Meet (And Love) Porn Star Stoya

In corners of the Internet, especially where the erotic meets the intellectual, Stoya is kind of a big deal. She may be the titular example, or at least one of the ground zeroes, of inserting discussion into sexual desire, or the sexual desire that we can find immediately and on the Internet — known as pornography. Yes, for those who are unfamiliar, Stoya has sex, on screen, for money, but she won't let anyone tell her what that means about her, who she is, or her approach to feminism (something of which she is passionate).
In fact, take everything you think you know about a stereotypical porn star — the notion they've been manipulated into their career or lack self-respect — and imagine its antithesis...and that's Stoya. (Though, as she says, attitudes in porn aren't always "sunshine and daisies," a reality she readily addresses.) Willing to engage people about her work, full of smiles and Internet-speak, and quoting theorists and fellow porn activists, she is proof positive that the assumption that people who work in the adult industry cannot be articulate is a folly. In fact, she is a writer who happens to do porn, or an aerialist who happens to write, or a porn actor who knows how to perform acrobatics — and doing one doesn't have to discredit any of the others.
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Here, we sit down with Stoya, who talks to us about the reality of having sex on screen, what pornography means for women, and why Fifty Shades of Grey is massively, massively lame.
We had such a wonderful time with her, we asked her to start writing a column about sex and the complications that come along with being a human with a human body. So, join us in welcoming her to the Refinery29 family, and send any questions about sex, sexuality, orgasms, organisms, or your cat to stoya@refinery29.com.
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Photographed by Craig Rathgeber


So, when you explain what you do for a living, what do you say?
“Oh, God. I usually say, ‘Check Google, but not at work.’ Only because it’s uncomfortable to broadly describe oneself. It’s also, you know, I do the adult performance; I do more live theater, stage show stuff; I do the writing — I have such a range of jobs. Fleshlight wanted me to do a promo video, so there’s a time I was asked to use hand puppets and scream. How do you describe that? Where do you put that in?”

You’re basically an interesting lady who has thoughts and reactions to sex in different ways.
“And, I’m usually not wearing pants.”

Did you plan for the writing thing to be a part of your career? Or, have people just reached out to you because of Tumblr?
"There was an adult blog site that basically had affiliate links where they review DVDs, and they set me up with a blog. I was like, 'Whatever.' I didn’t want to be bothered with capitalization and spelling. I started realizing that when you deal with members of the press — especially when it’s in the kind of environment where people would come to the Adult Entertainment Expo in 2008 — some of them literally sit down and go, ‘So, how messed up was your childhood? How much do your parents hate what you do?’ It’s like, ‘Dude! You’re, like, coming off super combative! I know exactly what your position is.’ Even when the reporter is neutral or positive, sometimes the editing process skews things. So, the blog became a platform for me to say things myself. I started paying attention to the structure of my posts more after that. Then, I moved it over to Tumblr once I realized that if you’re on Amtrak, you can’t look at an adult entertainment site. From there, people started assuming I was a writer. I mean, I write things and put them up on Tumblr, but I don’t know if I’d call myself a writer. Someone from Vice interviewed me, and I jokingly said I wanted to write for them. Well, they hired me, and I was like, ‘Crap.'"

You speak openly about your mom being a total hippie. And, you just brought up the whole "reporters asking you, 'How effed up was your childhood?'" thing. There’s clearly a dialogue between you two about what you do. Was there ever a moment where you needed to convince her...or yourself?
“I started performing in films and thought that I should probably tell my mother about it before she found out from a neighbor. So, I told her. She told me that she would mail me her response. I got this box from Amazon, and she had drop-shipped me Factory Girl. So, I watched it, and then I watched it again, and then I watched it a third time, but I didn’t understand what she was trying to say. I had a film-major friend come over and watch it with me to explain the subtext and references, and I still didn’t get it. Finally, I called her. ‘So, I went through all these things to try and understand, but I still don’t understand what you’re saying.’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ I think it took her a while to unpack her feelings about it.

The thing that she did that rubbed me the wrong way was her conviction that what I do is a very mainstream, mass-marketable, heterosexual kind of feminine presentation. She wasn’t into the stereotypical sexual availability. She’d comment on the false eyelashes and heels. It took years, but, at this point, she’s able to accept that when you say, ‘You can do anything you want to do,' one of those options includes being kind of stereotypically feminine and being into high heels and fake eyelashes. There are lots of women in the world who are doctors and lawyers. I’m very grateful that her generation fought for that. I’m very grateful that I was able to make a conscious, actual choice as opposed to being pushed into it because I didn’t think I had any other options.”

It’s not the same thing at all, but it’s the same idea that people can make the choice to be a stay-at-home mom. You’re able to make a choice because, out of all the choices, you have the opportunity to represent this particular type of femininity. Do you ever feel like you have a responsibility to provide an alternative representation of a feminine narrative in the adult industry?
“I feel more and more the responsibility to provide context. Frequently, when it’s not knee-jerk anti-porn crusaders calling me a criminal against all mankind, then it’s the pro-sex feminist camp saying I’m not doing enough. I made the choices I made, and I’m happy — but (adult entertainment) isn't all sunshine and daisies. It’s like any other industry. Just because I can do what I want doesn’t mean everybody necessarily feels empowered to do what they want, or knows they have the right to insist on doing what they want. We’re not all sunshine and daisies yet. But, we’ll get there in, like...400 years.”
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Photographed by Craig Rathgeber.
Do you have any interest in more traditional acting?
“Not really. I would totally do just about anything for John Waters. I like doing the fashion stuff, like still photos. I love that.”

Well, you are a performer, too. You do acrobatics, no?
“Sort of. It’s more of the hoop-thing. I started taking classes, and it was really fun. I developed a reasonable amount of proficiency, and it became time to string together all these individual things I know. Oh, wait, I could do it on stage? That’s way cooler than feature dancing.”

What’s feature dancing?
“It’s when prominent female adult performers put together a bunch of costumes and acts to feature at a strip club for, like, four days. You could go to Ohio to perform twice a night for four days. You meet people, take pictures, sign autographs, and do the stage show — it’s super great. But, stripper poles are not my thing. It’s amazing how clumsy I look in front of those. It is not my medium. So, I started doing that.”

How did you get involved with adult film? How does it go down on set?
“I had a friend in Philadelphia who wanted to take pictures of nude women for profit. He brought this proposal to me. He said, ‘You don’t mind being naked.’ I said, ‘No.’ (I wasn’t actually wearing a shirt at the time.) He asked me how I felt about being naked on the Internet, and because it was a friend, I said we could take the pictures and then sit on them. If I were to wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, wondering what I had done, then we wouldn’t post them. He agreed. Well, it didn’t happen, and we sold them. I started to pose for nude pictures a lot.

Digital Playground saw a picture of me and brought me to its office. They told me they wanted me to have sex with Sophia Santi. I thought she was gorgeous. I would love to have sex with her. I had to think about it for a week. I was like, ‘Well, do I want to be a politician? Do I want to work with children?' No, not really. I might lose a couple of friends who are more like uptight acquaintances. That didn’t worry me. I looked into the safety aspect and said, 'Why not?'

The worst-case scenario is that I catch chlamydia, which is strep throat for your vagina or penis. It just happens to be in your pants, which gets people all wound up. But, I went in with my eyes pretty open to the medical risks. I was so nervous until we got to the sex on my first time on set. The people kept saying we were in a 'cowboy shot,' but I had no idea what that meant. Turns out, it’s a shot they’d use in Westerns, shot from the mid-thigh and up. It was used when the cowboy walked in to highlight the guns. I had no clue what was happening with all the industry lingo. Then I got the penis, which was perfect; I know what to do with that. Two vaginas, golden, I got that covered.”

But, that’s not how it works. You don’t walk into a room, clothes fall off, and you end up definitely dealing with a super-erect penis and totally lubricated vagina, right?
“No, it doesn’t happen like that! Well, maybe it does for some people. I don’t know. I was a Digital Playground contract star for most of my career, so I don’t really know what other companies' sets [do] to compare. What should always happen in porn is that the performer and her scene partners should sit down. It doesn’t have to be a meeting, but while you’re walking past the makeup room with a cup of coffee, popping in and saying, ‘Hey! We haven’t worked together in two years.’ Or, ‘I haven’t worked with you before. Remind me what your sexual comfort levels are.’ People have strange things where you can backhand someone’s face all day long, but just don’t spit on them. You want to find out the lay of the land. It’s the polite thing to do.

It’s the polite thing to do at home, too. Ideally, you express your preferences: ‘I really like A, B, C.’ A decent male performer, or anyone wielding a phallus, shouldn't just shove it in. That’s not okay. If you see something shoved in, it was most likely worked in first and then they edit that out because it’s not very exciting to watch. It’s not exciting to watch something go into my butt because it takes five minutes in real life. You get tense, you know?”
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Photographed by Craig Rathgeber.
You talk a lot about comfort levels. What advice or thoughts would you have for someone who has a partner who is interested in something that they themselves aren't interested in — or haven't tried. A lot of women don’t like anal sex. What would you suggest one does to accustom themselves to something that makes them a little uncomfortable naturally? How do you open up your sexuality?
“Okay, anal sex is easy: Some appendages don’t fit right in some holes. Butt holes are all different — except it’s on the inside. It’s not like a vulva where you can look, or a penis where you can see everything. Anal sex is the rectum. For instance, you might have always tried anal sex while lying on your back with the same partner. Assuming it’s a male partner with the same penis, it might not be shaped right. It might be shaped in a way that requires you to be on all fours, or on one side with your leg at a 45-degree angle.

Even though I am a professional, sometimes I can’t get mine to behave. Sometimes, with certain performers, it’s just not going to happen. We try, and since there are so many variables — the angularness of the head or the size, or the sponginess or lack of sponginess. You may need to try a whole lot of positions, or you also just might not be into anal sex. That’s totally fine. (Though, the one thing you should never, ever do is experiment with anal sex while intoxicated. You should never take Xanax to relax, and definitely never use numbing agents. Pain is your body telling you that something is not right. I stand behind that so strongly.)

Remember, the whole array of sexual activities that a person could engage in is so grand. You don’t have to want all those things. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting all of those things. I’m not really into food. I like eating, but not the fancy stuff. Oysters and caviar are gross to me. That weird duck paste, too — yuck. I like spaghetti with meat sauce, not meatballs, but meat sauce. I like very simple things. Some people are like that with sex, and other people want to literally eat everything they can possibly eat in the world. So, they have a TV show on the Food Network or something. There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t like anal sex or you don’t even want to try it. You don’t have to make a porn movie to prove that you’re sexually liberated. You can be sexually liberated and just want to keep your bits to yourself.

If your partner is like, ‘C’mon, I want to put it in your butt!’ and they’re poking at it — that’s not cool. That’s unacceptable, especially if you consistently say you’re not comfortable. But, if you aren't uncomfortable, and unless it’s revolting to you or there’s some serious issue around it that will irk you, I'd always suggest you consider giving it a try.”

You have to know if you like oysters in order to speak articulately about why you hate them.
“But, you shouldn’t feel like you have to like oysters. Unless there’s a reason not to, relationships are about compromise. It sucks, but sometimes you and your partner’s sexual tastes don’t line up. You can hopefully part ways in a friendly manner, or you can open up your relationship if everyone is cool with that. For instance, if you really want to get beaten, I am, for ethical reasons, fine with you being beaten but can't be the one doing it. So, if you’re okay with bringing in a third party, then do it. There are always options, but sometimes you come up against a wall where one thing is really important to one person, and the other person hates it. That’s just as big an issue as one is Republican and the other is Libertarian. Sometimes, you just won’t make it work."

How would you suggest individuals get past feelings of shame, weirdness, or discomfort that are associated with sexual acts they are interested in?
"The whole sunshine and daisies thing is, again, 400 years off when it comes to sexual awareness. We’ll get there eventually, but we’re in the middle of it now. There’s still this cultural context where women have been told by relatives or authority figures that sexuality in women is bad or must be represented in a specific way. We must fight that. Or, you can go with it, that’s fine, too. But, it’s not going to help us get to equality and understanding, but it’s a respectable choice.

Frankly, I think sitting around and talking about sexuality is great. There are so many venues on the Internet with women sharing their thoughts. One of the wonderful things about the Internet is demonstrating how diverse human sexual tastes are. You might think one thing is negative because of the subtextual messages seen your whole life.”
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Photographed by Craig Rathgeber.
What do you think of something like Fifty Shades of Grey?
“I think the writing is terrible. I read the whole thing in 12 hours. At first, I thought it wasn’t so bad. So, I kept going. Toward the middle of the second book, you find out that Christian is into BDSM because he had an extremely traumatic childhood. So, it’s like, ‘Oh, great, thank you. Thanks for that. No one can be into anything weird unless something bad happened to them as a kid.”

Well, she ends up being into BDSM, right?
“Well, sort of. When you step away from it, it’s a textbook example of a dysfunctional engagement. First, she just goes with this man to random places — like a helicopter after he said he likes to hurt girls. He plays the whole doom and gloom, stay-away-from-me card, and she goes to a different city with him. It’s very creepy, and I would not recommend that kind of behavior. If you meet a stranger who is into BDSM and also doing this creepy routine about how you should stay away from them, um, you should stay away from them.”

These aren’t really realistic portrayals of the nature of human relationships.
“And, then she agrees. Over the course of the three books, there’s less assertive discussion of her limits. There’s more of her manipulating him to sacrifice the things he likes. It’s presented as her healing him of his childhood trauma. There’s a lot of f****ed up in there. But, if you’re going to take it as entertainment, that’s great.”

It’s great to have the fantasy of a man overpowering you, but when it’s linked to unhealthy behavior or trauma, it becomes a red flag. If my friend told me she got in a helicopter with a random guy...
“I would go retrieve her! I would put on flat shoes and go retrieve her.”
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Photographed by Craig Rathgeber.
Is it easier to be with someone like James Deen who is in the industry, or does it add a whole other layer of complications you didn’t expect?
“That depends on the person. There is, since it’s such an immediate thing, there’s definitely…when you have two people dating in the adult film industry, there’s an extra layer of worry when you have a positive test in the talent pool. Your ground rules and what you need from the relationship are going to depend on how the two of you interact.”

You and James have a big fandom on Tumblr. Is that weird? I wonder if people feel entitled — I would compare it almost to The Notebook. Have you seen it?
“No.”

Well, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams dated in real life, too. There’s this huge love of The Notebook. They’ve both spoken to the idea that they have to constantly remind people that they aren't the characters.
“I do see a certain layer of people thinking that we must always have sex. Have you seen the array of times we’ve had sex on camera? Neither of us wants ourselves or the other to end up as Mrs. Deen or Mr. Stoya. Any time anyone starts mushing us together, we cringe. ‘No, please, we’re not those people!'"

Fans have had a hard time divorcing the idea that these real, three-dimensional people are not their characters.
"But, it goes back to the idea that porn must be all sunshine and daisies because, 'Hey, look at this lady.' As much as I do complain about everything, including every single time my vagina bleeds, in public, I do try to not have my public persona or general communication be a running log of everything that sucked that day. Now, I have a similar fear that there are teenage girls sitting there thinking: ‘Oh, look at the two of them. They have perfect sex in the perfect relationship, and they’re so perfect.’ It’s like, ‘Yes, but again it takes a lot of work and stuff.’ There are definitely days where I’ll pour his coffee out on the floor because I’m mad and I can’t articulate why. (It’s always me that does that, by the way.) You don’t get the whole picture.”

It’s interesting that there’s this huge community that adores the both of you. They adore the idea of you two together and want to see it because it feels authentic. That has to speak to something interesting about sexuality. It’s almost easier for women to watch the two of you have kinky sex knowing that, when you go home, you continue to have sex.
“I wonder if the narrative of us as people on the Internet provides the compelling emotional attachment that you would find in a movie for the women who would want that kind of connection and don’t want to see us going straight to sex. That’s not for everyone. And, by the way, it is not actually how it goes down on set, either. Porn, for the record, is not real life.”
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