PHD / XXX

Naughty Nerds: College Grads Do Porn

Lena Dunham’s Girls aired a scene of ass eating on cable television. That actress was educated. Who says porn stars can’t be intelligent women?

01.31.15 11:45 AM ET

Yes, some educated women really do enjoy sex work. Duke University student Belle Knox and former Wall Street intern Veronica Vain have been making headlines for choosing to do porn. These women defy their socially defined roles as intelligent, professional women working in an office making a respectable living. But they aren’t the first, nor are they the trendsetters headlines make them out to be.

“People have a vision of the porn star as somebody who has no other options. People think of porn as a desperate thing you do,” says Belle Knox. “So the concept of somebody that has other options choosing porn just blows people’s minds.”

Plus, anything that sets one porn star apart from the sea of others can be a valuable marketing strategy and the first step in creating a brand. In years past Jenna Jameson was the epitome of a porn star among mainstream consumers—a tiny girl with big boobs and bleached blond hair. Few remarked upon her intellect.

And then there was Sasha Grey, the quirky brunette intellectual who effortlessly displaced the dumb blond stereotype. And not just in porn. Grey went on to blur the lines between mainstream and the XXX genre by starring in a Steven Soderbergh film, and later landing a reoccurring guest role on HBO’s Entourage. Grey helped legitimize porn stars as actors.

But wait, isn’t that what they already are?

I mean just a few weeks ago Lena Dunham’s Girls aired a shockingly explicit scene. Allison Williams, daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was getting her ass eaten on cable television. It looked a lot like porn in my opinion, but it wasn’t. She was acting. Williams is a well-educated young woman who chose to be an actress, who happens to do sexually charged scenes from time to time. Just how different is she from women like Belle Knox?

With this increased mainstream acceptance, women in porn are more vocal. No longer afraid to hide behind the ditzy demeanor they're told to sell, porn stars aren’t actually getting smarter; they’re just more open about it.

I can recall dozens of on set interviews in my early career when I was coaxed into being more ditzy than I really was. High pitched squeaky voice, lots of giggles, play up the airheaded persona of Aurora Snow and you’ll have more fans, I was told.  It’s that kind of thinking that makes intellectual porn stars so surprising.

Some of the biggest stars hold college degrees. Nina Hartley, a legend within the adult industry and perhaps one of the longest working female performers graduated college magna cum laude. Award-winning porn star Joanna Angel earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rutgers University. And to go further back, way back in the ‘90s there was Juli Ashton, who will also be remembered for playing herself in the Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s movie Orgazmo. She too holds a college degree. Bobbi Starr also earned a degree from San Jose University but that isn’t her claim to fame.

The list goes on.

You don’t need a college degree to do porn, so not everyone has one. And the same is true for a number of Hollywood actresses.

Women participate in sex work for a variety of reasons, sometimes even for the same reasons as men. No one ever thinks men become porn stars because they aren’t smart enough to do anything else. It’s because they get paid to have sex with women. It’s easy to believe some men aspire to be porn stars, yet so shocking to discover that women do too.

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“People seem to think that women who are sexual can’t be really smart,” says Belle Knox. “People have this idea that if you’re sexually open then you’re stupid, low class or trashy, or have nothing going for you because smart women guard their sexuality.”

But this is 2015. And now more than ever, women in porn are coming forward dismissing an old myth, one blond or brunette at a time. Recent UCLA graduate Tasha Reign didn’t get into porn to pay off student debt, but instead as a way to fulfill her desires.

Incredulous that these stereotypes still surround porn stars, Reign doesn’t think women who do porn should be making headlines for just having a degree.

“Imagine if this was about black people, they’re black and they go to school—it’s fucked up. It perpetuates the idea that those two things are mutually exclusive from one another,” says Reign. “But then it also brings an awareness that needs to be brought because we are not necessarily liberated.”

In the four years that she’s been in porn Reign says she’s always known of other female performers who were either in college or already graduated. “Maybe more women are telling media, or telling fans that they are in school while doing adult films because porn is becoming more mainstream,” says Reign.

Whether or not a woman was educated made little difference a decade ago, but now it sells movies and boosts careers. There is no longer a reason to keep it a secret. Apparently being smart is kind of hot. And that’s a good sign for all of us.