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Health

Embodied: Season 1, Episode 2 Transcript

Anita Rao  00:07

With porn, there is supposedly something for everybody. Every fetish, every kink you can think of has its own subgenre in adult film. But for a long time, I didn't feel like there was anything for me. A lot of what I found for free online just reflected inequalities that already exist in real life. And it didn't line up with my own identity as a feminist. Watching felt wrong, complicit and unsexy. I remember seeing that Netflix documentary "Hot Girls Wanted" about underage girls in the adult film industry. And after seeing that, I was really turned off anything porn related for a long time. But then in my late 20s, I discovered all of this erotic content that I think is super liberating. Filmmakers who are capturing this huge huge spectrum of human sexuality and creating fantasies from new points of view. That's the kind of thing that can take someone like me, who spends way too much time in my head, more into my body. This is Embodied. I'm Anita Rao. Watching other people have sex is, well there are a lot of ways I could fill in that blank. But mainly it's arousing to the 100 million or so people that press play on porn every day. Emily Nagoski is a sex and relationships expert. You heard her in the very first episode of this show. I really admire her work in sexual wellness, because she says stuff like this:

Emily Nagoski  01:49

The more we study and understand sexuality, the more we create space for understanding that everyone is normal, which means that they belong in the human community, which takes away all of our excuses for being cruel or excluding anyone.

Anita Rao  02:06

Here's what Emily says the research reveals about what's going on inside of us when we seek out sexually explicit content:

Emily Nagoski  02:14

Most people can have a healthy relationship with porn. Most of the time when people struggle, it's not because there's something about porn inherently that's dysfunctional. It's because they find themselves turning toward that as an alternative to dealing directly with the difficulties in their relationship, or trying to find a relationship, or connecting with people, or dealing with —the technical term is — negative affect: your stress, your depression, your anxiety, your loneliness, your repressed rage. We've all got it. You don't know how to deal with those feelings, and so you escape into porn.

Anita Rao  02:59

For those of us mentally and emotionally equipped to have healthy relationships, why are we still finding and fulfilling our fantasies in the dark? Isn't it time we figured this stuff out together by talking about it? That's what artist Monet Noelle Marshall would say. She surveyed more than 200 people in multiple countries about what kind of pornography they gravitate to, what arouses them and the root causes of why we stay silent about it. What they told her became a digital exhibit called "Shameless Peasure."

Monet Noelle Marshall  03:33

So much of my art comes from a vulnerable place. I'm always interested in the parts of ourselves that we still feel like we need to hide. And porn is definitely one of those places. You know, it's something that we don't necessarily announce that we watch it. We definitely don't tell people what we're watching and the specifics of our enjoyment. We turn the volume down, or have our headphones on in the dark, and I'm just curious about what happens when we do the opposite, where we talk about it out loud.

Anita Rao  04:05

So when you put out this survey, you're asking people, you know, what is your relationship to porn? What do you watch? Tell me about what you wanted to know. And then what you heard. What you learned.

Monet Noelle Marshall  04:14

I wanted to know, one, what what people are watching, just because I find that really interesting around like, what brings us pleasure, and the diversity in that. But more importantly, I wanted to know, the shame that we carry around, and what brings us shame, and what are the the seeds of that shame? And so much of what I learned is that as diverse of a porn search we have, the buckets that bring the shame are actually so small. We actually carry a lot of the same shame. No matter if we are someone who — like someone in Nigeria or someone in Chapel Hill — so many folks are carrying the same shame. And I found I found that so enlightening, and also that we can work through it together because it's all the same stuff.

Anita Rao  05:03

What is that shame that people are carrying? What are those buckets that kept coming to the forefront?

Monet Noelle Marshall  05:09

Feminism. Folks had shame around wondering if they're a good feminist if they watch porn. Another was their porn search topics don't match their own perceived sexuality. Another one was like shame around telling their partners like, well, the porn I watched doesn't match with what my partner looks like, and I don't want them to think I don't desire them. Is the porn I'm watching being made well? Are the people being treated well and paid well? Religion was a big one. I grew up going to church. My mother grew up in Greenville, North Carolina, so I definitely still got a lot of that Southern, like Christian belief, and even from folks who were not Southern, they still carried a lot of the same thing. So I would say that, you know: sex is between a man and a woman. They are married. And then that's it. Like what you do — there's no other conversation around desire, or self pleasure, or like how to navigate those things, how to communicate our desires.  And so then you get out in the world, and you learn that a lot of folks are not actually living that way. You know, that's fine if people are, but most folks are not. How do you navigate that? And then that piece of like, well, every time I do this, because I've been taught that sex is between a married man and a married woman, that I'm wrong. So then there's all that guilt that comes up. And it's just not helpful. It's not helpful for us to live our healthy lives. I think that it gets in the way of us having safe sex. It gets in the way of us asking for what we want. And then that shame. I felt like shame is — it can be its own epidemic, like once it's in one part of our lives, it can like be a bridge out to other parts, you know?

Anita Rao  06:58

So, as you went around and talked to people, kind of as the process of putting this together, what did you learn from them about the need to disrupt those narratives?

Monet Noelle Marshall  07:09

Mmm. I learned that people — a lot of people did not want to talk about it — but for those that do, they really want to. Because, it's just like whenever you ask someone a question they've never been asked before, and you see their eyes light up. and then they're figuring out how to put words to this thing that's been inside them. I think that's really powerful. And what I learned is that people want to know what pleasures other people, and also they want to know that they're not alone. I think because that shame is so quiet, particularly among subjects of porn and sexuality. It makes us feel like we are the only one experiencing this thing. I'm the only one that feels shame. I'm the only one that doesn't know how to communicate my needs. I'm the only one that enjoys this sort of porn. And it's just not true, right? But because we can't talk about it, it then makes us feel alone and then that becomes a cycle of shame. So I think people want to disrupt that cycle and to be able to step out and find other people to dismantle the shame and also to celebrate in the pleasure too.

Anita Rao  08:14

Did you learn anything that would help you respond to people's concern who say: Can I be a feminist and watch porn?

Monet Noelle Marshall  08:22

Yeah, I think that for one ... We have to be able to acknowledge what brings us pleasure. And that for me, my feminism is working to get me more free. And anytime that there's a box that's telling me one, that like: Oh, I can't do this. That doesn't feel like freedom to me. I think there are definitely ways that we can make sure and push to make sure the our porn industry is safe for all of the performers and the workers and directors and creators and watchers. I think there's ways for us to do that. But my feminism shouldn't tell me that my desires are wrong. And I think that's a great place to start.

Anita Rao  09:07

As you have moved through your own journey, and as you have learned narratives and learned about other people's experiences for this project, what is the biggest shift that you've had in your own understanding of pleasure?

Monet Noelle Marshall  09:21

That I deserve it. And that I don't have to be ashamed of the things that bring me joy.

Anita Rao  09:33

Monet Noelle Marshall is an artist based in North Carolina. I talked earlier about my personal aversion to porn as a young adult. And I'll be honest, I didn't know much about the industry at that time. I've since learned about ethical pornography: productions with mission statements and standards that often center women, people of color and queer communities. It's content created without the abuses and stereotypes that give a lot of the mainstream industry its reputation for being exploitative. Mia Little has been on both sides of the industry. They are an adult film actor and content creator with about seven years of experience on their resume. They are also a proud Filipino American who has to consider and challenge sexual stereotypes about Asian people while they are hard at work.

Mia Little  10:52

My original adult film name was Mia Lee. The last name Lee kind of was just thrown to me by my manager. He's like: Oh, it doesn't matter what your last name is. Just pick a generic Asian last name. And I didn't really know any better, because I was an outsider coming into this industry, you know, really relying on someone knowing their experience of it. I was like: Okay, maybe this is it. This is all there is for Asian performers? And I remember there would be some times like when I was on set where a director asked me like: Oh, can you not speak English very loudly or very clearly, because it's very obvious you're American. So once I saw that there was more choice and more power over how I could be represented, I started speaking out about that and changed my name.

Anita Rao  11:46

Mia Little says it was a game changer for them to get out of the mainstream porn industry and work as an independent with actors and directors they considers community. If you are concerned about ethics within the world of porn, there is one very practical step you can take: pay for your porn. That's how independent producers like Shine Louise Houston can do what they do. Shine is a director of adult films and founder of Pink and White Productions. Sex in her films is unencumbered by the straight, white male gaze. And consent is as titillating on screen as any unclothed body part. Her films lean into the reality that desire is complex.

Shine Louise Houston  12:42

If you are engaging in the part of the industry where there is kind of like an economic cycle, then you're a part of the chain of ethics. If you are paying for your porn, guess what, that means that the company gets to continue to produce porn. People are getting paid, and they're getting paid a decent wage. And just to put it out there, there are systems in place for everybody's safety. You know, I don't know if people really understand, you know, the, the lengths that the industry goes to keep people safe. You know, we have the PASS system: people get tested every two weeks. They have a panel that tests from everything from, you know, syphilis, chlamydia, and you know, to HIV. We have a really, really good system for like, if somebody tests positive, the whole industry shuts down. There's contact tracing. So, you know, the industry takes a lot of precautions. So if you are buying into that part of the industry where that economic cycle is, that's the first step in being ethical. You know, there are places you can go. There's Gamelink. There's AEBN. If you like a performer, find their Onlyfans. Find their ManyVids. You know, and pay them directly. But I feel like it starts with the consumer. If you're going to places like Pornhub, guess what? You're breaking that economic chain. And now you're hurting the industry, and you're hurting talent, and you're hurting the possibility of keeping people safe.  The industry is not a monolith. The industry is incredibly diverse. I think what people forget, is that there's actually a lot of discussion about what's about to happen on set and how it's going to happen. and the performers do a lot of negotiation. It doesn't matter if it's like cream pies, or like circle jerks or anything like that. Everybody has talked about what's happening. And you know, you might find that action degrading, but there's some people who are like: Wow, that was like my biggest fantasy. That was awesome. You know, and it might not be my style of shooting or might not be like my fantasy, but just to put it out there. But just because some things are for the particular viewer hard to watch, or like: Hmm, I'm not too sure if I'm into that. I'm not going to necessarily label that degrading. As far as like ethics on set, I think, you know, the mainstream is not like operating in a dark basement, you know what I mean? And, and just like one guy with a camera, it's not like that. It's, it's, it's a full production and, you know, everything that you expect on a lot of film sets is still the same on a larger porn set. We have food. We have barriers. You know, you can get tested. We communicate about risk. So, you know, all these things are happening on the set, you know, in that economic system where you know, the money is actually flowing.

Anita Rao  16:12

Talking about stuff that is considered impolite but important is kind of the whole point of this podcast. You'll be hearing from a lot of folks who are bravely and refreshingly open about their experiences with taboo topics like porn and erotica. And then there's my folks, as in my actual parents. You met them in the first episode, and they just kept coming to mind as I was designing this show. I couldn't help but think about their role in how I came to understand my own body and why my brain goes to the places that it does. Sheila and Satish are a loyal pair. She's a trained midwife and teacher. He's a medical doctor. They listen to and support every project I've ever done. And so I thought, why not walk boldly into the uncomfortable territory and ask them about their relationship with porn. Yes, it is totally acceptable to cringe for the next couple of minutes.

Sheila Rao (Anita's mom)  17:09

I'll be very truthful. I have not been exposed to porn. I mean, I've, I've heard about the magazines, you know, you've seen that in the stores. But apart from that I have not been exposed to porn. I mean, I've not looked for it. I'm not interested. Oh, you know what ... I'm telling a complete lie. This is kind of random, but this is the only exposure I've had. Dad asked me to go to a shop in Iowa City to get something because he wanted to ... do you remember that Satish?

Satish Rao (Anita's dad)  17:36

Yes.

Sheila Rao (Anita's mom)  17:37

He had to find some kind of a device to attach a probe into somebody's underwear. So he said: Why don't you go to that sex store and ask them if they have something. So I totally have been inside a store, but for like for an errand for dad.  For a medical-related errand.

Anita Rao  17:56

For a medical related errand!

Sheila Rao (Anita's mom)  17:58

That was it!

Anita Rao  17:59

Dad, any reflections?

Satish Rao (Anita's dad)  18:02

So, I think, you know, my first exposure to porn was in England. And this is our small group of friends, about half a dozen of us who, we had just gone from India, we prepared for the exams, and fortunately, we all passed. And so the way we wanted to celebrate was to go and watch a porn movie.

Anita Rao  18:28

Ahhh!!! Ohhh...

Satish Rao (Anita's dad)  18:29

And that's what we did.

Sheila Rao (Anita's mom)  18:31

You did?! I didn't know this.

Satish Rao (Anita's dad)  18:33

I never told you.

Sheila Rao (Anita's mom)  18:34

Wow!

Anita Rao  18:36

[laughing]

Satish Rao (Anita's dad)  18:37

That was my first and last true experience to actual porn itself. I don't think I've had much exposure. For some people, it is a very important part and parcel of their emotional craving, or the emotional feeling. Mom and I have had a very, you know, very happy marriage and life so, you know, we never really either felt any unusual cravings or need for porn or anything like that in our lives. It all depends on individuals and how satisfied or dissatisfied they are in their own personal journey and in their personal life.

Sheila Rao (Anita's mom)  19:19

Yep.

Anita Rao  19:23

So, now I know. My parents are on the record saying they have each had two encounters with porn between them. And I believe them. Well, I believe my mom at least, maybe my dad was being a little romantic there. But I'm honestly more intrigued about what he said at the end about people who need porn being dissatisfied. But you don't have to stop fantasizing, even when all the boxes in your life are checked, do you? You know how some people cover their eyes when they're watching a horror movie? Here's a tip for those folks, if you really want to take the fear out of what you're watching, cover your ears instead! the sonic experience of watching a film evokes our emotional responses as much as the images on screen. And the same is true with adult film. We mostly think of porn as a visual experience. But erotica can take us into some other realms. How about the sound of someone in a heated moment, would that turn you on?

Gina Gutierrez  20:46

Audio had a really interesting potential to be really immersive, felt really safe and kind of, you know, in your own mind, in your own thoughts. And also, that it's so deeply imaginative, and it opened up this realm of creating erotic content where you could imagine, you know, those two characters pretty much however you want to imagine them, and in whatever space you want to imagine them in. And so we create blueprints for people to layer on their own imagination onto.

Anita Rao  21:08

That's Gina Gutierrez, founder of the audio erotica website Dipsea. And she's right. If you close your eyes and listen to Dipsea's stories, your own imagination shapes the fantasy as it vibrates through your ears. So, let's do that together. Close your eyes and listen to an excerpt from Dipsea's collection. And let's see where the sound takes us.

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  21:33

For a guy who doesn't pick up girls at his bar, it's kind of a bold move showing up at my place.

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  21:39

I said that?

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  21:39

Yeah, you refused to smoke with me earlier just because we met outside your bar.

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  21:43

No. I think if you invited me to do anything with you, I would have remembered.

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  21:48

Sounds like we got our wires crossed.

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  21:51

She looked me up and down in that moment, making certain that I noticed. It was the first time I remember her trying hard at anything since I met her. I felt myself stand a little taller. So who's that guy you were with at the bar yesterday?

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  22:06

Oh, so you do remember me?

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  22:08

I couldn't keep my eyes off you.

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  22:09

Huh. Yeah, he's just a friend.

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  22:12

Yeah?

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  22:13

I try to keep things casual.

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  22:15

So, he wouldn't mind if I kissed you right now? [She flicked her eyes up and down me again.]

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  22:23

He might.

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  22:25

[That was all I needed to hear. I pushed her up against the door and kissed her hard. Her lips are soft, easy, like warm butter. She reached back for the doorknob and led me inside. The room had the standard low, white ceilings of a California bungalow. I imagined other guys who had been invited into this room. I wanted to be more to her than they were.

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  22:55

You want the full tour?

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  22:56

Not really. [She kissed me. Pushing me against the wall. She wrapped one hand around my neck, her red nails digging in. The other unbuttoned my jeans, and she was strong, but I knew I could throw her around if she'd let me]. I have a feeling you like to lead.

Dipsea (Speaker 1)  23:17

I can get a little bossy.

Dipsea (Speaker 2)  23:19

I like that.

Anita Rao  23:24

Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC. Thanks to Josie Taris for her production work on this episode as well as Charlie Shelton-Ormond. Jenny Lawson is our sound engineer, and Lindsey Foster-Thomas is WUNC's director of content. Our brilliant theme music was created by the artist Quilla. Thanks to Weaver Street Market, a worker and consumer-owned cooperative selling organic and local food at four triangle locations. Now featuring online shopping with next day pickup. Weaverstreetmarket.coop. I'm Anita Rao, on an exploration of our bodies or brains and taking on the taboo with you.

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