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You’ve Gotta Make Them Feel It: On Set With Porn Star Conner Habib

An adult entertainer’s thoughts on what is and isn’t “real” in porn.

Before my scene partner gave me a blow job the wrong way, he kept calling the photographer a “motherfucker” in Arabic. I understood what he was saying, the photographer didn’t. Then my scene partner got up and left in the middle of the scene only to return 10 minutes later as if nothing had happened. He was nice enough to me, I suppose, but everyone was losing their patience.

Then, the blow job.

I don’t mean that he used his teeth or anything — I mean that he got the position all wrong. He was face down in my crotch, covering everything up. Infuriated, the owner of the studio walked into the room and took hold of my partner’s face (with my penis still in his mouth). “It’s like this,” the enraged owner barked, turning my scene partner’s head so that the camera could capture the penetration. “That’s why it’s called ‘porn,’ not ‘sucking a dick.’”

It wasn’t graceful, but point well taken.

Most people distinguish between porn — which is thought of as “fantasy” — and “real” sex. For a porn performer, the difference between what’s porn and what’s not is not a matter of real or imaginary, it’s about the angle of the sex act.

I’ve been appearing in porn for five years, in something like 150 scenes (you start to lose track after a while). Here’s what it’s like to be in one:

The lights are always on, above you and below you, held underneath your balls and on your face. You’re supposed to be aware of the cameras, without looking into them. People shout instructions: Slow down. Stop. Start. Speed up. Move your hand, it’s casting a shadow, and keep going, keep going, even if it’s uncomfortable.

There are times when you’re bottoming while balancing on a parked motorcycle or standing between two guys on a ladder or giving a blow job while doing a handstand (really!).

You fuck, you get fucked, you take a minute while the crew re-rigs the lights, and you eat a banana to keep your blood sugar leveled. Sometimes you’ll go for two hours, sometimes you’ll go for twelve.

So it’s work, and it’s staged. But it’s also fun and sexual. If it weren’t sexual, there’d be no money shot, no making out. No amount of performance could mask it. When some but not most elements are there — when, say, unenthusiastic performers work with uninspired directors — trying to cover up the absence of sexual feeling results in pornography that doesn’t feel like pornography, it just feels dull.

Performers have to be both immersed and detached at the same time. It’s not quite acted out and it’s not wholly sincere. I can’t think of anything better to compare it to than playing a sport, in which you have to be simultaneously aware of your technique but also lost in your instincts. To call porn “mechanical” misses the mark; it’s athletic.

There is also the matter of the attraction porn performers feel — or don’t feel — toward each other. One of the most common questions I’m asked is whether I get to select my scene partners, and if not, how do I do a scene with someone I’m not attracted to? The fact is, performers rarely get to select our partners, so the chances that we’ll be deeply attracted to each other are slim. The trick is finding that place in yourself that’s still stuck in seventh grade, getting erections from everything — your algebra teacher, gym class, wallpaper. It’s not phony, it’s the trigger for the genuine side of yourself that’s more willing to have sexual experiences with people who aren’t quite your type.

Some performers use Viagra or hard-on-stimulating injections (often provided by studios). Viagra still relies on desire because the effect is almost psychosomatic. It is all but placebo for many of the men not experiencing the erectile dysfunction it’s meant to cure, and whatever effects it has amplify the desire the user is already experiencing. The injections, on the other hand, are mechanical, rendering a penis hard no matter what, and I’ve found that some men who use injections would rather not be on the set. Then again, these enhancements aren’t always used to stimulate desire, but to endure the long shoot — usually lasting much longer than any off-set sex act.

And there are costumes, settings, staging: all the accoutrement of porn. I get to have a three-way in a locker room, or flip fuck in an army tent. If the director wants me to be a gas station attendant or a mechanic, I’m a gas station attendant or a mechanic.

But porn is only partially made by performers and studios — the larger part of its creation comes from the audience. If for performers the difference between porn and sex are angles and awareness, for viewers, the difference between porn and other images is the agreement of how the images will be watched. This agreement comes from balancing “fantasy” and “realness” rather than having them cancel each other out.

Viewers know I’m not really a doctor or a gas station attendant, but they suspend disbelief. So the cheesy dialogue becomes sexual. So when I’m a doctor (I’m not a doctor, but I play one in pornography!) having sex with my patient, lines like, “How does it feel when I touch you here?” can get folded up into the sexual scenario, so long as the audience is willing to go along with it.

Whatever we masturbate to turns into porn, and we all masturbate to different things. That’s why pornography is so difficult to define outside of “I know it when I see it.” When it comes to arousal, we all see something different.

Early pornography for me included dirty pictures I found stashed in my dad’s dresser drawer, but it also included the men’s underwear pages of the Sears catalog and a TV show with a blonde shirtless surfer. Each of the images was individualized to me — I’d look at some underwear models more than others, and the surfer on that TV show more than any of the other cast members. People think of sex as primal and uninhibited, but it’s always surrounded by personal fantasy, history, and development. Porn is a story we agree to masturbate to, and what’s erotic for one person may do nothing for someone else. At some point, I decided that I wanted to reproduce that electric feeling of arousal for others, to be on the other side of porn.

The rest of the scene with my scolded scene partner went off well enough: We finished, I gave him a hug, and never saw him again. You won’t find him in many other movies; he made two or three and then disappeared. He just wasn’t cut out for it, or studios didn’t want to deal with his confrontational personality (or both). Since porn isn’t a thing, but (for performers) an angle and (for viewers) a relationship to what’s being viewed, I doubt that he could have shifted his thinking to flow with it. He wanted to have a kind of sex that porn doesn’t allow for — one where shadows are OK, and everything isn’t all lit up.

Conner Habib is a writer, porn star, and lecturer. His twitter handle is @ConnerHabib.

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