GIRD: Sex Work and Spirituality

First Blackbook asked me to interview Nadya Tolokonnikova for their A Woman’s Right to Pleasure podcast. Then she interviewed me for the University of the Underground. At the end of the interview, previous cohort members asked questions—brilliant questions that showed depth of thought. As Nelly Ben Hayoun, head of the organization, was wrapping up the livestream, she mentioned that they’d be studying belief next. 

I followed an impulse and applied for the program. An OnlyFans subscriber helped me academize my cover letter and portfolio. I was accepted. I proceeded.

The lectures and workshops were largely fascinating, even as I disagreed at points or found myself dwelling on opposing first principles. In the spirit of UU’s pluralism, I did my best to remain open. At the same time, my interest for my individual project was how sex workers interact with belief. I knew my own relationship to faith. I knew spell-wielding burlesque performers, and porn stars who’d purposefully left the church. And I knew that of all the things I’d been asked in my decade plus giving interviews as an adult entertainer, I couldn’t recall faith or belief being a subject.

I did several web searches and turned up one academic paper on a handful of direct providers in Thailand by someone whose focus is that nation. I put up a survey and asked the Free Speech Coalition to help me circulate it. The results inherently skewed Anglophone and internet-connected. I conducted nine video interviews, with sex workers of various backgrounds and various connections to spirituality.

Part of the University of the Underground requirements was to work with at least one organization we weren’t already involved with. I contacted several church-organized outreach programs, but only one responded to my email and that was to decline. Judson Memorial Church sent over material about Pleasure Activist Sunday and Rev. Moody’s outreach work among street-based sex workers in the 70s. The Old Pros network gave me several projects about spirituality by sex workers. Lazara Marinković connected me with Skopje’s STAR, the first sex worker led collective in the Balkans.

At this point the University of the Underground pointed out that I was doing stellar journalism, and they were after art. Several panic attacks, one tarot reading, and a conversation with an art professor later, I had my idea. I did one last round of interviews—two women and one man from STAR’s pool of activist sex workers—and selected screen captures from the videos. I printed the images on Instax film using a Fuji LiPlay, distressed the prints, and began sewing them to a wool dress.

As a nod to the history of North Macedonia, the garment is rectangular when laid flat—like the regional rugs called ćilim. The images are arranged in a traditional burdock pattern, which confers wishes of abundance. As a nod to the fact that sex workers come in many dimensions, the garment is draped to accommodate a range of widths. 

You can view the entire I Want to Believe program final show here.

You can watch excerpts from the Anglophone interviews here. Featuring Aaron SmallHands, Violet Way, Tate, and Althea Adair.

The mixed media work is cool and all, and I’m particularly fond of the corner tassel detail, but I’m also interested in the data. To that end, I accepted an invitation to Red Rules’s Red Edition conference in Vienna. I enjoyed presenting my work, and also listening to and meeting activists in sex work outside of pornography. I learned that only 6% of articles about sex work are written by people who have done the work, and wondered what that percentage is like in other fields. I heard a great rendition of “Is sex work feminist?” that I barely needed a translator for because the discussion is the same everywhere that feminists and sex workers meet. I saw City of Whores, which explains the whole whorearchy through monologues and movement, twice. I’d see it a thousand more times if I could. Jamal Phoenix, who performed in City of Whores and presented at the conference, is a star.

The moderator gave amazing hugs. And when I expressed joy at receiving applause—god, I missed applause—I was showered with more. I’m still glowing.

Red Edition was a very special event. It’s rare to bring porn performers and direct providers together, though that divide has lessened greatly due to COVID. It’s rare for sex workers to have a chance to present our thoughts to an audience that is open to the fact that our work is real work, though that’s changing, too. I believe Red Edition is part of that change.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping to collaborate with someone who understands how to phrase questions in a way that is quantifiable. Once I have a standard study, I’d like to conduct it with several different populations. I want to know what sex workers’ relationships to spirituality are, what each worker believes their community believes about them, and what their community actually believes.

I think there’s something interesting there. 

If you do, too, and you have the skills to help, my contact form is open.

xo,

Jessica Stoya

Anna Monoxide by Steve Prue, New York City, 30 August 2021

Margo Mayhem by Steve Prue, New York City, 30 August 2021

Samson Night by Steve Prue, New York City, 30 August 2021

Sasha Inferna by Steve Prue, New York City, 30 August 2021

Veronica Viper by Steve Prue, New York City, 30 August 2021

Miss Frankie Eleanor by Steve Prue, New York City, 30 August 2021

How.

A breakup song on repeat—the chorus goes “Oh, God, where did I go wrong?”

I know where.

I’m sitting on the same couch. 

I know the address.

I don’t know how.

There isn’t even anything to break up.

When we were questioned about what we were doing, I said I love you but have no idea.

I don’t know what you said.

It certainly didn’t sound like anything that indicated expectations.

Still, I asked.

I asked my therapist here first, for the best phrasing to use.

Are you upset because I made you feel like some other guy?

Because I talked to you like I’d forgotten who you are?

Because I brought what you already knew into the light?

“Do you have any expectations of me?”

Your follow up question, asking what does that mean.

“Monogamy.”

You said “You’ve ruined everything.”

That echoes in my mind.

Everything.

Six years.

Ruined.

Maybe you would have preferred I say nothing.

Maybe you would have preferred don’t-ask-don’t-tell.

Maybe you would have preferred I be someone else.

I wish I knew.

How.

—– —– —–

Ten days later, we talked. He apologized for hurting me, told me what had happened on his end, and things turned out to be fine.

Stoya’s Book Club

Stoya’s Book Club is for people who enjoy reading, and talking, about sexuality. We cover classic and modern sexual fiction (think Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye through Saskia Vogel’s Permission,) the suggestive to the erotic, and educational material like Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are. When possible, authors are invited to speak about their work.

We meet for 90 minutes on Zoom, promptly at 3pm NYC time on the third Sunday of the month. The event is currently free. You’re strongly encouraged to read the book beforehand. And you must be at least 18 years old to participate.

You can sign up for Stoya’s Book Club by emailing [email protected]. You’ll be granted access to the Discord, where the Zoom link is posted on the day of the event.

We’ve gotten a number of requests over the years for a full list of books we’ve covered at Stoya’s Book Club. Here’s the list so far:

9.17.2017 Story of The Eye by George Bataille

10.15.2017 The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A. N. Roquelaure/Anne Rice

11.19.2017 The Story of O by Pauline Reage/Anne Desclos

2.18.2018 Night Shift: A Choose Your Own Adventure Fantasy by Joanna Angel

5.20.2018 House of Holes: A Book of Raunch by Nicholson Baker

6.17.2018 The Marketplace by Laura Antoniou

8.19.2018 Philosophy, Pussycats & Porn by Stoya

10.21.2018 A Spy in the House of Love by Anais Nin

1.20.2019 Island on the Edge of Normal by Guy New York

2.17.2019 The Sex Sphere by Rudy Rucker

4.28.2019 Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

5.19.2019 The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

6.16.2019 The Slave by Laura Antoniou

7.21.2019 Permission by Saskia Vogel

8.18.2019 Friday by Robert Heinlein

9.15.2019 Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey

10.20.2019 The Vagabond by Colette

11.17.2019 Beauty’s Kingdom by Anne Rice

12.15.2019 “Song of Songs” from The Bible

01.19.2020 Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Vol 5 edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

02.16.2020 SFSX by Tina Horn

03.22.2020 Sunstone Book 1 by Stjepan Sejic

04.19.2020 Disgusting Beautiful Immoral by Guy New York

05.17.2020 Confessions of a Sheba Queen by Autumn Bardot

06.21.2020 The Trainer by Laura Antoniou

07.19.2020 Docile by K.M. Szpara

08.16.20 Gordon by Edith Templeton

09.20.20 Vox by Nicholson Baker

10.18.20 Quiver by Tobsha Learner

11.15.20 Time Square Red Time Square Blue by Samuel R. Delany

12.20.20 Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

01.17.21 Sex Criminals Volume 1

02.21.21 Fucking Law by Victoria Brooks

03.21.21 Club 42 by Joanna Angel

04.18.21 Edge Play by Jane Boon

05.16.21 Yes, Roya by C. Spike Troutman

06.20.21 The Academy by Laura Antoniou

07.18.21 Wait For the Corn by Vic Cipolla

08.15.21 Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski (bonus, read Rich Juzwiak and I’s chat about why we recommend it so often on Slate.)

09.19.21 Crash by J. G. Ballard

10.17.21 Hurts So Good by Leigh Cowart

11.21.21 The Ortolan Hunters by Guy New York

12.19.21 Porn Work by Heather Berg

01.16.22 Whore of New York by Liara Roux

02.28.22 Burn My Shadow by Tyler Knight

03.20.22 Byzantine Intersectionality by Roland Betancourt

An Update

I know distractions are helpful for me. I hear they’re helpful for other people, too.

Life With Althaar — A radio play style science fiction podcast about a man who has to move off of Earth in the wake of a teleportation accident, is free on iTunes, PodBean, and probably some other places. Dean Haspiel made the logo artwork. If you want to support the project, merch is available here.

Speaking of Dean, the War of Woo (which has been postponed indefinitely but will be performed one day) has a prequel. The play itself is a prequel to The Red Hook. Both prequel and web comic are free.

ZeroSpaces remains online, with all three of our current issues available for purchase. We’re still working on getting new content together safely and releasing at least one new issue in the near future.

House of Scorpio and I are continuing our monthly Sex Lit meetings in the digisphere. Our next meeting will be Sunday 19 April 2020, at 3pm NYC time. Tomorrow, Saturday 27 March 2020, we’ll be experimenting with an online version of Sex Bingo. For more details on both events, see HoS’s website.

I’m still able to write my regular column at Slate (How To Do It, with Rich Juzwiak.) Now might be a great time to read through the archives.

I’m doing mid-day chats on ManyVids, and the occasional Civ stream on Twitch*, and have just opened an OnlyFans account where I do respond to messages. ManyVids and Twitch are free. OnlyFans has a paywall.

(*I’ve also committed to a weekly guest spot on my friend Bij’s twitch account for the duration of his very first Civ VI game. Civ games tend to take a long time. Mondays at 9-ish NYC time.)

Stay as safe and calm as possible. Remember to breathe. Seek out coping mechanisms. And hang in there.

xo,

Stoya

ZeroSpaces/COVID-19

Out of an abundance of caution… we suspect we’ll all be hearing that phrase quite a bit in the coming days. Two years ago Mitcz and Stoya co-founded ZeroSpaces.com. Steve Ronin was a major contributor from the start, and Sydni Deveraux has been featured in every issue in some capacity. When Stoya realized where the gaps in proficiency were–mostly production management and organization related–she took steps to bring in Syd and Sweetpea as COO and CFO, respectively. These two luminous ladies, along with Steve, were given equity in the company in exchange for their time and efforts.

We’ve been organizing some big stuff for over six months. In December we shot a ton of content together and laid out our release schedule for 2020. Mitcz began programming a rebilling subscription option. We started planning promotional events, announced the theme of our April issue, and started teasing the subscription option.

Stoya and Syd flew to Minneapolis recently for the official announcement of Sweetpea and Syd’s joining of ZeroSpaces’s parent company at Kinky Friday. A great time was had. Lapdances were performed. Announcements were made and applause was given. And then it became apparent that the novel coronavirus was sweeping the globe in a way that none of us were prepared for.

We no longer feel comfortable sending our team all over the place, ping-pong-ball style, through airports and across borders and time zones, until the various states of emergency are over. We’re not sure when filming interactions between two or more people will feel responsibly possible again. This may be the end of Around the World in 80 Ways, and is definitely an impediment to current production.

So we must postpone our launch. We’ll have to wait until the COVID-19 dust settles, and figure out how we’re going to run our business in the future. We’re not sure how to supervise sets remotely, and that’s one way we can reduce travel. We’re not sure how we’re going to conduct our events. We’re not sure when we’ll be able to shoot enough content to have the necessary backlog to continue business as usual in the face of another global issue.

Like all the other postponements, we believe it’s the right thing to do. When we launch we want to be prepared to keep our commitments to you, our customers. And when we launch, we want to do so knowing that we’re doing everything we can to keep our collaborators and workers as safe as possible.

Best,

Stoya, Syd, Sweetpea, Mitcz, and Steve

New Year, New Blog Post

I took a break between Gregorian Christmas and Gregorian New Years. I stayed at home. I read Jacqueline Carey’s Imriel Trilogy from her Kushiel’s Legacy series, borrowed from a very lovely couple who attend Sex Lit regularly. I didn’t write a New Year’s post. Or a 2019 recap. I don’t think we did a top 9 on the Stoya Inc Instagram either. I’m not sure. I was on staycation.

Now it’s Julian Christmas. Serbian Christmas. Which means Julian New Years is a week away, and I have a second chance to participate in the meme.

2019 was a lot of setting up infrastructure. As CEO of the company that owns ZeroSpaces.com, I learned a lot about the limits of my capabilities. I have clinically diagnosed ADHD. This is a disorder—for lack of a better word—of executive function. It’s more of a neurodivergence, but that’s a subject for an expert. The point is, being chief executive officer of a company, without the support of a chief operations officer or chief financial officer, is less than ideal. Even with medication in the mix. I’ve taken steps to improve this situation and we’ll be making announcements about those steps in the next couple of months.

We did manage to put out two issues this year.

2019 was a lot of writing for Slate. I’m half of their How To Do It sex advice column, with Jezebel writer Rich Juzwiak. We do our individual columns weekly, with a bonus column from each of us every other week, and a chat together weekly, too. I love this job. I’m appreciative of everyone who has sent us their issues to pull apart and attempt to help with. Thank you. We literally couldn’t do the column without you. I’m looking forward to another great year with Slate in 2020, and thrilled to continue partnering with Rich.

All Elite Wrestling launched this year. My friend Justin and I started watching together every Wednesday that I’m home for. I drink Prosecco (a little bit of bubbly!) and we eat something—usually nachos. We flip over to NXT during the commercial breaks, hoping to see Baszler. Occasionally I tweet lukewarm takes. Justin maintains that Jericho is the most fuckable man in wrestling and I beg to differ.

I went out to Southern California and got to direct on a high production set with Mickey Mod and Alexis Tae as the performers. It was a great experience. I’m proud of the final result.

My book, Philosophy, Pussycats, & Porn, was translated into Spanish and Russian. I squealed with glee when I got my copies of Filosophia, Porno, y Gatitos. I squealed with glee again when I saw pictures of my book in Russian bookstores, with the title in Cyrillic. 

I’m excited for 2020. We have some great new changes coming up with ZeroSpaces, including a move to a monthly subscription model, which means monthly releases. I’m scheduled to participate in a variety of shoots in different capacities in the next couple of months, and they’re all exciting. I’ve got some stuff already shot that I can barely wait to post.

Wishing you all the happiest of New Years, and a wonderful rest of your winter.

xo

Stoya

Sex Workers Town Hall

Someone in what looks like one of Francois Sagat’s fractal head shirts with the sleeves cut off weaves through the crowd, their purposeful movement marking them as part of the event’s organizational team. I’m at the first town hall for sex workers, held in Queens, NY with Suraj Patel, a candidate running in the Democratic primary for Congress.

I got my period last night, which means my upper body is curled over in an attempt to protect my abdomen from jostling. No amount of PMS is going to prevent me from missing this moment, from being in this room. I’m hoping my over the counter pain medication kicks in soon, though, because I’d like to be able to follow the conversation.

Partway through the opening panel—comprised of sex workers rights activists, advocates, and community service providers—Ceyenne Doroshow reminds us to watch each other’s backs, to check in with and keep track of each other. Applause breaks out, possibly the loudest so far. In a way, we’re voting with our hands.

Suraj dives into the subject of harm reduction. Lorelei Lee, the beautiful blonde seated on the same couch as I am, leans forward. I suspect we all want to hear what the politician has to say. The PMS fog obscures memory and I haven’t started taking notes in earnest yet, but the clapping indicates that we like what we hear.

Someone asks how Suraj wants to end the stigma around sex work and the people who do it—something he’d mentioned earlier. He says he intends to continue listening to and amplifying the voices of the community. He moves into some of the intersections at play: mass incarceration, economic hardship. Ending these problems would also lessen the potential for exploitation in sex work. He points at events like this Town Hall being a display of our power to push back, be heard — and actually listened to.

Another person asks about sex work and disability. Suraj shows humility in acknowledging how he himself neglects to include that in the conversation, and moves into a call for every citizen’s basic healthcare needs to be met.

A community organizer reminds Suraj that he is the face of anti-FOSTA, whether he likes it or not. Laughter rings around the room. They ask what he’s going to do for our community if he loses the election, what he’s going to keep doing to fill the responsibility he’s taken on—championing our rights. He jokes he’ll keep fighting but will take a month off first.

He answers seriously that he’ll figure out what he did wrong, engage in self care, and points out that he’s in his early thirties and isn’t going anywhere. He says “I’ll be right here with you guys, the whole way through. That’s a promise.”

Lorelei stands up to tell Suraj she hopes he does continue to listen and to learn. She thoroughly describes how great the things he’s doing are, and then explains that it isn’t enough. Reducing the penalty for prostitution to a ticket isn’t decriminalization. It isn’t enough.

Lorelei says that protecting the rights of those of us who love our jobs is too flat, too headline-y. She points out that many of us who’ve been in sex work for a long time have worked under many different conditions, that we’ve loved and utterly hated our jobs at various times. She says she needs to hear that he’s here for those of us who don’t particularly love our jobs, or don’t love them right now, even if that’s complicated.

The furthest Suraj goes is to say that the argument for decriminalization is “very compelling,” but also promises he will continue listening to the community as he forms an opinion. Then the event is over.

On my way out Suraj thanks me for coming. I tell him I’m quite happy with what I heard.

An activist behind me says “Only quite happy?” I respond “I want a bolder response on decrim. I understand the likely political reasons he can’t give one, but I don’t have the patience for this slow and steady.”  She tells me to tell him that. I smile and say “He knows.”

I’m far from all in, but if I lived in NY’s 12th congressional district I’d be voting for Suraj on June 26th.

CC 4.0 BY-NC-SA

Brazil

I don’t know anything about Brazil.

Ok, I know they mainly speak Portuguese, and evolved from a Portuguese colony. I know that in Civ 5 the Brazilian player gets extra culture from jungle tiles. I know they just had a religious holiday of some kind, and that they were recently protesting something regarding gasoline.

But that’s it.

———

I’m so far out of my element here. I don’t know the history of this place. It’s lovely. I can simply absorb the beauty without seeing it through six different lenses of politics. Like a vacation. And, fuck, is it ever beautiful.

Photographers refer to magic hour. That period as the sun sets where the light is gorgeous and the photos go from good to stunning. You may have heard people talk about the light in Los Angeles or Greece. 

The sky in Porto Alegre is exquisite when it’s cloudy. I haven’t seen the sunshine yet.

———

Lazar and I are here because the Fantaspoa festival is screening Ederlezi Rising. The organizers are very family style… I was picked up at the airport by a representative of the show instead of a hired driver, there are group lunches and activities, and the organizers are always willing to walk us from point A to point B.

My main contact, Joao, is tattooed all over with artwork from the festival’s history. He took us to a bar where the walls are covered in genre film posters and at least one table sports a layer of tasteful Playboy nudes.

It’s a joy to be around people who love what they’re doing so much. Who celebrate the creative work they love so thoroughly.

———

Depending on the geographical area, you might greet a person by hugging, kissing cheeks one to three times, or some combination of the above. Even a stranger. They aren’t forceful about it, but isn’t it nicer their way? Warmer than a handshake.

There’s something grounding about being embraced multiple times throughout the day. And these aren’t shoulders-first air hugs, either. The physical warmth and ease with contact reminds me of Serbia.

I don’t know anything about Brazil. But I know the people here are human and welcoming.

CC 4.0 BY-NC-SA

May 24th

On Monday I was informed that our applications to Visa and MasterCard had just been submitted. I thought that was weird, since I’d paid the associated fees a couple of weeks prior. I felt frustrated, because our planned launch date (May 24th—today) was approaching quickly and Visa approval can take up to 21 business days.

When I still hadn’t heard back from my main contact at the payment processing company the next day, I called asking to speak to their boss about having a new contact assigned. By the end of the day our existing contact was calling with the news that Visa had approved us. 

I considered texting Mitcz, attempting to frame lucky coincidence and the processing company’s speed at resolving our issue as evidence that the 24th was, in fact, an auspicious day—which I promise to explain at some point.

———

Hi. Mitcz and I are launching a thing called ZeroSpaces.com. It’s a website. It contains videos that depict explicit, hardcore sex. It also contains galleries, and something a bit unusual: articles. We’re incorporating the roots of pornography—a word with roots in an ancient Greek one meaning depiction of harlots or prostitutes, depending on who’s doing the translating—and revisiting what it means to depict human sexuality and sexual workers professionally.

———

On Wednesday I forwarded Mitcz an email from the company’s lawyer, asking for confirmation that the Mitcz-devised language in our privacy policy about how it’s fine to make up a display name like JoeBobMcChickenHead is, in fact, original to the… um… originator. It was.

I finished uploading trailers for the library of archive videos, and scrambled to get creator profiles as complete as possible before the launch. Attribution of credit is important, and we’re working to make finding the online presences of the artists and workers involved as easy as possible so you can learn more about them and where more of their work is available, including places outside our walled garden.

Most of my work on ZeroSpaces in the last month has been dry bureaucratic stuff—organization of w9s and 2257s, work-for-hire and payment processing agreements. I’m looking forward to beginning work on the second issue, getting back to the creative end of things.

———

ZeroSpaces is using an issue-based format. We’re releasing batches of all sorts of content—yes, videos, but also erotic fiction, profiles on luminaries of the sex work community, and both documentary-style and editorial visuals—all tied to a single theme. We have videos and galleries available for individual purchase, but encourage you to choose the full experience.

———

I’m heading to the airport today, the suitcase already out and packed. It’s nerve-wracking to be launching a new project just before getting on a long flight—what if something goes wrong? But I’m not the programmer or the social media manager, so maybe it’s not so bad for me to be out of the metaphorical kitchen for a big chunk of the day.

Back to the 24th of May. On this day in 1844, the first telegraph message was sent from the United States Capitol. It’s also Saints Cyril and Methodius day, venerating the pair who inspired the Cyrillic alphabet and widely celebrated throughout the slavic-speaking parts of the world.

You can see why I feel today is so appropriate for launching a project that has to do with language, communication, and the transmission of media, right?

-Stoya

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Free Time

Belgrade to NYC to Paris to NYC to Malibu to NYC to Belgrade.

There was a feature film, a short film, a Sex Lit event guest starring Joanna Angel, and at least one photoshoot in there. No video pornography yet this year, but… stay tuned.

I’m in Belgrade for the premier of Ederlezi Rising. No details yet on when it’ll be released for general viewing, but… well, everything is stay tuned and jet lag right now.

With eight hours between checking into the hotel and needing to be dressed, I went down to the spa. They told me to come back in a swimsuit. So I came back in a long sleeved crop top and a pair of panties with a cartoon cat on the butt. Nobody said anything to me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean my outfit was acceptable.

Less than five minutes after entering the steam room I met someone who knows First. Randomly meeting people who know First is a regular occurrence for me in Belgrade. If there are more than ten people in a room, one of them probably knows him. I’d have stayed for a lengthy chat but the heat started to get too intense for me.

I managed to while away another hour reading a paper on Emma Goldman and the perversion of the Russian Revolution, sent to me by a follower on ismygirl.com. It feels a bit pompous to charge people a monthly fee to message me, but it’s cut down drastically on the amount of garbage I encounter daily and greatly increased the quality of the messages I actually see.

How the fuck did capitalism put the fun back in the Internet?

Meanwhile, Steve Prue approved my dress for the premier (courtesy of Yang Li, no less) and my press day outfit, so at least I’m not stressed about what to wear. Maybe that’s where all this free time is coming from.

-Stoya

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