Sasha Grey on Her New Book, the Porn Industry, & Her One Insecurity

Back when Twitter wasn’t the drug all the cool kids were doing, I enlisted then-pornstar Sasha Grey — an early tweeter — to teach me a thing or two about how to use it. It was our first encounter, and I’m proud to say that Grey took my Twitter virginity. Saying so still gets me into clubs. When I met her recently at The Standard, we shared some laughs over that awkward-but-beautiful night, and then got down to the business at hand.

That business is Neu Sex, Grey’s new photography book published by Vice Books, which features the star in various states of NSFW-ness. A collaboration with her romantic partner, Ian P. Cinnamon, the book also features Grey’s writing on the subject that made her most famous: Fucking. But Sasha Grey is no longer part of the adult industry, and this book is another right step in transforming herself into the multimedia artist she sees herself as. Here she is looking back on the naysayers, her one insecurity, and the industry that made her a star.

Tell me about this book’s creation. I actually started out just taking the photos for myself, and in 2007 I showed them to my literary agent, and he was like, “Why don’t you put these in a book?” And I was like, Are these book material? Because I never intended on publishing any of these. It really inspired me to move beyond the self-portraits I was using for my own self-examination. With my partner Ian, we created a true collaboration in every sense of the word. We were able to capture instant moments, but we were also able to collaborate on more involved stuff that you see in the book.

Did Ian take the majority of the photos in the book? I think it’s 50/50. There’s nobody else’s work in that book but ours.

There are a lot of candids, but did you ever take photos specifically for the book? No, we just kind of knew it was fair game, so everything from this point on, as long as it was something we collaborated on, it could go in the book. But if it was just Ian shooting me, and I was modeling, it wouldn’t go in the book. It had to be something we 100% collaborated on.

A quote on your book’s back cover says, “Documenting myself has almost become a necessity. Care to explain that? There’s so much to it, because it comes from a place of being on set. I never complained about the stupid clothes I was wearing, or the stupid makeup they put on my face. My goal wasn’t to be this sex idol, this bombshell, that was never my goal. It wasn’t what motivated me and it had nothing to do with my focus and my reasons. So this was an opportunity for me to kind of sit and make fun of certain situations and say, ‘Look how fucking ridiculous this is,’ but also being able to capture very beautiful or sometimes tiresome moments: I just had a great day, or I had a fucked up day, I was pissed off, people were five hours late. It allowed me to capture my emotions and the way I was feeling and examine those things and see if maybe my opinion changes in the future looking back at them. Still images from those films, people look at them and sometimes look at and forget what they were for.

Would you be able to tell a little story behind each picture? I could, but I chose not to do that in the book.

Why did you feel like you had to be naked in a lot of them? Obviously, some of them were on set.

Did you write the text expressly for the book? Yeah, because it kind of came down to the idea of, do I want to put captions or descriptions for some of the photos, and then I just kind of realized that I’ve never really been able to just write in my own words without having a movie to promote along with it. image

You have really strong opinions about human sexuality and you wanted to express those? Yeah, and I’ve always been very open and vocal since I’ve been in the industry about my opinions and my philosophies, but I just feel like at times those have been watered down or misinterpreted, so for me this is a way to just put it out, and you can’t be confused about this, these are my words. It was really nice to be able to do that.

Have you gotten shit from people for trying to philosophize your porn career? Definitely, especially really early on. It’s funny, because I came from a disenfranchised neighborhood where you’re not allowed to vocalize your opinions, or it’s not cool to like hip-hop or metal, so you have a group of friends that likes metal, and the group of friends that like punk rock, and you might have two friends who you openly discuss everything you’re into. So it was almost like being back where I grew up, like wow, you’re this close-minded to the idea that a woman can have a voice.

And a porn star, no less. Exactly. That’s one of the reasons why I got in the industry, was to disprove the status quo of the dumb porn star. So yeah, I got a lot of “Just shut up and fuck.” But if I wouldn’t have expressed myself and I wouldn’t have approached what I did the way I did it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Maybe when my philosophies get a little denser, you don’t have to agree with it, on the notion of what I consider performance art, that’s fine. But I may not agree with the god you believe in.

Did you have respect for the porn industry, or did you just use it as a tool to create your concept of art? It definitely was a huge tool.

Did you use it as a means to an end? Not a means to an end, but obviously it allowed me to do accomplish a lot of things, and surprisingly, it changed my path, which I never intended to do. But do I have respect for the industry? Yes. There are so many people in the industry—especially someone like Larry Flynt, who’s fought tooth and nail—and he rolled up on stage one night at an awards show, and literally, somebody said, “Who’s this?” It’s like, go home, get the fuck out of here. He’s done so much not just for our industry, but for free speech. It’s a shame that there’s a lot of performers and female directors who again disprove the status quo about the idea of that world, but they go unnoticed, they’re more underground.

Do you think there are people that give porn stars a bad name? I just think it’s easier to tell the sensationalized negative story.

Are you not doing porn at all anymore? No.

When was the last time you shot a porn movie? I don’t want to say.

Why not? Because I haven’t told anybody yet, because I don’t want somebody to promote it as my last movie.

Do you have any physical insecurities? Oh yeah, I fucking hate my mouth. I wasn’t uncomfortable with it for a long time. I thought it was this weird little thing.

What’s wrong with it? It’s crooked! And it’s not something that I control. It’s like a retarded muscle in my face. It’s not until I started being in front of a camera that it bothered me. image

The flyer for your book release party refers to you as a cultural icon. Do you say yourself that way? It’s interesting. I’m very proud that I’ve been able to accomplish the things that I set forth to do. I’m the other white meat. I think it’s been really cool that I get to connect with a large female fan base and with people who share similar interests. It’s cool to be able to inspire individualism in people, and I’m really proud of that.

In the book you call our society sexually repressed. You believe that? I do. We feed people the image of sexy, we use it to sell microwave meals. But yet we don’t actually talk about it, we’re just pushed an image. So, a lot of people still feel ashamed about their sexual fantasies. I was like that when I was younger. I seriously thought there was something wrong with me, that I was fucked in the head.

How did you escape that? When I finally lost my virginity, I was like, What the fuck is the big deal? I started reading more.

Are you happy with the way your film career has gone, post-Girlfriend Experience? Yeah! Entourage was weird.

It was weird playing a version of yourself? It was, there was a little trepidation going into it. Are people really going to think this is how I am everyday? But I got over it really quickly because Entourage is known for that.

All the drug use must have bugged you. Yeah, I just like my single malt scotch, man.

You’re not taking ecstasy in clubs? No, I’m too paranoid of a person.

Do you miss the adult industry? I miss the routine, even if it was an unorthodox routine. But I do feel like I fulfilled everything I wanted to as a performer.

Do you believe in monogamy? I do not.

So how does that manifest itself in your relationship? It does. (Laughs) It just does.

Do you think it’s natural? I don’t think it’s natural, but I’m 23. When I’m 45, I could feel differently.

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