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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Illustration by Chip Zdarsky

Asa Akira is not one to play coy. As one of America’s most bankable porn stars, Akira has spread her asshole for HD cameras and plaster-molded her vagina for mass reproduction as a masturbatory sleeve. But when a fan offered Akira $5,000 for 30 minutes of one-on-one attention, she felt unexpectedly vulnerable as she drove to the gig, a pink can of Mace rattling in her purse. Was it really a good idea to collapse the fourth wall between masturbator and material?

Amanda Hess Amanda Hess

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

As soon as she slinked out of her client’s hotel bathroom, wearing the slutty schoolgirl uniform he’d set aside, she began regurgitating dialogue from past porn scripts: She’d been a very bad girl, she needed to be taught a lesson, etc. To her surprise, the client bought the lines. “In this moment, I realized people are actually into these tired, old, clichéd porno scenarios,” Akira recalls later. “I couldn’t believe this cheesy half-assed act was working.” Soon, her performance got the client so revved up that Akira’s own motor started to purr. “I was starstruck on myself,” Akira says. “I was starting to enjoy this.”

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This story—told early on in Akira’s new memoir, Insatiableexecutes a clever little trick amid its saucy details: It trades one porn fantasy for another. High-paying johns may fall for the hokey schoolgirl trope, but readers of Insatiable are served a more sophisticated scenario: That of the working girl whose cool professional exterior is melted by her own uncontrollable lust. When fans watch Asa Akira’s movies, they fantasize about having sex with her. After they read Insatiable, they can fantasize that they’re making her dreams come true, too.

Porn memoirists tend to come in two flavors—they are critics railing against the industry’s exploitation (Linda Lovelace’s Ordeal) or boosters reveling in its offerings (Ron Jeremy: The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz). Akira states up front that she falls in the latter camp: “Not to say every day is sunshine and flowers, but I don’t feel a healthy, honest voice of someone currently looking from the inside out has been heard,” she writes. “At the end of the day, I do feel my sexual cravings as a woman are normal, and should be accepted as such by society. It’s bullshit that a man who fucks a thousand women is considered a badass, while a woman doing the same thing is shunned.” Working in porn has made Akira “more confident, more empowered, more sure of myself than I’ve ever been.”

And so Akira whisks us along on her multiple-orgasmic journey of self-discovery. After receiving a thorough education in blow jobs at her private Manhattan high school, Akira bounds around the ecosystem of American sex work—she performs lap dances in a New York City champagne room, dominates submissives in a sex dungeon, plays the live-in third wheel to a well-off polyamorous couple, acts as the “show whore” for a couple of radio shock jocks, escorts wealthy men on Hawaiian getaways, and becomes one of pornography’s biggest stars. Each adventure leaves her free of baggage but richer in anecdotes and cash. She indulges in brief affairs with OxyContin and crack, but swears them off with no signs of withdrawal. The colleague who penetrates her without her prior consent is always good for a laugh. Akira’s central beef with her industry appears to be that it compels her to eat her salads without dressing in an effort to keep her curves as springy as silicon.

As an argumentative tract, Akira’s carefree resilience is a screw-you to those who’d like to paint all female porn performers as coerced victims of a misogynist trade. But this is a memoir, and the porn star who’s more fulfilled with every thrust isn’t necessarily poised to launch a second career as a compelling literary heroine. Where’s her conflict? Not in porn. Porn’s the best.

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.”

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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.

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.