Academic-cum-pornstar Conner Habib is the quintessential skintellectual, writing articles for The Advocate and Slate, reigning over a column on NewNowNext, penning plays, lecturing on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy, and starring in dozens of porn films – all while keeping up a dashingly cheeky Twitter feed. Slutist managed to get a few minutes of his time to discuss sexuality, spirituality, literature, politics, and porn.
In your bio it says you were “worn out by the lack of spirituality and sexuality in academia” and were thus inspired to enter the porn industry. Do you find spirituality in your work today? Is it entwined with your sexuality?
Sex and spirituality are definitely intertwined and have been in every culture and every religion (including the quasi-religion of atheism) forever. But how they’re intertwined is a different question.
When I was in academia, I noticed that sex and spirituality were shuffled out of sight. Both sexual and spiritual impulses were underlying everything that was going on there but we weren’t allowed to talk directly about either. If we did, there was always a sense of ridicule or an expectation to talk about either topic in some sort of critical theory way that rendered them unfeeling or nonsensical. It was as if your thinking life, your intellectual life, wasn’t considered valid if it ventured into your body or your deep metaphysical feelings and questions.
So getting out of there and being in porn was a good antidote. Me saying that all this inspired me to enter porn is just sort of a joke; I was inspired to be in porn long before. But there definitely was a feeling of being sexually frustrated. Moving to San Francisco – where the current of sex and spiritual feelings is sort of everyday – was a good pathway out of that old deadened atmosphere and into a feeling of release. So, you know, it was sort of orgasmic.
What were some of the aspects of the industry that surprised you when you began starring in films?
Everything was what I imagined it would be in the beginning, I think. The surprises came later. The big surprise was like, wow, everyone isn’t on the same page as me. I thought I was entering into a culture of radical people doing porn for radical reasons. But as time goes on, you understand – no, no, this is just business for many people doing it. I guess I was either totally naive or totally myopic or both. The weird thing is, porn still sends that sort of idealism outward, even if its interior isn’t radical.
The viewer has an experience of “these people are having sex openly,” and that’s pretty intense in our culture. It’s not something that many people feel like they can do, because of cultural pressure and of course because sex and depictions of sex are so over-legislated and insanely mismanaged by our federal and state and local governments. So the surprise is: On the outside, porn can still have this radical effect, even though it’s basically got run-of-the-mill capitalist organs and innards. That fact can give me great hope or sadden me, depending on the day.
Do you appreciate porn for its inherently camp aspects?
On the one hand, yes, I love the campy aspects.
There’s a huge push now to show “real people” having sex, whatever that means. I appreciate the sentiment in some ways: people who want to display actual sexual acts are often excited about depicting sex positively. But the idea that you can somehow negate self-consciousness and self-awareness during sex or while making porn isn’t, I would say, inherently positive. In fact, it’s probably a manufactured version of sex sold to us by powerful institutions. Think of it: most of the times we have sex, we’re thinking, we’re aware of ourselves in some way (which is a fundamental of camp). But we’re constantly being told that real sex or good sex or “making love” (whatever the fuck that means) is an experience of total immersion in the other person. The thing is, that sort of immersion rarely happens; usually during sex we’re thinking about what our bodies look like, how the other person perceives us, what groceries we’re going to buy tomorrow or whatever. So what we’re left with is this grand idea of TOTAL IMMERSION during sex, and if we buy into that idea (or more to the point, since that idea is forced upon us), we’re unlikely to find much of our sex lives satisfying. We’ll always be looking for this extra component, which is totally illusory.
The campiness in porn brings a sort of fun awareness to sex. Like, we know that this is a little over the top, a little silly – so you get to think about sex more. It sort of pops the sexual stuff out in relief against the silliness and melodrama. And then the sex itself gets to be theatrical with all the cursing and moaning (although to be fair, I’ve always been pretty verbal in my non-porn sex life). So I’m excited about campiness because it brings a level of awareness instead of this totally imposed mess of immersive and “real” sex stuff.
On the other hand, the camp stuff is a bit of a turn off, because it turns sex into a bit of a joke. Like when we talk about sex with a friend and we snicker a little because we’re nervous – camp can read that way too. It’s like a fear of approaching sexuality.
But if it comes down to it, I think it’s better for us to come to terms with how silly the idea “real” sex is – so I’m more pro-camp than anti-.
Is starring in porn a political act for you? Do you find it gives you a greater platform for political expression than, say, your previous realm of academia? What are some of the issues that matter most to you?
Academia rarely gives anyone a political platform; these days it generally just gives permission to speak. Right now, institutionalized learning is mainly about perpetuating dead ideas. I don’t mean dead ideas like the literary canon, by the way, which I find living, dynamic, and relevant, I mean ideas that don’t engage with our hearts and our deeper being; ideas that prepare us only to dissect great works of art or for jobs in business.
Porn has been a much more vital place to be for me than academia. For one, it’s more important to most people, more relevant, and intersects with their lives more. It’s also fascinating – a place where our thoughts and feelings and actions regarding desire, privacy, sex, art, representation, and more meet. So it feels like a really potent place to explore culture.
When I started porn, I was nervous that it was going to close a lot of doors for me – it’s the typical fear. But what I’m experiencing is the exact opposite. If you’re okay with being in porn in the context of the rest of your life, people really want to talk with you about it, because the discussion isn’t happening or isn’t happening on any sort of deep level.
There’s a small struggle of how to not just be “the porn guy” and how to find a public voice for all the other things I’m interested in. But it’s a small struggle, and frankly, one everyone – in porn or not – faces when they try to engage with all the things they care about. So it’s a problem I’m blessed and happy to have and to learn from as I work with it.
Given the recent incidents of HIV being transmitted on adult film sets, what are your views about condom use onscreen?
My first and foremost view is that condom use should not be legally imposed. It’s really up to the performer, in my mind. After that, things get more complicated.
I only work in scenes with condoms. For me that is the right choice. When it comes to performer health, condoms are more effective than anything else.
Even though I just said it at the outset, let me repeat again so that there’s no misunderstanding, this is in no way an endorsement of forcing condom use on performers. For me, freedom is the highest principle – if people feel happy performing without condoms, I think they should be able to. So the legal aspect and the health aspect are intertwined, but nonetheless distinct.
I do need to state that I’ve been very alarmed at the way certain straight performers have decided to take a completely anti-science stance against condom use to fight the battle against over-legislation. This is a terrible tactic.
Condoms work at preventing HIV transmission. That really is the end of the story.
I’ve read statements from extremely intelligent people saying things like “condoms break” or “condoms aren’t totally effective” or “condoms don’t stand up to use on porn sets.” These statement are absolute nonsense
Condoms break sometimes – but very rarely. If they do break, you will most likely not contract HIV. A broken condom does not equal HIV. Since the penetration is closely monitored on a porn set, a broken condom is very very likely to be spotted. Furthermore, when condoms are used in porn, they are often replaced again and again between takes, so the claim that they don’t hold up is spurious. Condoms also work towards preventing Hepatitis C and other STDs. People like to throw out CDC statistics of condom efficacy without understanding what those statistics mean. Like when someone boldly asserts that the CDC says condoms are ___% effective or whatever, not realizing that these statistics are actually showing that condoms, when used properly (as they will most likely be on a porn set) are effective.
Frankly, anyone saying things like “condoms break” or “condoms are not effective” are promoting a culture of fear. They are endorsing terrified attitudes about HIV transmission that are anti-science and hysterical. These are the same attitudes that have led to the demonization of gay men, HIV positive and negative, and these are attitudes that promote a quarantine mentality and are often coupled with subtle or overt homphobia.
This is all evidenced by the fact that, more often than not, statements like these come from straight performers (including straight-identified gay for pay performers) unacquainted with the long history gay men have had dealing with, understanding, and overcoming HIV stigma. I don’t think straight performers realize when they rally against condoms to fight for the freedom to not wear them that they’re pitting the straight industry against the gay industry and in some senses the huge strides in cultural understanding that the gay community has worked for. Statements about how condoms still pose risk should not be considered seriously, because they are fear-based. If we want to talk about performer fear, anxiety, and mental health when it comes to STDs, fine, yes, let’s do it. But not in the guise of undermining condom use. That sort of thinking just doesn’t have a place in thoughtful discussion.
Now – all that said, I will state for the third time, unequivocally – Performers should have the right to choose how they want to protect themselves. Whether no protection, Truvada, condoms, whatever. These should be options that are readily available to performers in a real way, not just given lip service to. These options should be available via studio policy and the law.
I realize that this may not be “realistic.” But when people demand you be “realistic” when posing a question about your morals and ethics, it’s generally because they lack imagination. If you asked me a separate question about what was the most practical choice given current legal pressures, I might go down different path of thinking.
But my point here isn’t merely what’s pragmatic. It’s that we need to work together as performers and studio owners and directors to create more freedom and to understand each other’s choices.
Do you consider yourself a slut?
Ha, I think a lot of other people consider me a slut! I’ll leave it to them, I guess. I like sex. Some days I like sex more than others. And I like liking sex. In fact, I love that I like sex. There’s probably no escaping the slut label for me, so I’m happy to accept it graciously as long as it’s not a putdown.
What turns you on?
So much. Varies wildly from week to week, but some mainstays I’ve discovered are: big ears, doughy guys, New Englanders, guys that like how much I like sex, people that can have a deep conversation instead of just jumping from topic to topic, kissing, guys that read, guys that like being read aloud to, guys that really enjoy food (especially desserts!). There are plenty of other things and no one needs to present any and all of those qualities, but I find myself drawn to those qualities consistently.
What turns you off?
Nothing turns me off more than someone who is coy. If you want it, let’s go, don’t make me figure it out, because I won’t do it. And if you’re not sure if you want it, be fun and friendly and have the confidence to tell me “not right now.” Similarly, I suppose is that whole subset of guys with decent bodies that are, like, emotional black holes. You talk and talk and they offer nothing, they ask you nothing. Also, guys with no manners. I’m fine with being cocky, and can get into that, but someone who doesn’t say thank you or engage in a generally polite way, forget it.
What are your favorite works of erotic literature? What are your favorite non-erotic literary works that you find extremely erotic?
Wow, I don’t know that I have any. What I mean is, I’ve read erotic literature, for sure, but I haven’t made much of it erotic for myself. I just read it as sensual. I think the only books I’ve ever jerked off to were The Fermata by Nicholson Baker – which is erotica in its sexual explicitness, but also totally innocent and funny; and Catcher in the Rye. I was obsessed with Stradlater as a teenager. I would read the parts with him over and over, getting sweaty and worked up. And then, comic books. I want Captain America and Peter Parker and whoever. But that was more about the visual aspect.
What are you up to next? Any hints about future projects or films that you can reveal?
I have a book coming out in 2014 from Disinformation – it’s a tour through all the fumbles and fucked up stuff about our culture and sex. It’ll be funny and a quick read, probably a little more lighthearted than this interview haha.
I also have a column coming up with a non-gay/non-porn magazine, the first installment of which should be out soon. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll see it pop up!
I’m revamping my Ask the Sexpert show for on Logo’s website NewNowNext.com for the Fall and I’m also working on a podcast and a revamp of my website. Plus I wrote this play that’s going into some workshopping and readings now. Also: porn! I have a bunch of movies coming out – most notably Armed Forces Physical, which is a standard porn name, I know, but it’s directed by Joe Gage, who’s a total bizarre genius and a legend in porn, so it’s going to be a good one!
Busy, busy, but I still have time to make out.