The Sky's the Limit for Asa Akira



Whether porn reflects existing racial stereotypes or creates a monster of its own is a classic chicken-or-the-egg question. Porn and racism, most likely, engender a mutually reinforcing cycle. But Akira’s individual responsibility within this cycle is, at most, ambiguous.



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Warning: This piece contains explicit description and discussion of sexual activity, as well as language some may consider offensive or violent.

Asa Akira was 25 when she discovered one of her “favorite things in the world”: double penetration. She had just landed her first showcase — a relic of the DVD era of porn — and was starring in a movie of five or six scenes. On her first day of shooting, she was slated to have vaginal sex in a threesome with two guys. What she didn’t know was that her life would be changed forever.

“The chemistry was right, everything was perfect,” Akira says. “I was so turned on. And I just ended up doing double penetration.”

Before filming, she hadn’t really thought about trying double penetration, and if not for this scene, she “would have been a totally different kind of performer today.” Simply put, this was both a turning point in her career and a revelatory moment in her life. She remembers thinking, “Oh shit, I better go into everything I do with an ‘anything can happen’ attitude.” The idea that there were still new and amazing experiences yet to be unlocked at 25 years old was exhilarating. Now, she says, “The sky’s the limit.”

Because of her showcase, “Asa Akira is Insatiable,” Akira went from being a token Asian performer to a rising pornstar in her own right — specifically known for her anal sex scenes. She’s won the Adult Video News Female Performer of the Year Award — the pornstar equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Actress — and was the inaugural host of the Pornhub Awards. She’s one of the most recognizable names in porn, often referred to as “the anal queen.”

At 35 years old, with 16 years of sex work experience under her belt, Akira says she would still do porn even if she won the lottery. She really just loves her job. “I'm a true exhibitionist. I get off on knowing that people are watching me and are getting off on me and are being turned on by me. I guess you could almost even say that's the fetish,” she says. “I really see my porn career as kind of extension of my sex life. As well as it being, you know, work.”

As the host of the Pornhub podcast, Akira hopes to disrupt the narrative that women in porn are exclusively the victims of horrible situations. She acknowledges that while this is a reality for many, sex workers are not a monolith. “A lot of us are very empowered by porn, and a lot of us are in porn not because we couldn't do anything else, but because that was our number one choice,” she says.

The porn industry’s obsession with race complicates this sense of empowerment. Between subgenres like ‘ebony’ and ‘hentai,’ terminology like ‘Big Black Cock,’ and videos that show Asian women playing massage therapists, it’s almost impossible for porn actors of color to create content that doesn’t fixate on race. Asian women, specifically, are asked to play into stereotypes of submissiveness and exoticism, as well as caricatures of Asian culture. Akira sums up the nature of the fetishization of Asian women with a joke that a white guy told her in high school: “Fucking an Asian girl is like camping out in your own backyard, because it's just exotic enough, but you're still close to home.”

When she started out in porn, Akira landed roles that often epitomized these racialized images — and at the time, they didn’t bother her. “If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said, ‘I have zero problem being fetishized. I see it as a celebration.’ I didn't know what the problem was,” she says. “Now, I feel a little bit differently. Now, I don't know.”

For a woman of color chasing her dreams of porn stardom, scenes that centered on Akira’s Asian-ness were her only options. Within a few years, she was making a living performing in roles that were “very stereotypically Asian,” such as acting as a masseuse and leaning into the trope of the docile Asian woman. Some of Akira’s Pornhub and XVideos titles include “Huge Black Cock Splits Tight Asian Ass of Asa Akira” and “Asian Masseuse Asa Akira Gives Handjob in Shower.” The naming process of these videos is a contentious subject for many porn actors of color because they have no say in the words used to market their bodies. For instance, XVideos termed one of Akira’s videos “Oriental Sluts Bring A Stud In For A Wild Threesome” without her input, even though she signed on for a standard threesome scene.

It goes without saying that these titles are obscenely racist. Moreover, they clearly don’t exist in a vacuum, but epitomize pervasive stereotypes about how racialized bodies engage in sex. These dangerous ideas percolate throughout mundane spaces far less taboo than porn — dating apps, entertainment, and college hookup cultures that render phrases like ‘yellow fever’ and ‘jungle fever’ commonplace. At the same time, these ever-present but implicit stereotypes are rarely articulated as explicitly as they are in porn. Porn appears to only magnify sexualized racism.

Whether porn reflects existing racial stereotypes or creates a monster of its own is a classic chicken-or-the-egg question. Porn and racism, most likely, engender a mutually reinforcing cycle. But Akira’s individual responsibility within this cycle is, at most, ambiguous. While theoretical questions are ripe for intellectual meanderings — like the ones in this article — it’s worth considering whether porn actors of color themselves should have to perform the labor of answering them. Over almost two decades, Akira’s beliefs on porn’s relationship to race have evolved. She has decades of evolution left to go. When asked how she contends with the far-reaching and potentially damaging impact of her career, she hesitates.

“I don't think I'm at a place right now where I'm at the final destination of my thoughts on that. I just started thinking about it,” she says. “And my thoughts aren't composed yet, if that makes sense. I'm starting to question it. And I don't have an answer.”

From the beginning of her career to the present, Akira’s professional goal has been to only do work that makes her feel sexy. Perhaps counterintuitively — especially to those who consider racial fetishization to be offensive or even violent — being fetishized didn’t always undermine this standard. To Akira, fetishization isn’t necessarily different from how we often limit our perceptions of strangers and acquaintances to the roles in which they serve us: our Amazon delivery guy is just our Amazon delivery guy, our doctor is just our doctor. And maybe to millions of PornHub and XVideos viewers, Akira is just the Asian girl they jack off to. For those five minutes, Akira says, “I don't expect them to care about anything outside of me, except for what? The parts of me that they want to masturbate to.”

“If anything, I can kind of spin it in my head in a way where I'm like, ‘Oh, I feel more celebrated, and I feel sexy because of the fact that this is fetishized.’” While this is Akira’s approach to her occupation, it doesn’t extend to the personal relationships she cherishes. “I don't want to be fetishized in my real life by my friends, by my actual lovers,” she says. “That would feel really disgusting.”

When it does come to work, the decision to “spin” instances of obvious racial stereotyping into a source of personal pleasure could be a legitimate means of reclaiming power or, more pessimistically, a kind of coping mechanism. Regardless, this is how Akira gets her bag. She’s capitalizing on the racial dynamics that, as an Asian woman simply existing in this world, would probably be imposed on her anyway.

But on a more actionable level, there are concrete ways for pornstars of color to assert their agency. According to Akira, all porn actors typically abide by their individual ‘no’ list: people they won’t work with and things they won’t do. For porn actors of color, the ‘no’ list may include certain race-related acts that they’re not comfortable with. Akira, for example, refuses to speak in an amorphous Asian accent or “clearly just make fun of Asian people.” Even though she describes ‘no’ lists as common practice within the porn industry, she points out that their volume may depend on actors’ relative degrees of privilege. Most productions include a token Asian woman, says Akira, whereas Black women may not be afforded even that. Given a scarcity of job opportunities, people may understandably compromise their ideal ‘no’ list for a paycheck.

More broadly, Akira takes issue with the lack of diversity among producers and upper-level management in porn. White men overwhelmingly profit off racist sexualized representations of people of color. Consumers also have a responsibility to make their porn consumption more ethical. Between OnlyFans, independent production companies helmed by people of color, and content on mainstream sites posted directly by the actors, there are tangible means of maximizing cash flow to sex workers of color. Akira herself has transitioned away from studio porn to serving as her own producer for exclusively solo videos.

While practices like ‘no’ lists and consumer consciousness are necessary given how the porn industry currently operates, these alone will not revolutionize how sex and race violently intersect in the popular imagination. A look at Pornhub’s content categories is evidence enough.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn't be marketed as Black this, Asian that, Latino that,” Akira says. In a perfect world, the work of porn actors of color could finally transcend racial categories. “It would just be like, ‘Oh, look at this beautiful woman. Look at this hot dude or whatever.”

— Staff writer Josie F. Abugov can be reached at josie.abugov@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer Elyse D. Pham can be reached at elyse.pham@thecrimson.com.