Secret Lives

Secret Life of a Mormon Porn Star

I thought I could make my double life work, until meeting a fellow Mormon on set forced me to confront my own contradictions.

Secret Life of a Mormon Porn Star

I met Aaron on a porn set at an estate in the San Fernando Valley. My agent, Jim, had told me I’d like working with him. “He’s nice. Honest, and he shows up on time,” Jim’s voice twanged. A retired professional MMA fighter, Aaron’s muscles bulged like an action hero’s. His skin glowed the familiar orange that came with any of the $29.99 unlimited monthly memberships at Los Angeles tanning salons, but when he smiled, it was in a cheesy Dad-grin kind of way, like something I recognized.

“Wendy!” he called out my stage name.

I looked up, as if I hadn’t been watching him from behind the golden highlights of my long bangs, and flashed a smile. “Jim told me that you’re effing Mormon? Me too!”

It was 2003, and I was new to both Los Angeles and the adult entertainment industry. I’d grown up Mormon in the suburbs of Virginia and Minnesota and moved to Los Angeles to become an actress, but I could never get past the first auditions. I realized, looking around at the other wannabe actresses in the waiting rooms, with their Brazilian blowouts, perfectly manicured nails, and thick, satin-finish business cards, that they had something I didn’t — capital to spend on being more gorgeous, confident versions of their already beautiful selves. I started call-girling, doing massages at upscale hotel rooms in Beverly Hills, then nude modeling for magazines to make cash. From there, it was a smooth jump into adult entertainment, where I could make more doing video. It was a nontraditional detour, I told myself. I’d make $50,000 to invest in myself, and then get out.

I couldn’t deny, though, that I was living a full-fledged double life — going to church on Sundays and doing porn scenes during the week. Meeting Aaron was the first time that my two worlds collided.

An hour after we met, we were both sweaty from the light towers that hovered above us as we moved through the requisite changing of positions for the scene: missionary, cowgirl, reverse cowgirl. I played my part, sliding my hand up my side and along my chest, rolling my eyes and screaming, “More, more!”

When the scene was over, I slipped back into my fuchsia miniskirt and wiped the commercial-grade makeup off my 19-year-old baby face. Aaron came back over to me, hesitant. “Um, want to go to Baja Fresh?” he asked.

“Totally!” I answered. I was alone in the city and craved friendship, someone I could trust and be honest with.

Ten minutes later, we sat down for lunch at a strip mall patio off of Devonshire. Aaron ate his burrito in three bites, not bothering to chew, and talking as he swallowed. I’d learn soon that he lived life like he ate: fast. He told me how he’d once lied about being in the fire department to get out of a speeding ticket. I laughed until I cried. I’d lied to get out of speeding tickets too, claiming grandparents in the hospital, but the police never believed me. I was always too obviously over the top. I admired Aaron’s showmanship and audacity. Our shared Mormonism and day jobs made me feel like I’d known him forever.

The nature of our work meant that there wasn’t any sexual tension when we hung out, and we became fast friends. Aaron understood what it felt like to live a double life with a passion for Jesus and a paycheck from porn. My boyfriend, 2,660 miles away in D.C., and the people at church definitely would not have. I’d gotten used to lying to them about everything from what kinds of auditions I went on to how much money I had, often pretending to be a struggling actress even though I was making real cash.

Over lunch, I told Aaron how I was still going to church on Sundays, tithing from my porn money, and carrying on a long-distance relationship with a Mormon man, Wade, whom I believed I was going to marry in the Mormon temple someday. “I’m doing this for the money, so I can afford to buy acting classes, make time to study acting, and buy a car, for when I try to become a real actress,” I told Aaron. It was the same justification I told myself.

“Yeah, I got into porn as a side gig. I’m definitely not on the right path, but either way God will forgive us,” Aaron said, smiling brightly. I hoped he was right, but I was starting to doubt the church. I wasn’t worried about God’s wrath — he’d forgive me when I was sorry enough — so much as Wade running across naked pictures of me on the internet. He worked for a consulting company that managed famous clients’ reputations. It was only a matter of time before he put his investigative skills to work on me. But I held on to Wade because he tethered me to the familiar while I navigated adult entertainment alone.

The following Sunday, as I got ready for church, Wade and I texted each other the usual daydreams about meeting each other’s families, someday moving to Utah, getting married in the Mormon church and starting a family with lots of kids. On our first date, over spinach paneer at a strip mall Indian buffet, we had marveled at how we both wanted seven children, a number too random to be anything besides fate or the Lord’s will. I loved Wade, but when we were alone, it was hard to be good with our bodies and awkward when we weren’t. We’d go too far, rubbing our hands under each other’s shirts, something the church called “petting,” a sin in the eyes of God. We always stopped short at belt buckles, and when Wade would come, running to the bathroom so I couldn’t see, I’d pretend I didn’t know what was happening. On the phone, when he was safely back in D.C., Wade would remind me what the church taught us — how God had given us our bodies as a gift, and how it was our duty to not give in to Satan’s temptations.

“We have to do better the next time we’re together,” he told me, reaffirming the cheek-burning guilt I always felt when I gave in to desire.

But lately, I was starting to wonder if it made sense. I was tired of feeling so much shame for my sexuality. I tried to ignore the fact that the sex I had for work didn’t feel wrong, and I decided that those thoughts must be the devil’s work.

I didn’t tell Wade the specifics of what I was doing to make money because I told myself it wasn’t cheating — it was a job, not a commitment; work, not love. One day, after I’d made the $50,000 I was aiming for, I’d be able to look back on this and repent. I would come clean to Wade and the church elders, explain how I’d had impossible dreams and did everything I could to achieve them. I imagined myself famous when I explained these things, and I convinced myself that they’d believe the ends justified the means. They’d see that what I’d done was simply the American dream at work — pulling myself up by my bootstraps, or in my case, sales rack lingerie. But I knew that if Wade found out before all that happened, he’d believe me irredeemable. He wouldn’t be able to look past the sex in spite of the fact that we loved each other. I didn’t blame him exactly — we were taught that women were supposed to stay pure for their husbands, that if we didn’t, we’d be giving our husbands scraps of our more sacred selves, robbing them of our virginity. Still, I didn’t want to believe that our love was conditioned on my body’s purity, even if that was what the church taught us.

When I met Aaron, it was a relief and a delight to know that someone could know the truth about me and love me anyway. After that first lunch, Aaron drove me home. A graying surfboard lay in the back seat, filling the car with a briny ocean smell.

“Live life like you surf,” Aaron told me. “When you get knocked down, know that no one on earth’s coming to save you. Get your butt back up.”

When he dropped me off, we fist-bumped.

Where Wade seemed to believe we’d put our life choices in the hands of God, Aaron knew that I was strong enough to make my own decisions. I had always suspected that, and I loved him for believing in that version of reality too.

As I started to do more porn scenes, I met other actors and directors who delighted in the human body rather than feeling shame about it. At one of my first photoshoots, I queefed on set and then screamed in embarrassment, sure that God had forced the sound out of me to remind me of how my body was bad. The director, Mike, screwed up his face. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a vagina fart. All women do that. It’s what we do when there’s air in there,” he laughed.

While filming another scene, an actor named Nacho taught me how to shake my butt cheeks so they danced. I still couldn’t get over the idea that my body was wrong, a Garden of Eden apple that I’d bitten into and offered to others, bringing us all down. Nacho challenged that.

“No need to be so rigid,” he called out as I posed. “What if you just close your eyes and touch yourself for a second?” he’d asked.

My muscles relaxed as I smiled, and I let my fingers drag heavy along my skin as I looked into the camera, noting the softness of my body, discovering it like an explorer. It was fun and exciting.

In another scene, I played a naughty nurse, backup acting for a fresh-faced, girl-next-door type named Violet. She laughed as she stood for poses, reaching her hands into the sky like a cat stretching in the sun. When she fucked, she winked at me and bounced her hair. I had never seen a woman so openly enjoying her own body, laughing as she performed, like it was fun, not just work. I started to wonder about what the church had taught me about my own body — maybe it wasn’t something to be hidden away and denied, saved for my future husband.

Aaron and I started having sleepovers on Friday nights, talking the night away like girlfriends, wrapping ourselves in blankets and spooning. I’d tell him about potential gigs and he’d tell me which directors were nice and which ones he’d heard would ask me to have sex with them after the scenes were over. We had always agreed that we were sinners, but that the sinning was temporary. Now I was starting to question that, and we debated the likelihood of our entry into the celestial kingdom, throwing pillows at each other.

“Our sex doesn’t mark us forever,” he said. “We’ll have a plausible path back to righteousness.”

I nodded, but it was starting to seem kind of crazy, the idea that something as simple and superficial as enjoying our bodies, the things that created actual life, would prevent us from reaching celestial salvation. What about the more important things — like doing unto others and being a good person?

When I’d saved enough money, Aaron helped me buy my first car, in the parking lot of a gas station in Westwood — a used 1998 convertible Pontiac Sunfire. He taught me how to look for a coupon in the back of AutoTrader magazine so that I could get it painted cherry red on the cheap. I started to drive myself around, call-girling at night and going to porn sets by day. With the Prince CDs pumped up, I felt like a bad bitch, one who could decide what kind of life I wanted to lead, without the burden of the church telling me that true decision-making was something husbands or God did on my behalf.

With Wade far away, it was easy enough to keep his suspicions at bay, but eventually, a fellow church member found naked pictures of me on the internet and showed the church elders. The Mormon improv group I’d been performing with kicked me out unceremoniously in a parking lot before a show.

“We can’t in good faith let you perform with us when you’re on a bad path, Amy,” the leader, Eric, said, wringing his hands with embarrassment. “We hope you’ll repent and keep coming to church though,” he continued. They were shocked when I defended myself, and for the first time, I realized I wasn’t embarrassed anymore.

“But what about the guy who found my picture?” I asked. Surely if I was bad for creating the content, he was bad for looking at it.

“He wasn’t trying to watch anything bad, just this pop-up came across his screen and he recognized you.”

For them, my badness was confirmed. I was like Mary Magdalene, an outcast until I repented and became good again. But now, I understood that I didn’t want to be their version of good, that I didn’t believe anymore that my goodness and value as a woman relied on something as stupid as my virginity. I wasn’t sorry, but I knew it was only a matter of time until Wade found out and broke up with me too.

When he came for a visit, Wade insisted on driving my car. As he drove, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I told him to pull over and broke the news about my porn life, how everyone knew, how I hadn’t gone to church in two weeks. He sobbed. I cried too, but they were the tears of the actress I was. I was sorry that I’d been a coward and hurt him, but I wasn’t sorry for my decisions anymore. Between porn and church, the only people who I could be honest with, the only ones who accepted me, were people like Aaron. Wade broke up with me immediately. I was relieved that we were over. I could finally put that part of my life — the shame, the denial, the fear of God, behind me now.

In that moment, I realized that I had everything I needed in myself, that I could let go of the guilt that the church had instilled in me. Finally, I didn’t feel ashamed of my body or my sexuality. It was only later that I’d realize I’d traded one male-dominated field for another — Mormonism for porn. But at least in porn, I could be honest about my life and discover an enjoyment in my body that church had told me was wrong. Eventually I did get out of the porn business, not because I felt it was wrong, but because my life just moved on. I decided to start community college, setting my sights on a new goal, a four-year degree. But even though I left sex work, I didn’t feel wrong for having done it. I no longer believed I needed to repent for my newfound self-love. Meeting Aaron was like looking into a mirror and seeing the church’s hypocrisy in my own reflection. The idea that celestial salvation relied on holding onto shame about a body I’d since learned to love, enjoy and respect became a story I’d simply outgrown.