:: Article

Raw, sexual, and feminist

Interview by Jana Astanov.

Madison Young is a feminist porn icon and body based performance artist dedicated to creating space for radical love. This body-based performance artist grew up in the suburban landscape of Southern Ohio before moving to San Francisco in 2000. Young’s work spans from documenting our sexual culture in her 44 Internationally screened and award-winning feminist erotic films to curating over 500 performance art and visual art exhibitions through out the country in the past decade including exhibitions at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Highways Theater in Santa Monica, and The Body Archive in New York City.  Young has exhibited Internationally with her performance art, video art installations, and photography.  Her memoir, Daddy, was published in February 2014 through Rare Bird Lit and  followed by the publication of The DIY Porn Handbook: Documenting Our Sexual Revolution(Greenery Press) and The Ultimate Guide to Sex Through Pregnancy and Motherhood (Cleis Press) in 2016. Young has been featured for her expertise in sex-positive culture on such media outlets as BravoTV, Huffington Post, Salon.com, New York Times, and HBO and is a feature writer for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Bustle, Romper and Playboy Magazine and is currently on tour with her one woman show Reveal All Fear Nothing: A Journey in Sex, Love, Porn and Feminism. You can follower her on IG @therealmadisonyoung and Twitter

3:AM: What made you become a performance artist? 

Madison Young: As a child I was always so intrigued by art, artists, and performance.  I grew up in a religious household with alot of rules and structure and in an environment of a lot of body and sexual shame. I saw performance – dance, theater, performance art – as individuals that were an embodiment of emotional expression.  All the things that were repressed deep inside me, were expressed out loud in the arts.  And not only were they expressing authentic expression of emotion and self but they were celebrated for their  expression of self and their art helped me and others that saw their art feel not so alone in who they are and the emotions churning deep inside all of us.  I sought out theater as my first artistic medium.  I attended a performing arts high school and majored in theater and that was my life.  I  went onto college to major in theater and knew that I was interested in political theater and theater to create social change.  I started leaning deeper into experimental theater, political theater, absurdist theater and eventually after I had moved to San Francisco and started my feminist art gallery, my girlfriend at the time introduced me to performance art.  I fell in love.  I loved the anarchistic nature of performance art.  I loved how powerful action, or a series of actions, or body movements or instructions could be with or with out words.  I loved how difficult it was to pin point the exact definition of performance art.  It is a very queer, anarchistic art form that can take on many forms and intersect with many different disciplines and that is something that really attracts me to performance art.  I like art that knows the rules and then breaks them.  It’s a visceral and embodied art form.  I love that the body is a material in performance art.  Its very political.  Very sexual.  

3:AM: How would you define your aesthetic?

MY: I’d say my performance work tends to be raw, guttural, visceral, sexual, and feminist.  In many of my pieces I’m bringing my internal emotional experiences and processes into the external world and physicalizing them by pushing my body in different ways.

3:AM: What are some of your notable past projects?

MY: One piece that I presented in Australia was entitled Creative Tensions and my naked body was bound to a type writer  and then there were silver buckets and wine glasses  that were hanging from my body – my nipples, my labia, my arms, etc and surrounding me was a circle of objects with an intention or challenge  that the object represented.  There were rocks representing the weight and obstacles in an artists way to get through their blocks to the essence of their piece, there were bars of soap representing judgment of the public, sticks representing the flawed super hero, water representing the ebb and flow of creative energy.  The audience used these objects to fill the vessels on my body creating greater and greater tension.  The piece embodied the artists experience of birthing and creating new work.  You can view more of that piece at https://myartgasm.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/creative-tensions-sydney-australia-max-black-august-2015/.

3:AM: How did you meet Annie Sprinkle and how this meeting informed the art you make?

MY: I first met Annie back in 2003.  My gallery had just moved from a ware house space to our first store front gallery in the Mission District of San Francisco and we were moving from doing occasional programming to having regular gallery hours, a volunteer staff, regular monthly programs and I had asked Annie if I could interview her for Suicide Girls and exhibit some of her art work in our first show at our new space.  To my surprise she said yes!  She was the first big named artist that we really had exhibited.  She invited me over to her house and we chatted over her kitchen table and looked at art work and talked about feminism, sex work, pornography.  She was so open and generous and just radiated with so much love.  I knew right away that I had found family, someone that would be in my life for years.  We started collaborating more and more often and she became more than a mentor but truly a mother to me.  Both Annie and her wife Beth are my chosen mothers and were present at the  birth of my first born and the labor of my second child.  I feel so lucky to have them both in my life.  Annie’s bravery and openness in her work have been an absolute inspiration to me  and my work.  She paved the way for sex workers to tell their own stories and control the narrative, to represent ourselves.  But even beyond that her work is filled with so much love.  Annie and Beth helped me to realize the absolute power of love and helped me come into my own as a love activist. 

3:AM: Pornography has been historically driven by men, what’s feminist porn and how is it different from mainstream porn? 

MY: That is a great question and often a difficult one to answer. So just because porn is mainstream doesn’t mean that it can’t also be feminist.  Much in the way that sometimes we see major Hollywood studios pick up feminist indie films however much of the Hollywood block busters are filled with violence and sexism and lack queer and feminist representation.  Feminist porn is the documentation of our sexual culture that honors authentic expression of self and above all honors choice.  Choice in lubricant, safer sex practices, the kind of sex you are having, who you are having sex with.  Feminist Porn honors the individual and give voice to narratives that advocate for showing negotiation, consent, communication and honors body diversity and body agency.  Occasionally awesome feminist porn directors like Tristan Taormino work with main stream porn bringing this feminist ethos to mainstream studios and visibility. However, fast food pornography that depends on a formulaic assemblage of individuals having sex that the director dictates based on a perceived notion of what will sell best and what they viewer wants, is still highly prevalent.  But feminist porn and its viewing audience has grown exponentially over the last 15 years.  

3:AM: You call yourself radically productive, how does it translate into life?

MY: I’ve always been someone who gets things done.  I’m a doer.  For example I moved out to San Francisco at the age of 20 and started my own art gallery with no money.  I ran the art gallery and produced over 500 visual and performance art events over ten years while growing the non-profit feminist art gallery and starting my own feminist porn production company and touring the world as a bondage model and porn performer to support the feminist art gallery.  My radically productive life currently involves the art of juggling full time parenting my two kiddos, running an unschooling program, writing my fourth book, and touring my one woman show.  

3:AM: Your recent performance art piece is called “Smashing the fucking patriarchy”, what’s your take on taking down the old system?

MY: Our society has so many deep toxic layers of sexism, homophobia, violence, transphobia, racism and deep deep rooted layers of sexual stigma and shame.  These are systematic and have deep rooted ties to our societies allegiance with capitalism and religion that over shadows love, compassion, interconnectedness, well being, community.  Much of the work that I do is digging in deep to these systematic layers through art, porn, film, performance, writing and education and unraveling this tangled web of toxicity so that we might all find our hearts once again and remember how to use them.  


3:AM: How has the #metoo movement affected mainstream pornography industry?

MY: The #MeToo movement is like a flash light.  This sexism has been present in ever industry and in our every day encounters for decades.  #MeToo is illuminating these actions and calling for action, for change – in pornography and in every industry.

3:AM: Can you please tell me who is Arbor and what significance does she have on your work?

MY: I took on the middle name Arbor after becoming a mother.  She reminds me to slow down.  She remembers to put down her phone.  She makes self care dates for herself.  She asks herself if taking on this assignment or gig is something that feels nourishing.  She is magical and super connected to the earth.  She relies on ritual and remembers to look up at the moon and the stars and to watch the sunrise.  She understands that if we don’t take care of ourselves we wont be of much use to the longevity of creating social change.  She balances out the radically productive Madison who is emotionally driven to work and create change and can often forget to care for herself.  With out Arbor, I would burn out.  She is essential and I’m so glad that I birthed in to the existence of her when I became a parent.


3:AM: How do you reconcile your strong drive to smash the patriarchy with the extreme submission in your BDSM work?

MY: I’m very assertive in my sexuality and my politics.  Submission is not a sign of weakness.  It is an experience of surrender.  In kink both the dominant and submissive create a container for the scene to exist with in together based on negotiations and mutual desires.  They then leave their outside selves and step into that container as equals, in mutual respect for one another.  In my submission, I experience a great deal of strength, endurance, power and freedom while simultaneously experiencing a deep level of intimacy and connectedness to my partner.  I think kink does smash the patriarchy and it takes all the building blocks of power play and allows you to construct a container together, a play space that supports both individuals and honors both individuals building into it communication of our desires. 

3:AM: What’s your current reading list?

MY: I’m currently reading Michelle Tea’s Black Wave and The Feminist Utopia Project and just finished Body to Job by Christopher Zeischegg – which is absolutely brilliant and you should totally check out.  

3:AM: If you were to come up with once sentence or a piece of wisdom for other women to include in their lives what that would be?

MY: Lean deeply into your happiness.  Listen carefully to your heart and follow it.  Live the life you desire and be your truest most authentic self.  

3:AM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?

MY: I think that I’ve shifted the ways that people think about the body, sex, sex work, and porn. I think I’ve shattered  some perceptions and stereotypes surrounding sex work and porn and kink and held space for folks to feel something deeply and to view the world from a different perspective, while discovering new parts of themselves that they didn’t know what to do with or they didn’t know that existed.  I hope that folks leave my work seeking other art and performance that also holds space for transformation and change and deep emotional revelations and that there is a shift in the perception of art being a consumable for entertainment to that of the idea that art is a dialogue, interactive and a place of magic and change.  

3:AM: What’s next for Madison Young?

MY: Right now I’m working on my fourth book “Dirty Laundry: From Porn Sets to PTA; Confessions of a Sex Positive Mom”.  I’m also focusing on touring my one woman show “Reveal All Fear Nothing: A Journey in Sex, Love, Porn and Feminism”(www.RevealAllFearNothing.com) around the United States and are currently in negotiations regarding bringing the show to Germany. I have some other projects in the works including a television show that works to smash a lot of sexual stigmas and educate folks about different fetishes and kinks.    



Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, June 17th, 2018.