Note: This book is written by a porn-star.  It is a memoir.  Thus, it’s pretty explicit.  My review will focus on themes I related to and building sex positivity in our culture, but if you find yourself wanting to read it, please know it’s full of NSFW stuff on nearly every page.

” ‘I can’t believe I’m about to be 30. That’s so crazy!’ […] Sometimes I would force myself to think of all the things I thought I’d have by this age but didn’t: a child, a primary care physician, a credit card. […] I didn’t think I’d be 30 with Hello Kitty stickers still on my phone.  I didn’t think I’d be 30 and still be watching Teen Mom; grownups didn’t do that!  And certainly, I didn’t think I’d be 30 and still be using the word ‘grownup.’ “


Title: Dirty Thirty: A Coming of Age Story
Author: Asa Akira
Memoir ♦ 260 pages ♦ Published 9 August 2016 by Cleis Press


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*I was provided with an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

The porn industry.  Everyone has an opinion.  Some consider it an abomination before God; others worry about the girls “used” in the videos; some equate it to human trafficking; others find it empowering.  Japanese-American porn star Asa (pronounced AH-sa) Akira breaks down the stigma of the industry in her easy-to-read memoir about coming-of-age in the pornography industry.  Published by Cleis Press (an independent publisher of books related to human sexuality, human rights, erotica, LGBTQIA+  and gender studies, and feminism), Asa Akira’s 2nd book explores the feminism of the sex industry, relationship struggles, and being a face (or other things) recognizable around the world.

The book shifts to a different focus with each chapter.  Right at the start, Akira focuses on her obsession with “firsts” throughout her life: her first French kiss in the fourth grade with “a nerdy Irish kid with braces who was shorter than me even on his toes;” first time having sex; first gangbang scene on camera.  Akira captures the “rush that comes only with the first time, and then it’s lost forever.”  It’s here that she first reveals that she’s never cheated on her husband.  Their arrangement is that on camera, anything goes, but off-camera is off-limits.  And when a paraplegic fan recognizes her on an airplane and comes on to her, she has to decide between her love of firsts and her arrangement with her husband (who is ALSO a porn star).

Not every chapter is this sort of problem-choice-solution format. Other chapters explore the drug culture permeating the media industry and the loss of friends and partners to cocaine and heroine; her personal perspective on ephebophilia (like pedophilia but with underage teens); becoming sexually active at a very young age; non-traditional marriage advice of having separate bedrooms, offices, and living space; and trying alternative forms of healing.  Throughout each chapter, she provides a humorous but sometimes flippant perspective on life as a porn star; yet she does not fall into one-dimensional tropes, keeping the complexity of life at the forefront and not letting herself off the hook for problematic thinking.

A major theme of the book is self-acceptance.  She admits to being addicted to performance award though she used to make fun of others for the same obsession. She is candid about the influence of the industry on her personal sense of self-worth being tied to her body.  At one point, while on a Howard Stern-sponsored radio show, she gained some weight and was jokingly referred to as a “Samoan giant” by the men running the show.  Though not bothered at the time, she says that she is now “a full-on sufferer of body dysmorphia,” constantly obsessing over Botox treatments, skin tightening procedures, weight loss, plastic surgery.

But she doesn’t stop there.  She devotes an entire chapter to discovering self-acceptance and sex positivism, though the world at large demonizes her career choice and sex-positive femininity.  To Akira, “porn is the perfect job–it’s a way I can celebrate my sexuality, a way for me to use it to my advantage.”  She details how in school, her health teacher described female sexuality as being less dominant than male sexuality, and how this affected her and even made her believe she was a “hermie.”  As a star in the porn industry, she sees this play out everyday: in the eyes of the general public, female porn stars are “labeled ‘whores,’ while the men are just considered overall awesome.  The men get to f*** everyday; the women get f****** everyday.”

She ends with a screenplay version of her first week in porn, a well-developed reflection on aging in an industry obsessed with youth.

Though well-written and easy to get through, this book is very graphic and should be reserved for older/more emotionally mature readers who can look beyond the vivid depictions of pornography and come to see the heart of what Asa Akira is putting across.

Rating: 3/5
(I liked it quite a bit!)


About the Author

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Asa Akira grew up as a daughter of Japanese immigrants in Manhattan, NYC.  From the age of 9-13 she lived in Japan and speaks Japanese fluently.  She entered the porn industry at the age of 23.  In addition to Dirty Thirty, she is the author of Insatiable: Porn–A Love Story, and runs an eco-friendly candle company.  You can find her on Twitter.  To order her book, please visit Cleis Press and support small publishers!

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