Are There Good Guys in Porn? An Interview With Porn Star James Deen

‘My name is James. I am a simple guy who likes to eat, sleep, and watch TV. Oh yeah, I also bang chicks for a living.’

So goes the Twitter bio of 25-year-old porn actor James Deen. 24,000 followers might not stand out in the ranks of mainstream celebrities, but for a man who most would say is merely a prop, Deen has quite the fan base. Most of those followers are women, and they are not quiet about their affection. “Reading James Deen’s blog until my parents walk in,” tweets one young woman. Another bemoans forgetting to download True Blood because she was too busy fantasizing about him.

A step further, to Deen’s personal blog, reveals an intensity of adoration normally reserved for swishy-haired pop stars. Among declarations of love and lust and women begging for personal visits—more than one requesting devirginization—a vocal group coalesces around this sentiment: “im a girl, and most dudes in porn do nothing for me. then i stumbled across a clip of you … its been lust at first sight ever since.” What magic pheromones does Deen emit that he’s earned the infatuation of his fans, the respect of his costars and the porn industry’s top awards? There’s something special about this guy, and it isn’t his penis.

♦◊♦

Sunday afternoon, while large chunks of the country cheered on the women of Team USA, I detached myself from my television to talk to a porn star who maintains a firm “no panties” rules on his website (and I call myself a feminist). I wanted to know where he came from, and how he thinks about his work. How, in an industry known for its seedy underbelly, did a decent guy like Deen come out on top?

He’s objectively good-looking, with curly brown hair, long sideburns, and very blue eyes. The word “impish” comes to mind. “I’m not hideous,” he says, while trying to explain his popularity, “I’m not old and ugly. For the percentage of women interested in porn, I’m a guy who they would talk to in a bar.”

He says “percentage of women” like it’s a teaspoon of water in the ocean of smut, and it occurs to me that he doesn’t know how popular he is. I tell him that the latest data from Nielsen shows that a third of porn site visitors are female. “What? That’s awesome! I had no idea it was so high!”

I ask him why he’s so pleased, and he says, “The world is becoming a more sexually liberated place, you know? People are more out there with their porn watching. It’s super cool.”

Deen is a behind-the-camera guy, too, directing, producing and editing for punk mega-site BurningAngel. “If you’re going to make porn, you should make something you’re really passionate about, it’ll be good, and people will watch it. Like me, I’m not really into feet … unless it really turns a girl on. But boobs? I love boobs, I could play with boobs for hours. If I make porn about boobs, it’ll be good, because you can tell how much I like them. Not so much with feet.”

From the other side of the camera, he pushes for pleasure, too. “Whenever I’m directing, I hire performers that love what they’re doing. I put them in a room together and tell them to do whatever you want, and they go at it.” He laughs and tells me a story about a friend who spends “too much” time on foreplay: “Twenty minutes later, I’m like, ‘Dude, this is hot, but would you fuck her already?’”

We talk about rough sex, a specialty of his. “A lot of the porn for women and couples is intentionally inoffensive and soft, but I don’t know any girls who have ever watched Playgirl. Sometimes girls just want to see a guy who will fuck the shit out of them. Rough sex is a science, and I’m really good at it.” Thanks to his experience in this arena, Deen is regularly requested for scenes at BDSM conglomerate Kink.com.

He speaks like a teenager, chortling at his own jokes, punctuating sentences with “whatever” and “fuck it.” But when talk turns to the industry, Deen peppers his conversation with lingo like a consummate professional. Degrees of degradation, levels of consent, variations of kink, this is the language of the biz, and he’s more than fluent. “It’s a job, you know? Like a bank job,” he explains. “You show up on time, don’t be drunk, don’t bring drugs, be polite, be professional.” It sounds too good to be true.

♦◊♦

I bring up the M-word, misogyny. Are sets actually as polite and above-board as he’s implying? “I just had this conversation! This dude was like, ‘You can’t get sexually harassed on a porn set,’ and I was like, ‘Dude! Are you kidding? Of course you can! A guy can’t just randomly come up to a girl and start waving his dick in her face—that’s sexual harassment!’”

What about those other sites, with names so offensive I wince as I say them out loud? He tells me a story about a scene so aggressive and violent that he received hate mail and death threats.

“I was like, ‘Hey man, that was my girlfriend.’” The point, he emphasizes, is that “it’s all totally fake.” All of it? “Take these two different sites that look the same,” he says, describing sites that play in the space of extreme degradation. One site is “brilliant. Everyone thinks it’s about degradation and making girls cry, really rough, fucked-up stuff; before every scene, they do an interview with the girl. They talk very specifically about what kind of scene it is. ‘It’ll be degrading, there will be this and that.’ The majority of girls are like, ‘OK, awesome, bring it on.’” But what about the other site? “Oh, well those guys are misogynistic assholes,” he says. “They just want to hurt women. They suck.” As a viewer, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.

The lines get blurry when porn gets as rough as Deen likes it. He tells me about a site he recently stopped working for because he didn’t like the premise. “Girls acted like they did something ‘bad,’ like step on my shoe,” he describes, “and then I’d have rough sex to punish them. It made me feel icky.” I want him to clarify, after all, he makes a living slapping women around onscreen. “At Kink, this girl and I are having awesome sex and she likes to get slapped in the face. The sex isn’t punishment. It’s BDSM lifestyle, and they make it super clear it’s the girl’s fantasy.”

It’s the distinction between power play that is built on a foundation of consent and pleasure, and sex that comes from a place of anger and resentment. His fans have noticed on which side of the line he falls. “He gets the difference between dominance and domineering. It’s so sexy!” says one, a 30-something mom from Missouri.

I read that Deen once bemoaned the lack of cunnilingus on camera, explaining that he loves giving oral sex, but directors didn’t want to waste film on it. Is this a problem, that kids grow up seeing blowjobs but not “box jobs,” as Dan Savage recently called female oral sex? The younger we are, the more porn influences what we think is “normal.” Does porn give kids the wrong idea? He pauses, carefully considering my question. “Yes,” he says, “Yes, you’re right. Young kids are learning that pussy-eating isn’t part of sex.” He laughs, emphatically declaring, “There should be more pussy-eating in porn!” Work on that, I tell him, and he says he will. Then he reminds me that viewers only watch what they like. “Their hands are on the fast-forward button the whole time.” He’s right. A quick and dirty search shows that pussy-eating isn’t as popular as one might hope.

♦◊♦

During this interview, at every point where I’ve asked him to choose a side, Deen defaults to “equal rights.” Are you a feminist, I ask?

“I hate feminism!” he blurts out, but rushes to rephrase. “In its truest form, I’m down with feminism, but the feminist movement has gone from being about equal rights—something I really believe in—to telling me how horrible I am because I have a penis. That shit drives me crazy.”

I tell him I’m a feminist and I don’t hate penises; he seems pleased. Our conversation is winding down. It is, after all, a Sunday afternoon, and porn star or not, Deen has laundry to do. I feel strange, like in the last two hours my best hopes and worst fears about pornography have been confirmed. There are good, smart people like James Deen and his friends, who are committed to making super-hot porn that is grounded in equality, pleasure, and consent. And yet, Deen has proven, perhaps inadvertently, that I won’t necessarily know it when I see it. None of us do, and that should make us all a little uncomfortable.

—Photos courtesy of James Deen.

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About Emily Heist Moss

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works at a tech start-up. She's a serious reader and a semi-pro TV buff. She writes about gender, media, and politics at her blog, Rosie Says. (Follow her: @rosiesaysblog, find Rosie Says on Facebook). 

Comments

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  2. pambaby says:

    Look, pornography is not supposed to be reflective of real life. It’s supposed to be reflective of our fantasies. The purpose of pornography is not to inform us about how to live our lives. It is not a “how-to” manual on safe and sane bdsm practice. It’s supposed to turn us on. That is its only purpose. It is supposed to create an illusion.

    One of the problems is that people think of BDSM as an umbrella term, not understanding that there are nuances and differences between the fetishes, and differences from person to person. Some might only be turned on by bondage. Some masochists might only need physical discomfort. For other masochists, there is an emotional element to it. And this is where a true power differential is necessary in a FICTION.

    Some of the things that turn people on I find to be absolutely disgusting. I simply don’t watch those things. So long as everything is completely consensual behind the scenes, then it’s not for me to judge. But what I think is happening with a lot of BDSM and fetish type erotica and pornography is that people ARE passing a judgement on it. They either believe that these things are depicting and encouraging rape or they believe they are symptomatic of misogyny. I think they are wrong. I think that there is nothing wrong with having these types of fantasies. I think it is completely normal for some people. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own particular thing that they find hot. For some people, BDSM, consensual or nonconsensual, is what turns them on. And what’s the harm, so long as they know the difference between fantasy and reality? So long as they do not harm anyone else?

    And I do not get all this talk about this kinky stuff being so misogynistic. Where is the outrage over Femdom? Where is the deeper, socio-politcal meaning when it is a man who is helplessly aroused by licking a woman’s shoe or being spanked? When he is shown on film being used as a ponyboy? Is there any outcry about the underlying message of male inferiority? No. Because people spend less time analyzing and judging men and their sexual fantasies.

    Women, however, can never catch a break. We are first made to feel that it is completely unnatural for us to have sexual feelings at all. We are chastised for centuries for showing the slightest interest. Then back in the 1970s, some research was done and it was found that women did indeed have sexual desires and fantasies. And one of the most common fantasy was forced-sex or some variation of BDSM. And from then on, this has been studied and picked apart and judged. Most of the judgement comes from other women, who read way the hell too much into sexual turn-ons. I really don’t believe it’s all that big a deal. It should not be made into a political statement, no more than male fantasies are. So long as real life is based on respect and equality, make believe doesn’t need to be.

  3. I happened upon another article like this one and left a comment similar to this. I remembered this article and thought that I’ll drop my opinion/view here as well.

    I always laugh when I see articles like this about James Deen. “Good guy pornstar.” I think you females cherry pick what scenes of his you watch. Probably he’s toned down a bit recently to line up with this image, but how I first got to know him was through seeing him in some films, and noticing how much more violent than the other guys he tended to be. Of course I had to find out who he was so I could see him dish out this service to other girls. There are a few male actors like that, and they’re generally demonized for doing the exact same things he does, but because he’s cute & innocent looking somehow those scenes of his seem to be an illusion that women don’t see haha. No doubt he has some charm and connection to go along with it, but alot of times I’ve seen him just straight choke or seriously slap the shit our of a girl like a maniac while other guys were fucking her, just for the fun of it.

    “James Deen the woman beater”, as one director joked in a gangbang video. Much truth is said in jest. It summarized all that I saw of him up to then. That’s how I got to know him, “I have to see some more videos of him beating the fuck out of these girls haha.” It’s why I like him, and other guys like dirty harry, Brandon Iron, Nacho (the latin psycho lol!) and the facilitators like Khan Tusion, Max,etc. Needless to say I was awfully surprised at seeing articles like this about Mr. Deen. Lmao. Like I said, he’s probably toned it down a bit to cater to this image you all have somehow contrived to paint of him, but I was left wondering if you were takling about the same person I knew and loved lol.

  4. (Part 2)

    Tbh, I know what’s right and wrong. It’s obvious that in many of the videos the girls get pretty banged up and abused. They’re basically like crash test dummies that the guys can do whatever the f*ck they want with for a period of time. The truth is many get much worse treatment that prostitutes. If most had other alternatives they saw as viable, or didn’t suffer trauma in their own lives they wouldn’t be doing that. I think about a recent video I saw with Nacho Vidal and Kara Sweet. I could imagine her face was swollen sore as fuck after that. They so often take a LITERAL beating, like a damn punching bag lol! Tbh I ENJOY WATCHING IT. But what I don’t like is DISHONESTY. Just be honest and say, “look, this is fucked up and wrong, but we enjoy it, the viewers do, and she needs the money & is fucked in the head & is willing to do it, so lets go.”

    It’s why I like Brandon Iron. He’s brutally honest like that. Even Khan Tusion. Mr. Iron in an interview explained it like this, “I tell the girls, look, you’re going to have the WORST 15 MINUTES OF YOUR LIFE, but I’m going to pay you for it.” He then proceeds to beat and choke and roughly abuse their innards as much as he can without maiming them permanently. When I see articles about the “good guys of porn” and shit like that, I think back to Mr. Iron again. As he says, “porn is a scummy business.” It ultimately is about what pleasures males, as males are sexual gluttons who make up the majority of the porn market. They have a more ever present, and devilish desire than women, which has been known since the beginning of time, contrary to all the feminist bullshit that’s being thrown about these days. And what do they want to see? After looking at porn for a long time, you want to see shit more and more extreme. You go to anal(I remember when I first started watching, that was totally uninteresting & wasn’t even arousing), then to dp, gangbangs, then double anal, then straight facial abuse and Khan Tusion,etc. That’s the market. So why do the girls go along with things as they get more and more extreme? Because they need the money, and are just fucked in the head. Its why there’s a constant stream of beautiful girls willing to have anything DONE TO THEM (go watch some of Max’s or Nacho’s videos & tell me the women aren’t passive receivers lol), as they become more and more extreme. So many are just reduced to fleshy bags to be internally and externally beaten about now.

    Ms. Katja Kassin is going to college and got out of porn for a while, saying she had many bad experiences, it was a bad chapter, blah blah blah. She’s now back in, and is she saying those same things now? No. Most won’t speak against what feeds them, especially if they don’t have many other options. There are always the badasses like Mr. Iron who are exceptions to the rule. Well I’m not dependant on the biz, so I can say it’s scummy and wrong. It’s only when you honestly acknowledge a problem, that there’s any hope of solving it. It’s fucked up, but fuck me I enjoy it. Me and many others.

    (Off to setup my own offBeatr campaign to bring back my man Steve French to f*ck up another girl even worse than he did to Alex Devine in the famous “Donkey Punch” series. Directed by Khan Tusion, produced by Max Hardcore. Featuring Nacho Vidal. That would be some video.)
    “Porn is a scummy business.”

    With honesty, hopefully some girls won’t have a false illusion about what porn is, & can avoid being part of this future shoot & having to come running to everyone after, telling of how terrible it was.

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