Former porn star takes on erotica


Sasha Grey knows a thing or two about sex. Of course, in polite company you’ll deny you’ve ever heard of her, except maybe for her lead role in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (2009). But it was her appearance in over 200 hardcore porn movies between ages 18 and 21 she’s most famous for. What’s more, Grey earned a reputation for being particularly… shall we say ‘accommodating’ with more extreme acts.

Her slightly elvish features, perfect facial symmetry and dark, smoky eyes make her seem a world away from the siliconed, bleach-blonded, fake-tanned world of adult movies. She could just be another starry-eyed young girl dreaming of literary stardom in the EL James or Stephanie Meyer mould.

So it might be only slightly coincidental that she’s releasing her first erotic novel, The Juliette Society. It’s about a blossoming film student who finds herself drawn into a world where the world’s most powerful people meet in secret to explore their darkest sexual fantasies.

When The West spoke to her from Paris – where she’s promoting The Juliette Society – we weren’t even going to mention the Fifty Shades juggernaut, figuring it would be something she’s talked about a million times. But the book’s about a shy young girl on the cusp of discovering her sexuality with wealthy, powerful lover(s) – sound familiar?

“I wanted to have characters exist in a similar world but not a hyper-fantasy world,” the 25-year-old says when asked how The Juliette Society stacks up against James’ blockbuster. “I mean it’s still erotica, it’s still a fantasy. But I wanted these experiences to just feel more grounded.”

In fact, it’s partly because of Fifty Shades of Grey that The Juliette Society even exists. Since retiring from porn in 2009 Grey has launched projects across the media. As well as the mainstream acting career (she’s also starred in TV’s Entourage) there’s the art book Neu Sex, comprising photographs and essays by Grey. Was writing an erotic novel just another feather in an increasingly crowded cap?

“In 2008 my agent said ‘you need to write a romantic novel’, and I just didn’t feel it,” Grey says (she looks like the sort of woman who’d purr, Marilyn Monroe-style, but instead she’s chirpy and friendly in conversation). “Then after the Fifty Shades of Grey boom he said it was the perfect time to do it. So I read it because you couldn’t go anywhere without somebody speaking about it really inspired me to write something I felt I could relate to more.”

Just like The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and every other blockbuster showed, publishers are only to happy to cash in by putting anyone who has a young adult vampire love story, secret society historical chase thriller and now an erotic BDSM drama into print.

But Grey isn’t just anyone, and with her history, there are few women more qualified when it comes to all things erotica. “It helped a lot because I was able to create scenes and scenarios that had real authenticity to them,” she says about whether her career in porn helped.

But if you dig a little deeper, it raises a more profound question. Society seems to enable sexually explicit entertainment for two very different markets – women and men (‘porn is not about character,’ Grey agrees). With erotica for women mostly about the emotional dimension of sex and porn for men mostly about the physicality, the two seem as similar as chalk and cheese.

Maybe Grey is actually quite unqualified to comment on what turns women on (apart from being a woman herself), and she had to unlearn a lot of what she knew? “I wouldn’t say ‘unlearned’, but with all fiction you have a lot more room to develop your characters,” she says. “That’s the big advantage – I have the opportunity to build a character people care about and invest in.”

Grey says female fans wrote to her – even when she was a porn actress – saying they wished she’d write erotica as well as act in it. When one of the common complaints from women is that traditional porn takes all semblance of character, individuality and emotion out of sex, The Juliette Society might be Grey’s attempt to redress the balance about what was missing.

“Actually I felt that way when I got into porn,” she says. “As a performer I wanted to bring something different, a different strength and a different attitude into it. So I’m not sure that in writing this book I was changing things I felt lacked in porn, but what allowed me to do was be the director of an entire world for the first time.”

No matter how progressive or conservative your views on the porn industry, Grey seems to be a poster girl for the more liberal view that it’s a legitimate career path. She got in and got out, made her money and bought enough creative freedom to explore almost any idea she wants (as her Facebook post announcing her retirement form porn said, ‘I genuinely feel I accomplished everything I could as a performer’). An erotic novel is just the latest, so no matter how much you think you’ve seen of Sasha Grey, there’s a lot more to see yet.


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