When Anthony Weiner’s latest sex scandal broke last month, 23-year-old sexting partner “Sydney Leathers” was painted as the latest naive girl manipulated by a powerful politician. Leathers thought that she and Weiner were “in love,” gossip site The Dirty reported. The two “spoke on the phone daily” for six months. “Weiner played with her emotions and mind.” The Dirty branded Weiner a “sexual predator.” Leathers was his victim.
Today, Leathers took to xoJane to reverse the narrative. “I enjoy my sexuality, and it doesn't make me anything other than what I am: a young woman who's enjoying her life to the fullest and going on plenty of adventures with willing partners,” she wrote. Leathers says she was the one who manipulated her powerful sext partner. “Anthony Weiner was a weird science experiment. I wanted to see how far it could go. How far could I push it? How long could it go on?” She goes on to offer up 10 tips for “seducing a politician” to xoJane readers, including setting up a Google alert for his name in order to stroke his ego with timely compliments, and assuring him “I want to blow you” even when you don't. “Bottom line,” she wrote: “Don't ever let the politician know how pathetic you think they really are.”
The xoJane gig is just one of many platforms Leathers has leveraged to capitalize on her notoriety. In the space of a month, she’s posed for a “beach romp” in the pages of the New York Post, filmed some light masturbation for porn company Vivid, modeled a line of leather apparel, retained a booking agent, and launched an official website. Leathers’ xoJane column also doubles as an advertisement for her services as a sugar baby. Obviously, Leathers is a driven person with a flair for self-promotion and a comfort with talking publicly about her sex life. Kudos.
But I wonder where this promotional push will land her a year (or 10) down the line. I don't say that to scold her: Pursuing a career as a professional sex worker, lingerie model, or sexpert are all perfectly respectable choices. (And if it works out in the long-term, “Sydney Leathers” would make a great name for a MILF.) But earning a lifelong living as a sex icon requires a huge amount of talent, skill, and business acumen, especially at a time when many young women are preternaturally proficient at posting sexy selfies and speaking out about their sex lives (no paycheck required). “Selling yourself out for one sex tape hardly carries the hard-earned prestige of being a porn star,” performer Aurora Snow publicly advised Leathers.
These days, porn-star prestige requires the star to embody a compelling perspective on sex in general. Today’s most enduring sex symbols differentiate themselves not by their willingness to take off their clothes, but by their attitude toward the whole thing. James Deen is known for his relatability and his humble approach to his porn scenes; Stoya exploded across the Internet thanks to her beautifully written, intellectual takes on the sex industry; Nina Hartley is still performing at age 54 thanks to the frank and sometimes-hilarious perspective she infuses into her scenes.
Leathers is certainly comfortable talking about sex, but it’s not clear exactly what she’s trying to say. On The Dirty, she was a naive young woman in love. On her Vivid sex tape, she presented herself as a “shocked and flattered” Weiner groupie. On xoJane, she’s a seasoned sexual manipulator who engages in unfeeling sex talk for the purpose of science experiments, then publishes the results to shame the other participant. And in a Gawker interview today, she's "still shocked. ... It’s still hitting me in waves." When it comes to launching a career in the sex industry, it helps to be sex-positive, respectful, and enthusiastic about your work. Right now, Sydney Leathers just sounds confused.