Deep Throat & Linda Lovelace: It’s Complicated

A customer letter to Good Vibrations which we thought might interest readers:

Just wanted to ask why your company sells the movie “deep throat” given the controversial claims of the star of the movie of having been forced through the use of violence to perform in it. Doesn’t your company claim to promote with its products sexual health, pleasure and empowerment?

How would a customer know that they are not participating to violence against women by purchasing any of the available movies? What criteria are used by your company to choose the list of movies available?

It is like buying organic food, you wouldn’t buy something which is not certified.

Thank you very much,

M

I’m Good Vibrations’ Staff Sexologist and have been with the company since 1990 — almost as long as we’ve been selling erotic movies, which came into our product mix via Susie Bright in the late ’80s. Her preference — and mine, too, I confess — has always been for the “Golden Age” (1970s, mostly), where performers often had more natural and less worked-out/enhanced bodies and movies often had serious scripts and pretty good acting.

That was also an era during which people from both sides of the cultural spectrum, most famously feminists, vocally protested porn, and as you know, Linda (Boreman) Lovelace,* star of “Deep Throat,” became a symbol. First she was a symbol of porn chic, and her first two books (from 1974) celebrated sexual liberation and her work in porn. Subsequently, after that career had waned, she published Ordeal and was made the symbol of anti-porn feminists and others. Even later, I have been told by her biographer Eric Danville (who was himself in touch with her and worked with her directly for the bio), she spoke bitterly about having been used in that context also. How she would have ultimately made sense of her life looking back, in a sort of “last word” beyond Eric’s book, we will never know, because she died tragically in a 2002 car accident.

[*This link is a long, action-packed bio/obit article about Lovelace by the great Joe Bob Briggs.]

What is probably true, within the context of what we can learn from Lovelace’s writings and writings about her (there have been a lot over the years, from many perspectives — porn, feminist, anti-porn right-wing, popular culture, and even academic), is that Lovelace became conflicted about having done porn (she was raised Catholic by a really sex-phobic and abusive mother), unsuccessfully tried to break into the mainstream entertainment industry, and repositioned herself culturally through her book Ordeal. She was also more than possibly in an abusive relationship with her then-partner. There doesn’t appear to be evidence that she was in an abusive or violent situation with the other people with whom she made movies — the directors, crew, etc. And since she began making charges about “Deep Throat,” this has been investigated intensively.

One of the most significant directors of that time was Gerard Damiano, who made “Deep Throat” as well as “The Devil in Miss Jones” and close to 50 other films; the star of that latter movie was Georgina Spelvin, whose memoir, The Devil Made Me Do It, we carry in our stores, and who has joined us for special events. Our dear friend Annie Sprinkle credits Damiano with helping launch her career and has always spoken highly of him. Just before he died two years ago, several of the women who had starred in his 1970s porn movies went to his 80th birthday party. We do not believe he was involved in violent behavior, nor (to speak to your concern about worries about other older films) have we heard reports of this kind about other ’70s directors whose work we have carried. In the 1970s, these directors believed that porn was about to become a genre of accepted cinema. Though that’s not how it turned out, much porn from that era is far more ambitious than most of the explicit movies that are made today.

People in porn, then and now, often talk about themselves as a kind of “family.” In those days (as in mainstream porn now), there were a finite number of people who worked with each other repeatedly and got to know each other well. I know a pretty sizeable handful of “old school” porn performers and filmmakers personally and they are all distressed about the picture of their business painted by Lovelace, as well, generally, as sad that she did not receive the help she needed.

This goes hand in hand with the fact that porn could (and can) be a sexist environment, and as you may also know, plenty of female performers and filmmakers have created their own movies, companies, support groups, a health clinic, and done other actions within the industry to make sure that performers have more support and more options. It’s also worth noting, as one woman who’s produced porn herself states, that money always plays some potential role in changing power dynamics — as when a person does things in front of a camera if she’s being paid that she would not otherwise do, or is more likely to do the things others request of her for that reason.

A couple of other porn performers besides Lovelace have publicly looked back on their careers with regret –especially if they try to “go straight” later– and in all these cases, money may have played this kind of role. I think it’s worth remembering that people working many kinds of jobs can be faced with this dilemma — not just people in porn. But a past in porn is not easy to keep to yourself. (I know one women who was a major porn star in the 1970s who has no regrets at all about her work in porn, but so wished to get on with her life that she floated the news that she –that is, her porn alter ego– had died.)

While it is and was surely a terrible situation that Lovelace may have been in a nonconsensually abusive relationship, as a feminist I know that women from all walks of life have been and are subject to domestic violence — not just porn performers and sex workers but also waitresses and attorneys, mail carriers and teachers, mainstream performers and any other profession you might name. It does not appear that she reached out for help during this relationship, and it does appear that at the time she was proud of her fame and notoriety, seeking to continue performing even after she severed ties with her partner and possible abuser. If anything, her work on “Deep Throat” brought her such fame that doors opened for Lovelace and she was able to leave him.

If you in fact are interested in exploring erotic movies for yourself and want a significant degree of assurance that the women performers in them are happy doing what they’re doing, I would like to recommend the work of Candida Royalle, Tony Comstock (who films real-life couples and interviews them), Fatale Video and SIR Productions films, and our own sister company Good Releasing’s Heart Core and Reel Queer movies, for starters. There is no certification process for erotic movies, but we are close enough to this industry to have personal relationships with many people within it which help inform our decisions about what to carry and not to carry, and we review movies ourselves to determine whether they fit our selection criteria.

In fact one reason we carry “Deep Throat” now when we didn’t before is because it (and Lovelace) was the subject of a documentary a few years ago which made people more curious about the original film, and we began to get more enquiries about it. As you might imagine, there are people who prefer to check out erotic movies with us specifically because we do curate our collection.

Thanks for reaching out to us to address your questions about this! I hope the additional information above is useful and of interest.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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