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Nina Hartley: UW-L's response defies diversity pledge

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University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow recently hosted my lecture, “Fantasy versus Reality: Viewing Adult Media with a Critical Eye.”

Nina Hartley


Attendance was optional. As a long-time public speaker on the topics of sex, sexuality and sexual expression, I saw the chancellor’s invitation as an example of UW-L’s “commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression.”

I appreciated the opportunity to talk about developing a healthful sexual life while minimizing risk for negative outcomes.

Regarding my Nov. 3 visit, I empathize with Chancellor Gow’s response to personally repay my appearance fee and to subsequently invite a speaker that will offer a counter narrative to the one I presented, for the sake of “balance.”

As an advocate for sexual liberation, I’ve long been cast as either a threat or a menace and I posit Chancellor Gow was pressured into his decisions by those uncomfortable with my message and how my expertise was acquired.

The rearranging of funds to compensate for my time and distribution of knowledge is discriminatory, allowing UW-L to selectively pursue certain advocates while delegitimizing others.

Moreover, the prurient attention paid to me in my role of “porn star,” while downplaying my nursing degree, invalidates my knowledge, using sex-negative rhetoric. This othering is not new to me, as women are conditioned to be the object when it comes to sexual matters, not the subject.

I am a registered nurse who happens to be a “porn star.” I am trained to effectively address human pain, both physical and psychic. I combine my vocation, the alleviation of suffering, with my activism, speaking for those who have no voice, and my avocation, being in the presence of consenting adults for the purposes of sexual exchange, be it of a commercial, educational or personal nature.

In Western culture sexuality is sick, and sick people need a nurse’s care — someone who is present and compassionate in the face of extreme suffering without themselves being overwhelmed.

I have been in the trenches of the gender wars for 35 years now and have seen first-hand how our rigidity regarding sexual matters harms everyone.

Sexual suffering, be it from trauma, shame, enforced ignorance or isolation, is real. It is felt, expressed and healed through the care and tending of the physical body. Consensual pleasure is an effective antidote for suffering.

The center of a Venn diagram, with one set being “nursing,” and the other set being “porn,” is the body, the “workspace” of my entire career. Our bodies house our experiences and memories. From infancy onward how we treat them impacts our adult choices, for better or for worse.

Many of my co-workers and fans are victims of the sex-negative conditioning that passes for “sex-ed” in this country. So-called “traditional family values,” with an emphasis on “don’t tell,” and “what will the neighbors think?” often hide horrific and heart-breaking tales of abuse.

I find it telling that my speaking the truth about my lived experience garners opprobrium from both the religious right and the so-called feminist left. They merely use different rhetoric to promote the same agenda: suppression of individual sexual expression and intellectual discourse, based on fear and bigotry.

Totalitarians and authoritarians alike fear sexual freedom because desire is anarchic and chaotic.

It crosses lines that are largely arbitrary and almost wholly culturally determined. Sexual freedom is a fundamental human right in that it requires bodily autonomy, free from coercion from the state, church, family or other institutions.

UW-L’s intolerance of me as a knower of sex, one worthy of knowing what I know, is an exertion of control and reveals the university offers partial and distorted understandings of adult media.

This harms students by stunting their critical engagement on an important topic for which a college education is supposed to prepare them.

Stopping the reversal of payment for my lecture would position UW-L as “an inclusive campus that attracts and retains diverse students, faculty and staff and promotes a dynamic learning environment vital for academic excellence and global citizenship,” as stated in the university’s diversity and inclusion policy.

My career in adult movies informs scholars’ theories involving sex, sexuality and sexual expression. UW-L’s willingness to accept Chancellor Gow’s money violates its stated policies on diversity.

Nina Hartley started her career in adult entertainment in 1982. She is a registered nurse and a longtime board member for the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit advocating for sexual freedom as a human right, and has appeared on news shows to discuss her experience in the adult film industry. She regularly speaks around the country, and the world, discussing the importance of sexual literacy, pleasure, compassion and health. She resides in Los Angeles.


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