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Nina Hartley is a sexual entertainer, activist, educator, and registered nurse, who has starred in hundreds of adult entertainment films and videos, including Boogie Nights. As a “feminist porn star” and sex educator, Nina has taken her positive message to college campuses nationwide. Working with her husband and collaborator, I. S. LEVINE, together they’ve created a bestselling series of instructional videos.
Total Sex is the book I wish I had owned when I turned eighteen. I needed this book desperately, and believe me, things were much less complicated back then. I enjoyed the particular good fortunes of a unique place and time. Because I was brought up in an unconventional group-living situation by Buddhist parents in the Bay Area, my natural sexuality may not have gotten much direct encouragement at home, but my search for an authentic identity did. That, after all, was what had led my parents to Zen in the first place. Graduating from Berkeley High School in 1977, I came of age during the last decade when sexuality was widely considered a positive, healing, beautiful thing. The exposure I had to new ways of thinking about sex, “happiness,” gender relations, culture, women’s liberation, living arrangements, and personal responsibility supported my developing ideas about sex, men, women, and intimacy.By the time I got naked with another for the first time, at the age of eighteen, I had read a good deal of the new thinking about social rules. Though from the beginning I was cautious and sensible in the way that parents would generally like their kids to be, my outlook on sex was broadly positive. I believed, and still believe, that my body is my friend and doesn’t lie, that I must learn all I can about my physical self and take responsibility for my sexual satisfaction. When the time came, I felt safe to let my pleasure be my teacher.Looking at the issues confronting young people today, I count myself blessed. They grew up with HIV-AIDS, abstinence-only “sex education,” the bitter divisions of gender politics, and a social culture that sells them commodified sex in all forms while telling them not to engage in it. The heartfelt, confident, reassuring messages about sex that were common to my generation go all but unheard in theirs. For twenty years, the news about sex has all been bad.But the good news, then and now, is that the truth about sex has never changed. Many, many people have managed to discover that truth, even in an era that hasn’t made the search easy. That truth is there for you, and my message is that you are entitled to it. You are entitled to know your sexual self, express your sexual self, and satisfy your sexual self. You are also entitled to explore that self on your own or in the company of others. You are entitled not only to sex but also to thrilling, liberating, mind-blowing, soul-filling, intimacy-building total sex. You need never settle for less, and you shouldn’t. The truth about sex is that it is yours by right. It is possible to become sexually sane, even in a culture torn with sexual insecurities. If I can do it, anyone can.How do I know? Through twenty-five years as a sexual adventurer, sex performer, sex activist, and sex educator, I’ve done the fieldwork and taken extensive notes. I’ve had “good” sex, “bad” sex, indifferent sex, funny sex, detached sex, angry sex, sad sex, clumsy sex, happy sex, romantic sex, wild sex, silly sex, transcendent sex, regrettable sex, seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time sex, just about every kind of sex a person can have. I’ve had sex on camera well over a thousand times, with literally hundreds of different partners, all in addition to an active personal life brightened by a wide range of off-screen encounters.In the adult entertainment business, I found a laboratory where I could conduct my experiments, a diverse pool of enthusiastic subjects, and a reliable subsidy for my research. With all pretenses of love and romance stripped away from the purely sexual interactions I sought out, I had the perfect situation in which to discover, as well as uncover, myself as a purely sexual being. For most, a situation requiring them to get naked and have sex with a stranger or strangers while other strangers took pictures would be, to put it mildly, profoundly intimidating. For me, such experiences were and still are exhilarating, deeply satisfying, and profoundly liberating. Professional, theatrical sex has been my classroom, a way into myself. Would I advocate this path for other seekers of sexual enlightenment? Probably not.I’m often asked, “Why sex?” This is an imponderable of any purposeful life. Why art? Why medicine? Why mountain climbing? As my dad once put it, “Why not the violin?” There was no single character trait or person or incident that determined the direction I took, though there were certainly milestone moments. I just knew, by my late teens, that sexuality would always be my greatest fascination. This was well before I had dated, had sex, or even masturbated much. My instincts seem to have been correct. I’m very happy on my chosen path, despite its unavoidable bumps and detours.Sex performance combines elements I’ve loved all my life: dance, movement, theater, feeling, emotion, plus lots of naked people. I had no idea how I’d make it into adult entertainment, but I knew the first time I saw an X-rated film in a movie theater that at least some of the answers I sought could be pursued in an environment of open sexual expression. Commercial pornography, which is all about hype and money, like any other branch of show business, didn’t turn out to be the sexual utopia of my imagination, and I doubt that most sexually inquisitive individuals would find what they seek there. Once again, luck, timing, and a peculiarly well-adapted sensibility worked in my favor where others have been far less fortunate, and I feel it’s important to express my gratitude by sharing what I’ve learned from my admittedly unorthodox form of amateur naturalism.It’s fair to say that my career in adult video has been a quest to answer these basic questions: Who am I sexually? What do I want? How do I talk about it? How do I make it real? What are the dangers and rewards of sexual activity? What do my desires say about me as a person? How can I feel at home in my body? Will I ever find a compatible mate? What the books I read didn’t, and couldn’t, do was address how to handle the complex, conflicted feelings that sex inevitably engenders. Starting from isolation and fear, how can we work through our beliefs surrounding sex and pleasure to arrive at love, community, compassion, and intimacy? After all my research, I have found a few answers.I could pack a thick volume with colorful anecdotes from my career as a sex entertainer and yet another with my observations concerning pornography itself and its political, moral, and social implications in the wider world, but those books wouldn’t help you. Just as I would had I pursued my likely alternative career choices as a nurse-midwife, I’ve found my greatest professional satisfaction in using my knowledge to enable and empower others. Let’s just say I’ve had all that sex so you won’t necessarily have to.It was my desire to share my understanding and insight with a world whose pain and confusion concerning sexuality I saw evidenced every day that gave rise to the instructional video series upon which this book is based. Adam & Eve, an adult-video production company with a sense of social mission similar to mine, approached me more than ten years ago to create an educational line with the purpose of providing explicitly detailed sexual instruction for adults. I started with the basics of oral sex, then went on to two very common interests, swinging and anal sex. The series is now in its thirtieth installment, having sold over half a million copies. I create each episode for “enthusiastic novices,” individuals or couples wanting to improve their understanding and skill sets in the service of their own and their partners’ sexual satisfaction. The phenomenal success of the video series testifies to the vast appetite for exactly this kind of specific, programmatic, supportive, informative approach to sexual learning.Few readers will, themselves, attempt every practice described in this book, and the last thing I would want would be for anyone to feel pressured to try. I encourage you to take what you can, or want to, from my experience and use it to build your own erotic life, one that sustains and supports you on your terms.
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