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Who would have thought that one day I would make a career out of telling naked men what to do? My childhood was as normal as anybody else's. I was raised in a middle-class home, with a big Italian family on one side and an Irish Catholic family on the other. I joined the Brownies and then the Girl Scouts, took dance lessons, and waited until I fell in love and turned eighteen to "go all the way." Why, I didn't even have my first orgasm until I was nineteen! Yes, there was some unconventionality: my dad was a professional jazz drummer, and both my sister and I were educated in special schools for artistic kids in Manhattan. But when it came to sex, aside from some innocent sensual touching between me and a girlfriend in our early teens, I was as naive and inexperienced as the next girl.
Perhaps the road I eventually took in my adult life had its genesis in the conflict between my blossoming sexuality and a growing fear of sex as dangerous and uncontrollable. My family wasn't that comfortable with sex, and I, like most young girls at that time, received absolutely no sex education other than to "just say no!" When I was thirteen, I was sexually assaulted in a park, and though I miraculously managed to fight off my attacker and avoid being raped, the psychological damage had been done: I had convinced myself that my sexuality was the reason for the attack. The message I internalized was that my sexual urges must be contained or, if let loose, they would cause men to do terrible things to me. Despite all of this, I still somehow managed to develop a tremendous appetite for sexual pleasure.
We all cope with our personal conflicts differently. My way was to throw myself completely into sexual experimentation with total abandon and at times even recklessness. When I moved to San Francisco at age twenty-one, I experimented with drugs and recreational sex to my heart's and body's content. I performed in avant-garde theater, worked on and sold my art, and sang in jazz clubs. But I soon discovered that I needed a way to finance my unconventional lifestyle. That's when I answered an ad for nude modeling -- only the agent had other ideas. He decided I would be perfect for porn movies, and I stormed out of his office in a huff. But when my then boyfriend decided to try his hand (and other parts!) at being a porn stud, his experience led me to reconsider the offer. After he landed a much coveted leading role in a film called Cry for Cindy for one of the better adult film directors of the time, Anthony Spinelli, I took the opportunity to visit the film set and get a better look at what the adult industry was all about. I, like most people, presumed it was a sleazy underworld filled with greasy directors and pitiful drug addicts who needed money for their next fix. To my surprise, what I discovered was a clean and professional environment, a legitimate industry filled with Hollywood types moonlighting on porn crews for extra cash, and intimidatingly gorgeous young women and men competing for roles. This was the "boogie nights" era that gave rise to the big-budget porn classics that were shot on film and played in venues like the long-gone Pussycat Theatre. Gerard Damiano's groundbreaking flick Deep Throat put plot and humor into porn, and his atmospheric classic The Devil in Miss Jones, starring the exceptional Georgina Spelvin, proved you could make a movie that was compelling and sexually explicit. Suddenly it was appealingly risqué for couples to frequent the big triple-X movie theaters and there was something cutting edge, almost hip, about daring to bare it all in front of the camera.
Given the alternative lifestyle I was living in San Francisco, where breaking taboos was an everyday part of the gender-bending, sexual experimentation, anything-goes mindset of that time, jumping over to perform in sexually explicit films suddenly didn't feel like such a leap, so I began appearing in films. It was easy, I could make a lot of money in a short period of time, and it afforded me the ability to focus on my other artistic pursuits that were less lucrative.
I was an active feminist and reasoned that it was my body to do with what I wanted. After all, the women's movement was all about choice: Some women may choose to cast off their aprons and don a suit and join the corporate world. Others may keep their aprons and work at home. I chose to cast off everything and use my looks, my body, my open attitude toward sex, and my healthy sexual appetite to make a living.
I easily landed roles in some of the bigger features, performing and forming friendships with many of the stars of that time, including Annette Haven, Leslie Bovee, Samantha Fox, John Leslie, Paul Thomas, and the most infamous, John Holmes. Even though I was a bit shy about appearing naked on screen (I was never fully convinced I had a good enough body) and not completely comfortable with the often crude depiction of sex in most mainstream porn movies, I became a sought-after actress for my ability to learn lines and deliver them somewhat convincingly. And, contrary to what people say about the adult film world, I was never forced or coerced to do anything. In fact we were given lists to check off, specifying what we would and wouldn't consent to do on screen.
I made about five or six features a year for five years. My experiences were mostly good as long as I worked with directors who took pride in what they were doing, and I avoided the sleazebags who were contemptuous of their casts.
However, over time the gnawing ambivalence about what I was doing caught up with me. I truly felt it was perfectly fine to perform sexually for consenting adults to view and enjoy. But at the same time, I was reticent to tell anyone outside my inner circle what I did to earn money. It became clear to me that I needed to stop making light of what I was doing and take a closer look at my feelings about it.
In the end, I decided to end my career as a porn star and move on to other pursuits. But I gave myself one last year to make movies I could be proud of, including Henri Pachard's October Silk, Chuck Vincent's Fascination, Delicious, and my swan song, Blue Magic, which I wrote, foreshadowing things to come. During the last year I met and married my (now ex-) husband, moved back to my native New York City, and started writing for men's magazines. I also found a remarkable therapist with whom I unraveled the complex issues surrounding my foray into porn. What exactly is wrong with making love for others to view and enjoy? Do explicit movies make men go out and do bad things to women? Should I feel ashamed of having performed in them?
Reassessing my own attitudes and coming to terms with my scarlet past ultimately led me to examine the vast terrain of hypocrisy and sexual fear. How did we go from worshipping the goddess Aphrodite, who embodied female sexual power, to teaching generations of women that sex was to be tolerated, a duty to be performed in the interest of providing children and favors to their husbands?
Sexual desire is one of our most primary and wonderful gifts, yet we are still fighting over what kind of sex is acceptable, where, why, and with whom. We use sex to sell anything and everything possible, from computers to cars to kitchen appliances, yet it is still considered immoral to look at humans engaging in real, honest-to-goodness sex.ar
The more I contemplated these apparent contradictions, the more I came to feel that what we really need as a society is an honest way to look at and feel good about our sexuality. Contrary to all the cautionary tales and moral judgments, the desire to view sexually explicit imagery is a natural human curiosity. Rather than pornography causing us to act out in certain ways, I saw contemporary pornography as a reflection of the society that created it. Were women in fact exploited? Yes. Women were essential to the creation and sales of commercial porn, and yet their sexuality was completely ignored and misrepresented.
I began to wonder what it would be like to create explicit movies that give us good information about sex while entertaining and inspiring us. Could I create movies that accurately reflected female desire, movies that women and men could enjoy together? I didn't like a lot of what I saw in contemporary porn, but rather than march around waving banners of protest, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and try to produce adult movies that make us feel good about ourselves. After all, people are not going to stop looking at sex, and if women don't take control of the means of production, men will continue to do it for us, continuing to erroneously define female sexuality.
If women are to experience the sexual pleasure that is our right, it is incumbent upon us to challenge the plethora of negative messages thrown our way and toss them aside. I believe there's an underlying fear in our culture, thousands of years old, that if we women were to discover just how powerful our sexuality is, we'd abandon our families and run wild in the streets! As the late Dr. William Masters of Masters and Johnson said when describing the findings of his early research, "Women's capacity for pleasure would put any man to shame." And if we keep ourselves wrapped up in guilt and shame and the fear of being exposed as "too experienced," we'll never know the pleasure that we are capable of. The really silly part is that our relationships and our marriages would probably fare way better, and divorce rates plummet, if women did come to the bedroom fully informed and equal participants. After all, one of the biggest causes of marital woes is boredom in the bedroom. Put two people together who are comfortable with their own individual sexuality and eager to explore, and you're a lot less likely to see that unwelcome guest called boredom settling into bed with you.
Hence, Candida Royalle, director of erotic movies from a woman's point of view, was born.
I've now made fifteen films, and thousands of women and men write to me all the time to say how much they enjoy seeing real women having good sex on screen. Their responses have been particularly gratifying for me, since creating material that makes women feel good about themselves and their desires and gives them permission to explore their sexuality -- guilt free -- has been the ultimate goal of my efforts. As one young woman in her twenties told me some time ago, "Watching your movies made me feel comfortable with my own sexual desires." And in case you're one of those who think men aren't receptive to this newer vision of female-centric erotica, I've gotten many letters from men over the years, including one who wrote, "I am touched by the sensitivity that you put in your films, which convey the difference between sheer sex and making love, as well as showing affection for the individual that you make love with. I, for one, am very happy that there is a person such as yourself out there who can give viewers of adult films a broader choice of what they can watch."
Now I would like to share all that I've learned with you. Through my director's lens, I have created a book that reads like a film: In one sitting a woman can discover all she needs to know to become a sensual, mindful lover, one who is in touch with her own sexuality as well as the ways she can communicate this knowledge to her man. Just as a director puts together an entertaining, enjoyable film, so too must a woman take charge of her own sexual pleasure. The chapters mirror the process of preparing for and enacting a night of stellar lovemaking -- beginning with getting in touch with the inner you, moving through the shoot in which you and your lover play out the script of your fantasies, and ending with the erotic exchange between you and your lover as you revisit your steamy night in scintillating detail. I've also included many entertaining "Director's Notes" and Tricks of the Trade to inspire your sex life.
My journey toward personal acceptance and sexual self-knowledge has been a long and unusual one. I have gone from innocence to taboo, from college feminist to porn star. I spent my twenties having as many one-night stands as I wished and my thirties being a good monogamous wife. I've experienced some of the most mind-blowing sex you can imagine, but not before having to confront psychological fears that interfered with my ability to experience the rich passionate sexuality that was mine. Not all of us have to break taboos and confront painful demons in order to experience the rich and unique sexuality that is ours. All you really need is the desire and a willingness to open yourself up to being creative and having fun. And I've learned that when all is said and done, having fun is what it's all about.
Copyright © 2004 by Candida Royalle