By: Ilma Hasan
Annie Sprinkle was a sex worker and porn star in New York City for 25 years. Arriving in the city in 1973, she quickly rose the ranks of the pornography world, working with some of the biggest names in the industry. Annie says she fell in love with Times Square the first time she visited. Apart from acting, she worked at the massage parlors and peep shows on 42nd Street and is a staunch critic of its transformation into a shiny upmarket tourist area. She now lives in California and works as an activist and filmmaker. Annie was the first porn star to earn a PhD from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Presently, she is promoting ecosex, a form of environmental activism that thinks of the earth as a lover.
Q: Tell me about your childhood. Where were you born and how did you get into pornography and sex work?
A: I was raised in L.A. till we moved to Panama, where I finished high school. I was born in a highly political family. My father was a social worker and civil rights activist and my mother was a teacher. We grew up in a Unitarian church that also influenced our politics and activism and I was raised to be like that too. When I was 18, I became interested in sex and ended up working at a massage parlor as a young hippie. Around the same time, I was also working as a popcorn seller at Plaza Cinema in Tuscon, Arizona. The theatre was playing Deep Throat at the time – this revolutionary porn film, you should watch it – but we all got busted by the state police. At the time, pornography was still a contentious topic, and I was amazed at how people just having sex could cause such a stir.
Q: Is that how you were introduced to pornography?
A: Yes, Deep Throat was the beginning of porn chic – a new era of the industry. Earlier would be a lot of men. Now couples started going for porn films as well. It was a big breakthrough, because it also had humor. This happened in 1973, and I became friends with the director Gerard Damiano. He was a very nice Italian man and it was a big love, a big relationship. I moved to New York the same year, and became his mistress for 22 years. They all had mistresses, Italian men you see, that’s just how it was at the time. I never met his wife in all those years, but I cherish that relationship. It was with him that I first saw Times Square.
Q: What was your first experience in Times Square like?
A: Gerard’s office was in Times Square so he took me there the day I reached New York City. I fell in love right away. It was all so exciting, there were movies, Broadway shows, lots of lights and all kinds of people! Forty-second Street was a lot of sex shops. I was interested in sex. So I was interested in sex shops. It felt like a carnival.
Q: Tell me more about your life in New York, what did you do?
A: I started out as a prostitute and a porn star, and I did it for 22 years. For me, the impulse was the creative aspect of it. I loved making people happy. I used to work at a fancy massage parlor called Spartacus. We would wear little togas and a guy would come in and pay a $50 basic fee for an hour or so, before choosing who he wanted to be with. There were saunas
and bathtubs and massage tables and we would have the room to ourselves. We would start by giving a massage and negotiate extra money for sex. When I became famous as a porn star, I would make $3,500 to $5,000 in a week doing sex shows. I got lucky.
Q: You earlier mentioned you got lucky, do you think your experiences would resonate with other sex workers from New York at the time?
A: I would say I was privileged. I was white. I had big breasts. I was middle class. I wasn’t poor. No drug or alcohol addiction. I was never raped, people were disrespectful sometimes, but that was their problem. Yeah, I could say I had very good experiences. As for the other women, well, I think it is similar to Hollywood, right? Some people have a good experience, most of them don’t. Its hard, you have to be smart, you have to take care of yourself. You can get ripped off. There can be a bad experience in any business. You could work at a telephone company and have a bad experience.
Q: What would you say about the reputation of Times Square in the 70s?
A: I saw Times Square as something very beautiful, like a colorful playground for adults. Some place to celebrate sexuality and excitement. And if you think people say, oh it was all run by the mafia – so was the garbage industry, the newspaper industry, you know? There was crime all over New York City. It’s just that Americans can be very puritanical.
Q: What would say about Times Squares clean up?
A: I didn’t see it as cleaning it up. I saw it as moral policing. The new Times Square is nothing but a corporate takeover. And Mayor Giuliani shut down all the burlesque clubs except for the Ritz and the gentlemen’s clubs. It was like a case for the rich. But the working people and their safe havens were shut down. To me it was like a manicure or pedicure. Somebody is in your toenails, cleaning them up and it’s very pleasurable. But then there were people in that world who are being exploited you know? Why don’t people accept sex and sex work? I’m not saying all sex workers are, but I
would say a lot of them really are.