A collection of essays from women working in the US porn industry and women consuming porn outside it, Naked Ambition is an intelligent and provocative survey of pro-porn female opinions. There’s little in the way of gushing praise about the industry itself – most of the writers agree that newcomers get eaten alive if they don’t know what they’re doing. Tera Patrick’s essay is a good illustration of the pitfalls involved and her own fall and rise on the back of her initial calamities. But where these pieces take off is in praise of porn as something liberating, both in its production and its consumption.
Many women involved in porn are not porn stars – they are businesswomen and entrepreneurs too, or they are pro-porn journalists, marketers and writers, who have turned porn on its head and are using it to create their own independence, whether or not they appear in front of the camera. For some, like Wired sex and tech columnist Regina Lynn, innovations like cybersex have been crucial in helping her overcome chronic shyness to enjoy real relationships. For others, like Emily Dubberley and Violet Blue, setting up their own websites and blogs have been how they’ve created their own burgeoning careers writing about all aspects of sex. In other words, women in porn is not just about some blonde girl humping in front of a camera.
Naked Ambition showcases a variety of attitudes of women in how they think about sex and how they think porn can help make people’s sex lives – and so their lives – better. The adult industry is two-faced in this sense, in that some of what it does – sex toys, better sex guides, erotica etc – is genuinely helpful, and some of it is irredeemably nasty -see Tera Patrick’s essay again for examples. What "nasty" is, and who should decide what it is, and how it is regulated, remains the eternal question. What many of the women do in Naked Ambition is define what their own idea of sex is, which flies in the face of the norms of what women are supposed to like. Some of those opinions may seem distinctly distasteful, like Mason’s descriptions of the extreme videos she directed and shot, but the fact she’s discussing why she likes this kind of porn – and why the girls shooting it like making it – brings it out into the open. As such, the perspectives they bring to the porn industry and its product are genuinely illuminating, if disconcerting.
This is in no small part to the tight editing of Carly Milne, who put together the anthology (and who, a long time ago, gave me free lance work for now-defunct Canadian magazine Can Say). Carly ran the Pornblography blog for a couple of years and worked as a porn industry publicist while she was researching the book, so she has first hand experience of its machinations. What’s best about Naked Ambition is that it feels like thirty one shots of mind tequila – thirty one great essays and arguments and experiences that engage with you bluntly and directly, and that are laced with the greatest aphrodisiac – intelligence.