Charlie Sheen’s “porn family,” explained

We know the troubled star turns to adult actresses in his time of need. But we asked experts to tell us why

Topics: Charlie Sheen, Pornography, Sex, Love and Sex,

Charlie Sheen's "porn family," explained

The fact that Charlie Sheen has two 24-year-old girlfriends — one a self-described “porn star,” the other a model — is perhaps the least surprising of all the revelations to come out of his recent media spree. The combination of rich, powerful men and beautiful younger women is hardly an unusual one — and what are a couple of live-in “goddesses,” as he calls them, compared to the Playmate playpen of 84-year-old Hugh Hefner? Not even the 45-year-old actor’s reported plan to house all of his favorite triple-X actresses in a mansion down the street — creating his very own “porn family” — can compete with that. (Although, when an interviewer made the comparison to Hef, Sheen scoffed: “He’s an amateur.”) Plus, Sheen already has a long public history of flings with porn actresses (not to mention a relationship with Heidi Fleiss and paid “dates” with the former madam’s employees).

“They’re the best at what they do, and I’m the best at what I do, and together it’s on,” he told “20/20″ in an extensive interview on Tuesday night. “Sorry, middle America, I said it.”

So Sheen likes women in porn: no shocker there. But sexy women are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. What is it specifically about the smut mystique that does it for a deeply troubled man like Sheen? The most obvious explanation is that adult actresses offer carnal satisfaction without the threat of emotional intimacy; they’re paid to be sex objects, after all. In fact, when Sheen was sentenced for paying for sex, he reportedly told the judge, “I don’t pay them for sex. I pay them to leave.” But experts I spoke with see a bit more at play.



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Susannah Breslin, a journalist who spent several years in the San Fernando Valley reporting on the adult industry, speculates that his dream of having a “porn family” is “actually a fantasy about a world in which one is understood completely, every move is a performance, and no one will judge you, regardless of how destructive or self-destructive you are.” (In fact, Sheen told ABC, “These women don’t judge me. They don’t judge me.”) Breslin says, “It’s kind of like that in the porn business, in a weird way.” She explains, “The porn industry calls itself a family. I’ve had more than one performer say to me, ‘We’re a family — one big dysfunctional family.’”

Sexologist Carol Queen told me in an e-mail, “I doubt he’s the only guy who thinks surrounding himself with porn stars would be great.” But she adds, “There may be a way that his ['porn family'] members deal differently with him, and not just as sex and drug buddies, that he values. Some (by no means all) porn women really do want to live alternative lives as far as relationship configurations and other social boundaries go.” Indeed, Sheen’s domestic triad plays as a porny version of “Big Love.”

Breslin suspects there’s a very practical side to the sort of arrangement he struck with porn actress Kacey Jordan, whom he allegedly paid $30,000 to “party” with him in January. “Porn stars are more likely to have sex for money than the average woman, and unlike prostitutes they don’t care about getting exposed by TMZ. In fact, the exposure is good for their careers. They become media sensations, make extra cash by raising their escorting rates after they score infamy … and, who knows, maybe they can star in the inevitable porn spoof of ‘Two and a Half Men.’” It’s also the case that they’re “used to compartmentalizing sex and love, so to be in a paid relationship with someone who is neither emotionally nor sexually committed to you is familiar ground.”

Of course, “paid relationships” come in many different stripes — sometimes sex is explicitly exchanged for money, other times there is a subtler exchange of extravagant gifts (like, say, luxury cars). We don’t know the details of Sheen’s current relationship with his “goddesses,” but Jackson Katz, author of “The Macho Paradox,” a book that touches on how porn plays a part in boys’ sexual socialization, argues that the actor’s recent interviews reveal a “relational imbalance” and a desire for control. Sheen told ABC, “Everybody’s vote has equal importance. But when we’re approaching crisis, I remind them, ‘Look, I’m 22 years further down the road … my plan is gonna be the best one in the room. So, just trust me on that and everybody will win. Everybody will win and everybody’s needs will be taken care of.’” Katz translates: “Essentially, he said, ‘What I decide goes.’ He is completely in control of the situation.” Sounding awfully Stepford-y, one of his girlfriends told reporters, “I respect Charlie as a man and I respect him as head of this household and trust him completely.”

It’s also true that some porn actresses have a higher tolerance for drug abuse, says Breslin. “Regardless of what feminist porn advocates would have you believe, drug usage in Porn Valley is not uncommon … Looking the other way or participating while someone is using drugs isn’t going to raise most porn starlets’ eyebrows.” As Queen points out, “we’ve known for quite some time that porn people and mainstream stars partied together,” she says, but Sheen is “by far the most visible break in the dam that separates the mainstream entertainment industry in Hollywood from its ‘shadow side,’ the porn biz.”

It’s important to recognize that few of these women are actually stars. “These people aren’t famous,” sex writer Susie Bright told me by phone. “They also probably have not had an exclusive relationship to the pornography industry. Like a lot of young women in that area, they are part of this long chain of auditions for the entertainment business, where youth and beauty and illusion are everything.” Ultimately, though, being “nice looking” and having a willingness to have sex, is less important than their ability to be “obsequious, sycophantic, a nursemaid and ego-stroker.”

Explaining Sheen’s attraction to porn industry women is one thing; mining the public’s reaction is quite another. Laura Kipnis, author of “Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America,” wrote me in an e-mail: “He does seem to be engaging in self-conscious symbolic warfare of the Fuck You and Your Fucking Bourgeois Rules variety, the message being ‘I’m not in self-destructive free fall, I’m my own man and the rest of you [network, bosses] are goose-stepping peons.’” But she adds, “The problem with crude behavior as a form of actual rebellion is that it’s become so mainstream, as is consorting with porn stars. He no doubt will get mega-millions for his memoir and join other self-styled jerks like Tucker Max on the bestseller list” — or at least get his own “Girls Next Door”-style reality-TV show.

In a recent blog post, none other than Heidi Fleiss put it like so: “Society is screwed-up when it comes to paying for sex and Charlie Sheen is only doing what most men wish they had the resources to do — pay for sex whenever they feel like it with whomever they want to do it with.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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