Image courtesy of Peepshow
Over the past year or so, Americans have continued to evolve on how they view sex, consent and sexual identity. A new Pittsburgh-based podcast called Peepshow, from PJ and Jessie Sage, seeks to address how that conversation has changed in such a short period.
For example, Ron Jeremy used to be everywhere. The pudgy, hirsute adult-film star was a ubiquitous presence in B-comedies, low-budget music videos and porn parodies for decades. The laughs were easy. Jeremy's appearance — speaking role or not — conveyed a simple shorthand for cartoonish and unself-conscious sleaze.
And while the appearances kept coming into the 2010s, at a certain point, the sensibility behind the cameos began to feel very old-fashioned. Sure, he's an atypical porn star in both physique and fame, but the laughs from those appearances felt less about him than about the porn industry in general. He doesn't take himself too seriously; he doesn't mind coming off as seedy. As a result, he worked as a fitting proxy for an audience that viewed sex work as inherently unserious and seedy.
But now that perspective is beginning to feel stale and stuffy, especially at a time when cultural mores surrounding sexuality are undergoing such a transformation. There's a palpable cultural push to be more accepting of different forms of sexual expression and identity; taboos surrounding sex work and pornography are being torn down; and most prominently, standards of consent, assault, abuse and rape are being challenged and re-thought. It appears Jeremy and the adult-film industry at large are beginning to feel those changes, too.
Allegations of unwanted touching, sexual assault and rape have followed Jeremy since the early 2000s, but as with the Weinsteins and Spaceys of Hollywood, they were considered rumors and shrugged off. But as with those powerful men in the entertainment industry and beyond, Jeremy's time seems to be up.
After allegations against Jeremy re-gained momentum last year, the 64-year-old was subsequently uninvited from the 2018 Adult Video Network
(AVN) awards in January. If you've never heard of that event, it's the biggest adult-film award show/convention in the world, held in Las Vegas every year since 1984. For a guy like Jeremy to be uninvited — a guy who, in 2007, was named the No. 1 adult film star of all time by AVN
— illustrates a seismic shift in how Americans see sexuality in 2018.
PJ and Jessie Sage address this evolving mainstream view of sexuality on Peepshow. The podcast, which debuted in October 2017 and has produced 11 episodes so far, is described as "a sex-positive, feminist, and trans-inclusive platform for sex workers, academics, journalists, artists and activists to talk about important issues of sex and social justice."
The couple started dating in 2014 via OKCupid (the site gave them a 99% match) and learned they shared academic pursuits in philosophy and sexuality (Jessie with an MA in Philosophy at Duquesne, PJ is finishing up a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland this year). Jessie also works as a phone-sex operator. Now two years married with a baby, the idea for a sex podcast originated on an unplanned 10-hour drive from Montreal to Pittsburgh, during which the couple decided to put their joint hobbies into a new venture.
"There is a shortage of nuanced discourse around sex and sex work," Jessie wrote in an email to CP
. "The people we knew who worked in the industry were smart, thoughtful, complex people with a lot to say. We really wanted to create a platform for them to share their stories and insights. I think that it is very easy to "other" sex workers (as well as other marginalized sex-related identities), the podcast works to undo that othering, to humanize people."
Photo courtesy of PJ and Jessie Sage
PJ and Jessie Sage
While Peepshow hasn't shied away from regional stories — one of the couple's personal favorite episodes features Pittsburgh-based former-erotic dancer Moriah Ella Mason discussing her dance piece Sex Werque
— most of the episodes so far took place at this year's AVN
awards on Jan. 21.
This was PJ and Jessie's first trip to the AVN
awards. What they found there felt emblematic of the shifting industry as a whole. They noticed a diverse variety of performers, identities and presenters; a number of the educational sessions focused on DIY web-cam performers and other industry outliers. It's quite a transition for an industry historically known for a lack of diversity, unsubtle misogyny and mistreating its workers.
"Some of those perceptions of the industry are accurate, like if you go back to the Boogie Nights
days, the industry was concentrated in the L.A. area and operated almost exclusively by men," says PJ. "A lot of people who were running those businesses who weren’t particularly concerned for the wellbeing of the performers or the political implications of what they were producing."
But the "golden era" of porn — the 1970s industry of Deep Throat
and Debbie Does Dallas —
"that was a long time ago," laughs PJ.
Ron Jeremy's absence from the awards was also a topic of discussion. In Peepshow's most popular episode to date, PJ and Jessie interviewed Ginger Banks, who compiled longstanding complaints against Jeremy in a YouTube video earlier this year.
“One of my life goals is to end the stigma that surrounds this industry," Banks told Peepshow. "If we have one of the biggest names out there representing us to the mainstream going around sexually assaulting people, I don’t think that helps with the stigma. It almost seems like so many people inside and outside the industry had heard about this. It was kinda like, ‘Oh, that’s just how porn is.’ It was easier for them just to blame porn."
(Jeremy has denied allegations of assault, though he has admitted to groping fans and performers at conventions.)
Other topics from the first 11 episodes include non-binary sex workers, OkCupid and stripping with autism.
While the podcast's focus may seem decidedly modern, PJ and Jessie help depict a sexual climate that's both technologically ambitious and nostalgic ("The more things change ..." PJ jokes). On one hand, the evolution of technology in internet webcams and sex toys sees the industry becoming more immersive and digital-dependent. There's virtual-reality porn; webcams where viewers can control the camera remotely; and most incredibly, the field of teledildonics, in which viewers can control a cam performer's sex toy from the convenience of their laptop.
On the other hand, Jessie's career as a phone-sex worker points to a multi-faceted industry, not ruled by any trend or technology. While most people assume low-tech sex work is a thing of the past, Jessie says she and her coworkers are never lacking for customers.
"We're busy all the time," says Jessie. "What I think what’s going on there is a move away from the super high-tech and all immersive intense visual stimulation, going back to something that's more one-on-one, more intimate."
"The core of what people want remains the same," says PJ. "It’s still ultimately about human interaction and human intimacy and sexuality."
The newest episode of Peepshow is scheduled for March 8 or 9. Check peepshowpodcast.com for updates.