I was able to have a wonderful conversation with Nina Hartley to be published here in MK Magazine. Most of what is stated here are her direct quotes. I taped the conversation (with her permission) from a speakerphone, so not all statements are direct quotes.
As I spoke with Nina, I heard her speak of her realities where some have only been dreams for me. How do you begin to describe the moment when you see all that you've hoped for be validated and take form? In about a half an hour my existence was reinterpreted. I found so much peace and necessity to not only fight for myself to be expressed as a sexual being, but to give others the knowledge that they too can feel so much by opening up their minds first, then their bodies and spirit to be as beautiful and incredible as Nina Hartley. I have known all my life that I am destined to spread a message of sexuality and freedom - to tell people to not be afraid of their bodies and the capabilities for great sex and heretofore a great existence. Nina lives this every day - and so can we all.
Nina Hartley has a web site: www.nina.com (under construction at the time of the interview). She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California with Jewish Communist parents. She started dancing naked in 1983 and started acting in porn in 1984. She graduated college with a degree in nursing in 1985. She has made about 575 adult movies. There are 12 episodes and counting in sex education videos on Adam & Eve. She has won numerous awards for her acting and activism. She speaks out on issues of feminism and sexuality and free statement as a sex speaker. Her sexuality is constantly evolving and changing as her understanding continues to grow.
This includes her knowledge on anal sex and her personal enjoyment of it. She is divorcing her partner of twenty years and has a new fiancť who is a master of fetish in the adult film industry. She and her fiancť involve vigorous, lusty anal play with nearly all of their sexual encounters and enjoys it very much. She is able to totally revel in the joys of anal eroticism on a regular basis. She moved from the Bay Area about a year ago and now resides in Los Angeles. Currently Nina is coming out of another closet Ė being involved with leather sex and the BDSM community.
Nina decided to make these videos out of her own teenage frustrations of not having the possibility of receiving good, practical sexual information. There were books like The Joy of Sex, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask), there wasnít a home video in the pornography market. She wanted to provide a demonstration, satisfy curiosities and not to make a value judgment from it. She wanted to leave the sex and titillation out of it. When she does the tapes now they are a statement of her feminism (which is for every woman to realize for herself). She also wanted to reach out and help others and teach them. This comes from her upbringing Ė for all people to receive equal treatment. Also from her desire to be a nurse - to bring some kind of healing and balm to troubled souls. The sex in our culture is sick and has been made sick. Sick people need to be nursed and cared for. She knew with her experience in the porn industry, as someone who speaks out for issues of sexual freedom and statement, as a swinger, as an exhibitionist and with her health professional background, her scientific lack of squeamishness, her ability to speak about this is a certain way could create these films. It was also her desire. There were other people that were as serious as her to make these films and had the ability to make them, but she was the one with the drive and passion to put the effort into getting the experience and seeing that the films were created.
She wanted to create something where people who were curious, but did not have the time or inclinations to read the books to become knowledgeable partners, could watch. Her byline on the ďHow ToĒ movies is, ďIíve done all the fucking so you donít have toĒ. She puts the information out there to people to make them more comfortable, confident, relaxed, playful, open and experimental and to decrease fear. And this is really important Ė the more knowledge and education someone has, the less fear they will have. Tell them different ways to have sex and that itís okay to have certain feelings about sex and what she has learned from doing these various things. She is blessed with the ability to have these experiences and talk to people about them in a way thatís not going to scare people off.
LM: It has been my experience that people learn from most pornos that they can just stick it in your ass and itís smooth sailing. For me it took many years of being sexually active before I found a partner that knew the first thing about using lube and lots of touching and playing with my asshole before attempting penetration.
NH: You must earn butt. You cannot be just given butt.
When her fans and friends speak with her, asking for more information about anal sex she refers them to Tristan Taorminoís The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women video and book (with the same name). It is hard for heterosexuals to find a partner because of all of the hang-ups that people have about anal eroticism and being able do it in the light. Many guys (not all) still donít want to take the time to learn more about womenís body and reactions and they see the physiology, science and anatomy as boring. They donít realize that to be a professional you have to learn to be a professional. What they donít see in the movies is the time that is taken with the guy masturbating and getting hard and the playing with a woman to get her ready and what all happens before for the action takes place. Most of what they do see is a very rough and deliberately shown in a dominant way that she doesnít see as attractive and itís not realistic how you at home with your partner is going to make it happen. People have a hard time becoming humble with their ignorance and putting their egos aside and saying Ďyou know what, I donít knowí. A lot of men (again not all) have a problem eroticizing their own anuses and relaxing to learn to receive pleasure that way. They have to know this in order to understand the absolutely different psychology between being with a butt rather than a pussy. Like Carol Queen, PhD says, ďThe great thing about assholes is that everyone has one.Ē So every person that wants to have anal sex must first make erotic friends with their own buttholes. You have to let go of your own discomforts and fears and your own inability to feel that pleasure, face your own fears about letting go and opening up and letting feelings course through your body. Anal eroticism opens up a huge Pandoraís box of esteem, pleasure, abuse and fear issues. The butt is so emotional. It is more emotional that the dick. She personally has her own issues about being with anyone sexually who has not become erotic friends with their butt. For a person to be at the level for her to play with, they would have to be someone who is at least comfortable with receiving anal pleasure. It doesnít have to be about receiving penetration. Itís about wanting to feel that good. Itís about wanting to feel that intensely. Itís about opening up to that issue and understanding your own and your partnerís vulnerability. It is absolutely impossible for a person to enjoy anal sex unless they feel safe, secure, comfortable, respected, listened to and appreciated. You canít fake those emotions and your body knows. As often as she and her fiancť have sex, there is butt action, whether it is just touching or having a half an hour of intense penetration. You learn how to relax into the feeling, through the sensation and itís a mental meditative practice. Itís like surfing Ė itís an intense feeling to be able to use the surfboard, this tiny surface on the broad expanse and power of the ocean and to ride upon it. People learn how to surf this intensity. It takes time and desire and the understanding that it cannot be rushed or coerced. She totally recommends doing it sober.
LM: I have had people come to me saying they donít want to eroticize their partnerís anus because itís not picture perfect; that there is a lot of hair or the fact that it might be dirty. What kind of tips or advice do you give them to become more accepting of their partnerís body?
That is more personal. If you have a hang-up about your partnerís physiological or biological aspects that they canít help any more than the color of their hair, then you have issues of your own that need to be addressed. However, if your partner wants to please you so you pay more positive attention to that area, perhaps they could begin adding to their sex play by asking them to remove the hair to where it pleases them or remove it yourself. The appearance of the genitals is unchangeable; if you donít like the look of it, then look somewhere else while you touch it. Realize that any type of hang-up is your hang-up and not your partnerís problem. A mature couple will talk about this and find ways to remedy the issue so that pleasure can mutual and more understood. Or it could mean that the relationship needs to end. If youíre not attracted to your partnerís body then itís very hard to generate sexual arousal and you need to find someone else who will be attracted to you or more accepting and open. That is an issue to take very seriously.
LM: Another issue is the idea of a man with impotence problems receiving prostate stimulation and anal play. Many men donít realize that they can have an orgasm by having their prostate stimulated and do not need their penis to be erect. Do you recommend this so that they donít rely solely on the performance of their penis for pleasure?
Oh absolutely. Donít forget that a flaccid penis can have an orgasm and be sexually pleased. Of course something that is more engorged with blood is going to receive more pleasure. Itís like when you sprain your ankle and the area becomes swollen, the feeling is more intense. Engorgement creates a greater sensitivity to the area. For men who are impotent or not, prostate play is a world of fun. A good sign of a good partner that can acknowledge that pleasurable sensation knows no shame or morality. What you and your partner do together willingly is absolutely okay. If you are a heterosexual couple and you have homophobic feelings, get over it, youíre with a girl, you are being turned on by a girl, your lover, touching your ass. It has nothing to do with becoming or being homosexual. It is a part of your anatomy to feel pleasure there.
LM: With this kind of play comes into practice the use of strap-ons.
Very popular these days. At Good Vibrations, the most popular movies are Carol Queenís Bend Over Boyfriend Part 1 and Part 2. I think itís a wonderful trend. If you really like your partner and they know what theyíre doing then butt sex is the best. Itís so intensely pleasurable. There is so much intimacy. It can also work with a dominant/submissive relationship. The dominant can tell the sub to fuck them anyway that they want to be fucked, no matter whoís doing the fucking, itís still by the dominantís command or order.
LM: I have to say that you and Annie Sprinkle are my heroes for bringing so many issues of sex and sexuality to the publicís attention. I have dreams of being able to talk about all kinds of sex in a public forum and it not be shocking and for this to be able to happen anywhere in the world. The problem is too many people want sex to be a pretty, candy-coated package sealed behind bedroom doors and left under the covers with the lights off. How can we begin to change the publicís perception and bring all forms of sex and sexuality to light? What do you think the biggest obstacle is to this? How do you see others displaying positive, healthy, beautiful displays of sex and sexuality?
Sex is very primal and people need to start accepting and getting used to the fact that it is sticky, raw and messy. In the words of the great anal queen, Chloe, ďIf youíre going to have anal sex, you have to get over your fear of shit.Ē But thatís true with all kinds of sex, you have to get over your fear of mess. Sex is not for the tidy or the squeamish.
LM: How can we get the public to get over being squeamish and see sex for the beautiful thing that it is?
What worked for me is to acknowledge peopleís fear about it, and realize and understand that when youíre talking to the public about sex, youíre talking to a bunch of 13 year olds. And they need be told that their desires, curiosities and ignorance is okay and their desire to be better at it is okay. Wherever theyíre at is okay, what matters is theyíre here now and thatís good. You have to start where you are. If theyíre scared, start with, itís okay to be scared. Scared is normal. In this culture how can they be anything but scared about sex? Fear can be alleviated by the alleviation of ignorance. Tell them itís okay to not know. People come up to me and say, ďOh, Nina, what I wouldnít do to me more like you!Ē. I donít want them to be like me, I want them to be themselves. For me to be me, was acknowledging my exhibitionism, was on the way to appreciate that and making that work and being a public servant all at the same time. If I wasnít an exhibitionist, then Iíd be the happiest swinger you ever knew and if I wasnít a swinger Iíd be the happiest monogamous, sexually aware person you knew. Sex is being good to yourself, is a way to love yourself and a very precious thing. It doesnít matter what form it takes. Once you learn who you are sexually then everything else in your life falls into place. You have to get centered. How our culture keeps people away from learning their center is to teach them to not like their own bodies, to not be satisfied with their appearance or personality. This culture robs them of knowing their bodies and feeling comfortable and isolating them from their genitalia. One of the greatest victories of her life was acknowledging that her pussy is no more special than say the bottom of her foot. Itís not that the sensations are any different, itís that itís all just anatomy. This is very difficult road for people to learn. The road to your body is through sexual activity, even if it is solo. The road to yourself, is through your genitals, pleasure and orgasming. It is in our nature that pleasure brings us to an altered state of consciousness. Sexual pleasure is meditative. Annie Sprinkle and Betty Dodson teach us this too. The hard part is that there is no shortcut and personal individual work that they have do by yourself, for yourself and nobody else.
LM: Another thing about is society is getting hung up on ageism and thinking that things have to be accomplished by a certain age, or that once a certain age is reached that pleasure changes or isnít available to them.
A good person to read for insight about self-loathing issues is Cheri Huber. She has a wonderful set of books. If you are denying yourself pleasure then you have to take responsibility for where you are right now. When you get to a place where you are happy then love comes into your life. When you begin to love yourself then people recognize that and you can start receiving it. Self-pity will get you nowhere. Our society is sexist, racist, ageist, but I am a biological creature with all these amazing gifts of orgasm and I cannot wait for the world out there to change for me to be happy. I have all the happiness I need inside myself and Iím keeping it. I have denied it and avoided it for myself for too long. I have waited around for other things to be arranged before I gave myself happiness and Iím not going to do that anymore. It wasnít until I stopped wallowing in all that self-pity and took matters into my own hands then things started to change for me. Iím not saying that itís not more difficult if you are differently abled and donít fit societal stereotypes, but we all have sex and we all have an ability to have an orgasm. Donít wait around for another person to give that to you, give it to yourself. Donít do it with resentment or self-pity, loathing or frustration, but as much as you can, each time, practice, practice, practice give more body pleasure to yourself and reinforce that you deserve more. Every time you do it, it gets a little bit easier. We have been taught to not like ourselves and it takes a lot to unteach that to ourselves. There is a lot of conditioning and everyone has their own kind of conditioning that they have to unlearn. Iím not saying anything new here and certainly, Iím not particularly with it, the only thing that separate me from anyone else in this area is that I was particularly motivated and you sound motivated too. All I can tell people about myself is that I give it to myself just as I can. My area just happens to be sex, while others have art, painting or public health or whatever. Iím just as true to myself as I can be.
LM: I got from Robert Graves book, The Blood Oranges, he says, ĎIím a Sex AestheticianĒ and I like to use that for myself. I like how it says I find beauty in all things sexual and want to create beautiful things with sex. I see this with you too.
Exactly, I take it upon myself, to do every sexual partner with as much love, respect and openness as I can muster at that moment.
LM: How do respond to people who think that you are a sex addict or that you have a problem with being obsessed with sex and this is a fairly new concept or phrase at least. I personally see sex addiction as something as similar as drug and alcohol addiction and that if it interferes with your daily life then you may have a problem.
I have sex because it makes me happy. I am not a sex addict because the more I do it, the happier, the more at peace and calm and fulfilled I am. I donít do it when Iím drunk, I donít do it to avoid other things, I do it to get to me. A sex addict is someone who uses sex as an escape just like you can use alcohol or shopping or whatever. An addict will abuse a substance to escape from the pain of reality. I refuse to have sex with anyone who is incapacitated with drugs or alcohol. I have not permitted myself to get into situations that are out of control. I have scared the pants off myself sometimes and those times arenít as fun. I always learn something about myself every time I have sex.
LM: Another issue I remembered I wanted to talk about is womenís lack of understanding that they too can feel pleasure when having anal sex. Some women are under the impression that itís just going to feel good for him because itís tight. Like I read in Rebecca Chalkerís book, The Clitoral Truth, a womanís clitoris extends all the way down from the crown, down around the lips and then spirals around the anus, extending those nerve endings to receive so much pleasure.
Oh, yes, itís really incredible, the clitoris is just the tip of the iceberg. The nerve endings are incredibly vascular there are just all set to go and become engorged. And, I will tell you that you donít ever want to assume or presume anyoneís feelings. Donít touch the anus until you are ready to have it touched. But, if you want to know what an orgasm from anal intercourse is like, take the sensation in your clit and how it feels to be just on the verge of orgasming and youíre feeling incredible with all these sensations, take that tingly rubbing sensation and elongate it and hollow out the middle and tickle it on the inside. It feels like youíre clit is being fucked, thatís what being fucked in the ass is like. Itís delirious and fabulous. And you know how when you are being entered and need to breathe and relax the area, then youíre entered and begin to clench and release and clench and release and because youíve relaxed around it, itís mind-blowing. Anal sex should be pleasurable, if itís not it needs to stop. Anal pleasure doesnít have to include intercourse. You may never get past a finger or two, but once you can learn to go there with your partner then you will realize that it is worthwhile sex to have. The understanding that Iíve learned myself is to have trust in my partner and know that weíre both ready for it. Anal sex is very intimate. It may not be time in the relationship for that kind of stuff. It might never get past a finger, it might never get to a finger. It might just not be right for you. But, I tend to think, given the right atmosphere that some kind of mutually anal erotic pleasure can be achieved with any couple that really wants it, plays around, watches a few movies together and more importantly and difficultly, communicates together. Having anal sex means sharing their feelings, their fears, their experiences, judgments, attitudes and shame Ė it is very, very personal in a way that regular intercourse just isnít.
LM: Iím so happy to be able to talk to you about this and Iím so happy that things are changing for people. It seems that more and more people are becoming more aware and they want to learn more about themselves as sexual beings. You are such an important person in that you teach people to become more aware. So, Iím wondering what youíve been doing lately. Everyone saw you in the movie, Boogie Nights and though you stole the show. What else are you up to? I know you had a radio talk show, do you still do that?
I havenít done the radio show for about ten months now as we were unable to get the program syndicated. That was something that I like to do. But, Annie Sprinkle is the bomb for going out there and teaching. And Betty Dodson too, her workshops for Viva La Vulva, etc. are fantastic (www.bettydodson.com). Thank you feeling so about me too. Iíve been coming out on camera as a leather player. I made my debut in an uncredited cameo in a movie, Slit City (Gwen Media) and then I did a movie thatís not out yet, an all girl dom movie, called Secret Obsessions. The only person that I will have sex with on camera for now is my fiancť. Any other excursions into fetish play that I do on camera will be as a dominant. I identify being a switch (playing the role as either the dominant or submissive). It works better for me that way. Iíve really been getting into my life as a leather player and it is really expanding my sexuality into a new area. Her eleventh educational tape is out now and soon her twelfth will be released.
LM: Iíve just read the cover stories in the October 2, 2001 issue of the Village Voice about new legislation being introduced that will limit our Constitutional rights for freedom of speech and statement because of the terrorist attacks. What do you think about that?
I really donít think that will affect the pornography industry. I think it will be very low on the totem pole. Can you imagine Ashcroft putting time and money into tracking down the pornography industry when he has more important things to do? I would be surprised that it will be affected. Weíll see, but I donít think it will become an issue.
Posted by Alex Zander at November 1, 2003 12:00 AM
LM: Thanks so much Nina! Iíll see you soon at the Queen of Heaven party.