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In 2015, the documentary Hot Girls Wanted took a close look at a growing, though largely unexplored, section of the adult film industry: "amateur" porn. These "amateurs" are 18- to 21-year-old women who are pulled into the industry, lured by promises of easy money and fame, without really understanding the nature of the job.
Now, the producers and directors behind Hot Girls Wanted — Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer, and Ronna Gradus — are back with a new Netflix original series, Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. Over six episodes, the filmmakers take a deep dive into the porn industry, but also step back for a broader look at how technology is changing sex and our relationships. One episode focuses on a 40-year-old former reality star who ghosts 20-year-old girls on dating apps, while another looks at "cam girls," women who perform sexual acts live from the comfort of their homes.
The series is not meant to judge one person's sexual or dating behaviour, whether that's watching porn online or swiping right on an app. Instead, it's meant to make you — yes, you — ask yourself some important questions about your own relationships with technology and sex.
Last week, we sat down with Jones, Bauer, and Gradus at New York's Nomad Hotel to learn more about the show. Below, our candid talk about porn, dating apps, and feeling empowered online in 2017.
What made you decide to expand on the original documentary, Hot Girls Wanted?
Rashida Jones: "Unfortunately, we haven't really progressed in terms of our national conversation around sex. Technology has only heightened the access to and ability to watch sex, have sex with more people, pick sexual partners online, and have intimate relationships with people you've never met. I think the fact that the conversation hasn't gotten any broader or mainstream, plus that there's more stories to tell because of technology, just seemed rife for a series."
Some people say porn is empowering for women; some say it’s degrading. Where do you think the line is drawn?
RJ: "It's so personal, and I think it’s dangerous to declare anything as the road to female empowerment, period. Some girls are really self-possessed, and they know what they're doing, and they love sex, and they've always wanted to do it, and they're camming and they have control over what they're doing. And then some girls are just not built for it. But I think there's a pressure to feel like you should be empowered by it. And not everybody is. It's different for everyone."
Jill Bauer: "I just can't even imagine growing up now as a young woman and feeling all the pressures of social media. You’re bombarded and surrounded by it. I got to come of age in such a natural way, with no pressure, and it was a pleasure. It was amazing."
RJ: "But I will say that millennials are more at ease with transitioning back and forth from their public persona to their private life. I feel kind of sweaty when I'm trying to present myself on social media. There is a pressure to self-brand. And in doing that you learn who likes you and who doesn't — literally, based on who "Likes" you and who doesn't on your page. It's that old adage that's like, 'don't compare your insides to somebody else's outsides.' It's really hard to do that right now, because there's so much 'outsides.'
"There's so much celebration of people's outsides right now, and not enough celebration of our individuality. Especially with sex! Sex is so specific. There was a study that showed that straight men are turned on by straight porn and gay men are turned on by gay porn. But women are turned on by everything! Animal sex, fantasies, gay sex, orgies, everything. We’re so complex. So let us be complex and be turned on by all types of different things — not just male fantasies."
In the episode “Love Me Tinder,” you look at what you call the “click-and-collide-culture” of app dating. Did you learn anything about this world that surprised you?
Ronna Gradus: “I think the burning question was, ‘What makes people think that this behaviour is okay?’ The answer was so simple, but definitely surprised me, personally. It was just, ‘Oh, I literally never thought about [doing things differently].’”
RJ: "By the way, in terms of misbehaviour, we don’t mean having fun and having sex. We mean the way people treat others, like ghosting."
RG: "People just keep moving forward. You have this pool of people that you can just keep [swiping through], and you don’t even look back."
RJ: "[Swiping] is dehumanising. It literally takes the humanity out of the situation when you flip through and you have all these options. There’s no voice on the other end of it, you don’t have to be in the same room with anybody, and it’s become kind of the standard in the way people treat each other on apps."
JB: "I’ve done my fair share of app dating and online dating, and I’m very respectful and super aware and sensitive to other people. But I’ve misbehaved without even knowing it."
RJ: "It’s sort of set up for you to feel that way. That’s the thing about technology. Although it’s bringing us closer and we’re connecting, it’s a virtual intimacy. So it isn’t quite intimacy, and there’s all these thing that are missing, like the way somebody smells when you’re in a room or picking up the subtleties of tone when you’re texting — all of these things that make humans really interesting just flatten out when you’re dealing with them online. Tone is huge. I’ve gotten in so many fights over text tone. Why isn’t there a tone keyboard? [Something that can show] sarcasm, earnestness, vulnerability, you know?”
"I'm getting pickier with my porn, like I am with my food. I want to know how it was made, I want to know that everybody's having a good time, and I want to know that the orgasms are real."
Is there anything that dating app developers can be doing to make things better?
RJ: "I think they should put a thing on dating apps, where, even if it's a form letter, you have to follow up. Unless somebody uses aggressive language, if you meet somebody in person, you have to follow up with them."
RG: "Maybe the app locks you out or something unless you’ve dealt with your past business."
JB: "That will make people behave."
RG: "And each person has to be able to sign off on it. Like, ‘He texted me and told me he doesn’t want to see me again. Thumbs up.’”
RJ: "Guys, don’t let it leave this room. We are making that app!"
Were there any issues at the intersection of tech and sex that you were hesitant to broach on the show?
RG: "There were a couple of things that we wanted to do that we couldn’t legally, because they were just too taboo. We wanted to do a story about pedophilia."
RJ: "The problem is, the minute you have anything in your possession or show anything it’s illegal. So there’s no way to do a story on it, but it’s rampant on the internet."
Have any of the issues that you talk about in the show affected any of you in real life?
RJ: "Working in this space has for sure affected my relationship with porn. To be honest, I struggled even before we started working together [on the show]. When you go search for porn, the first stuff that pops up is not the stuff I wanted to see. It was very violent and abusive, and it was hard for me to find something to reflect my desires. And now that I know more and more about it, I'm getting pickier with my porn, like I am with my food. I want to know how it was made, I want to know that everybody's having a good time, and I want to know that the orgasms are real. I mean, I can't know all that stuff, but I want it to feel that way at least."
What do you hope that women take away from watching the show?
JB: "Don’t look at your partner’s browser. Just kidding."
RJ: "That there is room for discussion and conversation and representation with your partner, with your friends, with yourself. The whole series is a pause so that you can just look at your relationship with sex and technology and ask yourself some questions that might come up for you during the series. For women, in particular, there’s a lot of things about empowerment, and asking yourself: What makes you comfortable? What makes you feel power?"
This interview has been edited and condensed from its original version.