Argentina – There are few who would expect the word ‘feminist’ to be followed by ‘porn star’. Fewer still would preface ‘porn’ with ‘ethical’. But Maria Riot, 25, is one of a new generation of adult performers eschewing mainstream adult films and choosing only to work in ethical projects.
She has appeared in 20 adult films, including in female-centric erotica produced by feminist adult filmmaker Erika Lust, and offers another side to the argument recently made by Pamela Anderson that porn is “corrosive” for men and a threat to the survival of the family unit.
But negative perceptions of sex work, especially when it comes to porn, are difficult to shift.
Porn is polarising. When it comes to real sex on screen, who is harmed by it and who benefits from it? The performers, viewers, neither or both? Is porn, depending on the genre, exploitative or sexually liberating? And, crucially, who actually has the right to laud or condemn it? Is feminist, female-directed erotica the answer to the myriad problems within porn, such as the growing demand for performers as young as 18 (and, in a disturbing trend, who are 18 but look much younger), declining rates of pay and a growing demand for more extreme content?
Misconceptions about sex work often make their way into media coverage and conservative voices can dominate debate. Young female performers typically cycle out of mainstream porn within a year, but Riot has no plans to ever leave the industry. Here, in her own words, she explains why.
What are the biggest misconceptions about adult actors and what they do as a job?
Society in general holds prejudices about sex. If people know that someone works with their own sexuality they often think of it as ‘weird’ or as a thing they never would do and sometimes they marginalise sex workers. I used to have misconceptions about porn actors so I understand if people have them. They are sometimes presented as superficial and ‘dirty’ people from a moral view. But, thanks to the internet and that there are more articles appearing every day about porn performers talking about their lives, people are realising that we are human beings, that we do a lot of things besides having sex on a camera and that we can talk, have opinions about everything we want and that we are like everyone else, except for appearing naked in videos and getting paid for it.
How differently are you treated by people because you work in porn?
Sometimes people don’t believe me when I tell them that I work in porn because they have a stereotype in mind about what a porn performer is. But, generally, I have a lot of support and a lot of people are interested in the details of my life because for most of them it’s the first time they have talked with a sex worker so they have a lot of things to ask. I have friends and I frequent places that are open minded and pro-sex. I’m not used to being around people who would treat me in a different or bad way because of what I do.
Why did you decide to work in adult films?
I was always interested in work related to sexuality and when I found that there was another way to work and do porn I became obsessed with it. I discovered Amarna Miller’s blog and videos by Erika Lust, CrashPad Series and Courtney Trouble and I just said, ‘I want to be part of this’. I was a sex worker already and I was starting to feel more comfortable working with my body and my sexuality so I just started writing to the producers and companies I liked. I always knew that I didn’t want a ‘regular job’. I wanted to have a job not only to earn money; I wanted to work in something that I could politicise and to do things to change how society is and I think becoming a sex worker has been the best decision of my life.
What do you see yourself doing after porn? Do you think it will be hard to get into another industry because of your work?
I want to direct my own movies so I don’t have plans to stop working in porn at the minute. I think I am going to work in sex throughout my life by being a sex worker, directing movies, writing or giving talks about it. There is so much to do that I can’t imagine not being close to porn or sex work in general.
I am an animal rights activist and I am part of the NGO Animal and right now I am doing a 13 weeks fellowship in Cornell University called Alliance for Science representing veganism. They all know that I am a sex worker who makes porn, they are ok with that and they support me. I am not interested in being in an industry or in a group where they don’t accept people for working in sex, so it’s not a big concern for me.
How easy is it to build a career out of porn and become financially stable?
I don’t know how easy it could be to build a career outside of porn or sex work because I’ve never tried it but I can talk about building a career in porn. It’s not easy and you have to work a lot to have it.
People sometimes underestimate the abilities of sex workers; they think that you have to go and have sex and that’s all when there are a lot of things that they are missing from this picture. You have to be dedicated, be willing to sacrifice and invest time, money and personal things into it, and be strong because of the moral view that society has about sex and sex work.
Sometimes you have to travel to a country you don’t know to meet people you have never seen in your life, to talk in a language you are not used to and to be smart and to have the ability to adapt yourself to different situations. For example, I think people don’t realise it but I have to travel to Europe a lot from Argentina and it’s a waste of money. I leave a lot of things behind. But I have a passion about working with directors who I admire and for being part of this emerging movement of ethical porn, so I do it anyway and with lot of happiness.
How do you feel about all the different groups and people who speak for you in the media about porn, but have no experience working within it?
It would be great if people could only talk about the things they really know about. Sometimes I have people telling me how porn is but they have never worked in it and it’s really frustrating. They read an article in a newspaper or see a video about porn and they think they know everything about it.
The media also represents sex work with a moral view, generalising things and giving the wrong conclusions about how the industry is. The public believes what they say and repeats it.
What do you want people to know about the reality of being an adult actor?
I want people to realise that sex work is work and that people who work in adult films are only working and trying to enjoy what they do. Porn performers go to the supermarket, we have families, feelings, desires, sometimes we don’t want to have sex, we just live our lives in the best way we find to do it, just like everyone else.
Have you ever appeared in adult films that affected you negatively?
There are films out there that I don’t like that much and some things that I would have done differently but I was starting so I didn’t have any experience. You grow up and you read the things you said or wrote in the past and sometimes you can think ‘Why did I say or write this?’. And it’s better to realise that you could do better, otherwise you just stay in the same place and for me it’s important to progress, to learn, to be critical and to change the things that you want to improve in yourself.
I am not a full-time porn actress, it’s just something I do sometimes because ethical or feminist porn is not really an industry in itself. There are only a few directors or companies and to work with them you have to be patient and put a lot of effort in. I am very selective, too. I don’t accept all the proposals offered to me. For me is really important to know that I am working with an ethical company that has good values and that is going to be respectful to me and with the other people working with them. I am really happy with all the movies I have made by now and I expect to keep on working with a lot of amazing people doing great things to offer another vision of porn and sexuality.