Broad Recognition

A Feminist Magazine at Yale

James Deen, the “Prince Charming of Porn”: for Better or Worse?

Trigger Warning for strong language and some violent sexual imagery.

Some months ago I discovered an article entitled, “What Women Want: Porn and the Frontier of Female Sexuality.” In this article, Amanda Hess introduces the readers of wholesome GOOD magazine to the porn industry’s naughty boy next door: James Deen, the 5’8”, self-consciously Jewish, “boy-next-door” porn star from Pasadena. A man who, by virtue of his non-threatening appearance, workout-free body, boisterous personality, and questionably “female-friendly” bedroom antics, is single-handedly uncovering a not-so-secret niche in the adult entertainment market: women.

In my experience, enjoying heterosexual pornography as a feminist is a rare event. Inevitably, the exchanges performed onscreen unrelentingly reinforce the denial of women’s sexual autonomy through heterosexual sex. Imagine how excited I was, then, to discover James Deen, and with him the hope of a different kind of heterosexual pornography. Might Deen be the answer to a sex-positive feminist’s prayers?

The GOOD article led me to the James Deen tumblr hashtag (NSFW), a dashboard aggregating endless Deen-centric data: reposted Deen tweets, sexy (and not-so-sexy) Deen pics, articles and interviews, Deen’s blog posts, free porn, and animated gifs of Deen’s more impassioned on-screen moments, along with the obligatory comments and tags. For the most part, the contributors to this tag are sassy, precocious, sex-obsessed teenagers who are seriously plugged in to free porn, to an extent that would make an even slightly older generation of former horny teenagers part horrified, part jealous beyond belief.

The use of social media to distribute free pornography among minors, and the problem it poses to parents of Deen-adoring teenagers, was the subject of a semi-recent ABC news special on James Deen.  The interview really raises more questions than it answers, showcasing a porn star who is well aware of his underage audience but in no rush to do anything about it. In response to the issue, a very wholesome-looking Deen appears ambivalent, suggesting coyly to his underage viewers, “Turn eighteen and buy porn?” Naturally, it was these minors themselves who had the last laugh; the clip was promptly reposted and joked about on the Deen tumblr dash, interspersed with more gifs and porn. Deen and his largely underage following are here to stay—but what are the repercussions?

I felt a little strange anonymously sourcing pornography from minors, even if it was for academic purposes. The dash hasn’t yet been flooded by the inevitable parodying of online sensations (although that’s changing elsewhere on the internet), so for the most part it was just me, the girls (and occasional guy), and a whole lot of porn.

***

Deen likes it rough. He specializes in rough sex, actually. He regularly works for alternative-lifestyle websites such as Kink, Bound Gang Bangs, Sex and Submission, and Public Disgrace, a website specializing, among other things, in “erotic female humiliation.” Put simply, Deen caters to women who think like the teen tumblr user who recently posted, “Will someone PLEASE fuck me like James Deen?! PLEASE. Tired of hearing ‘I don’t want to hurt you…’ BITCH SHUT THE FUCK UP AND JUST FUCK ME LIKE A MAN ALREADY.” Because, as James Deen is showing us, repeated exposure to the same sexual power dynamic in porn may lead us all to believe that there is only one way to fuck like a man.

There is another unusual aspect of Deen’s films—he is attentive and responsive to the needs of his female porn stars—behavior that sets him apart from his male porn peers. He holds hands with his co-stars. He makes constant eye contact. Deen will sometimes pull a pillow under a woman’s head or body to better support her during sex. When the scene is uncut (as most of Deen’s scenes are), one can see that Deen paces out the sex to give his co-stars time to recover between orgasms (unless the sex calls for something different). Deen showcases some pretty advanced cunnilingus skills. He inspires multiple, consecutive, seemingly authentic orgasms. Deen is constantly communicating with his co-stars, whispering in their ears in a way that seems somewhat extraneous to the setups themselves—one might imagine he’s whispering inside jokes, like parents giggling to each other at a children’s birthday party. Lastly, and crucially, he’s a porn star with a sense of humor, about himself and about his trade.

It is a little depressing to realize that these characteristics alone set Deen apart from almost every other male heterosexual porn star in the business today. If nothing else, Deen brings a more genuine—dare I say “human”—quality to his bedroom performances, which I suspect is the reason why he has won several awards for his performances, including the AVN (Adult Video News) Award for Male Performer of the Year in 2009. But what lies beneath this cheeky, playful veneer—apart from, well, a woman?

The other prevailing characteristic of James Deen films is that he always assumes the dominant role. That is to say: while the soothing garnish of gentlemanly behavior sets Deen apart from his male porn peers, he’s still forcefully calling the shots. His dominance is ubiquitous across the many styles of porn that are his specialty. There are some setups where his dominance is the lynchpin to a successful scene—playing a mad scientist “torturing” his “naughty” co-star, for example. But then there are more “vanilla” scenes of “straight” heterosexual sex, where Deen and his co-stars are given relatively free rein and the sex is staged to look more spontaneous and “natural.” In these situations, Deen immediately takes control, and doesn’t supplicate his female co-stars for anything, ever. He angles their bodies towards the camera and towards himself. He decides the length of intercourse, the positions assumed, and the level of stimulation. Even the obligatory blow job in every scene is deftly maneuvered by Deen to occur between or after other sex acts of his choosing. This behavior, once noted, makes his hair-stroking and eye-gazing look a little bit like lipstick on a pig.

Other counter-examples to the conventional dominant-man-on-woman scenario besides Deen do, of course, exist, but they all seem to circulate exclusively within the world of alternative pornography, as if a dominant woman in a heterosexual scenario has more in common with BDSM than with any sort of garden-variety sexual encounter. The world of queer porn, thankfully, is a beautiful phantasmagoria of every kind of power dynamic possible—it is far easier to find porn with a more equal distribution of power if you search for “women tribbing,” for example. And I love that these types of porn exist, but here my focus is on the mainstream: Why are we still not seeing a more equal distribution of power in the mainstream world of heterosexual pornography?  What does it mean that the face of “female-friendly” porn in the twenty-first century is a 100% dominant man, and what effect do those unquestioned gender roles have on the minds of sexually maturing teenage girls and boys?

A few weeks later I managed to get Deen on the phone, so I asked him.

***

One Sunday night, Dean called me on a break between scenes. He is a fast-talking extrovert, and super forthcoming (pardon the pun). He even started off the interview by saying, “It’s kind of the coolest thing ever when you’re on-set and every dude is like, ‘Yeah you know, like my fans are like guys like this—’ and I’m like, ‘Well, my fans are young feminist women who are graduating from Yale.’ So I kind of win. It’s the stop-all of all arguments, to be frank.”

What a ham.

 

CR: So, James, according to your Wikipedia article, you make “female-friendly” porn — what is that exactly?

JD: I get that question often, or questions like that often, and at the end of the day I do not know. I have no data, I haven’t done any research, and every answer I’ve given, whenever I, like—you know, I read the Good Men Project and, you know, all the interviews I’ve done and stuff like that, and every time I read my answer, it just gets destroyed by whoever the critic is. So no matter what I say, I’m going to be wrong. So let me cross this statement with that. I’m prepared to be slaughtered and yelled at by whoever critiques this.

So women—now, not all, I will say—women are a lot dirtier, a lot nastier, a lot more perverted, a lot more sexual than they’re given credit for, than men think they are. Then, also, women that watch porn usually—as far as my “research,” discussions, whatever, talking to friends, you know, mini-polls that I’ve conducted—women that watch porn are primarily drawn towards certain types of porn.

So I think that because I am cast in a lot of, not necessarily aggressive—I mean, some of it’s aggressive, but a lot of rough, you know, just hard fucking, a lot of BDSM stuff, a lot of the male-dominant-type porno movies, which I get thrown in a lot. And then also in my scenes in general, when it’s not a male-dominant porno movie, usually I am—it is rare, if ever, that I’m not the dominant party—that’s what turns me on is to be really crazy, and stuff like that, and be a, you know, “dominant.” I hate that word, I hate referring to myself and being referred to as dominant—that’s a whole other conversation—am I making sense here? I’m trying to be very politically correct here.

I mean, basically what ends up happening is the porn that I’m usually in is rough sex where I’m fucking the shit out of girls. And usually, from what I can tell, the majority of girls who actually watch porn and like porn are not interested in soft caressing, lovemaking; they want to see their fantasies being lived out. And a lot of girls want somebody that will have sex with them. They want to live out a fantasy, whatever it is, while they’re watching that movie. And I’m in a lot of scenes that are living out that type of fantasy …  So I think that why I’ve developed the female following that I have is when I’m not a complete scumbag-looking, you know, creepy dude, I’m kind of a “normal guy,” if you will.

 

While I agree with Deen that on some level, it makes sense that the sort of women who are purchasing pornography may be looking to live out very specific fantasies, my main concern is the leagues of teenage girls who are attracted to Deen because of his appearance and demeanor, who seek out his most vanilla porn, who post photos on their dash of Deen rolling his eyes, eating ice-cream, and cooking bacon. Rough sex aside, these girls are forming their sexual identities around a man who will show a woman a good time but won’t let her show him much of anything.

The setups of some of Deen’s rough sex scenes make this cultural obsession even more troubling, because although the sex is between consenting adults for a consenting audience, the sex is often framed in a way that makes it look like rape. There is a video on Bound Gang Bangs entitled “Honeymoon Suite,” featuring James Deen and bearing the following description: “Katie Summers and her husband Blake enter their honeymoon suite prepared for a night of romance to cap off their beautiful wedding ceremony. But when Blake leaves the room for ice he returns to find his wife bound and surrounded by five masked men who proceed to handcuff him to the bed and turn his virginal wife into a whore before his very eyes.”

I asked James Deen if he thinks these setups send a bad message.

 

JD: I don’t think that it’s a good message to say, “Hey, if somebody is doing something you don’t like, you should be able to beat them up and have sex with them.” And I don’t think it’s a good message to say, “Hey, if a girl’s dressed skanky, or something, you should be able to have sex.” At the same time, I think there is a way to express—like Kink.com and now Brazzers do the same thing, they do these interviews to explain, “This is a fantasy, this is consensual, this is not real, you should not go forth and try to have sex with someone like this, this is fake. This is a fantasy for you to jerk off to, not a real situation.” I feel like there’s a way to make sure that this message is there, and at the same time, create content where it’s different …

For me, the line really is where it’s a sexual thing versus an aggressive thing, or a violent thing …  I’m not a rape expert, I’m not a sociology expert, or anything like that—I know my basic psychology classes from junior college—and as far as I can remember, rape is an act of aggression, and an act of violence, and it’s about taking away somebody’s respect and power and stuff like that. It is nothing that has to do with sex … for some reason, if this is for a sexual thing, I just don’t feel like it’s real. It just feels very fantasy and role-playing, and it’s hot.

 

Even with all of these precautions in place, the fact remains that these setups are not being interrogated by their producers or by their viewers, and their eroticization of violence is perpetuated by a society that continues to get off on the use and abuse of women.

Although it is clear from his interview that Deen has a sincere respect for his female co-stars, the sex conveyed is still under a greater umbrella of unrelenting misogyny that ends up in the hands of budding sexual beings. He’s the “good guy” of the badlands—the Prince Charming of Porn.

***

During the interview, I actually called Deen the “Prince Charming of Porn,” and he blushed. He liked it. But the analogy feels apt. Imagine a teen Rapunzel locked up in the tower of her banal suburban lifestyle with raging hormones and no fulfilling sex life to speak of. She dreams of the handsome boy next door climbing into her window and ravishing her long into the night (and then maybe cuddling for a while). The seeds of this fantasy were planted in the fairytales read to us as children, and they’ve grown into James Deen—a genuinely good guy who loves his job and just might be bringing us a step closer to portraying realistic sex on-screen. But for those heterosexual women looking to watch something other than a “slutty” damsel in distress get served, or for those women who hope that heterosexual teenage girls might have more than one sexual option presented to them in porn, the wait might be a long one.

The interview between the author and James Deen was conducted on December 11, 2011.

Chloé Rossetti, YC ’11, is a former staff writer for Broad Recognition. Her website can be found here.

 

Comments (9)

  • I don’t know why people are so obsessed with labeling everything. Whether he does feminist porn or lady porn or whatever, James Deen is a porn star who a lot of women happen to like. This article seems to be a little demeaning to the women who enjoy being submissive sexually, as if we’re less evolved than those who are looking for other options and our like for James Deen is merely a product of culture indoctrination. Women aren’t dumb, even teenage women. We are all perfectly capable of determining what turns us on. If 16 year old girls are turned on by James Deen’s style, then so be it. that’s what turns them on. I don’t understand the issue here.

    also just because the media has presented him as only having teenage fans, doesn’t mean it’s true. Trust me there are a lot of older women who like his work as well.

    but anyways, liked hearing about this topic from James’ point of view. thanks for the interview.

    posted by michelle      July 1st, 2012 at 6:56 pm

  • It was given in the future?

    posted by Lk      August 3rd, 2012 at 10:14 pm

  • It’s pretty clear that the interviewer does not understand the S & M culture.

    posted by Carrie      November 26th, 2012 at 5:27 am

  • What is the obsession with this ugly turn being Jewish? I wish “people” would develop a similar obsession with Logan Lerman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Andrew Garfield, Paul Rudd, etc. all being Jews.

    posted by bee      November 29th, 2012 at 10:48 pm

  • I cant understand that women are dumb for likeing a pirn star! James deen is ugly! Who ever likes him is dumb! This is suck !

    posted by ebony      January 25th, 2013 at 9:18 pm

  • James Deen’s videos fetishize the abuse and rape of women. Theyre like a step down from Max Hardcore in severity. He chokes them, slaps them, ties them up, blindfolds them and forces their heads down onto other men’s penises until she chokes, puts them in leashes, pretty much anything possible that promotes rape and anti-woman values. Hes the exact opposite of a Feminist, and proof that some women will excuse ANY negative behavior from a man just as long as she thinks hes “cute”.

    Anyone who supports this man needs to have their Feminism card revoked, and burned.

    posted by human being      March 15th, 2013 at 5:10 am

  • The main reason James Deen is being lauded as the worlds first pro-woman Male Feminist Porn Star (even though he is the exact opposite) is because hes a physically non-threatening Jewish boy with access to a powerful PR firm.

    He literally specializes in rape promotion for a living. If thats what passes for Feminism these days, no wonder women are losing their reproductive rights. Youve been co-opted and bamboozled by the jewish media Patriarchy.

    posted by human being      March 15th, 2013 at 5:14 am

  • some women enjoy porn!!!!!! wow, who knew!

    posted by lee      June 25th, 2013 at 4:57 pm

  • I’m in my mid thirties and find James Deen incredibily hot. This article is very insulting to women who identify as submissive. Deen is clearly a “Dom”. A good dominant cares about his partner’s comfort while being in charge and that’s what Deen seems to demonstrate in his video. If that’s what turns women on, why is that wrong? If someone doesn’t like Deen’s rough style they are free to watch something else. Even(gasp!) teenagers can be aware of what gets them turned on. Why is that some problem that needs to be solved?

    posted by Autumn      August 10th, 2013 at 4:20 am

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