Audacia Ray spreads the gospel of feminist Web porn | Arts Feature | Indy Week
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Audacia Ray spreads the gospel of feminist Web porn 

The porn mystique

click to enlarge The World Wide Web of sex, with Audacia Ray - PHOTO COURTESY OF VISUALCLASH 2005
  • Photo courtesy of Visualclash 2005
  • The World Wide Web of sex, with Audacia Ray

In fourth grade, I was grounded for a week when a letter arrived for me, written by someone I'd met in an Internet chat room. Back then, in the early '90s, as the Internet was becoming more widely available, parents quickly honed in on its risks, and kids like me were taught a lesson on what never, ever to do on the Internet—namely, give away personal information.

But the Internet has changed since I was 9. Although it's still not necessarily a safe place for unsupervised fourth graders, its utter ubiquity in our lives, combined with cheaper, more accessible tools, make it a utilitarian and familiar space. In the world of pornography, the democratization of the Internet has allowed women to take control of their own representation—women such as Audacia Ray, clothed in home office-friendly underwear, keyboard in hand, eyes alertly challenging the Internet to shock her with its content.

The author of the recently published Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing In on Internet Sexploration (Seal Press), Ray says, "the Internet is a complex space for women, and it's not an entirely bad thing or good thing. Women should be careful, but there are definitely a lot of possibilities there for learning about their sexuality and sex and to just have fun."

Ray, who will be appearing Thursday, June 21, at Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill, is a genuine Heinz 57 of the sex world: blogger, former sex worker, model, educator, feminist and porn director, she regularly contributes to sites like Fleshbot.com and SugarClick.com and is executive editor of the quarterly sex worker-rights magazine $pread. Earlier this month, her debut filmmaking effort The Bi Apple won a prize for "Hottest Straight Sex Scene" from the Feminist Porn Awards, an organization of North American feminist pornographers.

Throughout her work, Ray strives to provide useful and female-friendly sources of information about sex. "There is a way to take a smart approach to sexuality, not just 'how to give your man a good blow job,' which I find irritating," she says by telephone from Boston.

"I mean, it's good to know how to have good technique or whatever, but I prefer to take this sort of more serious approach to it all."

Ray's book comes at a ripe time when more women than ever are technologically tapping into their sexuality. Web sites like www.forthegirls.com now exist, offering straight women a collection of the porn and nude modeling they want to see. Women are picking up where stars like Candida Royalle and Veronica Hart left off in the '80s, producing porn and independent Web sites, which, Ray writes, often are "popular enough that many of the women who run them are able to make a living doing nothing but working on their sites."

Everywhere Ray goes, she meets women using the Internet as a means of expressing their sexuality, and she hopes to help those numbers grow. Naked on the Internet, she says, is a look at the "ways women connect with themselves and others to explore the Internet as a communication and lifestyle tool as well as a valuable, though sometimes risky, sexual space."

An academic of the sex world, Ray's first sex job was working as a researcher at the Museum of Sex in New York, while an undergraduate at the New School's Eugene Lang College (she also has a master's degree from Columbia University in American Studies). There, she sorted through naughty pictures of sex and sex workers from the 19th and 20th centuries. Her academic background provides the underpinning for her book, an expansive look at the benefits and risks women face when using the Internet for exploring sexuality. In it, Ray leaves no topic uncovered or unanalyzed, covering everything from sex blogs to the uproar caused by "period porn" (it is what it sounds like).

click to enlarge Author and porn evangelist Audacia Ray - PHOTO COURTESY OF NIESHA STUDIO
  • Photo courtesy of Niesha Studio
  • Author and porn evangelist Audacia Ray

According to Ray, her most rewarding work is editing $pread magazine, the only magazine in the world written by and for sex workers and those who support their rights. Ray says, "I get to see sex workers get together, and it's such an incredible project. Hearing from sex workers, 'I didn't know there were other people like me,' that's really powerful. I really like to help empower women and help them feel like they can shake things up a bit."

The magazine works to build a community for sex workers, offering them a chance to participate in events like art exhibits that $pread organizes. "We did these parties at sex-positive stores. We had people come in and paint dildos, and we auctioned them off. We had like 50 of them, and they were incredible. Some of them lit up, and one of them looked like a Muppet. It was so fun hanging out with sex workers, just having people get together and have fun and share anecdotes about things clients did and such."

Through all of her work, Ray hopes to erase much of the stigma currently facing sex workers, porn and sexuality in general. Contrary to the general public's idea of sex workers, Ray says there isn't an across-the-board mold for sex workers. Women of many ages, backgrounds and income levels participate in it. "Generally when I see representations of prostitutes in porn movies it makes me squirm, because it's not a good representation."

She also points out that many people don't realize some of the basic truths about porn. There are many varieties of porn, from Jenna Jameson-style, Hollywood-produced porn, to alt.porn Web sites, to couples porn (both real and staged), plus everything in between. Porn isn't just for the dirty old men anymore—as Ray writes, "Just as video killed the radio star, Internet porn killed the raincoat brigade."

But for all of the liberation promised by Internet porn, Ray writes, "the harsh reality remains that women's participation and power in pornography is curtailed by the churning forward of the industry machine, and the demand for fresh content and fresh pussy, however and from whomever it's obtained. What's unsettling to me is not that women might consider themselves candidates for porn stardom, or a job as some other kind of sex worker, but that the only space available for them to express their sexuality is through imitating commercial sexiness."

However, Ray goes on to write that the "immediacy of the Internet and the urgency of the women using it is chipping away at these limitations in much needed ways."

This isn't to say that fourth graders everywhere should be socializing in chat rooms and getting personal with the raincoat brigadiers' grandsons. But with sexual blacksmiths like Ray on the job, forging new cultural standards for what is acceptable in women's sexuality, the options accessible to little fourth grade chicks will be much more liberating and myriad by the time they're ready to peck their way into the vast world of sex. And when women are happier with their sex lives, the world will be a brighter place for everyone.

Audacia Ray will appear at Chapel Hill's Internationalist Books Thursday, June 21, at 7 p.m. Call 942-1740 for more information.

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