UCLA Porn Panel Features Jessica Drake, Tasha Reign

Jared Rutter

WESTWOOD, Calif. — The hand-lettered sign on the door of Lecture Room 100 in UCLA’s Moore Hall read simply: “Porn Panel, 7 p.m.” Porn is no longer a dirty word in academia. That times have changed was certified by an event Tuesday night arranged by the feminist group SANAA (Social Awareness Network for Activism through Art) and titled “Porn, Prostitution and Censorship: The Politics of Empowerment.”

Four of the five panel members were women, three from the adult industry: Jessica Drake, Wicked Pictures contract star/director/sex educator; performer and Reign Productions owner, Tasha Reign, who also happens to be a UCLA student; and Adella Curry, founder of Fine Ass Marketing, a high-profile industry PR firm.

Rounding out the group were two UCLA professors, Jennifer Moorman and Christopher Mott, who have both written extensively, lectured and led seminars on the subjects of porn and female empowerment. Over 100 people, most of them students, filled the large lecture hall and followed the proceedings avidly.  

Drake made it clear why she is frequently requested to speak at colleges. Her clear, concise responses drew frequent audience applause. Reign, in her fourth year of a major in gender studies, impressed as thoughtful and articulate.

Questions came alternately from two student moderators, one of them a gender studies classmate of Tasha’s. Despite the event’s three-pronged title they focused almost exclusively on porn. One of the first brought up the familiar debate about objectification vs. appreciation of women.

Reign said, “As a performer I’ve never felt objectified,” adding, “I’m more empowered than any of my girlfriends. Porn has given me a platform and an opportunity to take control of my destiny.”

Moorman pointed out that the adult industry is “hugely complex and diverse… Women’s bodies are a form of currency in the industry, but that can be very empowering.” This has allowed women to work behind the camera and to get paid much more than male performers—the opposite of the way Hollywood works.

Drake drew a warm response with her assertion that “I have never felt objectified throughout my career. I’ve only felt appreciated, professionally and personally.”

When asked if performers are “intellectually and emotionally present” while having sex on screen, Reign responded, “When I act I am concentrated and absolutely present,” and Drake said, “It’s important to me to have an authentic sexual experience… to be the same person on camera as I am off-camera.”

Curry, questioned about the marketing of porn, said it’s important to remember that “everybody is a sexual being,” and that porn offers a wide range of consumer choices, embracing “all body types, ethnicities and sexual identities.”

Drake said she decided to become a sex educator three years ago after realizing that for “the generation coming up” their only real knowledge of sex comes not from education but from “watching porn.” She stressed that “there’s a lot of ignorance about sex and I feel I have to be a part of education. I want to put a personal face on it.”

In response to the question about whether porn has been devalued as an artistic medium, Moorman insisted that “porn and art are not mutually exclusive,” which has been shown in the “amazing field” of porn studies.

In questions from the audience, Drake was asked about alleged protests of her recent appearance at the University of Chicago’s Sex Week. She said any negative reaction came “from sources other than the university,” mostly emails from a well-known anti-porn activist and her followers.

She added, emphatically, “I don’t care who protests me, I will be talking.”

Although all audience queries were friendly, some touched inevitably on well-worn issues such as coercion and sexual violence. In response to the latter, Prof. Mott said, “There is so much porn out there… Some of it is horrific… and some porn is absolutely liberating.”

Moorman emphasized that “it’s important to differentiate between reality and representation.” She said that porn distributors in the ‘70s and ‘80s took pains to avoid images of sexual violence,” which in turn led to the marginalization of BDSM and some lesbian porn.

Drake pointed out that porn companies have different guidelines as to rough sex, especially in the area of broadcast. She said studies have shown that viewers in the Bible Belt “want to have more sexually extreme stuff. I find that fascinating.”

Reign scoffed at the notion that women are dragged into doing scenes against their will. Porn work is so competitive, she noted, that  “in order to get hired a lot you have to show you really want to do it.”

A final question dealt with realism in porn, why sex scenes go on so much longer than they most likely would in reality.

Drake acknowledged that “in real life sex is not structured, not linear,” and that she had “reconsidered the way I showed sex in my movies. It’s important to be able to differentiate between entertainment and education.”

At the end of the two-hour presentation, students crowded around the stage to make some personal contact with Porn Panel participants.

Photo of Jessica and Tasha by Gia Jordan.