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Q&A: The Duke Freshman Porn Star

When a Duke freshman revealed herself to be a porn star last week, her story's sensationalism was somehow familiar: College student plus sex equals another occasion for overnight internet notoriety, with some old-fashioned slut-shaming in the comments section. But what makes the Duke Freshman Porn Star unique, as far as collegiate women turned sex memes go, is that she hasn’t gone away. She didn’t change her name and leave the state, as Karen “Fuck List” Owen (Duke 2010), is said to have done, or erase her entire internet presence, like the Duke sorority girl who had sex with Steve Aoki last year. After a frat-oriented website threatened to out Lauren (not her real name) as porn performer Aurora (not her real stage name), Lauren went on a media offensive. She granted a pseudonymous tell-all to the campus newspaper, responded to the article on a campus blog, and wrote a women’s-studies-inflected essay about the experience for xoJane. So confident is Lauren in her ability to show her critics that they’re being sexist, she has repeatedly risked exposure in order to speak out against the double standard that allows Duke men to enjoy her movies while ridiculing her on campus message boards. “I feel bad for Karen Owen,” Lauren said. “She should have done this, and been like, Fuck you, guys.” The Cut talked to Lauren over Skype on Friday afternoon.

How are you holding up?
I have a really great support system at Duke. The LGBTQ community has been absolutely fabulous to me — they even made me a video collage of people saying, “We want you to be here; we want you to stay here; we care about you.” It’s been really overwhelming, but, at the same time, the outpouring of support I’ve gotten has been really, really amazing.

You wrote in your xoJane essay about how unfair it is that women carry the full moral burden of sexuality, so I wanted to talk about the guy who outed you to a fraternity. It seems like he’s the one who morally transgressed, here.
I begged him not to tell anybody. We went to a party that same night, and he got really drunk. I wasn’t with him when he told all the people. He knew I didn’t want people knowing, but he told people. Immediately after I realized that he told people, I told him, “You have just ruined my life,” and I completely meant that. I’m not sure he understands the gravity of what he did. That being said, nobody deserves to be harassed and I don’t want people to harass or threaten him. I think he needs to take personal responsibility and come to terms with it and that’s his thing. We were friends, but I will never talk to him again. He forgot my personhood and my humanity for the sake of spreading a juicy rumor, for the sake of saying, “I’m friends with a porn star.”

You’re not the first woman at Duke who has come under intense scrutiny for her sexual choices. Is there something about the environment that explains why the rumor prevailed over your humanity?
Duke is an extremely complex culture, but I’m just going to go out and say it: We are a culture that disrespects and slut-shames women. If you look at the anonymous CollegiateACB forums of other schools, there are maybe four topics. At Duke, there are 800 topics. All of them are “rate freshman girls on a scale of one to 10” or “which Asian has the biggest boobs.” So Duke has this — and I blame the Greek system a lot for this — culture of objectifying women.

I personally attribute that to male privilege. The median income of students at Duke is $350,000. So you have these rich, entitled males coming to Duke and what that translates to is a sense of entitlement over women’s bodies and women’s sex. Men essentially feel entitled to have sex with us because they’re used to getting everything they’ve ever wanted. You have this extremely intense school that’s really competitive academically and then you add into the mix a social scene that’s rooted in social hierarchy and wealth, and then you combine that with male privilege and chauvinism and misogyny and what you have is this really horrible rape culture. 

Women are so discouraged from reporting it because, as institutions, colleges want to keep the sexual-assault rates low so they look good to other colleges. Women are simply silenced or not given the proper resources. In many colleges, probably most colleges, the punishment for rape is a slap on the wrist. That’s something that we need to evaluate and consider: what kind of message that sends to the young women of the world. It tells them that their dignity and their humanity isn’t important enough to the university to do anything about it.

I’m not very fun to go to parties with. All my friends are getting drunk and when guys are hitting on them I’m always saying, “You better not rape her, you better not take advantage of her.”

So why did you want to go to Duke, then?
I visited Duke on Blue Devils Day, the visiting day. I’ve always been a very spiritual person, and I can’t explain it, but walking into the chapel I felt this aura, this energy, that told me this was exactly the place that I needed to be. So while I have disdain for Duke’s culture, I love it. I think that this entire situation shows how pervasive sexism is on campus, but it has shown me that there are some really amazing people. Visiting Duke, I could feel the passion and the pride and the spirit, and I still feel it.

You got started working in porn to pay for school. Can you be more specific about the process?
I was thinking of ways to make money on campus. With the skills I have, which is nothing, high-school diploma, no car, I didn’t really have any options to make money besides taking out enormous loans. I was just sitting in my dorm one day and said to my roommate, “Fuck it, I’ll be a porn star.” So I Googled "how to be a porn star" and came up with all these agencies. I had no idea you could apply to be a porn star; I thought someone came up to you and scouted you at a mall. I sent in my info and a couple of my pics and literally the next day all these agencies were calling me. I started talking to all these agents who thought I could be making six figures and saw real potential for me in the industry. I was like, “Oh my God. Let’s do this. Let’s go.”

I want to say I’m very fortunate with my experience in the industry. Some girls get what we call a “suitcase pimp.” It’s when somebody pretends to be an agent and then scams a girl and literally pimps her out to people. Some girls aren’t as lucky as me and don’t have an agent. They’re left to deal with these transactions on their own, and they’re often scammed or exploited. These are the narratives you aren’t hearing because society has deemed sex workers untouchable. The reason you don’t hear about these women getting scammed is because they’re scared, because for so long they’ve been told to be ashamed of their jobs.

Are you worried about getting a job in the future?
I want to work for open-minded, compassionate people who see the contributions I can make to the world beyond doing porn. I want to be a women’s rights lawyer and a civil rights lawyer, so my hope is that I can use my experience within the porn industry to help other women. I’m hoping my experiences can perhaps even be a good thing for me, but I’m not worried about it.

That’s a long way off still. In the meantime, did you worry about your porn life and your non-porn life intersecting?
I never thought they would come crashing together in such a dramatic way. I thought I could keep Lauren and Aurora separate, compartmentalize parts of myself, and have two alter egos. Perhaps in hindsight that’s not healthy for me. I’m still getting used to the integration of the two, but, that being said, I do not want my identity to be porn star. I want my identity to be Lauren: activist, kind, sweet girl. I don’t want be defined by my work.

What angers me, and what I haven’t really said, is if I were a porn star and weren’t in school, people would hate me and say I have no future, while when financing school by doing sex work I’m getting told that I can’t do both. So basically the narrative is you can’t be sexual and be intelligent; you have to choose one. That’s what this whole thing really comes down to. I want to shatter the image that people have of sex workers. I want to put a face to an industry that no one is willing to talk about but everyone is willing to consume. I love how the same people who are shaming me are the same people who are jacking off to me.

The Duke Chronicle pointed out that you’re a college Republican. As a sex worker, is it frustrating to align with the political party enforcing traditional sexual mores?  
To clarify, I’m a libertarian who is forced to play within party lines because, at this point, our party isn’t strong enough to get anything done without the backing of the Republican Party. It’s really frustrating that when I tell people I’m in College Republicans they immediately assume I’m a bigot and a homophobe. Duke Republicans is completely pro-gay rights. Calling somebody a Republican is almost an insult and, personally, I hope the party moves toward a more libertarian style wherein they give rights to gays and more respect to women, and it’s not so driven by religion or by theology.

Photo: Elysia Su/The Duke Chronicle

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Cut® are registered trademarks of New York Media LLC.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC.
All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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