The Sisterhood of Sex and the Quest for Porno Power
Directors with gross demands. Feminists branding them as brainwashed. Five ’80s porn stars were over the not-so-sunny side of the Golden Age of Porn. So they banded together and changed everything.
On a chilly February afternoon in 1983, the baby shower guests made their way into Annie Sprinkle’s Lexington Avenue apartment in Manhattan. Inside, a couple dozen people mingled around the “Sprinkle Salon,” as Annie, an adult film star, called it. Her home was a sort of Andy Warhol factory of the porn and underground art worlds, a place where she’d hosted sex world luminaries alongside artists and celebrities like the singer Tiny Tim.
At the shower, scholars, lawyers and gynecologists noshed next to dominatrixes and phone sex operators, escorts and porn stars. A hunky bodybuilder named Roger Koch, who was one of famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s favorite models, served cocktails and nipple cupcakes in a speedo and apron. A life-size cardboard cutout of a garter-and-stockings-clad Annie in a corset, licking her finger, stood in a corner of her apartment: promotional material for a recent film. The black-and-white glossies of porn stills on the walls were interspersed with blue and pink decorations in honor of the soon-to-be born child.
It was a pivotal time for porn. The once completely taboo industry had begun to be treated as somewhat legitimate in the 1970s, when celebrities embraced “porno chic” and big-budget adult films came complete with red carpet premieres. It was a time when Jack Nicholson and Jackie Kennedy went to see Deep Throat. Porn was booming. Yet many states still had laws criminalizing pornography, and many political and religious leaders were on missions to stop the rise of porn in its tracks. Movie theater owners who screened porn still risked prosecution. The female actors who worked in the industry, where nearly all producers and directors were men, had little to no workplace regulations or safety protections — in an era when the AIDS epidemic was just starting to spiral out of control.
Five of the women at the baby shower that day had no idea they were about to form a pornography sorority of sorts — a sisterhood that would change their careers, their lives and eventually, the way much of the public viewed people who work in porn.
The guest of honor, pregnant porn star Jane Hamilton, navigated the icy steps up to the front door. Jane, who went by Veronica Hart on screen, was at a crossroads. The 26-year-old, classically beautiful with high cheekbones, a ski-slope nose and lustrous brown hair, had arrived in New York in the ’70s after earning her bachelor’s in theater, ready to become a mainstream movie star. A casting director lured her to the city, but his creepiness turned her off. Jane ended up renting a room from a man who worked in the adult industry. They slept together, and she told him about her modeling and acting work. He suggested that Jane work in adult movies. “No, no, no. I’m an actress,” Jane recalled saying (in an interview with Rachel Arieff years later). She strolled to 54th Street to check out a porn film anyway. The movie Jane saw had real acting in it. She changed her mind. She began starring in porn films in the 1970s and by the ’80s had become one of the biggest stars within that world.
Now, Jane was newly married and about to be a mom. She had stopped performing sex in adult movies before she got married. She knew her porn past wouldn’t help her quest to make it in mainstream acting. But she also wasn’t sure if she wanted to leave the adult world entirely. She liked the work that she did and many of the people. Perhaps she could give up performing sex in movies but still strip? Could a woman really have it all? A career in the adult industry, a loving husband and a kid?