Everybody Eats the Cake: My Day on an LA Porn Set

I've been in sleazy places. In fact, I like them, am drawn to them even as my stomach flip-flops and my healthier pieces feel repulsed by my attraction. This is not a sleazy place.

Mar 5, 2012 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

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Everybody I speak to about this endeavor, from the adult PR folks I've worked with for years to friends to people on set has a similar reaction: "...This isn't your first time on a porn set, is it?"

Uh, yeah, this is my first time on a porn set. I know I'm pretty, but what kind of shit do you think I get into at home? Apparently I have been voted "Most Likely to be a Porn Set" in the hearts and minds of those who know me.

I get where they're coming from, though. I am supremely dedicated to the fine art of "keeping it weird," which is why I ended up taking my shirt off behind a bar in college, why I still surround myself with junkies, freaks, sex workers, pornographers and assorted perverts, why I am what PR and marketing people refer to as a "badge collector," pretty much game for any experience.

So when I was invited onto the LA set of "Jessica Drake's Guide to Wicked Sex," the only question was how quickly I could get there. The 3-year-old series is a porn/sex education hybrid in the Nina Hartley tradition; instructional narrative and interviews co-exist with hardcore sex scenes. It's a bit of a strange stew, and I have trouble visualizing the customer who wants both these things in one video, but Jessica is responding to years of heartrending questions from women, whom she says have become a much larger part of the audiences at signings and conventions over the last decade.

"The point that it all changed  for me was when a woman came up to me at a signing and told me she thought there was something wrong with herself because she couldn't have anal sex like me. And I went, 'There's nothing wrong with you. What you're seeing is movie magic. You're not seeing the training or the adjustment or the warm-up or anything that actually takes place before the camera starts rolling. She was very surprised and relieved. And at the end of the conversation, she said, 'Do you have a DVD?' and I went 'Not yet, but rest assured I will!'"

Every porn girl, like ballet dancers, models and professional athletes, needs an exit strategy, and sex education became Drake's. She entered a program to become a certified sex coach and licensed sex educator. After watching 25 or 30 (old, cheesy) instructional videos as part of that program, she became convinced she could offer a unique take on modern sex education. 

She began writing a sex column for Adult DVD empire, hosting a radio program on Sirius, and launched the "Guide to Wicked Sex" series, which so far have covered anal, fellatio, positions and female masturbation. Today Jessica's taping a guide to threesomes (F-F-M, although a M-M-F guide is forthcoming).

"For the duration of my career, I've mostly been sexual inspiration to a lot of guys, but I think this is a really great chance for me to be able to give back to women," she says.

I don't think I have a lot of preconceived notions about what happens on a porn set, but somehow the airy, comfortable environment at Jessica's Granada Hills home, where the shoot is taking place, is not what I expected.

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When I first see Jessica, she's in a tight black pencil dress, a diamond-encrusted necklace bearing the name of her porn studio at her throat.

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She gives me a rundown of the day  ("OK, here's what we're gonna do...) in between directorial duties and notes to a roaming photographer. "Think educational," she says. "I would not use a pretty girl in a sexy pose to sell this movie."

Is going on and on about how "smart" and "well-spoken" a porn actress is the equivalent of calling a black person "articulate"? There's no reason Jessica Drake shouldn't be as savvy as she is, but it bears emphasis because the stereotype is still that women in the industry are exploited, victims of circumstance, abuse and substance problems.

I don't doubt that stereotype is true somewhere, but it's obvious from the first moment she opens her mouth that Jessica is completely in control here. Agency and business savvy ooze from her perfectly made-up pores, and when she sits down to record her voice-over narration, I'm surprised and pleased to hear her script includes discussion of boundaries, safer sex and consent.

"Do not do this solely to please your partner," she says to the camera, and "Make sure everyone is sober enough to give sincere consent."

"I think its really important and responsible to acknowledge [those things]," she tells me when I mention it later. "With threeway hookups, the way it goes down a lot of the time is that people drink. But even if it happens accidentally, people still need to take precautions. I try to integrate that into all of my instructions but not be too preachy about it, but just sort of always have it as an undertone. You're making big decisions about what you're doing with your body."

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To hear Jessica tell it, she makes decisions about her own body just as carefully. She says she came into the business with her eyes wide open, after stripping for years as a Texas college student. (Studying psychology, about which perhaps no one knows more about than strippers.)  

When she decided to make the transition to movies, her industry friends sat her down to make sure she fully understood how this decision would affect the rest of her life. She got it.

"You really have to branch out and be smart and approach is a business if you last. Im not saying people in this business prey on people or try to get them to do more or extra, but its human nature to be opportunistic. Everybody is always gonna want more and I think its important to stand up for what you're comfortable doing. I don't really have any regrets."

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I don't totally buy the rosy picture -- in any segment of the sex industry there is a lower and an upper echelon and women are being preyed on somewhere. But just as the existence of sex trafficking doesn't negate the existence of voluntary prostitution, Jessica Drake's reality is one way to exist in the porn industry.

"I really love it," she says. "I love everything about what I do. The worst part of my job is some of the really rough travel that I do. The rest is really fulfilling to me. I feel like I'm serving a purpose and empowering other people."

I've been in sleazy places. In fact, I like them, am drawn to them even as my stomach flip-flops and my healthier pieces feel repulsed by my attraction. This is not a sleazy place. Everyone gathers around the table for a lunch break, and unlike at magazine shoots, everybody eats. Even the two large cakes get sampled by everyone from talent to crew. I can't tell you how excited I am to see pretty girls who are about to get naked on camera chowing on two kinds of cake. (Hence the title of this post.)

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Over pasta, I sit and chat with Jack Vegas and Nikki Daniels, a real-life couple who were charmingly affectionate in their interview portion and whom I will soon watch have sex with actress Victoria Lawson while Jessica calls out such directions as "Keep the hands moving, especially on legs!"

We talk about their recent camping trip and a freak car accident they were involved in (a tow hitch came hurtling off a truck at their windshield). They've been together for a year-and-a-half and first met on a set; they had sex on camera before they had sex in their personal lives. On one of their first dates, they had a M-M-F threesome, which I am cheering internally after hearing a FFM-loving male co-star go on and on and on about how he would never ever have one. The only time Jack feels a little weird about their chosen careers is when Nikki is doing an S&M movie and getting beaten and whipped by guys he knows.

"It's kind of weird when it's your girlfriend," he says. Nikki does not seem bothered.

I've had a nice day so far, but I know you guys aren't reading this to find out what's for lunch. (Email me if you are, as you are my kind of person.)

But as it nears 5 o'clock, Jessica has been filming interviews and narration for hours, and the sexiest thing that's happened is that one actress talked about her threesome in "high school" and Jessica had her say just "school" instead.

I have plans for the evening, and yet I would never clit tease you by leaving before any porn happens on the porn set. That's just irresponsible journalism, which I learned about in "Porn Feature Reporting Dos and Donts" at NYU.

Finally, the crew begins to set up the living room set, where I've already been told the sex will take place. The best part is when a guy walks out with and wordlessly places this bag down slightly off camera. I immediately walk over and snap several picture, because again, Journalism.

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It's in a similar vein of investigative reporting that I must show you the multiple boxes of Summer's Eve I spotted in the bathroom.

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I'm creepin' on your porn sets, bringing you the real story.

After a long delay, Jessica arrives clutching a Hitchai Magic Wand (porn stars, they're just like us!) and apologizing: "Sorry, I realized the toys hadn't been washed and I won't put them on set unless I've washed them myself."

Jack, Nikki and Victoria arrange themselves on the couch, and Jessica directs them to kiss softly: first the couple, then the girls. 

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This is pretty much how every threesome I have ever had has begun. People make out and run their hands all over each other, and while the moans and facials expressions in particular seem contrived, there is a definite authentic heat on set by the time Jessica asks if the girls are comfortable giving a double blowjob. (Spoiler alert: They are.)

Jack's girlfriends sweetly blows him to arousal between takes, which is also when the girls, who seem very happy and comfortable, touch each other's hands and say things like, "You're awesome!"

Jessica keeps calling for everyone to keep the action slow and sensual; left to their own devices, they speed up like a nervous marching band.

After the blowjob, Jessica runs down a long list of positions that she needs and asks the group to choose 2 or 3. I have never heard of a "doggy stack," but the women nod knowingly. I just Googled it, but this image offers no clue:

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They choose to start with one of the girls riding Jack and the other sitting on his face. Because they are shooting a softcore demo before the hardcore sex scene, I am treated to the strange experience of watching Jack's penis head bob up and down from between Nikki's butt cheeks, a long string of precum glistening from the tip.

"You're like a squirrel!" shouts Jessica. "Hide the nuts."

One of the other journalists on set scribbles something in her notebook, then holds it up so I can see: "I'm bored." I shrug because it's too quiet for me to scream out "YOU KNOW THERE ARE PEOPLE HAVING SEX OVER THERE?!?"

I mean, I'm tired, certainly. It's been a long day and I had 2 pieces of cake. But people pay good money to witness what is going down in front of us currently. My inner pervert is doing a weird hip-thrusting mating dance while wearing a party hat.

She's not alone, though; this is how the other people on set look:

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Despite the casualness, the scene doesn't feel cold or transactional to me. In fact, I am officially turned on midway throught the first scene. It seems like I'm supposed to apologize for this -- boredom, I feel, is the "cool" response -- but I am watching sex acts performed in front of me for the intended purpose of arousal. You got me, sex! I'm turned on!

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At the end of the day, I'm struck mostly by how warm and comfortable the whole experience has been. I've performed many many unpaid sex acts that felt a million times more exploitative than anything I've seen today. For that matter, so did my brief stint as  a telemarketer.

This may not be the norm. The sex industry is a great place for damaged people to get more damaged, and I have no doubt that's happening in front of a camera in lots of places. And I obviously came into this situation believing strongly in a woman's right to engage in sex work or do anything else she wants with her God-given body. But even I was surprised by just how smart and in control the women on set were. And really, why should I be?

"I've been fighting the stereotype one day at a time, one person at a time," Jessica says. "I did the Tyra show a couple years back. At first, she was very standoffish with me, and she would do her disclaimer before every commercial about how she doesn't endorse this profession and please watch out for your children. But then after every break that passed she got more comfortable with me and would scooch closer on the couch. Finally, she was like, 'You're amazing. You're so normal!' Well what did you think?"

Follow @thejessicadrake and @msemilymccombs on Twitter.