Public Sex, Private Lives is an intimate look at the professional and private lives of porn performers Lorelei Lee, Princess Donna, and Isis Love. Capturing moments of joy and struggle, this film follows the characters as they navigate their lives as artists, daughters, mothers, writers, and women who have made careers in the adult industry. Asked to defend their choices to their families, communities, and even the United States Government, these women share their unique motivations and shifting visions for the future.
Most mainstream media depictions of porn stars tell tragic stories of addiction, ruined lives, exploitation and desperation. Public Sex, Private Lives goes deeper, revealing not only the stigma that comes with being a sexually open woman in American society today, but also the happiness, pleasure, and meaning these women get from their work in the adult industry. Though the backdrop for these women’s stories is the pornographic industry, this film is about much more. It’s about the choices people make to live the lives of their dreams, the way they stand up to a society that tells them they can’t have or shouldn’t want the things they do, and the balancing acts they must play as they navigate multiple identities that the world wants us to believe are at odds.
Director Simone Jude became inspired to shoot a feature length documentary on the public personas and private lives of porn performers in 2008. Momentum grew with the making of the short film, Lorelei Lee, co-directed by Simone Jude and fellow filmmaker and editor Jesse Kerman. Lorelei Lee won ‘Best Directing’ at the Documentary Challenge at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto in 2009. Soon after, production began on Public Sex, Private Lives.
Performer Lorelei Lee began shooting porn at the age of nineteen and has appeared in hundreds of films over her twelve years in the adult industry. During three years of shooting, Simone Jude followed Lorelei as she pursued an MFA in Creative Writing at New York University, wrote an independent feature film starring Lily Taylor, Heather Graham, and James Franco, got married to a porn director, and went to Washington, DC to testify in a federal obscenity trial. Forced to defend her livelihood to the US Government, Lorelei grapples with her reasons for performing in porn, as well as the personal and political meaning she finds in her work.
Donna Dolore, known as Princess Donna to fans of her work as a dominatrix and director of hardcore BDSM pornography, has wanted to be an artist for as long as she can remember. Inspired by the work of Nan Goldin, Donna pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Photography and Gender and Sexuality Studies at New York University. Shortly after graduation she moved to San Francisco to become Kink.com’s youngest director, running the lesbian electrosex website “Wired Pussy.” Facing the sudden death of her father, as well as difficult changes in her personal life, Donna struggles to maintain control and balance. Bolstered by a close relationship with her mother, who experiences a sexual reawakening after her husband’s death, Donna confronts the stigma surrounding her work and negotiates the boundaries of her family and work lives.
Isis Love is an adult film director and performer who is known as a mentor to many young porn actresses. With six godchildren and a biological son, Isis is a maternal figure both inside and out of the adult industry. Homeless and pregnant at age seventeen, Isis worked hard, first as a stripper, and then as an adult performer, to provide a better life for her son. Thirteen years later Child Protective Services calls her in for a hearing, and Isis is compelled to reckon with the potential repercussions of her chosen career. Having given her son more than she ever dreamed of having, Isis wrestles with his lack of recognition for her struggle as she seeks to maintain a close relationship with her child while pursuing her creative dreams.
Public Sex, Private Lives shines a light on a rarely explored subculture, giving viewers behind the scenes access to the world of their fantasies. What happens when someone breaks down on a porn set? What does a performer do when her sense of safety is violated? How does a pornographic actress get respect as a university teacher? Can these women fulfill their dreams, both those unrelated and intimately connected with their work in porn? This film asks more questions than it answers, complicating the things we think we know and want to believe about this controversial field of work.