Crossing Over

Porn Keeps Up with the Kardashians: Belle Knox on the Mainstreaming of Adult Stars

The infamous Duke University freshman/porn actress is the focus of a five-part docu-series, Becoming Belle Knox. She opens up to Aurora Snow about her reality moment.

09.27.14 10:45 AM ET

“All of a sudden I am eighteen years old, I am an adult, and I have a bill of four thousand three hundred dollars to pay every month. It was this slap in the face that told me life is not sprinkles and cupcakes, life is debt and life is bills, and life is about making adult decisions. I don't have the savvy to be a drug dealer or the connections, but I did love sex."

In the first episode of Becoming Belle Knox, a five part docu-series presented by Condé Nast and The Scene, the infamous “Duke University freshman” reveals why she entered the porn industry: for money. She's not the first girl to enter porn for tuition and she won't be the last, but she just might have the loudest voice.

Belle Knox is the antithesis of Jenna Jameson—and not just in looks. While Jameson has made several talk show appearances that beg viewers to questions her sobriety, Knox has emerged as a savvy PR machine, disproving stereotypes one interview at a time. It's important to note that few porn stars get this much mainstream attention while still actively working in the industry… unless they also happen to be dating Charlie Sheen.

Some industry insiders have accused Knox of using her college girl status as a means to fame instead of putting her hours in and earning it the hard way like everyone else.

Sure, Knox hasn’t put in as many hours as the veterans who criticize her, but as an industry spokesperson she isn't exactly bad for porn's image. She's well spoken, educated, and sober—a far cry from the one-time face of the adult world, Jenna Jameson.

Knox didn't have the luxury of choosing when to share her secret (if she'd ever intended to share it at all). Outed by a fellow Duke student, Knox inadvertently became a pronounced public figure when she spoke up for herself. She wasn't motivated by a lust for fame; she simply wanted to control the conversation. And perhaps that is what people find fascinating about her story: This Ivy League coquette didn’t just go from stripping to porn.

“When I entered the industry, and even now, I'm always told all of these doors are going to close for you and you're going to be stigmatized for the rest of your life, and I think that accepting that and going with it we really need to say, Well, why?” Knox tells The Daily Beast. “Why does me having sex on camera disqualify me for from having a professional job even if I am perfectly qualified for it?” Knox hopes that people will rethink some of their preconceived notions about what it means to be a porn star when they hear her story. 

Little by little, the barriers between the mainstream and adult worlds are breaking down. Our culture is becoming more open-minded about previously taboo subjects. “People are starting to become more tolerant and more open to sexuality and new ideas, and I'm coming around at a time when people are starting to listen,” Knox says of her popularity surge. A hundred girls before her have entered porn to pay for college but very few graduate. Life as a sex worker can be, well, exhausting, and when it becomes a full-fledged career it can be hard to strike a balance between sex work and schoolwork. And it's that daunting task that is chronicled in Becoming Belle Knox.  

“Having done porn gives me so much more respect for performers,” says Knox. “Now, when I see performers doing really rough scenes or in scenes where I can tell it's a super uncomfortable position, where they're getting drilled upside down on their face, I just feel so much respect for them because I know what that's like. I know it's hard and I know they're pushing through it.” Knox comes from a new generation—one that's grown up with the Internet. This new wave of women has been watching porn for years—in her case since she was twelve. I was surprised when she revealed herself as one of my fans, even going so far as recalling the first scene she saw me in. I think I can almost recall that leopard couch.

Belle Knox never planned to be the new face of adult entertainment. This development has surprised her just as much as everyone else. “Like I said, it wasn't how I imagined myself getting to be known but it's really cool that I've been able to talk about the issues that are important to me,” says Knox, who recently gave a talk about college tuition at UNC-Chapel Hill.

According to Knox, filming her new docu-series wasn't as easy as it looks. “Filming it was at times frustrating, but the director of the series, Phillip Van, we really connected and he did a really great job of getting me to open up and talk about my past and my life,” says Knox. “So, yeah, it was kind of hard to film but it came out really well.” Revealing herself as both Miriam Weeks and alter ego Belle Knox made her feel vulnerable. It's one thing to share yourself sexually but talking about your personal life? Those are the intimate details that are hard to part with, and what hammers home the humanity of a porn star.

Executive Vice President of Programming and Content Strategy for Condé Nast Entertainment Michael Klein says the response to Becoming Belle has been overwhelming. “We didn't go into it with the intent of taking one side or the other. It was all about having an objective point of view and having such a fascinating character that was willing to be her authentic self for our cameras.”

With this new series, Klein intends to pull the curtain back and challenge the public's perception. “When I look at any of the projects that we do I want to start a conversation,” says Klein. “Where that conversation takes us, that's up to the community at large that gets involved but we want to be the spark and we really found that with this series."” Condé Nast is known for its legacy publications, such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ, and more. So it's particularly startling to see the media giant back a story about a porn star. And yet it also proves just how relevant adult entertainers have become.

When asked what she hopes people will see in her docu-series, Belle Knox had this to say:

“I hope that people will see the multi-faceted nature of women who are in sex work, especially porn. I hope that I've shattered some of the stereotypes that have been so ingrained in our culture about porn stars: that we're dirty, that we're uneducated, that we're bimbos. I really hope that my story shows people that we're just like you and we're smart. We treat this as a business and we're sick of being slut-shamed and we're sick of being constantly stigmatized and marginalized.”