Asa Akira Shares How She Deals With “Fetishization” As An Asian American Woman In Porn

Courtesy of Stephen Vanasco

At 33, Asa Akira has been working in porn for more than a decade. Through serious dedication to her craft and nearly unmatched hustle, she rose to outside-the-porn-world heights of fame, not only acting in hundreds of porn films but also writing three books, hosting a web series, and hosting a podcast. As a Japanese American woman, she’s worked her way out of the sometimes limiting “Asian” niche of porn to win the Adult Video Network (AVN) Female Performer of the Year in 2013, an award she says typically goes to a white actor.

Akira is famous for her anal sex scenes, but she’s also caught attention for her unwillingness to play into certain tropes that mock Asian cultures or Asian people.

I don’t like anything that makes fun of Asian culture or makes it look dumb,Akira tells Bustle. “It’s such a thin line to walk and everyone draws that line someplace different. It’s such a subjective thing.”

And that subjective line can sometimes seem a little bit like Justice Stewart’s famous quote about obscenity: "I know it when I see it." For Akira, it means a hard line on speaking in an "Asian accent." She also won’t wear “totally ridiculous” outfits that make her feel unsexy. However, she says she doesn’t have a problem with people who are turned on by Asian women as a kink, even if there's a layer of objectification.

“I’ve played a masseuse so many times, I could be a masseuse,” Akira says. “If it feels like if it’s celebrating my culture — or even fetishizing it — that’s OK with me. I don’t mind being a sex object. I did sign up for a job where I want people to masturbate to me; I want to turn people on. It doesn’t bother me, as far as porn goes, to be fetishized. I think that’s kind of the point.”

Courtesy of Stephen Vanasco

Akira is willing to be fetishized onscreen, and that highlights the fact that porn is, at its essence, fantasy.

And in fantasy — whether it’s on your computer screen, in a book of erotica, or the story you play out in your head while you masturbate — people are not fully formed people (and don't have to be). When you’re rubbing one out, you’re not thinking about the chores your sex object has to do later, or the bills he has to pay before the month’s end (unless, of course, you’re into those things). You’re thinking about their bodily fluids and the parts of their body you like best and the particular power dynamics that get you off.

And so, a person’s sexual fantasies don’t always match up with their politics. In fact, they very often don’t. Strong feminist women who are into rape fantasies and male CEOs who spend thousands of dollars on dominatrixes are so common they’re cliche. And Akira, a vocal feminist, says that while she’s OK with fetishization on screen, she’s struggled with her politics not exactly matching her job.

“It’s definitely been a really hard thing for me to compromise on,” Akira says. “I’m a person of color. I do consider myself a feminist. I do consider myself a progressive. But if I don’t play into my Asian-ness and play into fetishization of Asians, then I would cease to exist. I’m sure there are people out there who find things I do degrading to Asian culture, but I guess I can only live by my own principles.”

But while she’s largely OK with playing out fantasy based on stereotypes on screen, that doesn’t mean she’s OK with it in her personal life. Akira draws a clear line between playing a one-dimensional sex object on screen and how she wants to be treated in her personal relationships.

“I’m like anyone else: In my real life, I don’t want to be seen as a sex object to my friends or even my lovers,” Akira says. “I want to be seen as more than my culture and more than my job. But as far as my job goes? I don’t mind being that person.”

Courtesy of Stephen Vanasco

In addition to her busy career, Akira is a new mom. And like many new moms, she’s found a way to keep working, albeit on a more flexible schedule. But while some women turn to freelance or the gig economy when they have children, Akira has been uploading solo sex videos to Pornhub and her private Snapchat. Think of it as the gig economy job of the porn world: Akira can work her own hours, choose which parts of her changed body she’s ready to share, and edit her clips however she chooses. Because while Akira doesn’t currently have plans to return to mainstream porn studios anytime soon, she loves her work too much to quit it entirely.

“I always knew that if I had a kid, that would be my main focus,” Akira says. “And I wasn’t ready for it before. I wanted porn to be my main focus and my career. That was my baby.”

While Asa unabashedly loves her job, she’s been vocal for years about her ambivalence about having children, mainly because she wasn’t sure she wanted to put the burden of society’s judgment about her career on the shoulders of a child.

“Being a kid is already so hard,” Akira says. “I thought, ‘Would it be horrible for me to bring a child into this world and already they have things working against them?’ Kids are really mean.”

When asked what shifted for her, Akira says that not only is she “in the right relationship now” but she also came to realize any child she has will be her kid and therefore will be raised with her values.

“I’m going to raise him to be a feminist, to be sex-positive, to not slut-shame,” Akira says. "I hope I can raise him to understand that sex is a beautiful thing; we all do it and it’s not something to be ashamed of. I feel like women who are proud about their sexuality and open about their sexuality should be having more kids, so we can have more kids who are raised that way!”

But the judgment isn’t just on her child, and it's different from the judgment a single, childfree woman in porn faces. Becoming a mom has helped Akira realize that all of the condemnations sexual women face are amplified once they have a child. While "MILF" is consistently one of the top search terms on Pornhub, society, she says, thinks moms “should not be sexual at all.”

“People are like, ‘They’re somebody’s mother! How could they!’ Which is so wrong,” Akira says. "I still have agency over my own body, and just because I’ve had a kid doesn’t mean I can’t be sexual anymore.”

And so, Akira will continue being sexual, in her personal life, on the screen, and on her terms.