Candid Candida

The porn star as educator: liberating women's bodily (and video) pleasure

In 1984, former adult-film star Candida Royalle decided to launch her own line of videos; she called them "erotic movies from a woman's point of view." Industry insiders were sure she'd lose her shirt in an endeavor they saw as ludicrous for one reason: Women don't like porn. She was convinced that women would love porn just as much as men, if they had porn that represented them and focused on their pleasure. To say she was ahead of her time (um, 20 years) is a grand understatement. Since then, she has directed and produced 12 films, won numerous awards, started her own line of vibrators, and lectured around the world. But equally as significant as the work she's done is the legacy that she's inspired. Nearly every major adult-film empire has a couples-friendly line of videos, and the entire industry now recognizes that women, with their partners or without, make up a good chunk of smut consumers—which quite simply means we can no longer be ignored.

"I helped give permission to women not only to watch, but step up and create their own vision," said Royalle as we chatted on the phone last week amid her incredibly busy schedule. While she has delighted in the progress of women behind the scenes in pornography, she continues to see some of the same troubling trends she was trying to counteract back in the '80s: "Coming out of 'Porn Valley,' I still see these incredibly young women with baby voices and lots of plastic surgery. I don't relate to that, and I don't think women need that kind of message, that this one type of beauty standard is all that's sexy—we need alternative visions."

From the beginning of her directorial career, she's held strong to a few rules: establish chemistry and intimacy between on-screen partners, tell a story women can relate to, and ditch the money shot (which always involves a man ejaculating somewhere on a woman's body, usually her face) in favor of "internal cum shots." And while she's had success with her formula, she still acknowledges that different women like different things in porn and the female audience is not monolithic.

While she doesn't call her videos feminist per se ("I'd lose some of my audience if I did, especially some men, who also want something different"), her goal is to represent "real women with real lives and mostly real bodies" and to illustrate their sexual needs and desires in a positive way.

She's taken that mission to paper with the release of her first book, How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do: Sex Advice From a Woman Who Knows. Since it has some intimate revelations about her own sex life, one can't help but compare her effort to that of another starlet (for those of you living under a rock, that would be the New York Times–bestseller-list-crashing How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson). "Jenna and I have both come out ahead in the adult industry, but that's about the only similarity. She is making her name as a performer; I am making my name as an educator and director. Some of my own journey is in the introduction, and there are details scattered throughout the book as examples. I like to open up. I think it helps people trust me and connect to me, but ultimately my book is instructional."

Which puts Royalle, the former star of Pizza Girls, not simply in a field of two (and probably counting), but in a much more crowded arena of self-help fucking guides. Not as snarky as Nerve's Guide to Sexual Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, not as explicit as The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex nor as titillating as The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio, what sets her book apart is Royalle's warm, down-to-earth voice. Her tone is literally the opposite of brazen, but the information is still bold (if not boldly heterosexual) and empowering—and she puts women's pleasure first. While the book has a confessional quality, it's comparatively downright tame. She resists the temptation to tease or shock, making her not only a kinder, gentler former adult star, but a more accessible one (at least to women). She uses tidbits from her past to illustrate how her own erotic philosophies have evolved. She's really honest about her own process of letting go of guilt and shame, and embracing her desires. In the span of 15 minutes during our interview, she hits both ends of the spectrum: "It took me a long time to get over being afraid of men thinking I was a slut if I said what I wanted." Then later: "I have to be in charge of my whole life, 24 hours a day; I love the opportunity to be taken. Tell me what to do, rough me up, do me—it's so delicious!" In fact, she claims her role as a sexually submissive woman with power and passion, an antidote to, say, The Surrendered Wife syndrome.

She calls her style wholesome ("I'm the Martha Stewart of sex advice!"), and that's a perfect word: She's not in-your-face, she's not queer, she's not your typical ex-porn star. This may not seem radical to Toys in Babeland–schooled, Hitachi-lovin', homemade-porn-makin' chicks. But to the millions of women for whom Cosmosex tips seem empty but Sex and the City over-the-top, the ones who aren't ready to buy a dildo harness or embrace their inner slut just yet, this book goes a long way toward spinning sex-positivity in a toned-down but ready-to-get-down package. It gives women permission to be sexual beings and to take charge of their erotic lives and their sexual pleasure.

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