I expressed my views on pornography in 1991, in my book Annie Sprinkle, Post Porn Modernist with the following passage to help people see that being in porno, like many other careers, has its advantages and disadvantages:
"MESSAGE FROM THE MIDDLE"
I've seen pornography help people, and I've seen pornography hurt people. Being in pornography has helped me and, in some ways, it may have hurt me.
I’ve been exploited by pornography, and pornography has paid my bills for the past twelve years (mostly I've exploited pornography).
I suppose pornography has caused a few rapes, and l suppose it has prevented a few. I've seen pornography help people solve some of their sexual problems, and I've seen pornography create sexual problems for others.
While making pornography, I sometimes have felt sexually jaded and confused, and sometimes I feel very free and joyful.
Some of the pornography I 've made is pretty awful schlock, and some of the pornography I've made is very creative, interesting, wonderful stuff I'm proud of and it's been educational and helpful to others.
Sometimes I wonder if any of my work in pornography may have hurt the women s movement, yet mostly I feel like a women's liberation freedom fighter who is contributing somethimg to women's liberation (particularly women s sexual liberation), and that makes me happy
For better or worse, I will continue to express myself with sexually explicit images, creating what l like to create, doing what l like to do, and there is no other side to this coin. "
Since I wrote that, I've got a much less positive view about the porn industry. When AIDS hit, I saw how most people in the industry don't care about much except money. Like other industries, there are power struggles and there's a lot of non-caring.
I'd like to see people working towards connecting sexually, on a much deeper level, although many of us are afraid of intimacy and deep love, even though I think that's what we really want.
Hamburgers aren't very nourishing but they sell a lot of them. It's that way with porn. It's not ideal but at least it's something. But, just because something feels good and gives you an orgasm, doesn't make it really nourishing for you on a deeper level. A lot of commercial sex doesn't bring fulfillment and happiness. Many men use it outside their relationship causing dishonesty and guilt. I know that people do the best they can, but in an ideal situation, people should be honest with themselves and their partners. Now I see how a lot of pornography, S/M and paid sex can perpetuate childhood neuroses, sexual misconceptions and misogyny.
These days, I'm a lesbian, committed to making the best possible world for women. I don't want rough, hurtful sex any more, to give it or receive it. I want to be able to look into my lover's eyes and connect in a loving way. Sometimes, I think I did some things because I had a low self image. I acknowledged only the good times, and denied the rest. I've become much more honest with myself, and have a clearer idea of what I really want.
Mind you, men who use pornography can be victims of the status quo as well. It's time they grew up and got real. The problem is that many of them are totally guilt-ridden, insensitive, unaware and disrespectful of women. It's time to create a new world. Hetero porn is stuck in the garbage heap. Women are porn's new pioneers. On Our Backs, the San Francisco lesbian magazine, was the first magazine which dared show a very different aesthetic on what is sexy. I think Susie Bright and Debbie Sundahl really did a great service. They were amongst the first Post Porn Modernists. Most of the really interesting porn and erotica now is being done by people who were never in the porn industry. It's very hard for people in the industry to change over to something new and more interesting.
I should make it clear that I'm not against pornography. I'm just trying to improve it. I'm trying to change some of the outmoded ideas of pornography, and its limited view of what is sexy. Take silicone breasts for example. A friend of mine had three heart attacks from her silicone breasts and that freaks me out. Why? Because you make more money as a stripper if you have large breasts. I say, rather than women getting breast implants, we should change people's views. If a woman wants to jut out, she can stuff a bra.
My interest in commercial pornography has diminished because now I am more of an artist, not a supplier of goods. I want to be the person who stimulates ideas and concepts and who pushes the envelope. I share what I discover, through my work. I no longer care about pleasing the average person. I don't want to stay 'teacher in the kindergarten', or the party girl. I know this sounds elitist and classist but I want to create new things. Things are changing and have got a lot better, especially for women. Six years ago, when I was teaching a workshop, I asked women if they knew where their G-Spot was, only two or three would raise their hand out of a group of thirty or forty women. Now, eighty percent know. "How many of you ejaculate?" At least a third of them ejaculate. They are much more aware. "How many have had an energy orgasm?" a third of them raise their hands. Women have become a lot more knowledgeable and empowered. That's a good thing. At least now most guys know where the clitoris is. Not so long ago, a lot of them didn't know. Really! Hard to believe but true. We've cum a long way, baby. But I don't want to continue to teach people where the clitoris is, I want to teach people how to be authentic, go deeper, honestly communicate their desires. Lots of women aren't able to ask for what they want or speak the truth. I want to teach women how to expand their orgasm, enter spiritual grounds, I want to explore getting all this into museums, making sex a more prevalent subject matter in art and culture.
There's a lot more freedom. People are publishing stuff that's never been done before. Charles Gatewood and Fakir Musafar and others are supplying so much alternative input. I was recently at the Whitney Museum's Biennial Show, where they show the crème de la crème, and saw quite a bit of sex. In fact, Cathy Opie, who used to shoot for On Our Backs, had photographs there, and there were Mapplethorpes. It was highbrow porn, and there's lots of room for that. Then there are people like Nan Goldman, the amazing photographer who has done a lot of pictures of prostitutes and drag queens, documenting the underground sex scene. Even in religion, we're seeing more and more spiritual and religious groups incorporating sexuality. You'll see more nude beaches, a lot more awareness of abuse issues. The biggest challenge is dealing with children and sexuality because people are totally off-base with it. People don't know how to deal with it. I don't even think I'll see it taken care of in my lifetime. When I teach my workshops, women say things like, "Oh! I wish my twelve-year-old daughter could come to this," or "I wish all young women were taught sexuality this way." It's a very safe and loving way to learn. There's always this sense that girls have learnt about sexuality from their elders, but today, it's taboo. I've finished my pin-up photography era. I'm writing articles, teaching workshops, displaying my work in art galleries, and doing my shows. My latest performance was about stripping, where I took every striptease cliché in the book and have a love/hate relationship with it, kind of like a clown. There are lots of gimmicks and props and costumes and it has a poignant ending. Also, I'm producing a computer mouse pad with my photograph on it. I'm continuing my own studies and research on sex, healing, magic, love, etc., always.
Of course, I hate censorship, and these days, I'm more willing to take risks now that I've got lawyers behind me (many of my lesbian friends are lawyers). I always avoided getting arrested before, now I'm willing to publish things I might have been afraid of. On the other hand, my stuff is less hard core, partly because I'm becoming more private. After showing my cervix to millions of people (now it's on the Internet), and having sex in front of millions of people on screen, I am experimenting with keeping my legs shut! It's kind of an adventure. I really feel that my best work is yet to come. Definitely. In this last workshop I just taught, I went further than I ever thought I could go. It was so incredible and beautiful and enlightening. The best is yet to come.
I have great optimism for the future. Sex has been so incredibly underrated, misunderstood and limited in the way it's portrayed, there's so much room for growth and improvement.
I'm lucky because I've managed to earn a living for the past three years only working for other women. My workshops, videos and photography are all made for women. I never thought this would be possible. I did love what I did before and have no regrets but I'm forty years old and smarter. I now see things for what they are. My goal is to live a pleasure-filled, comfortable ecstatic, happy, blissful, playful, sensuous, beautiful life. I'd like to make the world a more happy, playful, less violent, more sexually satisfied, more loving place. It sounds like a 1960s ideal but I see so many people unsatisfied. There is so much to learn. I have learnt, for example, how so many women are unaware cohorts of the patriarchal sex system, and so trained just to please men. Garter belts and corsets are not what we truly want. In my workshops, when the women do the Taoist erotic massage ritual, they are moved to tears. They don't cry during the Sluts rituals. Costumes are superficial. They are not deeply moving or intimate. You know, I was at the Hellfire Club in New York and had twenty guys piss on me, I was in a circle jerk. It was very interesting, I had a wet pussy, it was a turn-on, I had orgasms but it didn't move me or satisfy me the way Tantric or Taoist sex rituals do. Although I talk about the value of deep relationships, I am still not that good at them (we do teach what we want to learn). I realise I too have fear of intimacy, fear of really being loved, even though this is what I really want.I did enjoy being a sacred prostitute, out there giving my sexual gifts, being a promiscuous experience-seeker. I've seen relationships as traps, as prisons, and a lot of them are. After my recent three-day workshop, all the women felt loved, appreciated, accepted for who they are, and supported. We all felt really good about ourselves. We created a safe, honest, deeply satisfying environment to explore the depths of our sexualities, and we were all accepting of our differences and acknowledged our similarities. This was a group of all women, but it can happen with men too.
Our sexuality is not only something that can be used for the enhancement of an intimate relationship, for physical pleasure or procreation, but it can also be used for personal transformation and emotional healing, self-realisation and spiritual growth, and as a way to learn about all life and death. A focused, sexually awakened group is a divine and extremely powerful force that can not only inspire each person in the group, but has the potential to contribute to the well-being of life on earth as well.
Carol Leigh is an artist, feminist, hooker, activist and video maker who lives in San Francisco. Her first play, in Chick she played herself, back in 1982, was the first performance about the stigma of sex work; in fact, she invented the name "Sex Worker". Her nick-name The Scarlet Harlot comes from her red hair and wild appearance. Carol is hoping to develop her genre of esoteric sex education videos and become a Great Pornographer.