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This Female Gay Porn Director Knows Why Women Love Gay Porn

Nica Noelle is one of the only women to break into the gay porn industry. She explains why straight women watch gay porn, why her industry is often troubled, and more.

Kevin Clarke

Nica Noelle en el set con el actor porno Brendan Patrick. Foto cortesía de Nica Noelle

After working for years in the lesbian and straight porn industry, feminist porn producer and director Nica Noelle is one of few women to venture into the world of gay porn. And she's one of fewer still to see the level of success she's achieved there, too.

Noelle founded the gay porn studio Icon Male in 2015 (link NSFW), specializing in "romantic porn." And beyond gay men looking for something more than sex and a slapped-together plot in their erotica, romantic porn also holds major appeal for straight women—who are watching gay porn more than ever over the past few years. Pornhub data has consistently shown that after "lesbian," "gay (male)" is the most-viewed category among their female users. The fandom some straight women have developed around gay porn stars has been known to get excessive. And as a straight woman who directs gay porn, few are more qualified than Noelle to tell us why.

Noelle's career has not been without controversy; some models and bloggers have accused her of subpar working conditions (link NSFW) on set and a having bad temper, and she's lobbed accusations of her own (link NSFW). But the world of gay porn is tumultuous and dramatic, and Noelle has her share of backers and admirers, not to mention accolades, too. That she's been able to carve out a sizable foothold in a notoriously competitive industry as a straight woman is impressive in its own right; below, Noelle tells VICE how she rationalizes the straight female fandom that's developed around gay porn, and explains why her industry is as troubled as it often is.

VICE: Your Icon Male films could be described as "romantic porn," as opposed to "reality" or "amateur" porn. And they're increasingly being consumed by women. What drives their love for gay porn?
Nica Noelle: This is a complex topic, but I think there are a few general things going on. For one, many older, straight women may feel more comfortable watching gay porn because they don't have to worry about measuring up to a younger, more attractive, or more sexually skilled woman on screen. The gay male sexually rejects all women, regardless of how young or beautiful. When the female gay porn fan watches her "porn crush" make love to another man, she can enjoy his beauty and sexual performance without the unwanted intrusion of a female with whom they feel they could never compete.

The woman viewer may also fantasize that even though her porn crush is gay, if given a chance she could offer him such unconditional love and devotion that he would end up falling for her. Not because of her youth or good looks, but for her beautiful soul. Since the gay male is not attracted to female bodies in the first place, she can fantasize that his feelings for her would be based on something far deeper and more meaningful than empty animal lust. You can see how this could be a very safe and potent fantasy in many ways.

As for the "groupies," it seems to be a bit of a midlife crisis that some women are indulging in, if that doesn't sound too judgmental. It appears as though they are returning to a time in their youth when they were infatuated with teenage boy bands and read teen magazines; a time when beautiful young men were still magical and unattainable and thus largely unthreatening. It would probably seem far creepier for a middle-aged woman to be obsessing over a "straight" teenage boy; it might be viewed as bordering on pedophilia. But because these are young gay men, the woman feels free to obsess about them and to watch them having sex without guilt or shame.

Is the booming literary male-male romance phenomenon—dominated by female writers and readers—related to the boom of romantic gay porn?
There are a lot of female gay porn fans who are writing erotica or who consume a lot of it, and there does seem to be an overlap in our respective fan bases, but I don't personally read any of it. The last thing I want to do after shooting porn all day is to sit down with a book of erotica!

As a director and producer of gay porn, you get to boss around men in front of the camera—instead of the other way around, which is how the porn world usually works for women. Is there an element of power in this for you?
I get absolutely no personal thrill from "bossing" men around or telling them what to do with each other sexually. Ideally, we're all on the same page in terms of what the sex scene should be, and I never have to open my mouth to give a direction. But that's not always the reality, of course.

The biggest issue I encounter with porn performers, and this is true not only in gay porn but in every genre, is that most performers have been conditioned to have sex in a certain way—I call it "porno sex." They appear mechanical and detached, their faces are expressionless, their moaning sounds fake and canned, and as a result they look like Siamese twins connected only at the genitals. So I have to remind them during the scene to touch each other, to stay focused on each other. I also have to remind them to kiss deeply, and to take their time with foreplay. Some performers are naturally passionate and graceful, while others are hopelessly wooden and struggle to express the kind of passion and intimacy I'm looking for.

Various recent documentaries and films about the gay porn industry show a troubled world of drugs, unhappiness and suicide. What's your experience?
Porn is a radical career choice; it can be a very extreme environment. It's not the healthiest place for someone who is emotionally unstable, or struggling with drugs or self-esteem issues—yet those are often those who end up here. My observation is that a high percentage of porn performers, gay and straight, are engaged in a variety of internal struggles. And you can say that's true in every field, but in just the last six months two performers I knew and worked with committed suicide, both in their early thirties (one was a gay male performer, the other a straight female). There have been countless suicides and fatal overdoses since I started working in porn ten years ago, and in all my years working in corporate America I didn't know anyone who committed suicide. So I think it's disingenuous to say things like "troubled people are everywhere, not just in porn." Well, yes. But they're more likely to self-destruct in an environment like this one.

Do you think your films will have a lasting impact on the genre?
I generated some interesting discussions with my work, but I don't think anything is "lasting." There is no way to build any kind of equity in porn. You can't attain anything real here. There is no retirement, no pension, no job security of any kind, no reverence or respect paid to our elders. Our best work, the projects we pour our hearts into, will sit on retailer's shelves for barely a month before they're tossed in the bargain bin to make room for the never-ending stream of new titles. Within a few years after I shoot my last porn film, I'm sure it will be like I never existed.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Kevin Clarke lives in Berlin and works for the Schwules Museum*. He curated the exhibition Porn That Way and wrote the book Porn: From Andy Warhol to X-Tube.