Hidden Truths, Frank Sexuality, and Dirty Haiku in a Porn Star’s Memoir

Reading between the lines.
May 7 2014 8:46 AM

Inside Asa Akira

Is a porn star’s memoir revelatory truth-telling, or a shield deflecting complicated revelations?

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If you agree, Akira’s memoir serves up a particularly juicy set of liner notes for your favorite DVDs: In this scene, she actually had an orgasm; in that one, she feigned squirting with the help of a vaginal enema; in an unreleased outtake, the shoot was sabotaged thanks to some unwelcome leakage from last night’s beet salad. Akira is one of the most exposed women in America, and like all successful self-promotional stars of reality programming, she knows that there’s always money to be made in revealing just a little bit more. But she’s also savvy enough to understand that the peek behind the curtain can’t be too inconsistent with her central product. Through erotic retellings of her filmed performances, Akira repeatedly confirms that the come-hither stare you see on the screen is the result of her authentic desire for that day’s arrangement of players and positions, nothing more. And conveniently, Akira reveals, she gets especially turned on by viewers like you: “Often I think about the guy on the other side of the screen while I’m shooting,” she writes. “If I’m not particularly fond of my partner for the day, I know I can rely on the idea of the guy at home watching, jerking off to me to get me wet.”

Asa Akira

Photo by Van Styles

For those of us who aren’t exactly hanging on every anal gape, Akira’s command of her own physicality is nevertheless impressive to watch, and the book offers an enticing peek into the mental processes that build into her explosive sexual performances. It’s rare to hear a woman verbalize her own fantasies, much less recognize how she fantasizes about a man fantasizing about her in order to create a better fantasy for him the next time around. (And Akira’s simpatico relationship with the porn industry’s version of sexual expression has certainly contributed to her success.) But as the book bounces on and on, the breezy sexual frankness starts to feel like a shield for deflecting more complicated revelations.

Throughout, Akira scatters hints of more compelling lines of inquiry, but each time, we’re afforded only a brief glimmer of complication or vulnerability before the story collapses into giggles (or reaches orgasm). Akira’s tale of an ex-boyfriend who launches a new career as a gay porn performer teases at a discussion of the rampant homophobia in the straight porn industry, but instead focuses on barbs about how Akira pegged him with a strap-on. We hear all the gory details about the time she bled on a friend’s car seat after her second abortion, but the backstory is wholly absent.

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The industry’s treatment of Akira’s race—as one of the few Asian stars, she’s routinely cast as a mail order bride, a masseuse, or a human sushi platter—gets particularly short shrift. “When I first started porn, I resented getting cast as the token Asian. Starring in Oriental Babysitters 13: Anal Edition was not what I had in mind when envisioning my career,” Akira writes. But then: “Over time, I’ve come to embrace it. It’s gotten me to where I am today, and it pretty much guarantees me work until the day I quit, since there is always a shortage of Asian girls in the business.” How Akira manages to pursue self-actualizing pleasure within these tokenizing scenarios isn’t explored. The racist slight is ultimately profitable, so that’s all we get.

When Akira feels particularly withholding, she screens her personal stories through stylized digressions. The memoir is peppered with throwaway haiku (“Home from Trader Joe’s, / Was it there for that whole time? / Dried cum on my chin”) and imagined notes addressed to members of her family. Early in the book, she writes a letter to her mother, dated shortly after she decamped from New York to San Fernando. “Are you sitting down? If not, sit down,” she writes. “I got chlamydia. It’s curable!” Akira may legitimately be the most positive porn star in the valley, but with her parents presented only as cyphers, it seems likely that her untold family dynamics are infinitely more interesting than the postcard version. (The book is dedicated “To my parents. But please don’t read it.”)

And when Akira pens a letter to her future child, her defensiveness curdles into flippant disregard. “Mommy met Daddy in her first DP scene,” she writes. “Do you know what that is? DP means double penetration. That means during the sex scene, Mommy had one man’s penis in her vagina, while she had another man’s penis in her asshole, at the same time.” There is a funny and touching essay to be written about parenting as a porn star; this isn’t it. But Akira is 28 years old, and right now, she’s the star of her own fantasies, and those of thousands of others, too.  Maybe in a decade or two she’ll find it worthwhile to reveal a little more.

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Insatiable: Porn—A Love Story by Asa Akira. Grove Press.