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Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: The Rumpus Interview with Sam Benjamin

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The second of four interviews by David Henry Sterry with some of the contributing writers from his current anthology, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals and Clients Writing About Each Other

Click here to read “Admit You’ve Paid For It: The Savage Honesty of David Henry Sterry,” in which Rumpus sex columnist Antonia Crane flips the script and interviews Sterry.

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I am so stealing Sam Benjamin’s pet name: ‘The Ivy League Pornographer.” Sam attended Brown University. Shortly upon graduating, he found a home in the LA porn industry. His memoir “American Gangbang: A Love Story” was released in 2011. “Sex, Drugs, Ratt and Roll,” co-authored with Stephen Pearcy of the glam metal band Ratt, comes out in May. When he gives readings, he usually has bizarre 70’s porn music playing in the background on an ancient ghetto blaster. He is also unapologetically adorable.

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The Rumpus: How did you get started in the sex business?

Sam Benjamin: I’d love to say I got started shooting porn as a total lark but in fact, I was deadly serious about it. It was probably the most intentional thing I’d ever done. At 22 years old, I imagined I’d make revolutionary sex films: spectacular, feminist, clever, ornate, Brechtian fuck flicks. Porn with a heart, basically. I fell far short of my goal, of course, but for a time there I really believed.

Rumpus: Best experiences being a sex worker?

Benjamin: Getting to push the boundaries of my self-conception.

normalRumpus: Some things you learned about the sex industry?

Benjamin: I learned how to mix up a convincing fake-cum mixture that looks good on camera. Equal parts 30 SPF suntan lotion and pina colada mix. Bam.

Rumpus: Did you tell your friends and family you were a sex worker?

Benjamin: I told my folks that I was shooting porn, yes. I used to tell girls in bars, too, not only because once entrenched in the sex industry, I fell victim to a sort of snow-blindness, wherein I believed that my dirty lifestyle had a kind of validity and richness that your average 9-to-5′er would find deliciously interesting, but because I was philosophically opposed to lying. I alienated the hell out of people for a couple of years there with my potent blend of narcissism, over-sharing, and reverse snobbery. It’s like I was a character on Girls. Ahead of my time, I suppose.

Rumpus: Other jobs?

Benjamin: Transition from porn to respectable work was the absolute worst. I was used to making a grand a week, working negligible hours. My first job back was working in the customer care department at Wells Fargo in Portland, Oregon, answering handwritten letters from irate customers. Not that many people write letters to banks anymore. Most call. Turned out most of my new “pen pals” were incarcerated. Earning slave wages myself, trapped in a life I didn’t understand, I felt a certain kinship.

Rumpus: Do you think sex work should be illegal?

Benjamin: My sex work was actually always legal. Confusingly legal, in fact. Many of the actresses I shot escorted on the side, and they had to approach that side of their professional life with some discretion. Porn, on the other hand, kosher in the eyes of the LAPD by dint of having a running camera on the premises, allowed for all the salacious chest-thumping and idiotic, out-loud braggadoccio the world could bear. It made zero sense.

Rumpus: Did you ever have a crush on a client?

Benjamin: I had a crush on several of the porn actresses I shot, but none more than Belladonna. It wasn’t even that she was remarkably pretty—which of course she was. Bella had a wonderful, kind personality and possessed the sort of charisma that actually allowed me to believe that the stuff I was engaged in making might be worthwhile; might be valuable.

p17j856s4v18d51nr087pp3nk9o4-1Rumpus: Would you recommend the sex business as a way to make money?

Benjamin: The adult film industry was a great way to make money in my heyday, which was 2000-2005. You had to be a complete, desperate drooling fool to avoid making at least a middle-class income for yourself. But the bottom’s since dropped out, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend this path to any graduating college seniors, unless they could approach it from an extremely inventive and resourceful marketing angle.

Rumpus: Good things about working in the sex industry?

Benjamin: The best thing about working in the sex industry was that it made me—a child of Hebrew School carpools and shinguarded soccer teams—feel unique and somewhat daring, even if that sense of “authenticity” proved increasingly difficult to hold onto as the years progressed.

The worst part was that the sex I managed to cadge was usually disappointingly bad. It was the raison d’etre, ya know? That was probably the main reason I had gotten into directing porn, if you want to get right down to it, and, to my surprise, it was horrid, cold, weird, unsympathetic sludgy coupling. I’ve had far, far better sex since I left the sex industry. That was my big lesson.

Rumpus: Are you still in the business?

Benjamin: I left porn about eight years ago. I still live in LA, and I’m tied to the adult film industry by a few friends, but that’s about it. I simply don’t have the heart for it. Porn was always stronger than me, and it still is.


David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up to that book, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks features writings by people who have bought and sold sex. He authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his ex-agent and current wife. His novella Confessions of a Sex Maniac, was a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has written books about working at Chippendales Male Strip Club, the teenaged brain, how to throw a great pajama party if you’re a tween girl, a patriciding mama’s boy, and World Cup soccer. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Huffington Post, the Strand in NYC, Books & Books in Miami, City Lights in SF, Powell’s in Portland; Brooklyn, LA & Texas Book Festivals, Michael Caine, 92nd St. Y, Smith College, the London Times, Reed College, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls. www.davidhenrysterry. More from this author →