Liz Goldwyn Partners With Pornhub on ‘Literacy 101’ Campaign: “It’s Really Important to Talk About Porn” (2022)

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Liz Goldwyn, an author, artist and filmmaker who hails from the Hollywood dynasty Goldwyn family, has focused the bulk of her work as of late in the sexual education space. She’s the founder and voice behind The Sex Ed podcast, is currently putting finishing touches on an upcoming book, Sex Health & Consciousness, and is a passionate advocate and speaker on all things sex and wellness.

That said, when she was approached by leading adult platform Pornhub to direct a series of six PSAs titled Pornhub Literacy 101, she took time to carefully consider the offer. “I really thought long and hard about this collaboration. I don’t think it’s fair for one industry that exists literally over the hill from another industry to be villainized in certain ways when I know that there are things that go on in Hollywood that are just not talked about,” she said, adding that it’s not her place to pull back the veil. “But what I can take on is asking us all to take a closer look at the way in which we view adult stars as less worthy. Why are they less worthy? Why are they not human beings?”

In Pornhub Literacy 101, the adult stars are the educators. Kira Noir, Asa Akira, Ricky Johnson, Natassia Dreams, Emily Willis and Aria serve as guides through the six lessons (two to four minutes each), covering such topics as trust, safety, cybersecurity, support and the removal of non-consensual images and content. Goldwyn isn’t the only Hollywood notable in business with Pornhub on Literacy 101. Euphoria costume designer Heidi Bivens, a longtime friend of Goldwyn, tackled the ensembles for the series.

Goldwyn also appears in the teaser trailer for the series, which launches today on a dedicated YouTube channel with all content safe-for-work. THR caught up with her to talk about working on both sides of the camera, her own relationship with porn, and how she would respond to critics about a Goldwyn getting in business with a porn platform.

Forgive me for starting here, but I noticed in your bio that your first job was as an intern for Planned Parenthood at age 13. How are you feeling about the news coming out of the Supreme Court about Roe v. Wade?

Really sad. I feel like I’m going to start crying. It’s really, really sad to be living in a country where rights that my mother and her generation fought for, rights that I may have taken for granted, are under very real threat of being taken away. It strikes very close to home. So much of my work in [The Sex Ed] space came from working in the clinic at Planned Parenthood. I realized [back then] that if we don’t provide information, education and resources to people to give them a better understanding of their own reproductive health and freedom, it creates a lot of situations with unwanted children, with teenagers who become pregnant and have to make very difficult decisions. So, yeah, it’s a very sad time to be an American right now and be a woman.

What drew you to sex education back then?

I was in a very strange position of being 13, working in the clinic, answering phones and then organizing their media library. This is all pre-Google, so I found myself advising other kids my age and often a lot of adults by providing information that I didn’t have first-hand knowledge of. There were topics that I could ask experts — things like dealing with STDs, UTIs and pregnancy — but there were more nuanced questions that people would come in with. Should I get on birth control? How will that affect my menstruation? How do you give a good blow job? When should I have sex? How should I talk to my teenage daughter about sex?

These were questions that I, as a 13-year-old, had no idea how to answer, and I wasn’t doing those things in my personal life yet. I kind of knew at that point that there needed to be some sort of centralized, comprehensive and shame-free database. It germinated in my brain back then at 13, and I ended up buying the site name for The Sex Ed in 2008, so it was a long time in the making.

How did the Pornhub partnership come about?

They approached me to direct this campaign of PSAs and to appear in the trailer. For many years now, The Sex Ed has featured adult actors and people who work in all aspects of sex work, whether that be dominatrixes, porn stars, or porn producers because they are all an important part of the conversation. Whether we like it or not, pornography informs so much of how we learn about sex, not only in my generation but the generation coming up. Pornhub is the leading brand of adult content. In fact, they have really good practices around trust, safety, cyber security and removal of revenge porn which they get taken down immediately. I don’t think the general public is fully aware of all that. [Pornhub] has better practices, I might say, than some of the more mainstream apps that we all have on our phones and use daily.

Honestly, in offline work with Pornhub, I’ve had more conversations around agency, sex positivity and ethics than most of my professional collaborations with mainstream companies. So, I was very happy to create this series of Pornhub Literacy PSAs, because it’s really important to talk about porn, how we consume it, the safest ways for people to make and upload porn, and how to better think of adult performers as human beings who are performing. This is not real sex. There are a lot of conversations around consent that happen before cameras are rolling, and we need to have an ability to think critically about it the same way that we look at Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible. Nobody is just suddenly jumping out of a helicopter.

The people at Pornhub are very conscious of getting into this dialogue and opening up discussions like this, and that’s amazing for a brand, especially considering the number of eyeballs that are on the site.

The PSAs are divided by topic, with a different performer appearing in each, correct?

In a nutshell, yes, there are six lessons, and each one is taught by one of the biggest adult stars in the world. That’s what’s brilliant about working with Pornhub on this because we’re literally using people who are the objects of our fantasies and fantasization to deliver information that’s super relevant to the people who are watching their content and to people who are uploading content. The lessons cover everything from trust and safety, Pornhub’s initiatives around supporting sex worker-focused charities and philanthropic arms, and best practices around what is not tolerated on the platform, including revenge porn, any sort of child exploitation videos and so on.

Pornhub takes all of this extremely seriously, as do I and The Sex Ed. We take cybersecurity really seriously. When we don’t engage companies producing adult entertainment and only villainize them, we’re missing the opportunity to be safer. It’s not like people are going to stop watching porn. Pornhub has more than 100 million daily visitors, so if you think about the reach and the number of eyeballs, it’s kind of amazing that they are spending their time and money on a campaign like this.

Speaking of villainizing, I’m sure there are people in Hollywood who would say, “You’re a Goldwyn. What are you doing in business with a porn company?” How would you respond to such criticism?

I think a lot about this. For example, what I found really interesting was that this wasn’t a porn shoot. I used a Hollywood crew, including costume designer Heidi Bivens who is amazing. We’ve been friends forever, and she’s done, among other things, shows like Euphoria, Spring Breakers, Mid90s, The Beach Bum. It was a very elevated project, yet I found it really interesting to be on set and hear from some of the crew who may have had misconceptions about adult stars. Some came to me to say, “Wow, they’re incredibly eloquent, and I’m learning a lot here.”

Because Hollywood has spent so much time paying lip service to how woke and purified they’ve become, we know that oftentimes, in reality, behind the scenes, that’s not really the case. I grew up in that town, and I grew up watching people behave badly. A lot of the people we all know have behaved badly and are still in positions of power. What is interesting about adult stars is that there’s much more transparency around all these things because they are held to a higher standard.

To anyone who would say, “Oh, why would a Goldwyn be doing a collaboration with Pornhub?” I’m my own woman, and this is my path. I really thought long and hard about this collaboration, and I don’t think it’s fair for one industry that exists literally over the hill from another industry to be villainized in certain ways when I know that there are things that go on in Hollywood that are just not talked about. I’m not going to be the person to name them here because I’m not going to take on that battle.

But what I can take on is asking us all to take a closer look at the way in which we view adult stars as less worthy. Why are they less worthy? Why are they not human beings? Asa Akira has written multiple books. She’s a mother. These are people with real stories, real lives. Think of Brad Pitt. He’s someone who a lot of people project their fantasies on. It’s really not that different. But if you think about the way we look at movie stars versus adult stars, they tend to take on a larger-than-life ideal. It’s just that adult stars come with us into our bedrooms.

It’s a weird thing to dance around because some of those people who may criticize you are likely logging on to Pornhub at night …

Yeah, I understand that. I totally understand the question, obviously, coming from The Hollywood Reporter, but at the same time, it is my job on this planet. My mission is to further evolve our conscious conversations around sex, health and consciousness. It is not to uphold a version of the movie business created largely by white men, even if they’re part of my family and I love them and appreciate them. That’s not the business I’m in. I’m in the business of sex education. It’s an amazing privilege for me, coming from the background I come from, to be able to look critically at both industries and say, “Hey, it’s time for a change across the board.”

The PSA campaign also features you on camera in the teaser trailer. What was it like to direct yourself?

I hadn’t been in front of the camera directing myself since I made Pretty Things back in 2005, which aired on HBO. Honestly, I promised myself at that time that I would never do it again because it was really hard to watch playback and be in front of the camera, especially for the finale number that the great Albert Maysles shot. So, it was funny that I found myself in the same situation so many years later. But the difference here is that I got to shoot my stuff out first, which was great because then I could really focus on working with the performers. It was fun. I’ve spent the last two years writing a book that comes out this fall, called Sex, Health & Consciousness, so I’ve been in a very internal space.

To be back in Hollywood on a 13,000-square-foot sound stage collaborating with other people to create something so close to my heart and my mission was an incredible opportunity. And to do it in a medium that I love — film — was amazing. I love the movies. I love the entertainment business. There are so many amazing people making mainstream content right now that I love that touches a lot around a lot of these issues. So, I feel so grateful to Pornhub for the ability to do that, and it was fun because I do talk about this stuff all the time.

What did you learn, if anything, from the Pornhub PSA collaboration that you didn’t know before, or what’s the next area of education that you want to focus on?

Professionally, and especially in light of this collaboration, I’ve learned that there are a lot more opportunities to collaborate with a company like Pornhub to deliver digestible information around sexual wellness to a captive audience that wants the information. Again, there are a lot of eyeballs that are on the platform, and there are many people who are interested in exploring sexuality through the content they consume. A lot of therapists prescribe adult content for people who are either looking to be on their own path to sexual discovery or change things up in a relationship. This is an amazing venue to deliver that. If Pornhub is like the Coca-Cola at the movie concession stand, it’s an amazing opportunity to be a coconut water option of alternative ideas and consciousness-focused education within that platform.

Then, on a personal level, with The Sex Ed and my new book, I am very focused on the consciousness part of sex, health, and consciousness by working to expand our ideas around sexuality and through the integration of spirituality and sexuality. That said, there’s still so much work to be done just on the basics, like what is consent? What you see in porn isn’t real.

Is Pornhub your preferred porn platform?

Do you want to know something? I don’t personally watch porn. I work with a lot of adult stars, and we look at porn for those reasons [during the research process]. But in my personal life, I don’t consume it. I used to steal my father’s Playboy magazines when I was a little girl, so I had a great collection of archival porn from the 18th century through the 1970s, but I don’t really engage with it much. Although, I will say that now having done this collaboration that some of the actors, I want to see porn that’s like a hot horny college student reading bell hooks. That’s the porn that I want to see. That probably wasn’t the answer you were expecting. I’m really over here meditating and doing breathwork, and I know people expect me to be watching porn all day and swinging from the ceiling.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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