We've all heard of Stoya. The pornography actress, director and writer (formerly Jessica Stoyadinovic) has risen to become one of the most famous faces (and voices) in the industry, embarking on what she thought would be a "wild adventure," certainly not a career that would see her star rise to stratospheric heights.
It's understandable — Stoya's appeal is undeniable. The American-born Scottish-Serbian's natural quirkiness and lithe figure (without a trace of silicone) has clearly set her apart in the industry, reading as the girl-next-door-who-came-home-from-art-school-with-combat-boots-and-a-pet-snake. As far as the porn industry goes, Stoya dipped a toe through alt-erotic modeling, before wading into soft-core and cameo roles, and eventually diving right into the hardcore deep end to become pornography's breakout female star. She has since won a number of AVN and XBIZ awards, written for multiple outlets from The New York Times to Playboy, and even has her own fleshlight modeled after her. Now, Stoya has to go all the way to Serbia to escape recognition.
Thrust into the limelight, Stoya isn't taking her platform lightly. The multi-hyphenate is determined to make movies with a message, or, failing that, no plot at all, than depict another "unhappy slut" on screen. Amid the deaths of five porn actresses in three months, and the avalanche of sexual misconduct accusations, Stoya knows it's time to have a serious conversation about the sex industry, and sex in general, and she doesn't mind moderating. As she says, "Nobody storms into McDonald's and asks, 'How disappointed are your parents in you?'" In honor of her inclusion of Sex Work, Art Work! a new exhibition at the Museum of Sex, PAPER's caught up with the porn icon about all things sexual.
You know, you're pretty much the Kim Kardashian of porn, if Kim Kardashian was an edgy art student.
Wow, that's such a compliment.
Even people that don't watch porn know who you are. Isn't that wonderful?
Yeah it's totally wild... and kind of really bizarre. Like I just never really adapted to it. I wake up every day and I'm like, "Oh my god I just got back from Paris shooting a movie on location. And like, "I really need to find time to sit down and look at the edits on my first "book." I'm like, "This is my life. This is so fucking cool."
Do people ever recognize you and approach you?
It varies. One time I was having lunch with my friends in downtown Brooklyn, and this girl was running down the sidewalk. She was like, "Oh my god, Stoya! I'm going to miss my train," and she was like a deer in headlights, and I was like, "Run for your train."
In approaching you there's the implication that they're watching porn. If that isn't evidence we're moving into a sex positive world...
Yeah, people will see me at a coffee shop and then tweet, "I think I just saw Stoya." — an account that's not like some throwaway account. It's interesting that people are willing to declare that they recognize someone that at the end of the day, is a sex worker.
How close do you think we are to destigmatization?
There's a couple of things. One is I believe there's this pendulum effect about sexuality and sexual professions where we become open-minded to it and then we get more freaked out by it again. It happened in the '70s with deep throat and porno chic, and it happened with Jenna Jameson in early '90s, and then there's Sasha Grey and Joanna Angel and me. Now there's so many of us that people are interested in. That's where I think we're seeing actual progress.
This trans performer named Bailey J was talking about the trans community and said, "I wish we could get to the point where there was room for more than one of us, so I could be the slutty one without people freaking out and thinking what I say applies to every trans women." She said that on Twitter and I saw that, and just wanted to heart it like 600 times and hug my laptop and be like, "Yes, this!" Because I feel like with pornography, we're getting to the time where it's not like the Highlander anymore and that's really great — that allows more freedom to pass up gigs that aren't really the best fit for me or are going to be a challenge.
You tend to get put in this hot alt-art girl category. Is that weird?
Well, I am hipster, I live in Brooklyn, I have two cats. I'm a giant fucking nerd that actually turned out mainstream attractive. I still like my really thick books that are hard to read and make my brain hurt. It can be really really hard to be a woman in public, especially publicly accessible on the Internet. Even more so if you're a sex worker, and even more so if you check other demographic boxes.
You're so much more accessible than VHR-porn stars.
Yeah, but on the flip side of that is when you're exposed to hundreds and thousands of people every day, and you're quirky like I am. You increase your chances of being connected with other quirky people, so that has worked out really well. Like sometimes at conventions, you get people who are there because they're curious and then it gets really boring. Then someone will show up who has super similar taste in books or something and will have a half an hour conversation and they'll be like, "I'm sorry I don't want to take up all your time," and I'm like, "No, stay, you're wonderful."
Do people come for you? The trolls?
Last year I had my assistant take over my social media, so I send her draft, tweets and pictures and then she handles it. I'm not looking at what people are saying. That's been so wonderful because it really is unfortunate, but true; 10 people say nice things and then one person says something really nasty and then you walk away feeling kind of gross.
That impact on your mental health is incalculable.
It's really tragic. We've lost three porn performers.
I was just going to talk to you about that. It's five.
Five? Jesus! In the past two months?
In the past three months.
Yeah, and there really aren't that many of us. Like four or five years ago, I was talking with the woman who ran the organization at the time and I asked her for a ballpark estimate of how many porn performers there are and she said probably 700-1000 . Then I checked that with a journalist who covers porn a lot and he said, "Yeah that sounds about right, maybe a little high." I think there are so many other things that are a lot like porn like making your own amateur stuff on clips for sale. But as far as porn stars, like regularly filming on professional sets—
They're called stars for a reason.
Right. So to lose five in three months is insane. I have to say that it seems very much that all the garbage we deal with [and what] people say to us has some a contributing factor there.
Of the five, two died from drug overdoses, one died from suicide, and one died in her sleep (with a toxicology report in progress). Only one died from a natural urinary tract infection. Of all women who operate in sex work, porn stars are the most visible. Are you taken care of more?
No, we do not make nearly the kind of money that people tend to think we do. There's also very little team. When some actors or actresses do a public signing, they have a security team, a handler, an assistant and maybe their best friend with them. When I do a convention, it's me by myself. One time threatened to beat a man with my bag of superskin assholes. He grabbed my arm and it had been a long day and I just was not having it. I was like, "I will beat you with my bag of superskin rectums," and he was so confused.
Because porn is so intimate, people must feel like they have this personal connection to you — like you're America's girlfriend.
That, and they feel comfortable sharing things that they don't feel comfortable sharing with other people or in other places. I hear Cam girls talk about this a lot. There ends up being a therapist component to the job, which can really be nerve-wracking. On the one end, these are people who clearly haven't been able to feel open about that particular [thing]. And so there's a need there that calls you, but I don't have the training for this. Usually this is some heavy shit.
Going back to the five women who died. How do we prevent this?
I have absolutely no idea. Every possible solution opens up a huge can of worms partially because, if you're going to stick any ideological label on me, I'm basically a conservative anarchist. I'm so into individual autonomy and self-direction, so any kind of censorship is like... introducing psychological screenings before person is allowed to work as a sex worker? That's completely unacceptable. Especially because so many people who deal with some kind of psychiatric atypicality have to have access to jobs that, like sex work, allow flexible hours. For instance I have ADHD and I've been able to get quite a lot of shit done in pornography because I can work from home — I can dictate my own schedule.
When you were just starting out, did you battle with mental health more than you do now that you're more established?
When I thought about signing up to do hardcore pornography and signing a contract with company, I considered, "Do I ever want to work with children? Do I ever want to go into politics? Or what if at 30 I decide that I want a monogamous partner and want to settle down and have a normal life?" I thought through the health and safety stuff, I looked into the harm reduction methods that pornography was using at the time, and those methods have actually improved over the past 10-12 years. But I did not consider what would happen if my career took off because I was like, "I'm just this gangly, comparatively flat-chested girl. I'm not particularly curvy. I'm just not a sex bomb." I thought I would do a few movies, and have a wild adventure. That's not what happened at all. There was no taking it back, there was no slowing it down. It just very rapidly became a fact of my life, and then I had to deal with it. I've struggled with it my entire career.
What are your thoughts on the sex landscape, right now?
I do see a public conversation opening up about the utter failure that sexual education — the things people are learning from porn, what kind of porn we ought to be consuming.
What kind of porn should we be consuming?
I think there are things that we could think on like what an organization that doles out ethical stamps should look like. How could that be done in a way that is itself ethical?
Right. Much like the difference between fast fashion and sustainable fashion.
Right. We can think about how to help consumers who want to see pornography that is made in a basic, ethical way or even better than that. And we can help consumers find pornography that shows different perspectives on sex — the ones that are more focused on individual connections.
You want some kind of stamp that says these performers are happy and being properly compensated.
Well, "happy" is a real problem — especially in pornography because there's an expectation for the worker to go to set, perform being happy, do the scene, do their jobs, also be happy for behind the scenes, and then afterwards when it releases, go around and talk about it on social media. This is a set of expectations that has grown as time has progressed. I do not think it's appropriate to require workers to be happy. Like sometimes you gotta pay your rent and you're sucking it up and doing something you don't particularly want to do. Maybe you wouldn't usually work with this performer, but there's nothing really wrong with them. Maybe some emergency came up and drained your savings and you're like, "Fuck man, I'm going to do this." And you have to deliver for the camera. It's really polite to at least put on a good face for the other performer, but beyond that, the happiness thing can be a [challenge].
I guess consumers just want to know the people on camera are afforded the same rights as they themselves are in their profession.
That they're there at their own free will as much as possible under capitalism.
Exactly, because you could be working in porn or at a desk and the exploitation might be the exact same situation.
Yeah, you find that in every fucking industry. We need to find a way to stop being hysterical and have a conversation that's realistic about pornography. I don't want to hear anymore about banning it. That's not going to fucking work. I want to be hearing real discourse that deals with the realities of pornography in the context of the realities of the world. Lawyers do things that are sometimes sketchy, and nobody asks them how their parents feel about them doing their profession. Nobody storms into McDonald's and asks, "How disappointed are your parents in you?" Nobody goes to a doctor in the hospital and goes, "Are you worried about touching an incurable disease?"
It's interesting, when it comes to the sex industry, what society deems morally unacceptable, even though we're probably engaging with it behind closed doors.
Right, and I'm trying to make pornography consistently like the first movie I did, which was very self-referential. It was a porno about pornography in this super abstract way. If you're seeing something beyond vanilla sex, it's because I want it. One time we were shooting it a hotel room. I was shooting with Wolf Hudson and Micky Mod, and part way through the scene I was like, "Wait, you have two penises here? I've never been deep penetrated, both in my vagina, I want this to happen." And so they were like, "Yeah, of course we'll oblige you." And it was a little unethical of me to ask for that in the middle of the scene.
Logistically, how does that fit?
One guy lays down face-up, and then you hop on and then the other guy comes in. You're kind of in a sandwich, but what you have to do is like the opposite of a kegel. You can breathe into your stomach diaphragm, but you can also breathe into your pelvic diaphragm
Was that like pleasurable?
It is, but if you're tense at all it's going to hurt like a motherfucker. If you're really super relaxed, then it's amazing.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it's been amazing seen porn stars joining the conversation. It seems that we're culturally evolving to group the porn industry with all other industries.
I think you always have to remember that America is a large country and the world is a large place. I did a convention in Dallas a couple of years ago and that was a real eye opener. The city didn't want us there. Someone did a drive by paint ball to the hotel and there were really nasty protesters. One of the performers got punched. Some of the people who pay the entrance fee came in and [there were] concerns that we may have been trafficked. That's how much misunderstanding there is.
Also about #MeToo, I feel like all of these really great dudes in my life are like, "What can we do?" With a lot of the heterosexual male reaction in the past year, it's like, "If you think something ought to be done, figure out what you can do." I don't understand slightly creepy douchebag men. If I did, then I would probably help you out and tell you what I think you should do. Talk to another straight dude, work it out and figure out what might be able to help because I have no clue.
They're consumed in analyzing their past interactions when they may have taken it too far. All these men in the wake of #MeToo are afraid.
I'm definitely not trying to defend any dudes because I can't be bothered, but speaking from experience, my mental conception of myself is very, "I'm a five foot six female who's got a pretty slender build and gets loomed over by dudes who want me to smile frequently." So I forget when the context shifts, how much power I have in a sexual interaction. I've forgotten this person might not feel comfortable saying no to me because I'm Stoya. Who the fuck is going to tell Stoya no when it comes to sex? That's what's in their head, and because I have a voice, I have the privilege of being physically vulnerable. That allows me to understand something that your average dudely-dude has never internalized because they've never really felt it. Also your average dudely-dude, at least the ones I know is, is now wandering around thinking about what it's like to be my size and get talked to the way I do. They're thinking about what it's like to be Black and get judged and harassed and shut out of things because of that. That's really incredible.
We also need to stop criticizing victims of sexual assault, saying they should've just left. We need to stop generalizing.
People don't understand the freeze response, and this is a huge problem because you can't blame an 18 year-old boy when the girl freezes and is unable to say stop. Then it's a really unfortunate tragedy.
There's also this element of people pleasing.
Right, that too. There's like all kinds of stuff. One thing I've been chewing on is how the freeze response can be captured and slowed down for educational purposes.
That might be a really valuable.
It would be so valuable. It's a question of how to do it without risking throwing me off the deep end. Also if I shot that, as soon as it hits the Internet, because it's sexual and involves me, some asshole's going to put it all over the tube sites without the contacts. So it's a really high risk thing, and would be so valuable. But also why bother because it'll get uploaded like it's porn. People really want to blame porn and the way that sex is shown in porn. But I don't know how we could show tackling the varieties of consent in that kind of context. I've always pushed back, and now that I have more autonomy, I just refuse to participate in scenes where everybody's cheating on everyone. It's like, "Guys, can we come up with something new? Can we do a movie about happy sluts? I'll give you my autobiography. Let's make this activity consensual where everybody knows what's going on and is down with it." Now I don't really fuck with plots.
Because of your power, you can make your own stories and hopefully there will be a trickle-down effect. If something's successful, everybody's going to get behind it.
Yeah, no pressure... No, it's totally fine. I should actually be quite used to it by now.
We're on the precipice of a massive shift in culture and it's going to be, hopefully, irrevocable.
I'm always chain-smoking in the corner, saying, "Let's not get too excited and pat ourselves on the back quite yet. Let's get up to the basics of ethical human treatment and then maybe we can think about having a small celebration for a couple of minutes, but there's work to be done."
That's the practical approach. I am an optimist. You need me, and you need someone to actually pull the strings and do it the right way. Last question, what do you put as your occupation?
I put whatever I was paid for last.
Photo via Instagram