“I’m in love with being on display”: Adult film star Asa Akira on her insatiable love of porn

The porn star talks to Salon about her memoir, smoking crack in BDSM dungeons, and why she's smitten with her work

Topics: Pornography, Sex, Love and Sex, Editor's Picks,

"I'm in love with being on display": Adult film star Asa Akira on her insatiable love of pornArtwork from the cover of "Insatiable: Porn -- A Love Story" (Credit: Grove/Atlantic)

It is common for mainstream porn stars to explain their choice of profession with some variation on “I just love sex.” Usually, this sounds like a good P.R. line, the kind indistinguishable from porn dialogue. There’s a fantasy to sell, after all, and talking about economic motivations tends to be a boner-killer (except for men who are into coercion and despair, but that’s another story). When Asa Akira says it, though, I really believe it.

In her new book, “Insatiable: Porn — A Love Story,” the Wicked Pictures contract star and so-called “Anal Queen” writes of her six-year-plus career, “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. I wish I could freeze time and live in this moment forever.” Again, a great line for business! But it’s hard not to believe in her authenticity when she says that she falls in love every time she shoots a scene. “Not necessarily with my partner, but just in general,” she explains. “With the situation. In love with being watched. In love with being on display. In love with being the center of attention.” She adds, “Many people say they disconnect themselves when they have porno sex; I’m the opposite. I’m more present than ever.”

For these reasons, you might say she is the best-case-scenario porn star: a woman performing to fulfill her own erotic desires. In her author’s note, she says, “I started this book hoping to shed a different light on the industry I love so much. Not to say every day is sunshine and flowers, but I don’t feel a healthy, honest voice of someone currently looking from the inside out has been heard.” She makes a point of detailing her stable, privileged childhood growing up in Japan and New York, as well as her years of sobriety, in contrast to negative stereotypes about sex workers. “I had a normal upbringing. My parents are loving, kind, and present. I have no mental disorders,” she writes.

And yet, no person can act as the flawless representative for an entire group of people — and certainly not while writing a memoir worth reading. Luckily, Akira doesn’t try to do that with her book, which is written in the form of essays, unsent letters, diary entries and delightfully dirty haikus (“Home from Trader Joe’s/Was it there that whole time?/Dried cum on my chin”).

She is brutally honest about years of drug use (including the times she smoked crack with a client in a BDSM dungeon), a vague suspicion of childhood sexual abuse, contracting chlamydia, binge-eating and crash-dieting, a painful abortion and cystic acne — just to name a few things. (Oh, also, the time during an anal scene when it seemed like she was bleeding, but it turned out it was the beets she’d had for dinner the night before.) Her honesty is both incredibly endearing and disconcerting (she admits that if she had a gag reflex she would be bulimic, and the book ends without any resolution to her cycle of binging and starving). All of which is to say, her book is a lot like her porn: raw, brutal and always unflinching. As she puts it, “You can only show the inside of your asshole to the world for so long before your filter ceases to exist.”

I spoke with Akira by phone about why pregnant women turned her on as a kid, falling in love with co-stars, and being typecast as an Asian performer.

At the beginning of the book, you write, “I’ve always questioned why I am the way I am … Why am I so sexual? Why do I insist on publicizing my most intimate moments?” What’s the best answer you’ve come up with?

I still don’t know. When I was writing the book I was kind of hoping that by the end of the book I would know. I was hoping that it would be this journey to discovering myself. That didn’t really happen. There was no “aha” moment where I went, ‘That’s why!” It didn’t give me an exact answer of why I am the way I am, but at the same time, I feel more at peace with the way I am.

So does the question even matter to you anymore?

The reason it brought me peace is that I don’t really care about the answer anymore.

The question almost assumes that there’s something wrong with who you are.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me. When I was thinking that, part of me really wasn’t satisfied with, “I am the way I am and that’s just it.” I was like there must be something that happened in my past, there must be some kind of psychological issue.

When did you first see porn?

The first time I ever saw porn, I was probably in third or fourth grade. It was at a sleepover at my friend’s house. I think it was a softcore porno, but she had cable and I didn’t. We stayed up really late and she showed me something that comes on late at night — this was actually in Japan but it was an American channel — and it was kind of a Mother Goose parody. It was like a naked Mother Goose in a bathtub telling stories, and they would show people reenacting fairytales porn-style. It didn’t make me crazy horny or anything, I was just really intrigued.

You say in the book you’ve always been intrigued by porn.

Definitely. Intrigued by not specifically porn, but anything sexual. I’ve always been obsessed with sex. Even when I was really really little, when I saw pregnant women, it would make me so horny. It’s weird because at that age I don’t think I could identify the feeling of horny, but I knew I felt a certain way when I saw pregnant women. I didn’t even know how babies were made. Something in me just knew that she did something to get pregnant. It’s really weird. I remember watching “Sesame Street” and when Maria was pregnant, I was like obsessed with her. I just loved looking at women’s pregnant bellies and talking about pregnancies. It just really turned me on.

Will you have a kid yourself?

I think so. I definitely want kids but then I have moments of “maybe it’s too late for me.” It would be a lot to put on a kid, a mother and father who have done porn [her husband is porn actor and director Toni Ribas]. It’s inevitable that one day their friend is going to be like, “I saw your mom getting ass-fucked!” I’m still conflicted about it.

In the book, you include a frank letter to your mom about the adult industry. Did you really explain what a creampie is in a letter to your mom?

No, that letter is fake. It’s the letter I wish I could have sent. It’s everything I really wish I could say to my mom. We’re really, really close in everything except anything related to my career. Even now, I talk to her on the phone every day. But we never talk about that part of my life.

My parents are really liberal, progressive people, but not to the point where they can understand that I’m doing this by choice and that I really love my job. I don’t think they want to know that I want to do this. That’s almost worse.

You seem interested in combating the stereotype of a porn star as a drug user with sexual abuse in her past. At the same time, you’re extremely honest about your own experience with drug abuse, and you also share your suspicion that your childhood babysitter sexually abused you. Did you feel any conflict there?

I didn’t really dive that deep into the babysitter part. There’s a chapter in the book where I think that maybe my babysitter molested me, but I have no basis whatsoever for thinking that. [There's a scene in the book, during an emotional OxyContin-fueled conversation, where she says, “I had a male babysitter when I was two or three. I slept in a toddler bed, and I remember we had this joke, where he'd crawl into my bed with me."] First of all, when I said it and was thinking it, I was really fucked up on drugs. It’s also, I think it comes from me looking for a reason that I’m like this. I’m just reaching — maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that! But I have no basis for thinking that, there’s no memory, nothing. I think that was more trying to justify the way that I am.

The drug stuff, even now I don’t know that I consider myself an addict. I definitely abused a lot of drugs. I definitely started partying at a very young age. But I never felt like I couldn’t quit something — but I’m sure a lot of addicts say that. It’s one of those things, the longer you argue it, the more it seems you’re guilty. Now I’m sober. I don’t even drink and that’s totally by choice. I just enjoy being sober now.

Another thing you’re candid about is binge-eating and crash-dieting. Is this something that you continue to struggle with?

Definitely. A big portion of my day is spent thinking about the food that I cannot eat and contemplating whether I will cheat on my diet or not. I grew up really skinny and never thought about my weight and then my metabolism took a dive when I was 22. It was right around when I got sober and stopped doing drugs. I had to learn how to diet and count my calories. It’s definitely an obsession. It’s not healthy, at all.

It kind of sounds in the book like you blame Los Angeles.

In New York, I lived around Puerto Rican girls and I couldn’t be thick enough. I wanted a nice round butt. Honestly, in reality, I think men enjoy a thicker woman. I think it’s sexier, it’s more womanly. In other women, I prefer seeing them a little thicker. I think it’s sexier. But for myself, I want to be underweight, so that I don’t have to watch what I eat. It’s this inner struggle.

You say that almost every time you shoot a scene, you “fall a little bit in love.” How so?

It’s in two ways. The first being that, to me, shooting a scene there’s a high to it. I love sex, but porn is the fantasy. Shooting a porn scene is the ultimate fantasy for me. Regardless of what kind of scene it is or who it’s with. I just really get off on being watched, knowing people will be turned on by it. I guess you could say I kind of feel love at that moment.

With the person I’m working with, I try to make a connection. I don’t separate emotion from sex that much. Once I’m having sex, I do feel very emotional. I don’t know how many times I’ve done a scene with a person and during I’m like, “Oh my god, I really like this person! Maybe we can hang out. I wonder what he would be like as a boyfriend.” And then the scene’s done and I go home and I’m like, “What the hell was I thinking?”

Your first chapter is titled, “The Perfect Scene.” What is a “perfect scene” in porn?

The perfect scene, for me, it’s when there are as few cuts as possible. When the performers all connect and are on the same wavelength. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it’s like a dance and you’re dancing to two different songs. When you can really be on the same wavelength, that’s always special. Something creative might happen, you use a random prop that’s lying around or an article of clothing, something weird and intimate. Also, just allowing yourself to let go. It’s an obvious thing when it’s happening. Afterward, everyone knows it and acknowledges it. That’s the feeling we’re all chasing. We want to make that perfect scene.

You say that when you first started porn, one out of every three shoots was an “Asian” scene. You write, “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve covered my naked body in sushi, or played the role of a mail-order bride.” How do you feel about that sort of fetishization?

At the beginning, I hated being cast as the Asian girl. I hated every time I had to wear a kimono or be covered in sushi or play a masseuse. Not because I felt it was degrading — because I do feel that it’s kind of being celebrated. It’s fetishized, but I think that’s okay. Now, I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s something that’s special about me, it’s something that guarantees me work as long as I want to stay in the industry. But I would never do anything that’s degrading to Asians.

How do you draw that line? Have you ever been asked to do something you’re not comfortable with?

Yeah. A lot of times, if I’m working with a black guy, they’ll ask me to call him a “nigger” when I’m having sex with him. I understand that it’s a fantasy, but I’m just not comfortable doing it. I don’t care that there’s porn out there like that, and I don’t care that people get off on it, but to me it’s not sexy, so I don’t do it.

I’ve been asked to play a sumo wrestler. I turned that one down. If it doesn’t feel sexy, I’m not gonna do it.

You say there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing for a living. Will you be doing porn until the very end?

I can’t do it ’till the very end; I don’t think people will even want to see that.

You never know!

You never know. It’s hard for me to say how much longer I’ll do it. If I have kids, I don’t think I want to perform anymore. I don’t see myself getting sick of it anytime soon. If I won the lottery today, I would still want to shoot porn.

So you’re not doing it for money?

I mean, the money’s nice. If it paid like a regular job, I’d still do it. I also think there’s something about porn that, for a really hypersexual person like me, it’s the ideal job. I’m having casual sex in the safest way possible. These people are tested, I’m in a controlled environment, I know these people.

If you stopped doing porn, do you think you’d be able to have a monogamous relationship with your husband?

I don’t know. Outside of work, we are monogamous. I just signed a contract with Wicked Pictures where I only shoot one movie a month. I used to shoot five, six days a week. Now I’m shooting not even five days a month. It’s definitely different and I was really scared that I was gonna freak out or act out in some way, but it’s been a very smooth transition so far. My husband is really supportive. When I signed the contract, he was like, “Whatever we need to do to make it work, we’ll make it work. Don’t feel like you have to keep working five, six days a week to control your sexual appetite.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

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

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