ABOVE: ASA AKIRA. PHOTO COURTESY OF VAN STYLES
In Asa Akira’s debut memoir Insatiable (Grove Atlantic), the author recounts her journey from wild New York City kid to world-famous porn star. Candid, funny, sexy, and smart, Akira is not a damaged sex worker, but a strong woman from a stable home who happens to love having sex on camera. The book is filled with colorful characters, from a married Hasidic men frequenting strip clubs to a Florida entrepreneur with a beautiful wife—both of whom Akira falls in love with—to wild, larger-than-life Los Angeles porn stars. Akira expertly explores the human side of the sex industry. In a world of Internet porn, in which we increasingly view sex as something disconnecting, Akira presents porn stars as people with the same insecurities, troubles, loves, and hopes as the rest of us who have sex behind closed doors. Shocking and tawdry, but ultimately relatable, this is a tale of a young girl realizing her dreams and navigating dangerous temptations (drugs, hooking, pizza) along the way.
We spoke with Asa Akira about why writing was more vulnerable than sex on camera, body versus brains, fantasies, her parents’ reaction to her world, and growing up on the streets of a lost and lush downtown Manhattan.
ROYAL YOUNG: You say in your intro that writing this book was more intimate and more exposing than doing porn.
ASA AKIRA: [laughs] I think it’s something people find very ironic and hard to believe.
YOUNG: [laughs] No, I totally get it.
AKIRA: Yeah, for me being naked has never been a big deal. Even shooting my very first porn scene, it felt so natural and I never felt vulnerable being naked in front of the camera with close-ups of all my holes. It never felt weird or invasive to me in any way. But writing the book, the whole time I just felt really shy. I couldn’t write if there was anyone else in the room.
YOUNG: There’s a big difference between being physically naked and emotionally naked.
AKIRA: For sure. Physically, if someone doesn’t like what they see, whatever, that’s what I was given, who cares? But when it’s your mind you have full control over things you say and think. It feels a lot more personal.
YOUNG: There’s a big risk in that kind of vulnerability that isn’t necessarily there in the physical. If someone doesn’t like your body you can walk away from them. But when someone rejects your thoughts, it’s crushing.
AKIRA: It’s heartbreaking. It’s like telling a joke and no one thinks it’s funny. That’s the saddest feeling in the world. [laughs] And in addition to all of that, as a woman, I know if I get naked and have sex, guys are going to like it. It’s not that hard to please a man in that way. I’m not as confident when it comes to my words or thoughts. It’s so much scarier.
YOUNG: So what got you through? What made you push past that fear and what did you learn from writing the book?
AKIRA: My goal throughout the whole writing process, something I kept reminding myself, is that I just really wanted an honest book to come out. Honesty was number one for me. There’s enough porn books out there that reinforce the stereotypes of what people in porn are like. That’s not my truth at all. I definitely enjoy those stories, and they exist for sure, but it’s not my story.
YOUNG: When my memoir came out last June, my parents fucking hated it. Which was actually a really good sign.
AKIRA: That’s true, you wouldn’t want them to like it.
YOUNG: Exactly. If they liked it, that would mean it was probably a really bad book. [laughs]
YOUNG: So I loved that you dedicated your book to your parents with the caveat “But don’t read it.”
AKIRA: Yeah, I definitely don’t want them to read it. Oh gosh.
YOUNG: So they haven’t?
AKIRA: No, and I told them they would not want to read it. I think they’ll probably respect my wishes.
YOUNG: But that being said, they are aware you’re in porn and that it’s a huge part of your life.
AKIRA: Definitely. I never told them about it, but they found out six months in that I was doing porn. I don’t know how they found out. I don’t want to know. They’re proud I wrote a book and I think me writing a book for them justifies me doing porn in a way, because now I have a story to tell. It’s not like a got into porn, became a drug addict, and committed suicide. That would have been a sad story for them.
YOUNG: I want to talk to you about physical intimacy being public. What kind of feeling does it give you?
AKIRA: For me, porn has always been the fantasy. I’ve always been a really sexual person, but being in porn is the fantasy. When I have sex on camera, that in itself is a fantasy. I don’t feel like my intimate moments are being exposed so much as that is the intimate moment—that’s what makes it intimate, is the camera and the crew and the fact that people are going to be jerking off to me.
YOUNG: So there is something intimate to you about living your fantasy in a way where other people can see it?
AKIRA: Definitely. If you’re in porn, of course you’re an attention whore, otherwise you’d be hooking. I love being watched, I’m definitely an exhibitionist. That adds to it for me, for sure.
YOUNG: Growing up in New York, I am always curious about other city kids. Tell me about your experience growing up in New York and how it shaped you.
AKIRA: Up until really recently, I was so, so certain that if I ever have kids they must grow up in New York City. I think it just breeds the coolest, most street smart—
YOUNG: Badass motherfuckers. [laughs]
AKIRA: Exactly. [laughs] But now I’m starting to actually think about having kids, and I look back on my childhood self and I’m scared for myself. At 13, I was doing drugs and the world is your oyster when you’re a kid in New York City. You don’t need to rely on a car to get you places, someone always has a free crib. You can get away with anything. You definitely grow up fast and smart but you could also die. [laughs]
YOUNG: [laughs] Well, that’s one of the reasons you have to be fast and smart, to avoid death. So your feelings about the city have changed?
AKIRA: Yes, but I would not trade my childhood for anything. If you’re from New York, I automatically think higher of you.
YOUNG: What was going to California like after growing up a New York City kid to work in the porn industry?
AKIRA: It was definitely really scary for me. But it happened slowly and gradually. Even when I did go out to L.A., I packed a duffel bag for two weeks. I ended up staying six months before I came back to New York. For the first three years I lived in L.A., I couldn’t admit it, I would be like, “I stay in L.A., but I live in New York City.” That was the hardest part for me.
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