An Interview with Nina Hartley

We are not going to put down our sexuality lightly; it’s not going to happen.

Never in a million years did I ever think that I would meet a porn star. Moreover, I never thought Nina Hartley would be in my hotel room talking to me about aging, sex and the adult film industry. Needless to say, my inner sex geek was completely star struck. At 56 years old, Nina is still filming, advocating and teaching people about sex. After the initial shock that a girl who grew up in small-town Kansas had a porn star in her hotel room wore off, I couldn’t get over how friendly and down to earth Nina was. I brought this up to her and her response was, “I am down to earth because two clicks away there are raunchy pictures of me on the Internet. I can’t be on my high-horse.” For the next two hours we chatted away about the porn industry, sex, and life in general.

Ashley: Do you think the porn industry will take a shift and focus more on older adults with the aging baby boomer population?

Dr. Ashley Mader and Nina Hartley

Nina: The industrial pornography industry, the one based in California has been completely rearranged by digital reality of media creation and dissemination. It has found a way to fetishize and monetize every aspect of the human body; hair color, eye color, body shape, body size, genital size, breast size, age, perceived race. There has always been a tiny, tiny niche for so-called ‘granny porn’, which was always, “look at the horny old lady getting nailed by young studs.” That is when I started.

As I’ve aged in the system, I started at 25 in the movies and I’m now 56, my role as I’ve aged, has changed. In the beginning I was a bunny. The girl in this very small bathing suit and a very short dress playing all these roles, which I loved doing.  It was a great exercise in curated exhibitionism. Then there was a bumpy period in my 30s where I, neither flesh, nor fowl, nor a good red herring. I was no longer new and young, but until I got in the business ten years ago, I wasn’t a so- called icon or legend. Years five to ten were a bit in the wilderness for me. The business then was still a top down traditional business model. The pre Internet model was companies hired you or didn’t hire you. If they didn’t hire you, you didn’t work. There was no independent way to work. There was no independent way to distribute your videos.

My friend Juliette Anderson got me in the business. She was the original MILF and didn’t start until 39. She was Aunt Peg and she was a casting agent. She played the power position and played the mentor roles and that was her thing. She was Juliette Anderson, she wasn’t called a MILF or a cougar, she was Aunt Peg; a character that she played. Once the Internet hit, it changed the distribution model, the production model and the pool of available talent. When the whole MILF thing started being in the media. I got a lot of attention because I was a person known to speak to the public and the press. I had been in business by that time for 20 years.

What hit me then were boomers are aging. We are not going to put down our sexuality lightly; it’s not going to happen. When our mothers were my age, a good half of them were so glad to be over all of that. The roles were more delineated. The boys go to the els club and the women do whatever they do. Now we have the boomers. It’s a three-pronged thing. First women…married couples that use pornography, like in all other consumer decisions, the woman is in charge. She is more likely to let a movie into the house that has women her own age, so she’s not challenged or disgusted or turned off or annoyed by yet another movie of some older dude doing some younger chick. Number two these wonderful feminist educated middle class men are fathers. They’re not interested in looking at women who could be their daughter’s age or are their daughter’s age. As a feminist man he can look at a mature woman and know that a. (phew!) b. they’re most often more interested in age appropriate women. The myth of the guy always wanting the younger woman is just wrong. They want somebody they can talk to. They can rest assure in their feminist heart that this person was not lured off a high school lot with a promise of a candy bar and a dollar bill. She is clearly an adult person, she clearly knows what she’s doing. The third, Boomers are aging and we want to see representation of ourselves. That being said age is still a fetish. 

Ashley: How so?

Nina:  Now as an older woman I am rarely put with people who are age appropriate. I am almost always with people young enough to be my child. Because it’s older-younger; bigger-smaller, darker-lighter. It is all mix and match. We have a bowl labeled color, a bowl labeled breast size, and a bowl labeled ass size, a bowl labeled dick size and a bowl labeled age. And then jobs, ‘large breasted blonde cheerleaders in jail with black guys,’ ‘small breasted Asian women with white guys in an office’. There is no rhyme or reason how the themes are chosen. There is no market research in (older) adults, so they just put stuff out there and see what sells.

Now older guys are being fetishized. DILF porn…the whole babysitter porn. The babysitter porn is the whole dad bod, the dad aged dude and the dad aged dude and the babysitter. Other women who have started in their early to mid twenties are now 40.  Now because of the Internet and because of the explosion in mature [porn], many women are starting their adult careers at 35-40 to varying degrees of success. Because again, you can be older, but you have to be a really good one of what you are. So your average looking middle aged woman, if she wants to be in porn she’s going to get the joke porn.

Ashley: Will the porn industry ever celebrate aging?

Nina: No. Commercial pornography’s job is not to celebrate anything. It is to make money off of your fetish, your itch, your nerve. Whatever combination you think, somebody made a movie about that thing. It has been done, it’s all been done 20 million times to Sunday. Now ‘mature’ is the second biggest category of popular pornography, which I think is directly tied to Boomers. In the beginning, half my fans liked me because of a body part, half of them liked me because they could tell I liked what I was doing. I lied at my age in the beginning, I started movies at 25, said I was 23, but I got older every year. So by the time Nina admitted to 40, she’s 42. In porno years, 40 might as well be 80. Then there are the fans that picked up when I was 40 because they fetishized age. Until I hit 40 they weren’t interested in me.  Now there is a whole other generation that realizes, “Oh cougars.”

Ashley: Because you have been in the industry, since you were 25, have you noticed positive changes in pornography or any ageism?

Nina: I don’t think the ageism in the industry is any worse than it ever was. Now there is the category of the best MILF performer or MILF of the year, as well as Starlet of the year. The best MILFs in town are Tonya Tate, Vicki Vett, there are a few others that are older. The idea that a MILF could be someone who could be 26 drives me crazy. To me MILF aka mother I like to fuck automatically means a 36 year old person because as an adult you had a baby, and now that baby is an adult. SO you’re a mother with an adult child. That is an annoying thing to me that MILF could be someone as young as 26. I don’t see the ageism as any worse.

Ashley: How has your own sexuality evolved since you’ve been in porn?

More importantly I got a controlled environment in which to learn about myself and my own sexuality and sexual needs.

Nina: My sexuality: there is my onscreen sexuality and my private sexuality. My on screen sexuality is pretty much toppy. I can run the scene even though I look like I am in the subservient position. I don’t orgasm easily from intercourse. My orgasm is not why I am in porn. Some women have orgasms regularly in porn…yay them! Right on! I’m exhibitinonistic. I got a lot of ego gratification. More importantly I got a controlled environment in which to learn about myself and my own sexuality and sexual needs without the messiness of trying to pretend that I want to be in a relationship. Pretending that I love you or that I’m happy to date you or go to dinner with you or have you spend the night with me. I go to work, I know that you and I will be in a sexual situation later.

Ashley: What makes the scene a positive experience?

Nina: I’m going to have a direct conversation with you. With male partnered people, I always say beside not sticking anything in your butt, is there anything I mustn’t do? Most guys go, “Besides the butt thing, I can’t think of anything.” I’ll say things like, “just so you know, you can’t insult me. I will do what you want happily, so don’t ask what you don’t want. Cause I’ll do it.” So if you say, “harder, harder” I’ll do it harder. So don’t say anything for effect. Don’t say anything cause you think it sounds hot cause okay, I don’t care what I do to you. I have to know what I cannot do to you. You can ask me to do anything. Because A. all consensual behavior to me is acceptable and B. It’s work, I don’t care about that. I do want to make a human connection with you, so I prefer a partner that will look me in the eye.

The best partners are for the next hour and a half you’re the hottest person I’ve ever met. For me as a female who does not have to get an erection, I can almost find something  authentically interesting or sexy about the person that I can focus on. If our personalities mesh, I always like to work with them. I’ll always say yes to work with them. Yes, I love that person.

Shawn Michaels is one of my dearest friends and oldest partners. We don’t have any off camera contact or relationship. Our entire relationship is on camera. The love and affection is clearly there. That is where we leave it and put it. The best male partners to work with in my personal view are Marco Banderas, Evan Stone, Shawn Michaels, and a couple of others. They love women as an idea and I’m one. I don’t need them to be in love with me, but I need them to act that way for a hour. The best guys are the ones who just really dig chicks and their job is making love to chicks. When they get to work with me it’s really a win-win situation. Then there are the people I work with of various ages…Oh Jake Jacobs, he’s him; Jay Crew is his screen name. He is often a DILF, He’s a great guy, he loves women. He loves pleasing them. I’ll totally work with Jake anytime because I’m going to have fun with him, some emotional connection, human interaction.

Ashley: What makes a scene difficult or a person difficult to work with?

Nina: The ones I have the worst times with are the young men who are struggling with their personal and their exhibitionism. They end up looking at my ear or over my head. They cannot..they are so busy trying to stay hard, they can’t make a human connection. I think there are alot of young men in the business who…the men in business have a harder time, their erections have to be authentic and their orgasms have to be authentic. They have to find something to up for or off with. That’s why I try to be as helpful as possible. I don’t want to make a difficult job any more difficult. Even then, there is a certain group of men in pornography who they fuck women on camera, but they don’t hang out with them off camera. They don’t have girlfriends, they don’t have female friends, they don’t seek out female company.They play their video games, they go to the gym and they hangout with their dude friends. They’re not gay because they have sex with women, but they are not otherwise heterosocial. That can be a research paper, somebody.

Ashley: How would you project what your personal sexual future will look like?

Dr. Ashley Mader and Nina Hartley

Nina: Umm, my future as a sexual being is fine. Barring unforseen accidents, I expect to be as interested in sex now as I’ve been my whole life. I expect to have partners that I like who like me back. My private sexual life will be perfectly fine. I am not even worried about that a little bit. I am a polyamorous, bisexual and kinky person, so I have a wide circle friends who I can be affectionate and/or sexual or emotionally intimate. I have a great example of fierce older women in my family, on both sides, who were active late into life. Sexuality is my thing; I’ll always be associated with sex. After 30 years how could I not be?  Nina’s personal sex life is going to be fine. I have my trusty Hitachi and I have friends of all kinds of persuasions. I will have all the outlets that I will want. 

Ashley: What can you say about your own aging process and what advice can you give to aging women?

Nina: In terms of my own physiological aging, my pre-menopause sex and my post menopause sexual life are almost exactly the same. I talk to women all the time who say I’m really messed up over menopause because before menopause I lubricated and I had desire. Once it (menopause) hits that all went away and they miss it, so I let them know that’s normal and it happens to many people. See your doctor to see if any hormone replacement therapy is right for you. Then with your partner or alone, mourn the loss of what was. Mourn the loss of your youth, it’s a loss. It’s a change, but it’s also a loss. A loss that you don’t like very much. It was easy a certain way, it always was a certain way and now it’s not and it’s not coming back. Although with some women, the right balance of hormones can bring it back pretty amazingly. But for me my interest in sex has always been from the head down.

Ashley: Can you talk more about that?

Nina: When I’m alone, my fans often ask, how often do you masturbate, Nina? They think that I must you know… I don’t get horny that way. If there was an island with food, clothing and shelter I might need to masturbate once a month. My vulva never says “Get me something now.” I know women who are truly horny, like the way guys are horny. I am interested in sex with someone else in the room because, for me, part of my kink, my polymorphously perverse sexual nature, I am interested in sharing sexual space with anybody who wants to and whatever that might look like. Consensually of course.  Once we agree that we want to share sexual space together I don’t care what we do, because I am a helping person and I like to help. I’m a nurse and I’m a health care provider. I really do like helping other people have a sensual or sexual experience they always wanted to have in a safe way. I have really good boundaries. It is all about you. I’m not working through my issues with you. I have a husband. I work through my issues with him. Well I do have my own hard boundaries: no animals, poop, kids, blood, death, clowns, tickling, and adult baby. That’s a no for me. 

Ashley: What do you see in your professional future?

Nina: Professional future…I see myself in it, unless I can get a good gig coaching. I see myself being a teacher on camera, but staying more and more dressed and helping other people be sexual on camera. Umm because while in person all bodies are beautiful and I don’t have an age limit, I must say, I have been messed up by the media enough that in terms of objectifying bodies on camera I prefer up to 50 and fit. Looking at people who are visibly old and aged, it’s not going to be a turn on for me, but I am also a professional. So if I am…in my other mind… If I am an older person who is struggling with these issues it would be very empowering and very important to see images of themselves on camera. But would that be a masturbation image… I don’t know. We are many years away from seeing aging bodies as sexy or sexual. We can say all bodies are sexual. I think we are a number of decades away from truly being able to see beauty at all ages. It’s a youth oriented culture.

Ashley: What would you like to see in 10-20 years in the porn industry?

Nina: In 10-20 years, I would like to see porn…again porn is just something that shows the bits. You have good porn and bad porn, stupid porn and not stupid porn, moving porn and ugly porn, soft porn and hard porn. Porn encompasses all those things from naked women or men gamboling in the meadow to “whoa I didn’t know that would fit in there.”  The most important thing to remember is that no matter how ugly the porn may look, no matter how uncomfortable the movie may make you feel, the people were paid, they knew what they said yes to and they might be having a great time. I don’t want to do that scene, but for some women they’ve always wanted to do the scene that I consider very out there, that I would consider degrading and they consider challenging. Or some people have really dirty fantasies and they love that. Some people get excited because it’s dirty. I grew up in the 70s it was all about if it’s consensual, it was okay. So dirty, I’m not religious and I am certainly not Christian, so because it’s dirty and wrong, isn’t why I want to do something. For other people, if it’s dirty sign me up because for them everytime they do a dirty thing, it’s exciting and b. it just pokes that preacher in the whatever. How porn aging will look? I don’t…I can’t see that far into the future because it grows so much.  There is no central porn commission. There is no central think tank.  There’s no NPAA…There’s nothing there, so porn if it sells will make it. If it doesn’t sell, it won’t make it; simple as that. The population in America is very large. The population of the world is very large.

Ashley: How would you describe, since you started in about 1984, how would describe the change in the general public’s perception and acceptance of sexual expression? Did it change? 

Nina:  The 80s were all about it. Once the video came in in1984 that was the quick and brutal death of film and the quick extension of video. There have always been films made since then, but before video it was all film. In the 80s the push was both mainstreaming and mainstreeting porn. You have the mom and pop video stores and they would come to the shows every year and say “our adult section keeps us in business,” or “Without the adult section we wouldn’t be able to make a living.” So clearly the market was there for sexually explicit material. Then from 1990 to 2000 we hideously over produced subpar material. I think over time the fans have lined us and taken us for a ride and stole our money. With all the video and porn piracy. I think young people don’t think you should pay for porn, but old people think ‘you stole from me I am going to steal from you.’  In the middle of the 80s there were the so-called porn wars. There was the Meese Commission on pornography which was Reagan’s attempt to debunk what Nixon’s panel had discovered which was that porn was not a bad influence. But now people say that porn is more extreme, it’s worse. There is so much more porn than there was before. There is a lot more of everything. There is always ugly porn to be had. You can always find ugly porn. You can find beautiful porn; really well thought out crafted movies with full female characters. That’s always been a market. That market is still served somewhat by 2 or 3 companies that still do the story movies. More people your age grew up with porn and they either like it or they don’t like it. Porn is not sex education. Another reason for good comprehensive sex education is for people to realize this is a movie.  The most important thing for people who don’t like porn to understand is that nobody in commercial American porn is forced into it. We have to sign releases, we have to offer proof of age, they have to be paid. This is not Moldova, this is not Central America, this is America. You want to make sure your porn comes from people who are paid and tested and agreed to do this by buying American made porn. 

I wish I learned earlier how to navigate and tolerate the discomfort that comes from differing desires and outcomes.

Ashley: As some last advice for everyone, could you tell us the most critical or important component to your sexuality that you wish you had learned earlier? 

Nina: I wish I learned earlier how to…I wish I learned how to navigate and tolerate the discomfort that comes from differing desires and outcomes. Meaning how to say “no” and make it stick. Or ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but…Umm I wish I learned more about how to tolerate someone being displeased with me or unhappy with me because…Learning how to tolerate the discomfort that comes with being a people pleasing female, how to be okay with saying no and hearing no…earlier. I have it now, but I put myself through a lot of bullshit earlier. I did not learn that earlier. It has harmed me. It has cost me a million dollars, literally a million dollars. Because I could not admit conflict, I could not confront conflict, negotiate conflict or resolve conflict. I paid a tremendous price emotionally and financially; at least a million dollars minimum. Maybe even a million and a half dollars. Young ladies out there: if you need help or coaching in conflict resolution GET IT! That and checkbook balancing. But certainly, the ways in my life that have hurt myself the most have not been porn, it has been my behavior outside of the movies, in terms of navigating my personal relationships. So I am here to say to college aged people that some wrong turns in your 20s affect you in your 50s.

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