office in the university, and would do her job even if she wasn’t getting paid – but that’s definitely not most people’s lives.
I often feel perversely fuelled by slut-shaming because I’m like, “Mwahaha, you’re just jealous because you’re not getting laid.” And of course, it’s just fun to be provocative. But sometimes a comment can get under the skin. How do you deal with slut-shaming?
Every morning I wake up and check the messages on my website, and then I check Twitter. Almost always there’s people telling me that I’m a whore and pretty regularly there’s someone telling me that I should die. And sometimes they are active threats, like “I’m going to hunt you down and kill you with my dick.” Someone once told me they were going to fuck my spleen. I was like, wow, that’s interesting… but also terrifying. So, slut-shaming is something I deal with every day. I’ve been denied a bank account. It was a nightmare to find someone who would rent an apartment to be because I had to disclose what I do for a living. But I manage to still be honest about who I am. I don’t have sympathy for people who are like: “Society says that I shouldn’t be sexual, so I’m going to take it out on everyone around me.” No – go find the balls or the ovaries or whatever it is you need that will allow you to be who you are.