Nina Hartley (nina.com) has had a lot of sex. At 47, she has been in the porn industry for 22 years and appeared in more than 600 movies. Her on- and offscreen fucking (she's also been an active swinger) has given her experience and insight beyond what most everyday women could achieve, and lucky for us, she likes to share. (In fact, she has been not only a role model, but a personal friend and mentor to me.) For nearly two decades, she has used the knowledge gleaned from her unconventional life and career to teach others through her line of sex-instruction videos. The first two, Nina Hartley's Guide to Better Cunnilingus and Nina Hartley's Guide to Better Fellatio, were instant hits when they debuted in 1994, and they remain bestsellers today. The video series, which is distributed by Adam & Eve, has produced 32 titles and sold more than 500,000 copies. She is a one-woman sex-education empire, and she recently expanded her territory with the publication of her first book, Nina Hartley's Guide to Total Sex.
The book was inspired by and follows many of the topics of her how-to videos; it covers a buffet of activities from masturbation and oral sex to threesomes to dominance and submission. Her distinctive voicesex-positive, non-judgmental, and encouragingechoes on each page. While her sense of sexual playfulness and sex-for-sex's-sake is evident, she manages to also be incredibly political, always discussing issues in a social and cultural context, mindful of the meanings we attach to sex. In the introduction, Nina writes, "You are entitled to know your sexual self, express your sexual self, and satisfy your sexual self." They may seem like simple concepts, but I know from my own work that they are profoundly difficult for people to achieve.
Photos courtesy of Nina.com
Unlike what you might expect from a blond porn star turned author, Nina's book is not the literary equivalent of a bag of Doritos (tasty, mildly spicy, no nutritional value). Rather, it's honest, thoughtful, direct, and jam-packed with useful tips. She articulately describes her life as a porn star in an unlikely way: as a personal journey of sexual experimentation, self-discovery, and acceptance. She refers to it as fieldwork, and one gets the sense that it's just that: she doesn't just fuck, she pays attention when she fucks, she's 100 percent thereand she's taking notes. She has translated those notes from her remarkable career into a handbook for sexual empowerment. One could assume that so much fucking has made her bored and tired of all things erotic, but it's quite the opposite. She's perpetually enthusiastic to talk about her vocation: ask her a question, and she'll give you more than a mouthful of an answer: "I want people to understand the importance of developing sexual agency. To understand our own sexual nature and to accept it wholly so that we can express it in a healthy manner. To learn that any one of us can, at any time, choose to become sexually sane, and that it's incumbent upon us, as adults, to do so."
Nina wrote the book with her husband, I.S. Levine, known in the adult industry as Ernest Greene, executive editor of Taboo magazine and a porn veteran himself. He's directed as many movies as Nina has performed in, and they have collaborated on 17 of her how-to videos. Ernest has been in the BDSM community for 30 years, and Nina publicly came out about her kinkiness when she began dating him more than six years ago. As she embraced a new identity, her sex-ed series reflected the change and she began covering BDSM topics like spanking, bondage, and dominance and submission.
With no sign of retiring, the couple recently worked together on O: The Power of Submission (othepowerofsubmission.com), a retelling of the BDSM classic novel The Story of O; Ernest wrote and directed, Nina performed and narrated. It made its big-screen debut in New York in October as part of CineKink (cinekink.com), the BDSM film festival, where it won the Best Narrative Feature Award; it was also recently nominated for several Adult Video News Awards.
They are both incredibly passionate about O, a slick and sexy film set in contemporary Los Angeles that features lavish production values, intense power dynamics, and real female orgasms. Ask them about the casting process, and the concept of authenticitya major theme in Nina's booktakes center stage. "I deliberately chose performers with some BDSM exposure in their personal lives," says Ernest. "That helped me create the kind of realistic, behind-the-scenes view of the BDSM world that I had wanted to see in the original work and found missing. In my movie, kinky people have highly individual characters as I find them to in real life."
In their real life, the duo is slated to produce at least six new instructional videos (two confirmed topics: how to strip for your lover and tips for bi-curious women), and they welcome the challenge to add to the library. When asked about what their favorites are, they both rave about Nina Hartley's Guide to Female Ejaculation: "We got a performer who had never [ejaculated] before to take a book and a toy home and practice. She actually had her first ejaculation on-screen," gushes Nina. Adds Ernest, "It's sensational because it's so real." In the masturbation video, a couple of experienced performers were told that they could do anything but have intercourse to get themselves and each other off. "It was a moment of authentic discovery," says Ernest. "They realized how much fun that could really be, and it was pretty terrific."
In between shooting the new videos, there are book-tour stops and university lectures around the country for Nina. With a degree in nursing, she hints that soon she may be spending a lot more time in academiathis time, as a student pursuing an advanced degree. "I want to take my educational aspirations to the next level," she says. For her, as life continues, so does the learning. Nina and Ernest acknowledge that sex ed has changed a lot since Nina first starting producing her instructional videos. "I think younger audiences in particular bring a much more sophisticated background to their self-education through video and are interested in a much wider variety of options," says Ernest. "[Sex ed] is getting more press as people realize that sexual health connects to all other aspects of health," says Nina. "We can never know too much about sex and especially about our own individual sexuality."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.