By some research-based estimates, 40 percent of women do what Cytherea does when she has an orgasm. But until the self-proclaimed Goddess of Gush arrived in California’s San Fernando Valley in the early 2000s, few adult films were dedicated to female ejaculation.
The former Mormon schoolgirl from Salt Lake City is proud of her role in changing that.
“Before me, everything was about anal,” she says between bites of blueberry pancakes at a café in the South Point Casino, not far from the home she shares with her husband, two young children and mother-in-law in Las Vegas. “But I literally changed the industry, from anal to squirting.”
Triple-X insiders say it’s true.
Porn is full of genres and sub-genres. And there’s long been a sub-genre, or maybe a sub-sub-genre, dedicated to female ejaculation — a sometimes trickling, sometimes gushing release of fluid during orgasm. The phenomenon isn’t particularly well studied, but much of the available research attributes at least some of the release to secretions of the female prostate. Critics say most of the films depicting it, though, are really just showing women urinating.
Whatever it is, it’s been a small part of some porn connoisseurs’ diets for decades. Simply called “Squirt Compilation,” one of the more popular videos about the subject on the skin-vid clearinghouse PornHub.com begins with grainy footage of feather-haired actresses, obviously of the pre-shave-everything era, spouting like the fountains of Bellagio.
But for the most part, pornography historians (yes there is such a thing) say that female ejaculation films were, at best, a niche product for the fetish market — something to be filed somewhere between midgets and “clothed female, naked male” videos (yes, there are those, too.)
Then, along came Cytherea. For while many women ejaculate to a limited and sometimes even unnoticeable extent, few had ever done so on film with her pride, prowess and straight-to-the-camera-lens accuracy.
And in the “porn bubble” years of the early-to-mid 2000s, that — and a considerable resemblance to Star Wars star Natalie Portman — was a formula for success.
Then the bubble burst.
Cytherea plays a prominent role in the PornHub compilation. She’s on hundreds of other movies on that site, too. But so are scores of other women of all shapes and sizes who share her ability. And it’s all free.
Because today videos aren’t product, they’re promotion.
While the business model that made online pornography a multibillion-dollar enterprise was built on the same strategy that made lower-tech moguls Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt rich and famous — namely, getting horny men to pay for photos and videos — today’s high-bandwidth, interactive world requires even more from performers.
Now, at any given time of the day or night, those same men (yes, the customers are still mostly men) can call up a camera featuring a live, nude woman (yes, the performers are mostly women) who will, for a price, do pretty much anything she’s asked. And if she won’t, someone else will.
On top of that, they can chat with her, Skype with her, be her friend on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. If they live in the same town, they can get together for a game of bowling or a round of karaoke. If they’re far away, they can sponsor a road trip to their town for a live show. They can gift her with shoes, clothes, make-up and lingerie from her Amazon wish list. And they can engage, like never before, in the fantasy that it’s not all just a fantasy.
But Cytherea’s not complaining. Because none of that is what killed her career.
Rather, her precipitous fall from was the result of a timeless San Fernando story. And, if anything, the brave new world of porn is giving her a second chance at starletdom.
Some might call it a white trash upbringing. But what Cytherea remembers most are the white picket fences.
Silo Farms, the Salt Lake mobile home park where she was raised, “was one of the number two-rated trailer parks in the country,” she says. “So really, that was pretty good. I mean, I’ve seen some bad trailer home areas, but mine was beautiful.”
The local Mormon wardhouse was a five-minute walk away, and she was a regular at Sunday school and Wednesday evening youth get-togethers, known as Mutual.
She was Cassieardolla Story back then. Cassie for short. Story is her mother’s surname. Cassie never knew her biological father, and the tale of her conception has always been a bit murky to her.
Her mother, Cheryl Story, was a teenager when Cassie was born. “Her father wasn’t a father, he was a sperm donor,” she says. She doesn’t like to talk about it past that.
At some point in her early youth, Cassie came to believe her father was a guy named Roland who came around, sometimes, drunk or stoned or both. Her last memory of that guy — she pegs it around her eighth birthday — has him prone on the bathroom, wrists dripping blood into pools on the linoleum floor. She called 911.
The man she long considered and still calls her father — the man who was married to her mother for most of her childhood — had an on-again, off-again affair with drugs. His other affair was with a woman whom he managed to knock up about the same time that Cheryl Story learned she was pregnant again.
“He’s a good man now,” Cheryl Story says of her ex. “But back then, I couldn’t let him be around my children. I packed what I could in the trunk of my car and left.”
Three hours later, they were in Heyburn, Idaho, where they were taken in by relatives.
Up to that time, Cassie had been a shy and socially awkward middle-schooler. “I had these big pink eyeglasses and both eyes needed different prescriptions, so one eye looked like it was much bigger than the other,” she says. “I also had this really badly permed hair. My mom told me I was like the ugly duckling.”
By the time she returned to Utah for high school, though, she’d swanned out. “I sort of blossomed,” she says. “Now I was stealing other girls’ boyfriends.”
And, later, their girlfriends. Her first serious relationship after graduating from Salt Lake’s Granite High School in 2000 was with a woman; when they could afford it, the couple liked to patronize a local strip club called The American Bush.
“We’d get dressed up and admire the girls,” Cytherea says. “It was a good time.”
It was at American Bush — then in the throes of a legal fight with the city of South Salt Lake to maintain its “all nude” status — that a manager noticed Cassie Story and asked if she’d be interested in working at the club’s raunchier sister establishment in West Wendover, just across the Nevada border.
Cytherea knows that there are deep and painful daddy issues at play in her psyche. But she rejects attempts to connect that to her decision to start dancing in “gentlemen’s clubs.”
“I know I have issues — everybody has issues,” she says. “But a bad relationship with sex isn’t my issue. I love sex. I’ve always been a very sexual person. And I’m not ashamed or embarrassed that I do it for money.”
Still, the first time Cytherea danced was “nerve-racking.”
“Not because I was getting naked,” she says. “I’d always been naked around people. I always flashed people. I used to go skinny-dipping in one of those golf course pools. For a while I had done nude modeling for art school classes — the way they looked at my body, it was so artistic and I felt so beautiful. But dancing? I didn’t have any idea of how to do that.”
She was a quick study, though. And when her newest suitor, Ruben — a much-older man she met at the club — suggested she could make even more money dancing in Vegas, she agreed to move here with him.
She found work at Cheetah’s, the Vegas strip club that was the center of United Artist’s 1995 film fiasco Showgirls, but she hadn’t been there long when she got pregnant.
“I kept dancing for the first month,” she says. “When you’re pregnant, the smells are just overwhelming. And the men in Vegas clubs can be really disgusting. Some guys would throw up and not really clean it up. In the black light, you could see stuff in their beards, and I’d have to run to the bathroom and I would throw up so hard that I’d pee in my panties.”
When she finally scraped together enough money, she asked Ruben to take her to an abortion clinic.
“There was no way in hell I could have had that child. I wasn’t ready. Not even close,” she says. “I’m not particularly proud of myself, but I did what I felt was right.”
The nurse asked her if she wanted to be conscious for the procedure. She said no.
She was still groggy when she got into the car afterward and fell asleep on the way home. When she woke up, she was still in the vehicle with the windows rolled up. In the middle of the day. In Vegas. “He’d stopped to check in with his parole officer and just left me in the hot car,” she says.
When they finally got home, Cytherea went to bed and passed out again. She woke up in the dark — disoriented, bleeding and in pain. When Ruben returned, a few hours later, “he told me he’d lost the rest of our money playing poker.”
Nearly a decade has passed since that moment, but Cytherea still rages. “We had just enough money to get the pads and vitamins I needed and to support us until I could go back to work. He lost everything. And I lost my mind.”
In retrospect, Cytherea knows that moment should have represented rock bottom. In reality, that was still years away.
First she had to part ways with Ruben and fall in with Brian, the next in a line of men, years her senior, who have been critical figures in her life — sometimes for the better but often for the worse.
“He promised to take me to the ocean,” she says. “How could you not fall in love with that?”
She’s not certain what Brian was doing — “some sort of scam,” she says — but there was enough money coming in to afford a studio apartment on the beach in San Diego. “I just stayed home, and I guess I was a little bit bored, because I started a Yahoo Group and posted pictures of myself smoking bongs naked and that sort of stupid stuff,” Cytherea says. “Then one day I got an e-mail from a company called Naughty America. And it said, ‘Have you ever thought about doing adult work?’”
The producers invited her to meet up at a bowling center in San Fernando — California’s “Porn Valley” — where the Free Speech Coalition, an industry trade association, was having a get-together.
“They said, ‘Come and see what it’s all about,’” she recalls. “And so I went and I walked in and there are all these naked people with these perfect little bodies, walking around in bowling shoes. So I got naked, put on my bowling shoes and started meeting all these porn stars.”
Also in attendance that night in 2004: fellow Utahn-turned-porn-performer Belladonna. “We didn’t know each other, but she had lived right up the street from me in Utah. We both danced at American Bush, but she was always a few years ahead of me in everything. But she didn’t know that at the time — all she knew was that she liked me, I guess, and she slammed me up against a locker and attacked me, licked my neck, kissed me. And I was like, ‘OK, sign me up.’”
It wasn’t long before she found herself wearing a schoolgirl uniform, lying on a couch in the arms of porn veteran Tyce Bune, pretending to sleep as the cameras closed in on a scene apparently intended to invoke a student-teacher affair. Everything was going fine. As things got steamier, Cytherea says, she was even able to forget, for a moment, that she was being filmed.
Then she climaxed. “And everything on the set just stopped,” she says. “And somebody said, ‘What the hell was that? Do you do that all the time?’”
The next few years are mostly a blur. “I blew up pretty quickly,” Cytherea says. “I learned how to open myself up to the camera, to not notice it. It took a bit to get used to having sex while everyone is watching you, but I liked it a lot. And people couldn’t get enough of me. I think it was because I was real. Most women can fake an orgasm — and most women have faked it. But there’s no way to fake what I was doing.”
“She was huge,” says Rebecca Love, who worked with Cytherea when both women were relatively new to the industry. “There have always been women who could do it, but not like Cytherea. She made it a household thing, and she became a household name. She worked hard. She was adorable, cute and vivacious. And so she had a lot of work — she was busy, and I was jealous.”
And the money was good. A thousand dollars a scene to start. More later on. At one point, Cytherea says, she was filming two or three scenes a day, several days a week. That’s not to mention photos spreads in Hustler and a few other men’s magazines.
“We just fell in love with her,” said centerfold-turned-porn-producer Erica McLean. “Girls like her, the ones that just light up in front of the camera, they’re just so special. They’re rare. And when they come along they can have a great career ahead of them if they do the right things and don’t waste the opportunity.”
Put it all together, and Cytherea might have been raking in a quarter million dollars or more a year between 2005, the year she won Adult Video News’s Best New Starlet award, and 2007, when she abruptly left the business. She can’t be sure. Brian handled the money, she says, “and every penny that came in we spent.”
Her home, in a posh subdivision in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, included a guesthouse, poolhouse, basement sex parlor and an expansive wooded yard. They sometimes rented it out as a film set.
“It was the nicest house,” she says. “I had amazing parties. Drug dealers. Beer and alcohol. You didn’t have to pay for anything when you came to my house.”
And there was, she says, lots of cocaine. Piles of the stuff. After a while it started to hurt her nose, so she began freebasing.
“Porn stars are like rock stars,” Love says. “You’re expected to go to all these events, all these parties, and the bad influences are all over the place. You have to do so much, so fast, and you just want to keep up with everyone else.”
But Cytherea couldn’t keep up.
“Things got out of control pretty quickly,” she says. “I realized what was becoming of me, but there was nothing to stop it. The drugs had gotten ahold of Brian, too, and he was supposed to be the person who was taking care of me, but he couldn’t even take care of himself. He was in charge of the schedule, and sometimes he would tell me mid-morning that I had a scene in a couple of hours, and I would just be all cracked out.”
“It was all unraveling,” she says. “I didn’t want to work anymore. It wasn’t fun anymore. I was so tired. We lost our house and wound up homeless on the street, smoking crack behind a Subway restaurant,” Cytherea says.
When she told Brian their relationship was over, she says, he attacked her. She responded by filling a backpack full of rocks and hitting him in the head. He answered, she says, by pouring gasoline on her while she slept and then threatening — at knifepoint — to light her on fire.
“So, um, yeah,” she says, “that wasn’t really healthy.”
But that, finally, was rock bottom.
As tough as it was to learn (from a smug and condescending co-worker) that her daughter — the girl she’d brought faithfully to Sunday School every morning in Utah — was now a porn star, Cheryl Story found it far harder to endure the period in which she lost touch with her drug-addicted child.
“I had no idea where she was,” Story says — and even today, half a decade later, she has trouble talking about it without breaking down. “As a mother, that feeling, it’s so terrible. I just hoped and prayed that she wouldn’t lose herself. I knew she was strong, and I just hoped she’d be strong enough to help herself. No one else, all those people who were hanging on when she was making so much money, were going to help her. She was going to have to do it by herself.”
It wouldn’t be easy. For years Cytherea hadn’t had to think about money. Now she didn’t have any. She couldn’t afford rehab. And word had gotten around the industry and had seeped out to its fans. Cytherea was used up. Drugged out. Unreliable.
That’s not a unique fate.
“Professional adult production is a business,” says Chauntelle Tibbals, a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California who has spent nearly a decade researching the porn industry. “They have call times. They invest thousands of dollars into shoots — lighting and hair and make-up and this and that. You have a camera crew, a scene partner, people who are supposed to be at work on time. And when someone either doesn’t show up or shows up and can’t work, that’s a sure-fire way to get yourself not working. People who have that reputation don’t last long.”
McLean agrees. “I don’t tolerate it,” she says. “And nobody has to. There are a ton of other girls who are available to work.”
Porn is often thought of as a recession-proof industry, but the downturn that hit the rest of the country in 2008 was already being felt in the adult film world years earlier, as wallets were beginning to tighten at the same time increased bandwidth meant homemade and pirated porn could be loaded onto YouTube-style sites in seconds. There was also a glut of footage — virtually endless hours of sex scenes shot during the boom years and awaiting distributors that would never come.
The end was closing in. Fighting for sobriety, Cytherea reconnected with her family, then left town — dancing in clubs, bachelor parties and at other private events across the United States alongside a roadie named Tim Hale, a fan and former paramedic who had once helped nurse her back to health after a hamstring pull during one particularly aggressive sex shoot. He’s a big guy — well over 6 feet and shaped like a pear. He didn’t have much money and didn’t know much about the industry, other than liking its products. He was nearly 20 years older than Cytherea.
She fell for him.
“He was patient with me and he took care of me, and he didn’t seem to want anything out of me, other than to be there for me,” she says.
Cytherea and Hale married in San Francisco. Soon she was pregnant. And that, she says, gave her the push she needed to get off the drugs for good.
Still on the road, Hale called Cheryl Story.
“She wants to cut off her hair,” Hale said. “All of it. She wants to shave it off. Should I let her?”
“I just want a clean start,” Cytherea told her mother. “I want to feel clean again.”
In her newly shorn locks, Cytherea returned to San Fernando to shoot one final scene — a video that begins with a topless interview in which the recently shorn porn star cheerfully explains how excited she is to be having a child while the cameraman reaches out for a congratulatory pat of her belly. It ends the way most porn videos end.
And with that, Cytherea hung up her stilettos.
“I figured that was it,” she says. “I was going to get really big, all stretched out. I didn’t figure anyone would want to look at me after that.”
Larry Flynt, the Hustler publisher and First Amendment crusader, gave the broke actress some money for a U-Haul truck. McLean chipped in, too. A few friends came out to help them pack.
With a five-month-pregnant porn star in the passenger seat, the truck rumbled east on Highway 210 and turned north on Interstate 15.
“That’s it,” she thought. “There’s no turning back.”
Cytherea was coming home.
Utah may be the nation’s top consumer of online pornography (that was Harvard researcher Benjamin Edelman’s conclusion, at least, after analyzing subscriber data from a major adult entertainment website) but Cytherea slipped back into the Beehive State with little notice.
Occasionally, she’d catch the unmistakable glimpse of surprised recognition in the eyes of men she would pass on the street or in the grocery store, “but that was about it.”
She wrapped herself in a blanket of anonymity, happy to be able to focus on staying sober and healthy for her baby while Hale looked for work.
If their neighbors knew about their past lives, Hale says, they didn’t ask about it.
“You couldn’t find nicer people anywhere,” he says. “The Mormon community especially. They really reached out to us. They helped us out and they didn’t ask for anything in return. They didn’t send people over to talk to us. No missionaries. Nothing. That was amazing to me.”
Still, it wasn’t easy. As Utah’s unemployment rate crept ever skyward, Hale went out every morning to look for work and came back every afternoon empty-handed.
“I’d never seen anyone so dedicated to finding a job,” Cytherea recalls. “It was such a turn-on.”
Hale finally landed a gig as a manager at Joe’s Crab Shack. They moved to Oklahoma City for training — that’s where their first son was born — then moved again to Branson, Mo.
“It was lonely,” Cytherea says. “I didn’t know anybody there, and being a new mom, I was on the phone all the time with my mom or his mom.”
When she got pregnant again, they decided to head back to Utah, where Hale got a job at Applebee’s. They moved back in with Cytherea’s mother in a split-level home close to the Bangerter Highway.
And that, she figured, is where they’d be for a long time.
But shortly after giving birth to her second son, a former business associate e-mailed to invite her to come back to Southern California for the 2010 AVN Awards. “He offered to fly me out, and I hadn’t done anything like that in a long time, but I figured, what the heck — we could use some extra cash in our pockets right now.’”
She was still carrying some of her pregnancy weight and few people immediately recognized her. But in the obsessive world of porn fandom, news spread quickly that Cytherea was back.
“Of course I wasn’t back, and I tried to tell people that,” she says. “But there was this overwhelming response. Fans were looking for me. I was getting bombarded with e-mails. ‘Please come back, we want you.’”
Although she hadn’t filmed a scene in three years, production companies were still doing what they could with the footage they’d shot of her in her heyday, releasing the videos little by little and trying to draw customers to pay-for-play sites that promised more.
“They act like they’re new videos,” Cytherea says. “But if you look at them, it’s clearly from a long time ago. I wish that I still looked like that, but I don’t.”
Nonetheless, she somehow managed to make lots of new fans in her absence. And thanks to the seemingly endless content she’d produced in three tumultuous years in San Fernando, some of them didn’t even realize she’d left the business.
Others did, though, and they were zealously excited about a possible return.
“But I was like, ‘No way, guys, you don’t understand. I went back down to a B-cup after my babies were born, but I had all the skin for a Triple-D. I could fit into a Size 3, but I had a little extra squishy stuff around my stomach and my belly button was all blown out. To me, it wasn’t sexy.”
Several fans suggested cosmetic surgery. She couldn’t afford that.
But the answer, one persistent fan suggested, was really quite simple: Just kickstart it.
A year earlier, a team of computer-savvy do-gooders had launched the crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter, which connects artists, musicians, writers and other creative individuals to millions of potential donors. In its first full year of operation, the site found funding for nearly 4,000 projects worth some $28 million.
Kickstarter doesn’t allow pornographic or “fund my life” projects, so plastic surgery for an adult film performer wouldn’t fly — but it had set the social media stage in such a way that the idea of crowd-sourcing a boob job and tummy tuck didn’t seem so crazy.
“So, I just put it out there,” Cytherea says. “We set up a PayPal account and said ‘If you want to donate, that’s where to go.”
In just a few days, the account had $13,000 in it.
Cytherea knew things had changed in the industry while she was away, but she was shocked at how much.
“It felt like I didn’t know anyone anymore,” she says. “And I definitely had a lot to learn.”
Her rise and fall had come at the cusp of one of the most tumultuous periods in the sex business since home video showed up to supplant peep shows and red-light theaters in the early 1980s.
Everything was changing — even what performers were expected to look like.
“Back in 2000 there was definitely a porn star type,” says Tibbals, the USC-backed porn researcher. “And obviously if you lined up 100 performers they didn’t all look exactly the same, but there definitely was a market shtick.”
That shtick was a reflection of economic forces. Like makers of cars and furniture and clothing, porn producers had long focused on producing a product for the biggest section of the market. There was a place for things that fell out of the mainstream, but not a big one.
Cytherea, petite with straight brown hair, small breasts and a certain physiological aptitude that made her unusual, was certainly outside the mainstream. Although she had helped introduce a sub-genre of pornography to the masses, it wasn’t long after her arrival that women who better fit the shtick started producing squirt videos, too.
“People were attempting to capitalize on it, or cultivate this as a skill,” Tibbals says. “It’s interesting to see such a shift, where before it was a novelty, a niche or a fetish. Now, more and more, it’s just something people do.”
At the same time, the companies that were responsible for the lion’s share of porn production — companies that had once kept scores of performers under contract in a knock-off of the old Hollywood studio system, and which had handled the lion’s share of publicity for their films — were having trouble staying solvent.
“The best companies have experienced double-digit declines in sales,” Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network CEO Scott Coffman told DailyFinance in 2010. And many of the rest, he said, were going broke.
So shtick or no shtick, those who wanted to break in, stay in, or get back in had to find new ways to make money.
“The first switch was from offline to online, then the switch was from premium sites to free,” says Stephen Yagielowicz, senior editor at the adult trade magazine XBIZ. “Now there’s another huge move, the devaluation of pre-recorded content and a switch to live interactive.”
The live stuff costs next to nothing to produce. All it takes is a girl — and sometimes a partner or two or three — and a webcam. One of the most popular “camgirl” marketplaces, MyFreeCam.com, says it passes through 60 percent of customer payments to its models — generally a much bigger piece of a much smaller pie than the grand-per-scene performers like Cytherea used to count on. And with hundreds, and sometimes thousands of models on the site at any given time, the competition to reach paying customers is fierce.
“The market has just been flooded,” says Love, the former starlet who entered the business about the same time as Cytherea. “Today I tell girls that there are others ways to make money, so you should only do this if you love it. You’ve got to love it with a teacher’s passion, because if you think you’re going to get rich, you’re wrong — it’s like striking oil.”
Yagielowicz says the recent changes have spawned a new era in porn, one in which the lines between fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred.
“If you’re true fan, the kind of consumer still willing to pay money, you’re not going to be satisfied with photos and videos like you were in the past,” he says. “Today you can talk to her, chat with her, watch her Tweets and see what she had for dinner. That’s what’s driving revenue today … you’re fostering the illusion of a relationship with the consumer.”
And as it turns out, Yagielowicz says, porn consumers don’t want a relationship with the porn-star stereotype. “They want that girl that reminds them of their childhood sweetheart,” he says. “And maybe she didn’t look like Marilyn Monroe. Maybe she was the ugly duckling down the street.”
At the height of her popularity, Cytherea’s goal was to shoot as many scenes as possible. Now she’s trying to piece together as many revenue streams as possible. Some webcam shows. A private dancing tour. Autographed DVDs. A few scenes in San Fernando, when work is available there. She’s also a regular at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, though sometimes she questions the value of that bet. “It’s a $100 house fee,” she says. “And after that it seemed like I was trying to talk guys into giving me $20. Twenty bucks for a lap dance? You know, I’m just not into begging.”
She’s not above accepting money for dates — she sometimes refers to herself as a “sex coach” and a “self-esteem counselor” — but draws a smug distinction between that and what many other women in Vegas do to make ends meet. “When you’re paying for me, you’re only paying for my time — and I’m very expensive,” she says. “I can pick and choose the people I have sex with, and I’m not going to lower my standards.”
Put it all together, and it’s enough to afford a comfortable life with her family.
But Cytherea’s webmaster, Joe Cabe, says it’s all precariously balanced on the brand. Let that slip away again, he says, and there’s little chance of recovery.
“There’s porn everywhere, people can get that anywhere,” he says. “So today, it’s more about the performer’s personality.”
That, Cabe has told his boss, means dedicating constant attention to the fans. So Cytherea Tweets obsessively and people who ask her a question on her Facebook page often get a response in seconds. She posts blue and not-so-blue photos of herself — and sometimes her family — and updates followers on where she’ll be and when. Karaoke. Bowling. Conventions. A trip to New York City to see old friends. The fans are in on all of it.
“The thing about the girl next door is that you can actually talk to the girl next door,” Cabe says. “She’s accessible. That’s the allure of that fantasy.”
But Cabe also recognizes the danger of stoking the illusion of intimacy. “Anybody who knows her will tell you that she’s a very open person,” he says. “And we have to rein some of that in sometimes. There’s a fine line between being open to fans and being protective of the things that are important to you. Most porn fans are regular people. But there are still those crazed people out there who look at their films and start to believe that they are close to them and need to be close to them.”
Cytherea takes it in stride. “I have a very big husband and a Great Dane. I’ve been beaten up by a lot of men in my life, and I know how to fight back,” she says. “But to be honest, I don’t think about it. I try to be really careful where my kids are concerned, but the rest of it? Life is stressful enough. It’s always throwing curveballs at you, and you never know what’s next. So I just keep going.”
And lately, what’s kept her going isn’t just the money. And it’s not the sex, which she insists she still enjoys and calls “part of my pay.”
It’s the alluring idea that what she’s been through is bigger, in some way, than the money, the sex, the drugs, the recovery and the comeback. And bigger even than changing what porn consumers watch on their computer screens.
“Maybe I helped change the way people think about sex,” she says.
When University of Wisconsin graduate student Amy Gilliland first explored the topic of female ejaculation, she was infuriated to find that the limited research done on the subject included no qualitative analyses of how women felt about the experience. In 2001, she set out to change that. Her surveys and interviews found some women who had come to accept or embrace this part of their sexuality, but others who described the experience with words like “humiliation,” “shame” and “resignation.” It took her years to find a publisher for her work — reviewers, she says, were hung up on the question of what the ejaculate was, rather than how the subjects felt about the experience they were having when it happened — but the paper was eventually printed in the journal Sexuality & Culture.
Eleven years and scores of additional interviews after she began her work, Gilliland says many of the women she speaks with are still ashamed and confused about this part of their sexuality. But there are some signs this could be changing.
“This is something that has been known for thousands of years,” says Sharon Moalem, a physician, scientist and best-selling author whose latest book, How Sex Works, includes a chapter on female ejaculation that begins with a description of the act from Hippocrates himself. “But when you type ‘female ejaculation’ into the medical database … you’re not going to get thousands or hundreds, but maybe only dozens of papers.”
Moalem is the author of one of those papers — an examination of the anti-bacterial qualities in female ejaculate.
“Science and medicinal science will always lag behind,” he says. “And here, I think, is an example where pornography may be driving scientific inquiry, where something that was seen to be abnormal is now seen as more common” and thus worthy of discussion, debate and study.
Perhaps more importantly, Moalem says, the mainstreaming of this particularly genre of pornography “may cause more people to bring this up with their partners as well and say, ‘Can we explore this part of our sexuality?’”
If that’s happening, Cytherea says, it’s not a bad legacy.
“I never wanted to change the world,” she says. “I never figured that was something I was meant for. I didn’t think I was doing anything special, but when I’d go touring, there would be couples who would come to me. One time they were in matching T-shirts with my name on it. And they’d say things like, ‘Thank you so much, you’ve made a difference in our lives.’”
Walking past a row of blipping and blinging slot machines at South Point, Cytherea stops to adjust her shoe. As she straightens back up, an impeccably dressed man walking in the opposite direction with wife in hand stops, double-takes, smiles sheepishly, and locks eyes with the porn star.
Cytherea smiles, nods to the man — and then to his partner — and continues on.
Later in the evening, she knows, there’s a good chance he’ll be watching her. Maybe he’ll strike up a chat with her on Facebook. Maybe they’ll meet for a round of karaoke. Maybe he’ll be the next piece of the revenue puzzle.
In the brave new world of porn, anything’s possible.
Matthew D. LaPlante is an assistant professor of journalism at Utah State University. He’s not particularly into pornography, but he’ll chase a good story pretty much anywhere.