Talking Kink with Nikki Darling
You might not be familiar with Nikki Darling yet, but you should be, because she’s awesome! I first started crushing on her when I came across this YouTube interview she did a few years back for Queer Porn TV. Nikki is an adult performer and director based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I called her up on Skype to have a chat about BDSM, books, and lots of other cool stuff. She also gave me some of the best advice about being polyamorous that I’ve heard so far!
Nikki Darling has been in the porn industry for about five years. Before that she’d already been fairly involved with the kink scene in the Bay Area, frequenting Bondage A Go Go almost every week – a BDSM themed party with public scenes like a spanking bench and a person being locked up in chains. You know… casual stuff. She also attended Mission Control’s private swinger parties and workshops at The Citadel, which let you experiment with everything from flogging to needle play. Then one of her partners at the time had a birthday party at The Upper Floor, which also functions as Kink.com’s live BDSM reality show, and she ended up doing a scene with their mutual girl friend. “I was later asked if I’d given modeling any thought,” Nikki tells me. “I was tutoring children at that time so I was a bit apprehensive about performing. It took me a while to come to make the decision… To be honest I thought I would do a few shoots and never get called again. But still 5 years later I keep getting booked.”
Simone: You’ve done a lot of BDSM stuff and on camera you shift between being a domme and a sub. In what way is the pleasure you take from these two roles different?
Nikki: Being a sub is very therapeutic and gratifying for me. I can sometimes be a very neurotic person and my brain can be my worst enemy. I sometimes can be very uncomfortable with change and I dread when things don’t go the way I actually plan them… Submission is a practice in finding peace with putting control in someone else’s hands and finding peace through suffering and being under physical stress. It’s absolutely terrifying, sexy, intense and cathartic in a lot of ways. By the end of a scene (hopefully, if it goes well) I feel so calm, cleansed, and like a bad ass.
When I dominate I feel like I’m feeding my devious inner imp and child. I know it sounds strange but years ago I heard an amazing female domme and educator named Midori say that BDSM is like childhood games with adult sex privileges. When I am domming I finally get to entertain a very visceral part of myself. It is very complex but in many ways adheres to this very child-like explorative place in my mind. It’s a really beautiful exchange and connection that I get when I am able to feed a part of myself while also consensually feeding a need another person has. I receive intense pleasure from giving someone a carnal need such as pain or pleasure. I never really learned how to play an instrument growing up but I can imagine that topping a person feels a lot like mastering a really hard song or is equal to the same rush a musician would get from playing their instrument.
I was wondering, do the people involved always have safewords they can choose to use?
Yes, we do. Whenever I perform for Kink.com and other BDSM companies they’ll usually have a whole interview before it starts where you discuss your limits on camera. And there’s always a discussion of safewords – usually it’s red or yellow or something like that.
Would you say that you are as much into BDSM in your personal sex life?
I don’t know if I can say that I’m as much into it… It goes in waves. There are times where I’m working and shooting a lot and it’s like, let’s just have vanilla sex because I’m lazy.
I don’t discriminate on vanilla sex at all. But then there are times when I’m like let’s play, let’s rustle! … I think it goes in waves. I am definitely still kinky and practice BDSM play with the people that I date. But I don’t think it’s a requirement in order to date me, because I like regular sex just as fine. It kind of depends on how I connect with another person.
Like, you can enjoy one kind of sex with one person because that person makes that kind of sex really good…
Yeah, it’s different strokes with different folks.
You describe yourself as being poly-queer, which I feel is a description that I can identify with myself. Still, the whole poly thing can get a bit confusing sometimes… What’s your advice on how to avoid hurting other people’s feelings and do you ever feel jealous yourself?
I think realizing that you WILL hurt someone’s feelings and being open to your feelings being hurt is part of the battle actually. I think from a young age we get fed a lot of problematic ideas of what true love and healthy relationships are supposed to look like. Successfully being poly has a lot to do with un-training yourself from these ideals and knowing yourself enough to figure out what truly makes you happy. I don’t think you can find all those things in just one person. I think love is very infinite but time isn’t so it takes lots and LOTS of communication. Being poly can be hard when you’re juggling more than one partner’s feelings, boundaries and emotions as well as yourself. So naturally someone will get hurt and so will you. But do communicate even when it’s hard and hurtful. Because having the kind of intimacy where you can communicate those really difficult feelings with your partner while also being able to have happiness for their journey in truly finding what makes them happy and vice versa is irreplaceable. I definitely still do get jealous. I don’t think being poly means you don’t experience jealousy. I think the trick is knowing where that jealousy comes from and doing the self-work to alleviate that feeling. It’s hard and it sucks and you have to look at some unfavorable parts of yourself – but it’s so worth it!
I think I used to have this idea that if you’re poly, then you’re not supposed to feel jealous.
There’s this weird myth that being poly solves all of your problems. That it’s like having your cake and eating it too. It’s not. It’s really hard. You have to have really difficult conversations and there’s times where you have to deal with being sad because your partner is going on a date and you feel threatened or whatever. That’s why communicating is so important. If you don’t communicate how you are feeling it just creates resentment and that’s when relationships aren’t successful… There are people who are polyamorous and like, “jealousy is stupid, I never get jealous.” But those are the ones you need to watch out for. Those are the ones who are going to fuck you up. If a person says that they don’t get jealous I’m like, run away.
Yes, thank you!
Because it’s bullshit. There are different levels of jealousy and the longer you practice polyamory it becomes less and less of this horrible knife stabbing you through the heart because you know how to process it better. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen. There’s this really good book called The Ethical Slut… There are other books, but for people who are on the verge: do I want to try this or do I not want to try this? – I think it’s a really good book to start that thought process and wrapping your head around the idea.
By the way, I love getting book recommendations from your Instagram. What are you currently reading?
The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Bitten: A collection of Dark Erotic Stories edited by Susie Bright, Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, and A Taste for Brown Sugar by Mireille Miller-Young.
So, what kind of porn are you into watching yourself?
I go through phases from time to time. I would have to say lesbian with girls that actually like other girls. I feel like I can totally tell when two straight girls are trying to bone and it’s painful! I really enjoy gay male porn, I love watching two guys totally go at it – It’s so primal and sexy! My all-time favorite is anime/ hentai porn. I know it’s really fucked up but it’s so hot!
Do you have some advice for newcomers in the porn industry?
As best as you can know what your limits are. This is a great and wonderful industry but it can also be a place where a lot people can be exploited and taken for granted. Know what you are willing to do for money and what you are not willing to do for money. Also, in this day and age with the internet, social media, and how easily information can be shared and passed around, make sure that you will be okay with people from your past knowing what you do. Start thinking about the conversation you will have with your loved ones, parent, sibling, etc. Prepare yourself for if some people may no longer want to be as close to you. Also, SAVE YOUR MONEY!
I guess that even though it’s 2016, there’s still a lot of social stigma applied to being an adult performer. But at the same time it seems that more and more sex-positive porn scholars are contributing to a more diverse discourse about porn, and I also feel like there’s an increase in strong feminist voices coming from within the porn industry, from the performers themselves…
I totally agree with that. And I think in some ways there is less of a stigma. I was definitely coming from my own personal experience. When I came out to my parents – well, I was actually outed to my parents by somebody, and they are very religious, so it was a very different reception. Still, even some friends might feel weird about it… It’s one of those things where people have an idea of what this industry is. And some people would rather go with that idea and compartmentalize it as something bad rather than actually knowing a person, like, “This person is a good person, that just happens to do this thing that I might not agree with”. Some people – it’s easier for them to just lump you in that bad category and distance themselves from you.
True. So, what do you think the future of porn looks like?
Right now there are a lot of big companies, but I think the whole trajectory of shooting for this company or signing with that company – I don’t think it’s going there anymore. From where porn has been for the past five years I think it is going to end up with the performers being the directors, the performers being the producers. Porn is made by the performers – which I think is really great. A lot of it has to do with porn being online. That’s how people access their porn. People don’t go and buy DVDs anymore. People buy memberships to sites, or they buy actual clips. And it’s on Pornhub! – It’s so easy to get it for free.
I don’t think porn is going in the direction that it used to and I’m actually really happy about that because I think it puts the power in the performers’ hands. We can make good content – content that people haven’t seen before. And we can appeal to a group of millennials or whatever in a different way that reflects what they think is sexy, and that’s great. Because sometimes the big industry has a very limited view.
How do you feel about free porn sites like Pornhub?
There’s kind of an acceptance when you decide to make and sell porn, which is that there are going to be people who aren’t going to pay for it. It’s so easy to do and it’s unfortunate. There are things that we can do to trouble shoot that. For example: say I have a membership website… I would have no problem with making a preview and putting that on Pornhub with the link to my website, because if a person is looking for free porn they’ll immediately go to Pornhub. But then they’ll be like: I want to see the full thing, how do I get to the full thing? Then they’re going to go to my website, and if it’s something that they really like, I would hope that they’d get the membership, because it’s more of a consistency of what they are specifically looking for… But then they could also be like, “Oh, fuck you – I’ll just find something else for free on Pornhub!”
It’s funny because people are becoming so ethically aware of where their food and clothes come from. Why shouldn’t you also care about where your porn comes from? Who are the producers behind it? Were the performers paid what they’re supposed to be?
People talk shit about how porn is shitty. That’s because you expect it to be for free. But nothing in this world is, so pay for your porn. If you want good porn you should pay for it.
Totally… You’ve recently started directing yourself?
Yes, I’m so excited! It’s still very much in the early stages and I’m still working out sort of what all of my avenues of distribution are… But I’m starting a site called Shades of Babe. You can say that it’s the reaction to a problem that I as a woman of color have seen in our industry – which is that there are so many women of color, that are amazing performers, that kind of get typecast in certain ways that to me are negative sexual fetishizations of their ethnicity and their race. I think that there need to be more examples out there where women of color are just seen as what they are – which are beautiful women! And there doesn’t need to be this whole racial eroticization of them because their skin color is different. I know it’s really weird because in a way I’m highlighting the fact that it’s women of color, but at the same time I want to make a good project where they are just enjoying themselves sexually and don’t feel pressured, like they have to fulfill a limited role.
I think representation is a really important issue in the porn industry and something that needs to be talked more about. Professor Miller-Young discusses it in her book A Taste for Brown Sugar, which you mentioned earlier. And I remember that Sinnamon Love wrote a really good essay about it in The Feminist Porn Book…
I love Sinnamon Love! But yes, it’s something that I as a woman of color have dealt with. It’s something that a lot of women of color who are performers and my friends have dealt with. It’s something that we’ve all been talking about, complaining about, and been frustrated about. And I just came to the realization that we can either sit here and complain about it and continue to allow people who aren’t a part of our experience to make films and expect to know how we are sexually, or we can take the bull by the horns and direct it the way we want it to be.
I sometimes hear people say that porn is the one place where you should be allowed to have whatever fantasies you might have – because it’s just porn. But then I wonder, if you have a certain fantasy about, let’s say a black woman or a latin woman – where do you think that fantasy comes from? I mean, it’s not like you were just born with it.
Yeah, it’s hard. This is something that I constantly go through and have really weird and complex feelings about because it would be stupid if I tried to say that a lot of people that I make money from don’t have a fetish for black women. And I don’t think there is something wrong with thinking a woman is sexy for her skin color or anything like that. I think the issue is when you start adding in your fantasies certain aspects or attributes to her that are racial, that has nothing to do with her as a person but with the way you think a person of color is. Does that make sense? … I think that is where it starts getting problematic for me. In too much porn, where there are people of color, there are these aspects that they try to add in that have to do with a culture, or what people think a culture is like. That’s where it starts getting problematic or negatively racial or racist.
So, it’s something that I’m really passionate about but the project is still very much in the baby stages. I’m continuing to make more content, I’m getting more contacts with people. It’s happening fast but slowly at the same time. What I’ve realized is, that when you start a project that you’ve been thinking about… there’s the issue of money. And it’s hard because my producer and I, we try to go about getting a budget from other companies but a lot of them don’t think that it’s going to sell. I think the big industry has a very limited scope of what makes money and what doesn’t. But the model and the terrain are changing and you either have to get with the times or whatever. So, it’s exciting but self-funding is difficult. Launching something independently is difficult. Doing anything independently… But it’s really empowering at the same time because it’s on your terms.
Thank you, Nikki!