Stoya
 is a modern renaissance woman. The writer, performer and pornographer is a forward-thinking mastermind who has continuously made unconventional statements in her work—she isn’t scared or worried about defying any norms, especially in such a niche industry like porn.

As the sex columnist for Slate, she’s also known for recently publishing a book of essays, Philosophy, Pussycats, & Porn, which tackles the taboo of discussing sex work. Though she made her name as an adult film star, she is now the editor-in-chief of a progressive new magazine she’s running called Zero Spaces, which recently launched its second issue. It’s being hailed as revolutionary because it reports on the sex industry as someone already inside of it, it has video content, sexy illustrations, photo shoots and opinion pieces. The goal of that site is also to make porn for women, which she says is controversial because “they want to paint us pink and throw a bunch of sparkles on us and keep us in a corner,” she recently said.

 As she gears up for hosting the next edition of the Sex Lit Book Club on April 28 in Brooklyn, Stoya spoke to us about paywalls, Playboy and why she signed up for Bumble.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Svetlana Jovanovic

Perfect Number: How did ZeroSpaces come about?

Stoya: At the beginning of 2017, the internet was still a different place. More publications were covering sex workers and pornography but doing it from a light human-interest angle: “Porn stars also have pets.” The places doing more serious stuff were dry. Playboy has their video content, but its separate from their main site. There was this problem where porn stars were getting bylines which was great because before it was like the highlander where only once could speak. I noticed that we didn’t have a place where we could be serious about certain parts of sex work and fun and human, while incorporating explicit video when it made sense. I wanted to have a publication about sex and sex work that had video to support it.

PN: So it was filling a need that hasn’t existed before?

Stoya: Playboy has serious journalism, but they don’t cover sex seriously, they put the boobs in there and talk about politics, science, and war. I wanted to see the fun pinup stuff and taking sex workers issues seriously. I want to live in a world where Anna Fox, an underrated porn actress, a woman of color, who is so smart, can get the same interview treatment as Mark Zuckerberg does.

PN: What defines the style of ZeroSpaces?

Stoya: It’s photo shoots that have spontaneity, we have Steve Prue shoot a lot of our stuff, we have a Stormy Leather shoot I helped art direct. It varies.

PN: Are you still working in the porn industry?

Stoya: I’m not working in the porn industry, but I am having sex in the new issue with a man with a condom. If you want safer sex in porn, then you have to support it when you see a condom. I am 32 and performing is very physically rigorous and there’s a significant risk to it if you roll the dice for 10 years, how long are you going to keep at it?

PN: ZeroSpaces is a paid publication, does the paywall thing work? Versus free tubes, which I know you hate.

Stoya: You need layers of difficulty between you and people not old enough to see what you’re making. It’s not good that kids are learning about sex from free online porn. When they type ‘sex’ or ‘porn’ into a search window, it’s not the kind of stuff you want to see. There are complicated things about different sexual preferences that teens aren’t prepared to digest. Paywalls are very important.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Svetlana Jovanovic

PN: You have 300k followers on Instagram. Have you been dedicated to growing your audience over the years?

Stoya: No. I’ve been uncalculated about it. Business people in my life are horrified, ‘you’ve never collected email addresses?’ It’s a very awkward thing with porn because people get so up in arms about it. You don’t know if someone who gave you their email six years ago is now in a relationship with someone they love deeply and their partner hates porn. It’s not worth it to me. I’m funding Zero Spaces. Hopefully, it will support itself. Rather than overmarket, I’d prefer to grow it slowly. I’m an advice columnist at Slate, so I hear the other end of it, all sides, I hear from partners who are into porn, others are not and tell me what their concerns are. It’s a lot. If we do good work and have an affiliate program for creators to tell people to pay for the content, it all works out.

PN: What’s the content we see on Zero Spaces?

Stoya: It comes from what people are excited to do. I cast for personality more than what they look like. I find everyone on the site stunning. But you think of personality first, at least I do. Ask people who they want to work with, it doesn’t get asked enough. It’s typical of adult performers to have a ‘no list’ of things they don’t do, but I want to see a ‘yes list,’ that’s 2019 feminism in a nutshell, it’s improving on the bare minimum. Barriers are okay. Condoms are okay.

PN: Who is your audience?

Stoya: Molly Crabapple did a big show, she made a painting of me, she’s so talented. I forgot who got the email, but there was this guy, who loves observing this community of stuff happening. He lives in a not major city and that kind of person, but with regards to sex work, is who I had in my head for Zero Spaces. As more sex workers got more bylines in publications, I didn’t feel the pressure of filling the gap of having enough bylines. At first, when people said “Stoya, you’re the smart porn star,” I can now point to a website and say: “Let me introduce you to 50 of my wickedly talented sex worker friends.” Jesse Sage has a column at a Pittsburg paper, Lorelei Lee has a column, Jacq the Stripper does her comedy stuff. It’s nice to know people will say something about Zero Spaces because it’s not that dire. More sex workers now are visible in public where they’re being taken seriously as humans. It just happened inch by inch.

PN: How did it happen, in your eyes?

Stoya: It started in the 1970s with Carol Leigh, who coined the word ‘sex work.’ But maybe it started with activist Sylvia Rivera, it happened gradually over decades. Then Sesta-Fosta happened and creators lost their method of expression. We feature people doing interesting stuff with sexuality that wouldn’t make sense on Pornhub and Tumblr won’t take it now with their new policy banning adult content. But there are many viewers who still want it. I understand why Tumblr did what they did, age verification is important, I have to meet with people I want to work with on facetime and ask for their government ID to make sure they’re of age, even to make art and do illustrations.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Svetlana Jovanovic

PN: Is it true you started writing because you were disappointed with journalism?

Stoya: There’s no technical school you go to for porn, for a while I was focused on that. In journalism interviews I didn’t see what I was doing wrong, then I took classes in improv. Zero Spaces is a really special talent show—here is this awesome burlesque star, write something for me. We’ve only just begun but I love the role switching, inviting people to do the thing they don’t normally do but its right next to what they do. Let’s get that in here.

PN: On April 28, you’re hosting the next Sex Lit Book Club at the Gemini Scorpio space in Brooklyn. What’s that all about?

Stoya: We use a book to talk about historical attitudes about sex today, it really is a discussion. There needs to be a place that talks about chlamydia, condoms, getting tested. People aren’t hearing this, so I figured I ought to say it. It’s great to get people talking about sex and engage with it critically, that’s what we do at the book club.

PN: What is dating like for you?

Stoya: I finally for the first time in my life downloaded a dating app, one problem of dating in New York was that I wasn’t around enough. But I’m in the city a lot this year so I thought I should meet some people. I used normal photos of me, I started with Bumble then downloaded Hinge. I feel like OkCupid might be next. It has been terrifying. Just meeting up with people off the internet is dangerous. From “hi how are you” to “here’s my number lets text,” a lot of benign but unsettling signs. Do I want to pursue something beyond the first unsettling sign?

PN: What kinds of rights do sex workers and porn performers have?

Stoya: There is the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, but to unionize you have to be employees. Porn performers aren’t really a stable population, but being self-employed and protecting your own rights is an option. With sites like Clips for Sale and ManyVids, performers can sell their own work that way. For me, my whole camera gear kit fits into a small backpack. It’s great. I only shoot amateur stuff.