Sex + Dating

Married Porn Star Nina Hartley on Making Polyamory Work

Nina Hartley isn't famous for her polyamorous marriage with adult film director Ira Levine (Ernest Greene), she's famous for her porn. Hartley's a veteran; entering the scene in 1984 and staying in it for more than 30 years, a difficult task for an industry where younger almost always equates to better.

A fascinating detail that competes with the feat of spending numerous decades in front of the camera involves her aforementioned husband. The openly bisexual Hartley has been in a polyamorous marriage with her husband since 2003 and has -- most importantly -- made it work the whole time. She calls herself "kinky as a cheap garden hose" and frequently, at age 57, engages in threesomes, orgies, and everything in between. Naturally, we wanted to know what the secret was... so we called Nina up and asked her. This is, in her own words, the secret to having a polyamorous marriage when you're in porn. 

We have sex parties with single women or the occasional couple -- when we can find a compatible one -- but I go to more orgies than he does.

I met my husband at work. He was the assistant director to a friend of mine who was directing her very first feature movie. This was 1989, back when they did features... 10 years before the internet. It was the height of the video era. The companies were big and booming. There was a lot of production.

The company we were working for is now defunct, but it was one of the big dogs of the '70s and '80s. I was already nine years into a very unhappy marriage, but was 11 years away from leaving. I had one bad marriage with someone who was not a good candidate for mating with a sex worker. 

We were saddled with this horrible script, this stupid, stupid script. There was one scene [that] I thought very problematic, because it was written as a rape scene and I didn't do rape scenes. I thought, what am I going to do? The scene was written that way, we had to shoot it that way, but I don't want to do it this way. Ernest, being Earnest, he had come from the straight movie business over to porn, because he had something to say about kinky sex. He just gave me a little bit of advice for my character and basically asked the question, 'How would you fuck if you were fucking for your life?'

I like facilitating. I'll get the lube, hold your hat, hold your hair, hold your coat, get the condom.

For him, he just says he was born without the jealous gene. It's never been a problem for him. I was able to heal my jealousy and wrestle it to the floor and finally put it in a little envelope and mail it away. I had a different trajectory with that emotion. He has never felt it. He feels plenty of other emotions, but sexual jealousy or protectiveness just isn't in him.

In the polyamorous community, the opposite of a jealous person is something called compersion. C-O-M-P-E-R-S-I-O-N. Compersion. That means that a person takes pleasure in seeing their partner having sexual interactions with other people. That's what I always wanted in my life and that's what I finally have in my life. I love watching my partner, my husband, and my other playmates having fun. I like facilitating. I'll get the lube, hold your hat, hold your hair, hold your coat, get the condom. To me, being involved in a sexual act, my vulva does not have to be engaged. It's so hard to find a man who loves a sex worker because she's a slut. Air quotes around "slut."

The secret to polyamory first is to be polyamorous. Poly is not better than mono. It's not more evolved than mono. It's either your preferred relationship preference or it's not. To be able to find a suitable mate, one must be fully aware of one's own sexual nature and fully at peace with it, whatever it is. Only then can you find a partner with whom you can really build something real as opposed to more drama.

He doesn't have the capacity for either sexual guilt or sexual shaming. It's very hard to find a heterosexual man who is not possessive or jealous.

A little door opened in my brain and I went, 'OK, I can work with that.' I went through and I nailed the scene. I was not a victim. I got to hang out with him and he was funny. He was age-appropriate... culturally homogenous with me [and] we're both secular Jews. We are left of center.

I'm a red diaper baby. His parents were very liberal. We are both sex creatures. That's how that works, we hit it off. He made me laugh. He's funny. He has great stories. He's been all over the world. He's done this job and that job and straight movies and reporting and anti-war stuff... he's an interesting person. He doesn't have the capacity for either sexual guilt or sexual shaming. It's very hard to find a heterosexual man who is not possessive or jealous. Most importantly -- this is so big I can't overstate the fact -- that finding a man who loved me for the fact that I liked being a sex worker is huge. In 32 years I've seen dozens, if not hundreds of relationships form and break away and form and fall apart.

Depending on who's talking, he's either an evil pimp who's living off of a sex worker cause he's a pig-fuck or I am a poor, deluded person who thinks she's free...

The biggest misconception is from people who know we're in a dominant-submissive relationship. My husband is sexually kinky and he is a dominant. I am what they call a "switch," meaning I can take the dominant or submissive role depending on the situation, my preference, and my partner. Depending on who's talking, he's either an evil pimp who's living off of a sex worker cause he's a pig-fuck or I am a poor, deluded person who thinks she's free, but really is enslaved to pornography. Blah, blah, blah... or they think he must be pretty pussy whipped to let his woman fuck other guys. 

What people say about us or think about us really depends on their viewpoint. It is relative. If you're a God believer, we're both sinning and fornicating and we're going to be doomed to hell. Yay you. Everybody thinks what they please about us because that's what people do. The most common thing people say when they're around us is 'You guys are so cute together.' We're now, even though we like playing with women in their 20s and 30s, we're now older enough now that we're becoming a cute older couple. We're still cute, but we'll still fuck your brains out. 

Outside the bedroom, we're a middle-class, middle-aged, second-marriage couple. We share all the household duties and that kind of thing.

When we're together it's true that we love each other and that the affection is real and the bond is real. That's all you ever want to see in a couple. I don't care if you're monogamous. Do you like each other? Are you kind to each other? To me, love is a verb, and we are always showing it by action every day. When we have sex, we show up 100%. We are as kinky as a cheap garden hose. It's a power-exchange sexual relationship. When it comes to sex with a lady, he's always the boss and he makes sure to only play with women who like having a boss when they're fucking. 


Outside the bedroom, we're a middle-class, middle-aged, second-marriage couple. We share all the household duties and that kind of thing. When it comes to the sex dance, he leads and the partners follow. When we have sex, he's Fred Astaire and I'm Ginger Rogers and boy ain't it good. We always have at least 90 minutes to two hours to devote to it for the whole thing. Any couple who's kinky can have slow sex or quick sex. We don't have quick sex. We're old. Maybe, if we were in our 20s, we'd have quick sex... but now we're in our 50s and 60s [and] we just need to take a little longer.

Plenty of people can have quick, kinky sex because kink, air quotes around the word "kink," is an attitude. It's not a behavior. It's a mindset.

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Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and is in a polyamorous relationship with two slices of pizza.