Getting Off: Brad Phillips Interviews Author Erica Garza About Her Journey Through Sex & Porn Addiction

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 1.01.06 PM.png

In the following interview, Brad Phillips speaks to author, Erica Garza about their mutual experience with sex and porn addiction. In Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, Garza challenges the stereotype that sexual addiction is within a man’s nature, and for a woman, the result of sexual trauma. Recounting a life of “revolting” fantasies both imagined and realized, she lays out a lifetime of orgasmic pressure begging to be released, and courageously retraces her road to recovery. Throughout the conversation, Phillips and Garza share their experiences of responding to fans who look to them for guidance, the benefits of being triggered, and the sexual taboos that continue to plague our sense of moral authority. 

BRAD PHILLIPS: I wanted first to say how happy I felt to discover your book. Having written about sex addiction myself, it felt valuable to read about a woman’s experience with participating and recovering from the same addiction. Particularly in that you wrote about it without nostalgia or redemption. What motivated you to write the book? Was there a sense that this was something you wrote in an attempt to process your experiences, or was it more of a desire to share with other people; make them feel less alone?

ERICA GARZA: It was a bit of both. I've always turned to writing as a source of comfort—a way to get troubling thoughts and memories out of my head and body, and onto the page. When I started writing about sex addiction, I did so in an essay online for Salon. I'd already been experimenting with telling my story in therapy and 12-step, but this was a more public telling. The response I received was overwhelming. So many people reached out and thanked me, and they were from all walks of life. I felt then that I could serve others by continuing to write about this. We aren't often presented the opportunity to help a wide range of people, and this was my chance.  

PHILLIPS: Sometimes there's trouble in writing about personal subjects that are taboo, in that readers develop projections about you, and a sense of attachment. Have you had any response from people who felt like they were connected to you in a way that felt creepy? I also was curious if men reached out to you, ignoring the aspects of shame and recovery you write about, and simply saw you as someone “into sex,” and approached you that way. Has that happened?

GARZA: Several men (and a few women) have reached out to me because they see me as someone “into sex.” This ranges from unsolicited dick pics, to requests to meet up, to full-blown erotic stories they want me to read. I usually block them immediately, or if I have the energy, I tell them they’ve crossed a boundary and we have a discussion. But I receive more messages from people looking for help because they’re dealing with sex/porn addiction. I always try to acknowledge and address these messages because I know how isolating addiction can be. I usually direct them to 12-step meetings because they can offer connection and community, but sometimes this isn’t enough for them. Some people reach out to me as if I’m a therapist, as if I have the magic solution to their pain, and this can feel overwhelming. I am not a counselor. I’m just a person who shared my story as honestly as I could. They have access to this honesty too. The best I can do for those who put me on this pedestal is to bring myself down to eye level. To remind them that I’m just as vulnerable as they are. The biggest difference is that I’ve come out of the shadows—maybe they should too.

PHILLIPS: It’s interesting and disappointing that people might read your book and completely miss all the shame and intense pain you discuss; things which go hand-in-hand with addiction. You mention other people coming out of the shadows. I think that there are certain people who find the shadows themselves sexual. I feel like on some level there would be very little new information to discover about men coming out of the shadows, which again is why I think your book is important. You’ve done mainstream press, and mentioned to me that you were told there were certain words you couldn’t use, or certain parts of the book better left not discussed, because they could ‘trigger’ someone. How do you feel about this climate, where we’re told we need to prevent triggering strangers? 

GARZA: I tend to disagree with the sentiment that there’d be nothing new to discover by men coming out of the shadows. I think the act of telling can help the addict discover a world of new information about who they are or what they want. And other people can be positively affected by hearing these confessions, because they too can confess without fear of judgment or criticism. As far as people being triggered by stories of addiction and sexual language, I’m sick of it. It reeks of Puritanism. We can watch zombies eat off people’s faces on prime-time television but we can’t see breasts. What does that tell us about what we fear as a culture? Our own animalistic primal nature? Our complicated desires? Our grip on control? When I’m triggered, instead of acting out or shutting down, I become curious. Why am I being triggered? What is being reflected to me? By asking questions like these, I learn more about myself.

PHILLIPS: Censorship and the aversion to natural female bodies on Instagram is insane to me. Curious is a good word my therapist uses, it helps take the shame out of self-reflection. I think the complication of desire can feel scary to express because really, we’ve never seen it done. When you say animalistic, do you think it’s elemental to our fear of expressing all the ways we’re still animals? 

GARZA: Maybe being reminded of our bodily functions and the natural impulses we share with animals only reminds us of the other most natural physical experience we fear most—death. If we stick with our intellect, we can form elevated ideas about what’s right or wrong, and we can let religion and the media tell us how to desire and how to express that desire in the same way that religion and media tells us that we don’t have to die. But I think all of that is a distraction from being present in our mortal bodies, accepting and indulging our natural impulses.

PHILLIPS: Having once been close to death I’m no longer afraid of it. That hasn’t helped in managing my daily unease though. I recently read, for a radio show, the entire list of paraphilias from the DSM-5. What shocked me was that the only two paraphilias classified as mental illnesses were sadism and masochism. I’ve seen it be particularly shaming for masochists, especially women, to be told that what they like in bed makes them ‘wrong’ in multiple ways. There is a lot of very quiet research around the idea pedophilia is an innate sexual preference in the same way that homosexuality is. The recidivism rate for pedophiles offenders is above 99 percent. But these are the pedophiles that offend. There are far more that don’t, and by default are repressed. Sympathy for the pedophile isn’t something people want to get behind. Maybe you could tell me how you think these more ‘extreme’ sexual predilections could be managed, or re-evaluated.

GARZA: I think the fear of things like child sex dolls and cartoons for pedophiles mirrors the fear that some have about tolerance to porn, not just the most extreme kind. If you see images repeatedly, those images might lose their charge and so you’ll need more extreme images to feel something again. Pedophilia is one of those subjects that upsets people because the trauma can be devastating and I understand why people shy away from the subject because they are trying to prevent any more harm being inflicted upon those who’ve suffered. They want, justifiably, compassion to be directed to the victims. But I do think that there is value in trying to understand the pedophile’s motives, by conducting more research, and by including them in the discussion. As difficult as it may be to hear their stories and understand the why of what they do, the better equipped we are to prevent future incidents of harm. I think when something has been deemed socially unacceptable and there’s so much fear around the thing that we won’t even talk about it, then it’s a good indication that we MUST talk about it. Silence eventually implodes and the aftermath is rarely pretty.

PHILLIPS: Long ago Susan Sontag predicted ‘image fatigue,’ which she related to the Vietnam War photographs being relayed back to American viewers, and how they would eventually lose their impact. That same thinking can definitely be extended to pornography and the absolute nadir it exists at in 2019. I agree with you and have tried myself to address the idea that if things are uncomfortable or difficult to talk about, then it does mean we should. There is difficulty in seeing both the victim of a crime and the perpetrator as two separate people involved in a scenario from which information could be gleaned.     

getting off erica garza.jpg

Erica Garza’s book, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, published by Simon and Schuster, is available through Amazon, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble, and likely your local bookstore.

Follow Erica via Twitter and Instagram - @ericadgarza

Agency, Anal and Attitude: An Interview with Aiden Starr

Aiden Starr has the most magnificent rack I’ve ever come in contact with. Aside from her undeniably pronounced assets, Aiden is articulate and knowledgeable about what she does and has nothing to hide because of it. She is one of the most accomplished women in porn, exposed and giving no apologies. Straight forward and cutting; she tells it like it is and that is what I cherish about her as a friend and a colleague. She calls bullshit, she celebrates the good, she treats sex work with care and consideration. For her, porn is a humanist pursuit as she acts as a matchmaker between client and provider on all levels of the industry. I caught up with the 4’11” blonde bombshell and her sweet porn chum, Daisy Ducati, at the Beverly Center in mid-January after an Evil Angel shoot. I hung around while they shopped for their dresses for the 2016 AVNs and XBIZ awards while asking questions about her career and the porn industry at large, and learned more about her impressive roster of porn films, both as a performer and a director, past and upcoming and other untouchable arenas: agency, anal, and attitude. Some men seemed to recognize both of the girls as we walked through the mall, but I remained the invisible pervert.

Audra Wist: My interest in you has always been about you being super professional and somebody who has successfully crossed over hardcore porn and femdom and also somebody is who both a performer and a director. I am not so involved in the porn industry to know how common that is, but it doesn’t seem—

Aiden Starr: It’s not. Male performers and directors are way more common than female performer/directors.

Wist: So, was that a part of your trajectory when you started out… like you said, okay, I’m going to perform and I definitely want to get to directing eventually, this is something I’m interested in technically... or was it more or less I’m going to get into this and see how I do and play it by ear?

Starr: My first sex worker job was a phone girl in a dungeon. What a phone girl means is the girl who picks up the phone, who books the sessions for the other girls and who preps the equipment in the room and who keeps the time. And working on the magazine that the dungeon put out at the time cause this was the 90s.

Wist: And this was in New York?

Starr: Yeah, New York. And also working on the website, updating. But most of what I did and what I was really good at was managing the clients. I really liked submissive girls - that’s why I started working there. My buddy was a bottom and we played together and she started working there and she asked me to work there with her because she wanted me to work on her shifts, be the phone girl, and book all of her sessions. Get her guys that she liked and make good matches for her. So, my initial interest in the adult industry was making good matches between clients and providers to make the job enjoyable - to make the experience enjoyable for not only the clients, but also for the providers. Not only was a monetary exchange, but an exchange of a good time and a good energy.

Wist: Right, that’s what it’s about.

Starr: I didn’t start working in that kind of adult film until I was working in the dungeon for a couple of years and then I only did it with women who were my lovers in real life. Before I graduated high school, I thought about applying to Tisch [School of the Arts, at NYU] and had prepared an application, so I was familiar with video medium and had directed stuff before. In fact, the very first thing I directed, I was a twelve-year old and I directed a mockumentary on date rape.

Wist: Really? That’s great! Wait, so did you-

Starr: It was a dramatization. It was a girl and a guy going back and forth, talking about their experiences, like a he said/she said reenactment of it with a party scene: people drinking too much and the concept of date rape. She didn’t know why they were going into the bedroom because she’s young and didn’t have the experience... and he didn’t understand that she didn’t know why they were going into the bedroom because why would she go into the bedroom if she didn’t want to be there? That kind of scene. I wrote these scripts out for my friends, who were twelve, and I made them do it.

Wist: [laughs] Oh, you “made” them do it - that is your career in a nutshell.

Starr: And it was also kind of a porn, a soft-core porn. Now, my version of this was them getting under the covers and moving under the sheets because when you’re twelve you think that’s what sex is. You just pull the sheets over your head and move around.

Wist: That is so funny.

Starr: But that, theoretically, is a soft core porn. So, I guess if you look back early enough, I was always going to end up where I ended up but that’s not what initially sparked my wanting to be a sex worker. It’s like a spa, going to see a provider. It’s beautiful and it’s fantasy and it’s like watching one of those movies from the 80s like Legend or Labyrinth where everybody is amazing and is in a castle and there’s a princess. And to me, it was helping people with their castle fantasy.

Wist: You see a smattering of people in the adult industry, or maybe this is any industry, but you have people who are the real deal and people who are eh, what are you doing here.

Starr: Tourists.

Wist: Right, tourists. And I feel so much of what’s going on, all this shit about sex positivity and feminism, it’s all just internet chatter and no real showing up. Show up and do something. For you, it’s like here I am: a director for a huge porn company. Here I am: performing in porn. Here I am: a mainstay in porn and have been for a long time. What do you think about all the stuff that’s being thrown around on the internet online… I’m trying to think of an example…

Starr: Oh, you can think of an example. Just try real hard.

Wist: What are you thinking of?

Starr: The James Deen thing.

Wist: Oh, yes! Of course. I honestly did not even think of that when I was thinking of these questions but that is perfect. We should talk about that.

Starr: That’s a great example of sex workers espousing feminism in social media. The fact that, to these women, you always take the side of a woman whenever she claims to have been raped, that is part of their perceived definition of feminism. Which is interesting, because for me rape is not a gender-based issue. I know just as many men, or trans, or otherwise gendered people, who are sexually assaulted as I do women. So, I don’t see rape culture as a feminist issue. I see it as a humanist issue. And it’s interesting because it’s being ascribed to a feminist issue. People claiming “women get raped, women get raped, women get raped.” People get raped. Human beings get raped. And I think that’s kind of getting lost while people are espousing the idea of rape culture and the knowledge that this does exist. A man was trying to convince me the other day that rape culture doesn’t exist and I said “God bless you that you don’t know that that exists.”

Wist: Damn.

Starr: Seriously, bless your existence and that you don’t act that way towards people. Bless your parents for not fucking you up the way that a lot of other people are fucked up. It’s a thing, it’s a real thing. But I don’t think that it has to be under the feminist banner and I think that it is being ascribed to the feminist banner by sex workers or sex positive people in social media. It’s interesting to see the dynamic of where feminism was in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and today. Today it’s all about preventing victimization and I feel like many many years ago it was about empowerment and equality. I’m not sure how that happened.

Wist: Preventing of victimization. So, do you think that there’s an alternative to that view? Not that this is a say-all-end-all my-little-constitution of feminism or whatever, but is there anything we can do? Or is it just being somebody who is doing the work and not being “I’m gonna go on the internet and say what I think about this thing that I have no first-hand knowledge of whatsoever!”

Starr: I think for me feminism, at it’s core, is about equality. It’s about people being equal to people. You obviously could go into the history of it and it’s present-day application and the issue, be they American, Central American, South American, African, European, Australian, Asian, whatever pocket of the world, and how feminism plays out in certain area, but for me, it’s about everybody being equal to each other.

Wist: Straight forward, straight up.

Starr: That’s kind of how I’ve always seen it. Everybody deserves common human rights.

Wist: Yeah, there was a gal [Laurie Penny] who wrote a piece for TIME and it was this call to arms, like we have to do something about this, isn’t this horrible and I thought yes, of course rape is horrible—

Starr: Yes! No one is arguing that! No one has ever been like this is totally fucking fine. Only the idiots are saying “she asked for it” and no one listens to them. They’re idiots and we all know they are idiots. Feminism has definitely become more anti-male. Feminism looks closer to female supremacy than it does feminism.

Wist: Right, it does! I wrote down one time “I am a female supremacist but I don’t devalue men,” and I could not for the life of me figure out what that meant. But now, hearing you say that, maybe I was trying to ascribe to a particular brand of contemporary feminism while wanting to break away or find some alternative that felt right. I looked at that sentence a lot. Do you think that that’s why there’s been a rise in femdom porn? I don’t know the numbers, but do you think there’s been a significant spike?

Starr: Why there’s been a rise in femdom porn is such an interesting fucking question. It’s one of my favorite subjects to talk about. When I talk to clients about porn and why they watch it, I always pick their brains and it’s so interesting to see that side where subs have no control and they like having no control. Whereas, if you play with a girl and it’s a girl/girl situation, the girls like “you can do this to me, you can do that to me, but I don’t like that and I don’t like this, period.” Whereas, guys just want to be this rock bottom. It’s so different between the two genders and their perception of being submissive. It’s fascinating! I have no fucking idea why except that money is so important in today’s society that I’m sure it has something to do with the burden that men are supposed to be the primary breadwinners.

Wist: Yes, I was thinking the same thing. It has something to do with money as it’s so closely related to power.

Starr: Yeah, findom [financial domination] is huge.

Wist: I think it’s also that because of money, people acquiring large sums of it, people are too comfortable and they really seriously do not know what to do with all of it. And then it gets mixed in with desire or their dick or—

Starr: It’s burning a hole in their pocket.

Wist: Right.

Starr: I think men also feel like the pressure is on them in social situations to engage women and do they like the sexually aggressive archetype because it takes the pressure off of them. So, why I think that any kind of porn rises, any kind of art rises, any kind of entertainment rises, at all in any medium, is culture. The pervasive language of the culture directly affects femdom. What that language is is debatable but definitely male responsibility and that they feel burdened by society in some way, shape, or form to still be the sexual aggressor or monetary provider affects femdom. And going back to feminism, maybe that’s why all these girls are angry on the internet because their realities are not pleasing to them.


Wist: Yeah, this is the whole put a ribbon on your car situation, right? Support our troops? Did that. I bought my ribbon and put it on my car. Done. It’s a whitewashing culture. Maybe something that folds into that too… I was really into your Marshmallow Girls series for Evil Angel. I remember thinking damn, this is in the fucking mainstream! This is so crazy and why not? And to put it out there under those circumstances and to really capitalize on a previously thought of as “niche” market is bold! With that and femdom porn too, I think we really have to acknowledge and reckon with the fact that people want different things and have different needs. And look - you put it out there and people buy it. That’s the best part.

Starr: They buy it! People buy the shit out of my porn. I make money and I can pay you. Yeah, people buy the shit out of my weird crap.

Wist: I’m wondering about the back end of that, too. Does porn still dictate what’s on the cusp of happening in technology? Is the porn industry experiencing the same thing that magazines and the print media are right now then?

Starr: Yeah, obsolescence. Our medium is experiencing a trend towards obsolescence because of the drop in capital because of all of the free porn on the internet. It’s fucking us super badly.

Wist: What do you do to counteract that?

Starr: What you have to do is make something that they would pay for even if they could get it for free. You have to make the air smell so good that people will come over to your post to sniff the air even though there’s air everywhere for free. It’s really fucking hard. Selling something for free is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is possible, but you just have to think about it. When I make movies, all of my cast is hand-picked. The movie we just shot Lesbian Anal Sex Slaves Volume 2—

Wist: Repeat the name for me?

Starr: Lesbian Anal Sex Slaves Volume 2. Daisy [Ducati] and I were doing a shot together, fleshing out ideas of how we were already interacting and then figured out as other characters, figuring out our dynamics, props. It’s a more complicated process now. You can’t just put anal porn on the internet now and expect to make money.

Wist: Do you guys storyboard?

Starr: I don’t storyboard… we were talking about it during sex. We were inspired by each other. I talked to her, proposed an idea afterward. She’s in a lot of my stuff anyway and I like picking performers who like to be involved in the creative process or are blank canvases. Typically, I like to pair those types together in a scene. Daisy has been in a lot of my stuff and she is a part of the creative process and then I pick a blank canvas, or two, and give them to her and it goes from there. Does that make sense? I just compared it to painting.

Wist: Makes sense to me.

Starr: I have active participants in a scene and passive participants. And I participate only if the passive participants are unable to complete the tasks at hands. So, today for example, the girl was having trouble with anal. I saw her having trouble with anal so I told her to get on her back and have the other gal lick her butthole. I had to change the situation because she was not comfortable. Otherwise, I would’ve just let them do what they were going to do. I only interject if I feel like I need to as a director.

Wist: Does that happen that often that people [directors] step in and say okay, you are clearly having trouble with your butthole today—

Starr: You just do something else. It’s okay! For me, it’s about the happiness and safety of all the performers. No one has to die. I don’t make snuff movies.

Wist: What’s that like for you to work with fresh eighteen year-olds in the industry? Do you feel like you’re mama bear?

Starr: I don’t usually hire young girls.

Wist: You don’t?

Starr: I don’t. I’m 36 and I’m not really attracted to people half my age. It’s just not a thing for me. This girl was special. She has a special energy and I wanted her to have good experiences with us doing rough stuff. She had fun today. And because of it, she’s going to be a more comfortable sex worker because of it.

Wist: Right, she didn’t feel bad about it and that’s so important! So many people have bad one-off experiences.

Starr: You can really give yourself serious psychological damage with bad experiences.

Wist: Yeah, I think about this with clients. They have these bad first experiences with dommes, and these are grown men, and they are traumatized. And I feel bad. That fucking blows. They paid to have a traumatic experience.

Starr: It’s intense. A lot of pro dommes are really bad. Really bad where I’m like what the fuck am I looking at right now?

Wist: Well, I have my own are-you-for-real bullshit detector thing that I do or observe, but do you have that too?

Starr: Yes, absolutely. If you are a pro domme and I see you do a scene with no aftercare, you suck. Period. If you are too fucking cool to get them a glass of water… if you are too fucking good to realize that you’re playing with a human being, I don’t like you. We’re not cut from the same fabric.

Wist: Yep. And it’s all too common.

Starr: And you know what it is? It stems from insecurity because cruelty stems from insecurity and that’s what that is. That’s not BDSM, that’s cruelty. It’s true, man. And girls think it makes them look like a badass.

Wist: It’s a bummer. So, you guys are preparing for the awards show this week?

Starr: Yeah, I’ve been working my balls off. XBIZ awards are this week and then the AVNs are the following week.

Wist : Did you ever read David Foster Wallace’s essay on his experience at the AVNs?

Starr: No.

Wist: He opens it up with this horrendous story about men jerking off so much, so furiously, that they just can’t handle it anymore and they chop that shit right off.

Starr: Sweet, wow. Wait a minute… first of all, the AVNs are not that much fun. Okay, if Satan were involved, I would be much more excited about not being able to work the entire time while being there. I would be much more excited if anybody even just masturbated until their dick fell off much less cut off! If there was any masturbation at all, that would be amazing. There’s really nothing. We get dressed up, sign shit, talk to people, they stare at us, we do radio shows—

Wist: What’s that like, getting the mesmerizing stare? What are their faces like?

Starr: Here’s the weirdest shit the world: everybody knows your name and you don’t know any of their names. And you don’t know who they are… or if you do. I just try to be nice to everybody. That’s my plan for AVNs.

Wist: Do they say weird shit to you during a meet and greet?

Starr: Sometimes. Like, “Every time I masturbate, I cry,” and shit like that. I love that though. I want people to scare the other girls standing around — that’s how weird I want it to be. If it’s not weird, it’s just like, “Hi, nice to meet you, goodbye.” I like weird shit. One dude during an independent signing at a store, he came in and said, “You have really big breasts.” and I’m like, “yeeeeep!” and he goes, “I bet your mother had really big breasts, too.” and I said, “She does.” and then he comes back with, “I bet your grandmother has big breasts.” and I’m like, “As a matter of fact, she does.” And he was older; he started asking what my grandmother looked like...

Wist: Oh, god.

Starr: And at the end of the conversation he asked me if I would tell my grandmother that he said hello and I was like, “Sure will, buddy.”

Wist: Shit. [laughs] By the way, I do have to say, your tits are amazing. That was one of the things I had wrote down to say. It’s not a question, but I needed to say it.

Starr: Then you’re going to love the dress I’m wearing to AVN. It’s red latex over the boobies, over the cleavage and it’s really not my size, total smashville.

Wist: Another question I had for you because I still haven’t figured this out for myself, was about negotiating yourself into your work. I struggle with this. So, you have your government self and then you have this performer you’ve created, another part of you, which is still very much you and not something false. I was also thinking about David Bowie since he passed the other day, and I thought wow, porn is like David Bowie. Is there a relationship there?

Starr: Porn is like David Bowie but porn is more like football.

Wist: Porn is like football? Explain.

Starr: So, you’re a football player, right? You eat well, you’re in shape, you work out and train, you look good, you’re a football player. But then, when you put on your uniform, you tackle people. You wouldn’t tackle people in real life, but you do when you’re in uniform because it’s your job and it’s okay. So, porn is like football.

Wist: Ohhhh, I see. So, porn is like football and not like David Bowie?

Starr: Porn is like David Bowie because David Bowie was majestic and sexual and fantastic. And tight shiny clothing and shoes you can’t really walk in. David Bowie is like porn because of the sexuality that is so raw and potent that it makes people nervous. The most popular comment on all of the stories on my Facebook feed about David Bowie on Facebook were “speechless.” He renders people speechless. Porn renders people speechless. When guys come up to us at AVN, they often cannot articulate themselves. You’re activating the part of your brain that does not recognize language as a form of communication, the animal or primal part of your brain that is activated by symbolism, colors, tarot cards, crosses, shit like that. That is how porn is like David Bowie.

Wist: You knocked it out of the park.

You can follow Aiden Starr on Twitter here. Text and interview by Audra Wist. Photographs by . Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE