In college, Tristan Taormino thought she wanted to be a lawyer. During her time at Wesleyan University, she participated in LGBT activism, lived in a special interest house called Womanist House, and wrote her thesis on lesbian sexual identity, but it took thirteen law school application rejections and an astute advisor to really clue her in. “I don’t think you want to go to law school,” her advisor told her. “I think you want to write about sex. And I think you’re really good at it.”
So after earning her Bachelor’s Degree in American Studies in 1993, Taormino landed a gig with Cleis Press, editing the Best Lesbian Erotica series, one of the first anthologies to focus on lesbian sex. Her relationship with Cleis Press spurred her to write her first book, The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, in 1997. While conducting anal sex workshops in support of the book, participants started asking her when a companion movie was going to be made.
Taormino could not resist. She had never taken a film class or picked up a camera, but she believed in bringing (hot) anal sex education to the masses, so she rounded up some friends, borrowed some equipment, and shot her first porn film.
From there, things just snowballed. Now, Taormino, a self-described workaholic, divides her time between being an author, columnist, sex educator, speaker, and feminist pornographer. When she’s not immersed in one of her projects, she loves to dote on her dogs and sample new and interesting desserts (especially if they involve chocolate).
Taormino owns her own production company, Smart Ass Productions, and has produced dozens of films. Her Chemistry series follows a reality TV format by inviting a handful of porn stars to a house for 36 hours and allowing the sex to happen organically. Chemistry Vol. 1 earned her an AVN Award for Best Gonzo Movie, a category that had never before been awarded to a female director.
She also continues to pump out installments of her Expert Guide film series, tackling anal sex, cunnilingus, fellatio, the G-spot, positions, threesomes, male anal pleasure, female orgasms, and most recently, pegging. This series has earned her the Smutty Schoolteacher of the Year award at the Feminist Porn Awards — three times!
In 2009, she broke new ground by releasing Rough Sex, the first in a documentary/vignette hybrid film series in which female performers indulge in their taboo rough sex fantasies.
Taormino’s filmmaking philosophy has always been feminist. She casts performers who want to work with each other, does not negotiate with their set rates, and works tirelessly to address performers’ needs (she is known for bringing their favorite lubes, sex toys, food, and beverages to set). She wants her performers to be seen as three-dimensional people and to participate in their own representation, so her movies often include interviews.
Taormino’s films are characterized by a combination of close-up and further away shots, unabashed inclusion of sex toys, and an attention to the intricacies of sexuality often missing from mainstream porn. She says,
I feel like lots of porn represents male sexuality as hard, aggressive, and robot-like, and female sexuality as merely a vehicle/receptacle for men’s pleasure. To me, a lot of porn does a disservice to men and women, and I want my porn to be different. The first thing is that in my movies, you can see the men . . . Visually, in the majority of porn, men are literally CUT OUT of the frame, and they are reduced to an erection only. We never see the rest of their bodies, let alone their faces while they are fucking. I love to see an expression wash over someone’s face as they experience pleasure . . . One of the complaints I hear a lot from female performers is that they are not given time to reach orgasm, because when things start to heat up for them, the director calls for them to change what they are doing. I let performers pace themselves and never tell them to stop what they are doing, and I find that it leads to more real female orgasms, which are still lacking in a lot of porn.
In addition to shooting films, Taormino has managed to pen seven books, including Opening Up — a book that many refer to as the bible of non-monogamy — as well as The Big Book of Sex Toys, The Secrets of Great G-Spot Orgasms and Female Ejaculation, and The Anal Sex Position Guide. She continues to edit collections as well, such as The Ultimate Guide to Kink and Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica.
Her other achievements include designing her own butt plugs (the Tristan and Tristan 2 from Vixen Creations), participating in an unsimulated orgy scene for John Cameron Mitchell’s 2006 film Shortbus, and answering every sex question under the sun in columns for The Village Voice and Taboo Magazine.
Taormino can often be found touring the country (and even the globe), giving talks and conducting workshops at colleges, conferences, community events, and retail shops. Her latest endeavor is a brand new radio show called Sex Out Loud. She is also co-editor of The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure, a collection of essays on feminist porn, which will be published in 2013.