Experience Does Matter: Interview With Nina Hartley

This interview with 30-year adult industry veteran Nina Hartley ran in the January 2014 issue of AVN. For more from Hartley, read her advice to new performers, which will be posted tomorrow on AVN.com. She will also be addressing industry issues on a panel on "The Feminist Porn Mystique" at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo on Friday at 1 p.m. and will appear in an AVN Live interview with James Bartholet on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in Vinyl nightclub.

“Experience does matter.” That’s the tagline on Nina.com, the official website for Nina Hartley. After three decades on screen as an adult entertainer, there’s little she doesn’t know about the industry. In turn, there are few in the biz who haven’t heard of her.

Many know Hartley began her career as an adult entertainer while an undergraduate in nursing at San Francisco State, and has gone on to star in and produce more than 900 movies since her first in 1984. She was an early advocate of feminist porn, having been a founding member of the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force, an organization forged during the “porn wars” of the mid-1980s. And she’s almost as well known outside the business for her performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, the 1997 movie that is still the quintessential mainstream take on Porn Valley.

These days, in addition to serving as a staple star in the MILF genre, Hartley does live shows, instructional videos, lectures on campuses across the country and writes about sex and feminism in print anthologies and online—including an excellent essay aimed at new performers, reprinted in these pages, that originally ran on Kinky.com. She is the author of Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex, a member of the AVN Hall of Fame and recipient of a passel of AVN Awards.

Below, Hartley takes some time out from her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her past, present and future.

What, and with whom, was the first scene you ever shot? And what was the most recent?

My first scene was with Billy Dee, for Educating Nina, 1984. It was Juliette “Aunt Peg” Anderson’s directorial debut. The distributing company screwed her over and she lost all of her investor’s money (we used investors back then). She didn’t direct again.

My most recent scene was for a Japanese company, a b/g with an Asian-American performer who was new to me. I love working with new folks!

What projects are next on your horizon?

My most recent release is from Filly Films, directed by Sal Genoa: Nina Hartley: Unscripted. I’m very tired of playing someone’s authority figure—aunt/stepmother/guardian/teacher/professor/probation officer/doctor, etc.—to set up the cougar-cub/kitten scenario. I know I’m older and they’re younger. I just don’t need to pretend we are what we’re not. I’m an older player who likes to work with younger players, as I liked working with older players when I was the younger player.

Four scenes, two threesomes, two twosomes, all girls. Kinky without being excessively so. Lots of real orgasms, light bondage. Really fun time if you like real g/g movies.

You’ve seen a lot of trends come and go in the adult industry. Which have given you the most pleasure as a performer? Is it the same answer for what gives you the most pleasure as a viewer?

As a performer I most enjoy playing helper to a couple who are fucking, or showing a woman a good time, and b.j.s. I do love performing oral sex—that much has never, ever, diminished. I enjoy giving good tease.

As a viewer I like to watch attractive people having an authentically good time, though, truth be told, I mostly consume illustrated/drawn porn as opposed to moving-picture porn. I like extreme images and don’t like having to worry about a real model. Drawings can’t be harmed.

Are there any areas of sexuality that you feel the adult entertainment industry has not adequately explored?

Plenty! Mainly real feelings/emotions/intimacy; non-dick-centered action in b/g. I understand well that the primary audience is still masturbating men and they like what they like, but in real life “sex” doesn’t always end with his ejaculation and that trope in porn is sooooo old now. I play to it because that’s what’s up, but I think there is a stellar lack of imagination in most directors/companies.

LA-based porn companies are pretty mainstream, so the bi/alt/lesbian movies seem to come more out of San Francisco, but I’d like to see more queer-oriented material. This is happening slowly, as the audience for that increases.

After three decades in adult entertainment, are there still some things that you’ve never done and hope to accomplish?

Of course. Host an AVN Awards Show, for one. Become the go-to talking head for news stories on porn/feminism/sex work and sex worker’s rights. Write my memoirs (I’m finally old enough to have something useful to say). Do more sex-ed. On the utopian side, I’d love to heal the culture’s sex-negative BS, but that’s a long row to hoe. I’d like to help everyone become as comfortable with their sexuality as I am with mine, as that would release a tremendous amount of pain from the world.

In your advice to performers you've advised them to “have a plan for after.” What’s your plan? And has that plan changed over the years?

I’m a Lifer, so there’s really no “after” for me. I’m odd that way. I knew I was never leaving sex work/sex ed. It’s my life’s work as an artist, feminist, health care professional, scientist and human. What’s been added is the concept of performance art, spoken word, stand-up comedy (I’ve done a bit and it’s a hell of a lot of fun), consulting/counseling/coaching of couples and individuals.

As I age further I’ll still be on camera but likely more and more with my clothes on and my partner(s) with their clothes off. Everyone deserves the sex life they want, but we all like looking at attractive young people having sex, me included.

Some of the biographical facts about your life I’ve seen in multiple places, but I’m wondering whether this one on IMDB.com is accurate: “Her family was originally from Alabama, and her grandfather was one of the lawyers who defended the black teenagers accused (as it turned out, falsely) of raping a white woman in the infamous 1931 ‘Scottsboro Boys’ case in Alabama.”

Sideways, but not totally off. My maternal grandparents are, indeed, from Alabama. They were secular Jews and my grandfather was an early convert to socialism, as it was the only philosophy in the ’30s that espoused gender, social, economic and racial equality as an ideal.

He was a physics professor at University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa and worked for the committee that sought to free the Scottsboro Boys as a concerned civilian. He lost his job at the university for being a “premature anti-Fascist.”

As a salute to public radio’s Dinner Party Download interview program—because we think you would be fascinating on that show (or at any dinner party)—we’ll steal their two standard questions. The first is, “What question are you tired of being asked in interviews?”

“What’s the biggest one you’ve ever had?” “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a business like this?” “How can your husband let you do this?”

The second question, to quote hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam: “Tell us something we don’t know. It could be something about you that you haven’t discussed in interviews before … or it could be an interesting piece of trivia.”

My grandmother taught freshman English to Bear Bryant at U of A.

Further information about Nina Hartley can be found at Nina.com or on Twitter @ninaland.