LOS ANGELES — Nickey Huntsman, Ela Darling, Lotus Lain and Nina Hartley are among the performers who appear in “Who’s Your Teacher?” a new documentary by former educator Ani Easton Baker and published by actor and filmmaker Anna Akana on her YouTube channel. The doc explores how the public has come to rely on adult entertainment and its performers to learn about sex and sexuality.
Through her research, Baker saw that large number of people have turned to porn to find answers to basic questions about sexual health and wellness; due to a “profound lack of information across the nation,” Baker explained, “young people are educating themselves about sex by Googling.”
Of note, she observed the United States has no national policy mandating that students are educated about sex. As research from Planned Parenthood highlights, “Only 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws that mandate sex education, and even in those states there’s no guarantee that the sex education provided is of high quality, or covers the topics young people need to learn about to stay healthy. Fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools are teaching the sexual health topics that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers ‘essential’ for healthy young people.”
Further, only nine states require sex educators to discuss “LGBTQ identities and relationships.” Multiple states prohibit the teaching of LGBTQ topics thereby leaving students “without the information they need to protect their sexual health, putting them at greater risk for STDs, pregnancy, and unhealthy or abusive relationships.”
Being that pornography is a top search result when using Google and other search engines to answer questions about sex, “adult film stars are becoming educators whether they choose to or not,” Baker said.
She cited academic research confirming this behavior. For example, a 2015 article titled “The Role of Sexually Explicit Material (SEM) in the Sexual Development of Black Young Same-Sex-Attracted Men” and published in the journal, “Archives of Sexual Behavior,” found that Black LGBTQ teens turned to pornography to learn about sex because there was an absence of sex education in their community.
Though the role of sex educator was forced onto them, many adult performers have stepped up to fill the role.
Besides Huntsman, Darling, Lain and Hartley, Chad Alva and Nathan Bronson are also among the performers Baker interviewed for her film.
“Porn is fantasy for adults. We don’t look at any other form of fantasy media, whether it’s action movies or horror movies… to teach us life skills. We don’t ask ‘The Fast and The Furious’ to teach kids driver’s ed,” Darling said. “But somehow with porn, we expect it to be instructional. And that’s not the point of most porn.”
Despite the frustration of being thrust into the role of educator, the performers clearly empathized with the individuals asking questions about sex.
Huntsman, for instance, explained that she endeavors to answer questions with straightforward answers. However, she said, “a lot of people don’t understand because those [subjects] don’t get discussed,” noting they lack the crucial context to be able to apply her answers to their own lives.
Additionally, while Lain didn’t initially understand why adults asked her questions about sexual preferences — or acts like pegging — she realized that “beyond not being educated, not everybody is as curious or has access to the things that I did and maybe I’m someone that they feel comfortable [approaching].”
This willingness to educate fans about sex often stems from the performers themselves who experienced subpar sex education — if they received any at all.
“I’d have to say the biggest downside to young people using porn to learn things would probably be the fact that they just don’t learn about the personal side of it,” Huntsman shared. “I feel like porn is very separate [from] emotions.”
“And a lot of the times in porn, it’s all about the lust and about random hookups,” Huntsman continued. “It’s not about creating an actual bond.”
In addition to discussing the inherent problems of using adult as a source of sex education, “Who’s Your Teacher” points out that mainstream and conservative approaches to sex education (or lack thereof) often do not work.
As performer, producer and educator Nina Hartley explained, “the most detrimental thing about continuing on the path now in regards to sex education is that it’s not working. It is not reducing violence. It is not reducing unintended pregnancy. It is not reducing STIs. It is not reducing trauma. It’s not reducing ignorance. It’s not reducing isolation. It’s not reducing alienation. It’s not reducing self-loathing.”
Baker firmly believes that sex education should be reframed as “Human Relations” and taught to children at the start of their formal schooling. “Everyone’s afraid of the word ‘sex,’” Baker stated, so “take it out of the equation, call it ‘Human Relations’ and start it in kindergarten.”
This is an idea that Hartley fully supports.
“I love the idea of rebranding Sex-Ed as Human Relations because Sex-Ed makes it all about genitals,” Hartley said. “And genitals are the least of it, they’re the last of it. All the things we can do with the bedroom are a deck of 52 cards; let’s take out the two most dangerous: a penis in a vagina and a penis in an anus, and put those cards [away]. Now we have 50 cards of things we can do that don’t result in death and babies and stressing you out for finals.”
Baker noted Hartley is also unique in that she has a history of weaving facts into the movies she makes. “It’s like putting spinach in your brownies, I was always putting sex-ed in my movies,” she said.
For the documentary, Baker also interviewed Lynda Nguyen, who is the founder of the sex education nonprofit the Magic of Psalm. The organization was created to develop a curriculum for young people to better understand their bodies and emotions as well as concepts such as boundaries and consent, a curriculum that is already being deployed in some schools. Nguyen describes the content that was created as “not only comprehensive and medically accurate, but also restorative because we’re not judging or shaming.”
Though Nguyen does not specifically mention the impact porn has had on sex-ed, she echoes the proposed solutions from Hart, Baker and others, particularly that sex-ed needs to be more than just a shallow overview of intercourse but should be medically accurate and endeavor to place sex in the context of understanding of one’s own emotional health.