Tristan Taormino's resume is full of impressive job titles. Sex educator. Award-winning author. Respected and well known lecturer. Columnist for The Village Voice, Taboo, and Velvet Park. Former editor of 'On Our Backs', the nation's oldest lesbian-produced lesbian sex magazine. With impressive credentials like these you think she would want to slow down and not add to her busy workload. Not a chance. Add pornographer and director to that resume and now you are up to speed with Tristan Taormino. Recently Tristan was approached by Vivid Entertainment to not only direct reality porn but to also head up their newest venture, Vivid Ed, that will produce instructional videos. In this interview with XRentDVD's Big D, Tristan reveals how she made the leap from sex educator to pornographer, her decision to venture into instructional sex DVDs and why if anal sex hurts you are doing it wrong.
Big D: You are an award winning author, have lectured at some of the most widely respected universities and now you have added porn director to you resume. You were recently tabbed by porn powerhouse Vivid to head up there Vivid Ed line that focuses on instructional sex videos. Do you consider yourself to be the Dr. Ruth of the 21st century?
Tristan Taormino: Dr. Ruth was sort of the sex expert for a certain generation. In one way I am a sex expert for a different generation. The thing that sets me and Dr. Ruth apart is that when I teach sex workshops and I develop these Sex Ed movies, I've done everything that I teach people how to do. I am not sure that when Dr. Ruth was in her heyday that she was going out and doing hands on sex workshops. So I think we are sort of alike but we are different.
Big D: How did you get to make a career out of this? You just didn't walk into the Village Voice and tell them you wanted to write a sex column for them. Take us through how you got to the position you are today.
Tristan Taormino: When I graduated college I got my bachelor's degree in America Studies. I originally wanted to go to law school but my life took a different turn. I started writing about sex and that is absolutely one of my passions. When my first book was published, 'The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women', I started teaching workshops as a way to reach the people who might be interested in the book. It wasn't a book that lent itself to typical promotion where they blow up the front cover at Barnes and Noble and post a big sign that says, 'Welcome Tristan Taormino for a reading and discussion regarding anal sex for women'. It was really hard to promote the book and I decided to host workshops that were based on the book. From there I started developing workshops on other subjects. I started traveling all over the country and teaching these workshops either at a sex shop or a conference or at a college or university. It all just took off from there.
Big D: You have a college degree in something completely unrelated to the sex industry and have gone on to appear in a number of shows and articles in the mainstream media like Howard Stern and MSNBC. Did you always know that working in the erotic industry was always your calling or did your writing kind of push you in that direction?
Tristan Taormino: I went to a very liberal university, Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Wesleyan is famous for having a class on porn. They didn't have a class on porn when I was there but a number of years later they developed this class. The class was the subject of a lot of media attention because it was one of the first to have a class being taught by a professor about porn and everyone was freaking out. I definitely went to a liberal place. Like many people when they go away to college, I experimented with my sexuality. Luckily I found there were a lot of people doing a lot of sexual exploration. It never occurred to me that I would be getting up in front of a room of over a hundred people and talking about things like anal sex. My very first time that I taught a workshop, it was like everything just clicked. I wasn't nervous. I felt very comfortable talking to complete strangers about really intimate things. You know you have found your mission in life and you are in the middle of doing it for the very first time and you say to yourself, 'oh my God, this is what have supposed to have been doing for my whole entire life'.
Big D: How do you conduct a workshop on say, anal sex, by just talking about it. Don't you really need to have a few volunteers from the audience come up and basically be models for you to use as props when describing different aspects and concepts? When you hear the word 'workshop' you think of a hands on experience where you tell people how to do it and then walk around the room and critique their technique. Is that the case with yours?
Tristan Taormino: There are two ways to do it and I do both. I would say about 50 percent of the classes I teach are hands on. Whether it is sex toys or G-spot or anal sex, it is really not on a volunteer basis. It is someone who I have already contacted and have arranged for them to come and be a part of it for me to demonstrate techniques on them. So someone will come up to the front of the room, get naked, bend over and I will demonstrate. The other half which aren't hands-on, there are no computer presentations. What I really try to do is give people information and give people techniques and basically demystify a lot of the myths and misinformation. Although sex is almost everywhere in our culture there still are a lot of myths about how our bodies work and what is sexual and what shouldn't be considered sexual. It primarily has to do with anal sex but it applies to other things as well. I will answer people's question and often in a non-interactive workshop I will use different kind of props. I have this one of a kind, hand made pussy puppet where you can show people the pussy and different stimulation techniques. I have Juli Ashton's ass, which comes in handy when you want to show all different kinds of penetration techniques. I have had it for a number of years and Juli's ass has traveled all over the country with me. Often I will do demonstrations on non-living things.
Big D: How did you make the leap from writing books, sex advice columns and sex workshops to directing porn? You started doing some instructional stuff for Evil Angel and Adam & Eve before you were asked by Vivid to head up their Vivid Ed department. How did you go from author and lecturer to now pornographer?
Tristan Taormino: As I traveled around the country and talked to people about my books at my workshops and a lot of people would ask me when am I going to do a video. I thought about it for a really long time. I decided that I didn't want to do a sort of 'homemade' video. I didn't want to teach one of my workshops and have my friend in the back with a video camera kind of filming me. I wanted to do a really great production. It didn't want it to be one of these boring instructional videos where I break out these one dimensional anatomy charts and talk a lot. I think a lot of Sex Ed videos are good at teaching people how to do things but they don't inspire them to actually want to go out and do it. I wanted to do this video that not only taught people how to have great anal sex but was so hot that they had to run out and try it. I knew immediately that if it was going to have hardcore sex in it, this was not going to be put on the shelf with soft core Sinclair type how-to videos. The minute I was going to have hardcore sex in it, it was now porn. I didn't really have a problem with that because I was a fan of porn. I identify myself as a feminist and I am one that believes that porn can be a good thing for both men and women. It doesn't have to be degrading just by definition. It was really a huge challenge for me. I certainly had read all of the feminist theory about porn in college and I had watched a lot of porn and I could talk a good game. The ultimate challenge was could I actually make something that is good. I really wanted to do it with a mainstream producer and I approached basically all the studios. This was back in 1998. I approached all of the with my idea and everyone turned me down including John Stagliano. Several months later John came back to me and said, 'I think I want to do this.' I did my first two movies with Evil Angel but I never intended to be a full time pornographer. I wrote more books and I had my Village Voice column and I was doing a lot more lecturing. Those things became the priority. Two years ago I started getting back into porn as a viewer. I felt newly inspired to make a different kind of porn. I am doing two lines for Vivid now. I am doing the reality line and the Sex Ed line. Even though the market is totally saturated I believe there is room for my voice to be added to the mix.
Big D: You mentioned you consider yourself a feminist and there is always the anti-feminist stigma attached to porn. Do you have a canned or prepared response to people who say that porn is degrading to women and you should not consider yourself a feminist? What's your reaction to people's perception that porn is degrading to women.
Tristan Taormino: I think porn by its very definition is not degrading. Is there porn out there that offends me and is degrading towards women? Yes, absolutely. But it does not mean that all porn is like that. When people come up to me and tell me that porn is degrading my reaction is, 'you clearly have not watched enough porn.' The truth is porn is not this one, monolithic thing. There are so many genres and subgenres and there are so many different directors and performers that you really can't lump them all together. Everyone has a different style. Everyone has a different vision for what they want to do. I feel that porn can be used by people as part of their relationship or by themselves. If porn just gets you off, that is great and there is absolute value in pleasure and satisfaction. Porn does a lot of other things too. Porn teaches people. Porn gives people ideas and inspires fantasies. Porn helps people articulate a fantasy. Sometimes people have difficulty telling their partner the things they want to do. If they see it in a video they can easily say, 'Honey, I want to do that.' In my experience and talking to thousands and thousands of people at my workshops and lectures, people use porn for all different things. It can be a very positive part of someone's sex life. That's obviously the type of porn I want to make. I want to make porn where everyone is having a really good time and it is clear they are having a good time. I want the sex to be energetic and real and spontaneous and there is amazing chemistry. I want it to portray sex as a fun adventure. Rather than some porn that is more of the dominant, gonzo genre right now that is really over the top and is very circus like with stunts and really rough sex. I think that type of porn is really turning off a lot of women and couples.
Big D: Your first adult DVD with Vivid is more a reality type adult DVD called Chemistry. From what I have gathered it has a reality TV show feel to it where you put seven porn stars in a house and let the cameras roll and there is no script or set positions the people need to achieve. Sure they are porn stars and not your average Joe you see on reality TV but the concept is still there. How did you come up with this concept?
Tristan Taormino: I know other people have sort of done reality TV spoofs. First of all, I am a television junkie. My porn looks a lot like TV and that is very deliberate. What interests me the most are the people in porn? In porn there are features where people have to play a role and parts. Then there are non-features but people are caught in this not very particular model or formula where they are required to do a sex scene that has a certain amount of positions, it will be a certain length and shot in a particular way. There is not going to be more than a certain amount of minutes of this position and that position. To me that is boring and repetitive. I wanted to see what happens when you let porn stars loose and let them do what they wanted to do. I told them, 'don't do what you think I want you to do. Don't do what the last 12 people told you to do. Just be yourself.' The people that I cast have a lot of opinions and strong personalities. One of the great things about good reality TV is the casting. You have to get people with strong opinions that are not afraid to articulate them. I cast people with really strong opinions. They get into this confessional booth and they say the craziest things that you never thought they would say. They get to pick what they want to do. They get to chose who they have sex with, where they have it, when they have it. It is on their schedule. If there is someone in the house that they are really not into, guess what, they are not going to have sex with them. I am not going to make them have sex with someone because that is what the script says. I want to see who they are into and I want to see that real chemistry. I didn't want it to be that we look at the call sheet and tell the person they should be having oral sex right now. Forget that.
Big D: You make an appearance in this film Chemistry and also appeared as a performer in the two instructional DVDs you did for Evil Angel. Did you struggle with that decision to go on camera? Getting naked and demonstrating for a workshop or a lecture is one thing but once it goes down on film it is floating out there forever. Tristan Taormino: I did have sex in my first two movies but I did not have sex in House of Ass and I did not have sex is Chemistry. I am on camera and you see me interacting with the stars but I am not having sex. At the moment when I did the Evil Angel DVDs, I was a huge exhibitionist. The first video really fulfilled a huge fantasy of mine. I had never been on camera. I never even made a home movie with a partner. It was a total foreign experience for me. It's hard to watch because it is hard to watch yourself have sex. It's really bizarre. (laughs) I am totally glad that I did it. It was a totally unique and one of a kind experiences. I certainly do not have the insight that people who have made over 200 movies have but it did give me some insight on some of the things that may affect a performer. As a director, my relationship with a performer is the most important thing. I want the performers to be comfortable and to forget about the camera. I want them to go places they may not have gone before. I want them to reveal personal things. I have to create this environment that they feel safe to do that.
Big D: Your background coming in was a lecturer and a writer. In your first few DVDs, did you have to take a crash course on lighting and cinematography and how cameras worked?
Tristan Taormino: Luckily my very first crash course was for the first movie I did for Evil Angel I was taught by Buttman himself. He is arguably one of the most amazing gonzo filmmakers of our time. He actually shot the movie and watching him work was an invaluable experience. On the movies I did for Evil Angel I had a co-director each time. Both John and Ernest Greene co-directed the first one and Ernest Greene and I co-directed the second one. House of Ass was my first movie where I was completely flying solo. There was no shadow director or any mentor on the set to help me through stuff. When a decision had to be made, it was my decision. It is amazing in terms of creativity but also daunting and scary because the buck stops with you. I feel like I am absolutely still learning and I am nowhere near there just yet. Luckily Steve Hirsch is branching out and is letting new directors into the fold at Vivid and really giving them a chance.
Big D: How did you get hooked up with Vivid? Did you approach them or did they seek you out that you are not only heading up one line but two lines with a well recognized and well respected studio like Vivid?
Tristan Taormino: After the AVN show in Vegas and right before House of Ass was set to come out in February, I felt I was not going to go back to doing my other stuff like workshops and lectures. I felt really inspired and I wanted to make more porn. Several people from different companies approached me. In talking to them I thought what would be a good fit for me. I approached some companies and some companies approached me. Vivid approached me. It doesn't matter what kind of negotiations you have going with other companies, when Vivid calls, you pick up the phone. For me I felt it was a really good fit on a number of levels. One was that I met Steve Hirsch and when I told him my ideas and my vision he really got it. I felt that he was excited and enthusiastic and really supportive of it. I didn't feel like I was going to be under a microscope and I had to follow all these rules. No director can turn that down getting that amazing freedom and comfort and support. The other part of it was that I am really making my movies for couples and women but with a total gonzo and reality feel to them. They are a bit of a departure for Vivid because they are well known for their features. At the same time, I think that women and couples know when they pick up a Vivid movie it will be good. They know that the production quality is going to be good and there won't be any crazy baseball bats up the ass. A guy can pick up a Vivid DVD and know that his girlfriend won't freak out if he brings it home. I felt that it was a good fit in that regard because Vivid is already so well established in the market that I want to speak to.
Big D: Chemistry is the first one to come with Vivid and I heard you have already shot Chemistry #2. Is Chemistry going to be the main flagship for the Vivid Reality stuff you are doing or are there other similar projects to come? Tristan Taormino: It's a series and there are four installments. I have already shot Chemistry #2 and I am shooting the third one in October. My focus is split right now between the Chemistry series and the Sex Ed series. The Sex Ed series has me shooting several of them this fall. I am really looking to do something different. There isn't that much out there in that genre. It's sort of like a blank canvas. I really want to try to combine education with entertainment. I want to make it smart and informative but at the same time make it really hot and fun at the same time.
Big D: It seems that in the instructional genre that Nina Hartley dominates that field. When you think of instructional sex videos I immediately think of Nina. What is going to be different about your instructional stuff that Nina hasn't already covered?
Tristan Taormino: First let me say that Nina Hartley is a role model, mentor and a friend. I just totally worship her. She made an appearance in my very first video. It is important to acknowledge that she has sort of paved the way for any instructional stuff that comes after her. I think with my stuff you will see a combination of adult performers and non-adult performers. The casting is going to be different. There is no porn star heading up this line. One of the things I am really after is casting performers both pros and non-pros who are relatable and acceptable to the everyday person. You are not going to see the typical huge, fake boobs and the typical California porno aesthetics. I really want people to be more natural and more down to earth so that the viewer can relate to them. Secondly, they are going to be focused. For example, if I am working on the pussy licking title, the whole movie is going to revolve around pussy licking. It is not going to be pussy licking that leads to intercourse. Pussy licking that leads to five positions. Pussy licking that leads to a porn movie essentially. It is going to be all about pussy licking. When we pick a topic we are going to stick to that topic. There is also going to be a really cool interactive feature which I can't tell you about because it is a secret but it will use some of the interactive technology as a tool for teaching. The viewer will then have some control and interaction to what they see on the screen. I am a different person with a different point of view. I think automatically my DVDs will be separate from other instructional ones out there because I have my own point of view and what I want to teach people. The first two that are coming out will focus on anal sex, big shocker, (laughs) and cunnilingus. We don't have any titles for them just yet but I am hoping that cunnilingus will not be in the title because that is not really sexy. (laughs)
Big D: Very true. So what is it about anal sex that seems like everyone wants to do it but doesn't know how? You have done a number of DVDs on the subject of anal sex. Is that the number one thing people ask you about?
Tristan Taormino: Because I wrote the book it is the thing I have become known for. I teach on every possible sexual topic and I have written books on other topics too. Anal sex was my first book and it is the one I am most known for. If someone has a questions about anal sex, hopefully they will come to me. I think the butt in general has gotten a bad rap over the years. That has led to two things. On one hand it has led to tremendous myth and misinformation. A lot of the people who come to my classes and have questions have heard stories or urban legends about 'my girlfriend had anal sex once and now she has to wear adult diapers for the rest of her life.' They also ask about sticking things in your ass and then they get lost and then you have a lot of explaining to do in the emergency room. There are just crazy stories that everyone has heard. Part of it is we really need to clear up what is true and what is not true and how our butts really work and what they are capable of. On the other hand, part of the bad rap of the butt sort of adds to its sexiness for some people. Because it is taboo, because it is naughty, because the girl next door shouldn't want to have anal sex. And if she does want it, that makes her a bad girl. For some people that makes it really erotic too. I think there are both things operating here when it come to anal sex.
Big D: Is that the major appeal? Is it more the sensation of it feels good and better than regular sex or is the appeal because it is naughty and is looked down upon?
Tristan Taormino: Oh no. The major appeal of anal sex is mind blowing orgasm. If anyone out there is having anal sex and it doesn't feel absolutely amazing, you are doing it wrong. The major appeal of anal sex is the orgasm. Those orgasms could come from the physical stimulation and also from the emotional and psychological issues that are sort of wrapped up in anal sex. It's not just about being naughty. It also feels really, really good.
Big D: Keep in mind you are speaking from the woman's point of view. Guys are the ones that tend to say anal sex feels better but here you are a woman saying it feels fantastic and is capable of bringing on orgasms. I always thought of anal sex as an acquired taste much like coffee or beer that if you drink enough of it or have enough anal sex you will grow to like it.
Tristan Taormino: That's the message I want to get across. My mission is not to help guys convince their girlfriend to have anal sex and have the girl just sort of tolerate it. I want women to love it and enjoy it as much as their male partners. Otherwise, what is the point?
Big D: You had mentioned that when you were younger and in college you went through this sexual self-discovery phase full of experimentation. Did you develop this knowledge on your own through practice or did you have your own mentor that you now can give all the credit to?
Tristan Taormino: The very first person I had anal sex with was a woman. She was older than me by just a few years. In college I was a sophomore and she was a senior. She absolutely taught me a lot of what I know. Beyond her it was really a series of partners. What happens is you develop a certain dynamic with a partner and you really learn a lot of different things from different people. I didn't hook up with some 'anal guru' like Toni Bentley who wrote 'The Surrender' which was all about her anal sex experience with one guy. He was her anal sex guru. There was no person in my life like that. It was really more of an experience of liking it the first time and wanting to do it more.
Big D: Seeing how you have been doing this for a number of years now, how has your family reacted to all of this? You have appeared in magazines and hosted lectures and now videos. This persona of being an anal sex expert and basically any kind of sex guru is really inescapable now. How have they reacted to you standing up in front of hundreds of people and talking openly about your sexual experiences?
Tristan Taormino: It's funny because everyone knows. There really isn't anyone out there that doesn't know what I do. I use my real name, everyone that I ever went to high school with has looked me up on the internet. I am pretty easy to track down. The truth is that I am an only child and my father is no longer alive. It is just me and my mom. My mom understands it. She doesn't ask me to see my movies. We are not on that level and we are fine with that. I think she reads the press releases and she read the stuff when I signed with Vivid. First of all, everyone knows Vivid. Even people who do not know porn, know Vivid. Vivid already has this level of name recognition and it is a well respected name. It's not like I am making movies for Ifuckedyourgrandmother.com. I am making movies for a huge, well respect company. I think when my mom read the press about me signing my deal with Vivid and she read quotes from me about what I am trying to do and how porn can be marketed towards couples and women, she gets it. She called me up and said, 'this is very ambitious. You want to shake things up and change some things in porn.' To me it was that she really got it. For someone who is 30 years older than me, she really got it. I could not ask for any more than that. I don't have to put away the porn when she comes to my house. I don't have to tell her I am going to Los Angeles to relax. I can tell her I am going to L.A. to shoot porn and it is all good.
Big D: First job?
Tristan Taormino: I was 15 and I worked at a leather store in Provincetown, Mass.
Big D: First concert?
Tristan Taormino: I won tickets on the radio to Lionel Ritchie with Tina Turner opening. She was the opening act. That was her first album back from the whole Ike Turner thing.
Big D: First car?
Tristan Taormino: Ford Aerostar Minivan. I borrowed it from my mom.
Big D: What's in your CD player right now?
Tristan Taormino: I am finalizing the music for Chemistry #2. I have been mostly listening to mostly indie bands so The Human Value and a band called Goodfinger. The Eames Era and Boxfelder. Good Finger and Boxfelder both have songs in Chemistry #1.
Tristan Taormino: Movies, hands down. I am not a sports person at all. I like hockey and I like basketball. Baseball is an acquired taste that I haven't quite acquired. Football is boring.
Big D: What modern convenience can you not live without?
Tristan Taormino: The phone. The phone, the phone, the phone, the phone, the phone, the phone!
Big D: Favorite mainstream movie?
Tristan Taormino: I love Requiem for a Dream. It's one of my favorite movies. I just saw Lost in Translation. I know I am a little bit behind the curve. I loved that. A Star is Born. I love old musicals. Also National Velvet.
Big D: Favorite vacation spot?
Tristan Taormino: (laughs) My first thought would be anywhere because I am not really good about taking vacations. I really love Napa Valley in California. You can just eat and shop. I don't drink but I have heard you can drink wine there. (laughs)
Big D: Person you'd like to meet that you have not met?
Tristan Taormino: Wow, okay that is good. I want to meet Tim Gunn from Project Runway. He is the most compelling person on television. He is not the host of the show and he is more of the mentor for the designers. He can be very sweet and nurturing and incredibly blunt and brutal at the same time. I like that about him.
Big D: Place you want to visit but haven't yet?
Tristan Taormino: Fiji. I just want to go to one of those fucking private islands where I don't have to go be around anyone. I know that sounds incredibly anti-social but if I want ot relax, that is that way I would want it.