In Steven Soderbergh’s new film, The Girlfriend Experience, porn star Sasha Grey makes her mainstream-movie debut. She stars as Chelsea, a high-end girlfriend-for-hire who balances her work with her (seemingly) accepting boyfriend. We spoke with the 21-year-old actor by phone.
Time Out Chicago: Your bio is the first one I’ve read to mention “a huge appetite for sex.” After more than 80 porn films, has that appetite changed at all?
Sasha Grey: Not so much. You find new ways of exploring that—not just sexually but creatively. I just started directing my own films this past month, so my juices are flowing, so to speak. There’s only so much you can do as a performer.
TOC: How will your film be different from the ones you’ve starred in?
Sasha Grey: Not to be arrogant, but I’m making it. [Laughs] Creatively speaking, how much porn do you watch that you think is actually creative?
TOC: Not much.
Sasha Grey: That’s what I mean. For so long, we’ve just pressed the zoom button.
TOC: The Girlfriend Experience has a fairly critical take on sex work—your character thinks she’s happier and more in control than she is. She’s an escort, you’re a porn star, but given how positively you’ve spoken of sex work, it seems you have a different opinion of it than the film does.
Sasha Grey: No, I wouldn’t say so. You just said it yourself: The two worlds are quite different. They’re both selling sex, but in two completely different ways. One’s legal and one isn’t, for starters. Some of her clients were great clients. Are they real relationships? No.
TOC: The film also suggests it’s impossible to separate professional sexual relationships from personal ones. How’s that been for you and your fiancé, Ian Cinnamon?
Sasha Grey: For me it’s quite different because I don’t have to pretend to be somebody’s girlfriend and go out for dinner with them and have some guy walk around in a diaper and act like I care about them. I don’t have to pretend I care about the person I’m having sex with. There is no false emotional connection that any of us have to fake on the set. And when you get home, that’s the person you love.
TOC: And Ian can see it as just sex, just work?
Sasha Grey: Well, I would hate to say it’s just work. It’s my life, and it’s my art. I’m lucky to be in a relationship with somebody that understands my ideals. That’s his test of will, and everybody’s different. Some people like crack, and some people don’t. [Laughs] Real life’s hard if you’re working in porn or not. Relationships are always gonna be difficult. But it’s about expressing your desires whether on camera or off.
TOC: When Insider and Tyra Banks interviewed you, they took a very sensationalistic, moralistic stance, asking, Are you afraid of HIV? How many men have you been with? Insider had a doctor scold you—
Sasha Grey: Yeah, a plastic surgeon.
TOC: What do you make of those types of media treatments of you?
Sasha Grey: They use me, and I use them. That was real exploitation, not the false exploitation they were trying to shine upon me. We both wanted something, and we both got what we wanted.
TOC: What did you get out of them?
Sasha Grey: I got free publicity. What else?
TOC: When Insider asked if STDs frighten you, you said that’s like asking a soldier if he’s afraid to go to war.
Sasha Grey: We have people we love in a war, yet it’s fine because they’re fighting for good ol’ USA. But yet when a young woman who is sexually strong and aware has sex, people are like, “Oh, that’s wrong and dirty. She’s gonna encourage people to rape and pillage.” I spoke to an army sergeant who said that to me. So that’s not just coming from some little fucking porn star who thinks she knows it all.
TOC: You’ve said, “I want to tell young women that sex is okay.” So when you’re filmed in a straitjacket as a guy whips you, that tells them sex is okay?
Sasha Grey: Yes, because if you have a fantasy you want to explore in a safe, controlled way, that’s fine. If you wanted to be tied up and have a woman spank you, nobody would say anything ’cause you’re a man. But because I’m a woman, I will be judged, and that’s bullshit. Utah has the highest porn-consumption rate. People have fantasies they want to explore, and we’re ashamed to talk about them. People don’t even get tested for STDs, but yet I’m condemned.
TOC: How’d you first decide to do porn?
Sasha Grey: I was 17. I was in college. I was watching a lot of porn, and I saw an opportunity for myself to change this business.
The Girlfriend Experience hits theaters Friday 22.