Lynsey G. is in her small but cheerful basement apartment in Missoula, making a cup of tea. At 34, she's petite with delicate features topped off by a bright-red pixie cut, dressed casually and comfortably in a blue cotton dress. Her fiancé, multimedia visual artist Jayel Draco, is sitting on the floor in the living room, hard at work creating an elaborate costume of fake flowers and green fabric. The apartment is filled with his art—narrative paintings, tiny sci-fi figurines—and stacks of the couple's books, from Dr. Seuss to Dante.
Teacup in hand, leaning against the kitchen island, Lynsey wants to talk about porn. A self-described "porn journalist," Lynsey, who writes under a pen name, wants to talk about facials, triple penetration and other kinks. But she wants to talk about racism and safer sex and big data in equal measure. She wants to talk about online pay structures and production studio monopolies and feminism. She talks about, in the same breath, milk enemas, freedom of speech, obscenity laws, and a person she's interviewed who is known as "The Butt Man."
It's strange to hear someone talk so openly about porn, and after almost a decade covering the topic, Lynsey knows it. She is, she proudly says, a pervert—someone who has always been drawn to the forbidden. At the same time, she's like almost everyone else. She watches porn, and so do up to 89 percent of women and up to 99 percent of men, according to some studies. It's an act more common than drinking tea; just about half of the United States population drinks tea each day, according to the Tea Association of America.
Yet it's hard to chat openly about pornography, because it's one of the last remaining taboos. In an era of confessional essays, tell-all books and social media overshare, it often feels like old standards of what is open for discussion have been annihilated. It's normal to dish to your friends about the sex you're having, to trumpet your political views to anyone who will listen, to share your orientations and proclivities without shame. For better or worse, we've entered a time when no topic goes undiscussed, when we can be loud and proud of who we are and what we do, online and off.
"Except," says Lynsey, "when it comes to pornography."
- cover photo by Amy Donovan
When's the last time you had a conversation at a barbecue about the pornography you consume? Or told a friend you were late because you were masturbating to footage of a gang-bang? Or recommended a wonderfully sexy cam girl to a colleague?
"I think that in the past 10 years or so, there's this idea that [porn] is mainstream because everybody watches it," Lynsey says. "But while people will talk about a porn star who is in the news, they won't say, 'I like gang-bang porn.'"
For the last decade, Lynsey has been writing extensively about this forbidden topic. She started by reviewing feature-length smut and writing "set pieces" for girly magazines, then slowly transitioned to writing about the porn industry. This summer she published a memoir, Watching Porn, about her stint in New York City covering the industry.
All of which makes her, perhaps, pornography's perfect ambassador. She's not an industry insider, so she's not so enmeshed that she can't analyze and criticize porn's issues clearly. But she's also not just a consumer: She has interviewed hundreds of people in the business, seen just as many films (with names like East Coast ASSault), and even partied with industry stars like Ron Jeremy (who, she says, was a jerk, by the way) and Kenni Styles (who wasn't). As such, she's well positioned to help bust porno myths and fight the taboo.
As she writes in her memoir, "The trick was to find the middle ground, as always, to place myself firmly in the center, and from there show what I saw. The validity of my perspective on pornography, really, doesn't come from my closeness to it, but rather from the distance I have maintained from the industry and consumers."
In other words, Lynsey will talk to you openly about porn at a barbecue. And the wonderfully sexy cam girl? Yes, she has a recommendation or two. (For more info on that, check out the sidebar.)
Lynsey G. was born in Bozeman but grew up in rural Pennsylvania. She uses a pen name because her parents are socially conservative and are, she says, not generally proud of her career. She grew up without the sex talk from her parents, who discouraged her from talking about sex at all. Of course, that only fed her obsession with all things illicit, she says.
Her early relationship with porn wasn't out of the ordinary. She watched a grainy VHS porn with friends as a kid (as an adult, she gleefully refers to it as "Boner Island,") and once she found a few nudie mags under a relative's bathroom sink. In college, she dabbled on free porn sites but didn't think much of it.
When she was 24 and desperate for writing work in New York City, a friend told her about an opportunity to review porn films for money. Intrigued, she snagged the position and received a cardboard box of DVDs with titles like Sperm Sponges Vol. 2 and My Black Fantasy.
"I had preconceived notions," she says. "I thought it would be much cooler. I thought it would be artsy, and it was not that at all."
She had plunged into the deep end of a complicated industry—one that the internet was changing rapidly. In 2007, when Lynsey entered the scene, the industry was undergoing a simultaneous collapse and regrowth. Internet technology—a shocking amount of which the porn industry pioneered was making DVDs and print material obsolete, while the low production costs that came with mobile devices and digital video flooded the market with huge volumes of low-quality, high-shock-value "gonzo" pornography—short, plotless, mostly point-of-view material that tended toward rough sex.
- photo courtesy Jayel Draco
At the same time, a new pornography company, now called MindGeek, had created the website Pornhub.com and was quickly buying up smaller porn outlets by the hundreds. The company gained control of both the big porn studios and the free porn "tube" sites. MindGeek expertly plays the two types, traditional pay sites and free sites, off of each other, raking in cash from porn and advertising sales both.
Porn actors and smaller production companies were taking huge pay cuts while trying to grapple with the quickly changing landscape. As with traditional publishing companies and bookstores, everyone in the industry seemed to be scrambling to find new ways to monetize their professions, but they were also having trouble letting go of old ways and old lifestyles.
As Lynsey learned of these changes from talking to stars and directors and reading the latest industry news, she felt torn. She saw herself as a feminist, but she wasn't yet sure how those beliefs should shape how she approached pornography, or if they even could. She was learning that watching free sites like Pornhub hurt the industry, but she kept returning to them, despite the stacks of big-budget, feature-length DVDs under her bed. She read Lux Alptraum, another porn critic, about the ethics of watching porn: "It can be really, really difficult to negotiate ethics when orgasms are concerned ... sometimes your orgasm is not concerned with whether somebody got paid for the day."
At the same time, she was concerned with the other issues in porn: Actors were and still are paid based on their gender, sex, race, age and weight. Safe-sex practices were and still are a huge issue, especially in pornography's longtime home of California. And consent and sexual-assault controversies plague the industry.