“X” Is a Slasher Film with an Important Message about Sex Work and Pornography

A white woman with freckles and big, curly reddish hair sits in front of a backstage vanity rimmed with bright lightbulbs. She is turned away from the mirror, towards the viewer, looking off camera with a concerned expression on her face.

(Photo credit: Christopher Moss)

Let’s be real, most of us have probably seen porn at some point in our lives. If you haven’t, you’ve definitely seen a horror movie. In the newly released slasher film X, a group of young adults take a road trip to a remote house in rural Texas, where they rent a cabin run by an odd man and his wife. They intend to spend their time there making porn, but they run into all sorts of problems with the proprietors instead. And by problems, I mean murder. 
 
X, released nationwide on March 18 according to IMDb, is kind of a kitschy take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a bit of Friday the 13th thrown in. As someone who has been a sex worker for more than a decade, I appreciated the plot beneath the plot. Rather, not so much the campy, slightly pedestrian slashing and gore, but the subtext on pornography and sex. The film is set in 1979—an era that produced many classic adult films such as Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and Debbie Does Dallas. By the mid-’70s, as porn ramped up, so did opposition to porn. On one hand there were the antiporn feminist activists such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, and then in the late ’70s we saw the rise of the sex workers’ rights movement, which is a whole different kind of feminist ideology. In one scene in the movie, an amateur porn director named Wayne sits with his coworkers and his partner, main character Maxine (Mia Goth), after a day of shooting, and while one girl working behind the scenes shares reticence about being a part of the film, Wayne (Martin Henderson) says, “It’s just sex. It’s business.” As a sex worker, I initially was like, yeah, duh, of course. But then I realized that this is quite unconventional thinking in the U.S. and perhaps even revolutionary, especially at the time. In the 1970s, the government was beginning to investigate this new phenomenon of nationally distributed porn for public consumption, as it would continue to do throughout the Reagan era. When it came to pornography, it took the law a lot longer to catch up to society than we may realize today. Unfortunately for fans of slasher films, X is special not because of its primary plot of of six people getting killed in the Texas sticks, but because of its revolutionary depiction of and message about sex work. Even though this film is supposed to be set in 1979, most people still don’t consider sex work as work today; instead they see sex work as perversion and deviance. In addition to this important lesson that X demonstrates to audiences, there are three other things we can learn from the so-called “golden age of porn.” 
 
The first sexual lesson is that sex can be awkward, funny, and lighthearted. This is clear in the 1972 film Deep Throat with Linda Lovelace where her character’s G-spot is curiously in her throat and she takes us on her sexual journey, traveling around in search of her throat-gasm. Sex doesn’t have to be serious, whether it’s private sex or the porn that we make and consume. I was recently having sex with a lover of mine. I was on top of him and we were making out and touching each other when he grabbed me and rolled me right off the bed where I crashed my head into the nightstand with a thud and dropped onto the floor like a bowling ball. It was funny. We laughed. It was lighthearted; it was sweet and silly and real. It exposed both of our vulnerabilities in a moment that was already a moment of vulnerability. 
 
In movies like Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie (1969), Deep Throat (1972), and Behind the Green Door (1972), we see more than just sex, or erotica, there is a journey—a story. This is not to say that all of the sex in our lives has to have a story. I regularly seek out people on dating apps to have sex with, and often never see them again after our brief liasion. There is little story or journey there, which is fine. But I have learned that sex is often better when it is a journey and not just a destination. This is especially true when it comes to orgasms and the definition of sex itself. As a queer person, it was a big part of my coming-out process to redefine what sex is for myself, and to be able to see it as not just limited to intercourse. Sex can be many other things besides penetration, and with other people than just cishet men. Sometimes sex isn’t even sex at all. 
 
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Finally, what the golden age of porn shows us is that good sex means breaking rules, not necessarily literal rules or laws that exist in our physical world, but rules or standards governing human conduct, morality, and ethics. For example, many consider Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie to be the first film of the porn age; while not technically a stereotypical skin flick, it was the first film to show hard-core sex scenes and be distributed across the United States. This breaking of barriers led to landmark cases that slowly began to chip away at public obscenity laws, both legal and social. The Miller vs. California Supreme Court case of 1973 greatly refined the scope and definition of obscenity such that pornography could be distributed on a wider national scale. Though porn makers and sex-positive activists would go on to challenge many laws in the 1980s and beyond, and the battle against censorship wasn’t outrightly won with this case, it was an important first step in the modernization and commercialization of adult film. Good porn, like good sex, redefines sex itself, breaks boundaries, and respects them simultaneously. 
 
Humor, awkwardness, and lightheartedness all have their place in sexual play. Sex is better when it is seen as a journey rather than a rush to a destination, and good sex means breaking bullshit rules or norms that are antiquated, harmful, or oppressive. You can’t get better sex than that. And you can’t get more sex-positive, pro-whore gore than X.  

 

by Laura LeMoon
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Laura LeMoon is a sex worker, writer and author. Her essays, interviews, and activism work have been featured in Huffington Post, the Associated Press, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, and more. She has worked for the CDC, DOJ, and United Nations as a consultant and technical writer. She lives in Seattle with her rescue pup, Coco Bean.