(Part I) An Intimate Conversation (about intimacy) Ernest Greene & Nina Hartley & the MASTER OF O
He’s a writer, actor and producer , who re-invented an erotic classic. She’s an adult film actress, director, sex educator and author and feminist. They’re highly intelligent, articulate, and very witty. They are people we’d like to be seated next to at a dinner party. They seemingly tirelessly and enthusiastically promote each other and their projects. Together, Ernest Greene and Nina Hartley are a very busy, hard-working, two-career couple — happy and supportive. Behind closed doors as lovers, they have a different dynamic — Nina is the willing submissive to Ernest (Ernest Geene), her dominant .
Why do these two exceptional individuals, husband and wife, work so well together in an alternative lifestyle? How does this high profile couple so successfully balance their busy lives as a team in business and in love? Although this feature is about intimacy in Ernest Greene’s book, Master of O, it is also about Ernest and Nina as a couple — how they create and maintain intimacy in their personal relationship.
The book Master of O by Ernest Greene) is an erotic novel, based on the classic, The Story of O. It has parallels to the original story, including a beautiful female photographer known as “O,” who is a photographer, ultimately involved as a submissive to two brothers. The Story of O, set in 1950’s Paris, has a story line in which “O” is trained as a submissive by her lover, after which she serves any man at the bidding of her dominant . Without giving away too much of the story, eventually her master hands her over to his stepbrother Sir Stephen (who doesn’t love her, and whom she doesn’t love). The rest of the story continues as her relationship with Sir Stephen intensifies. The book is full of BDSM practices and d/s dynamics. Mr. Greene’s Book , Master of O, which I reviewed a while back, also features a beautiful, female photographer involved as a submissive to two brothers. The book is chock-full of rather graphic decriptions of BDSM and DS practices and dynamics. What makes Master of O very different, is that The Story of O is told from the submissive woman’s perspective, while The Master of O is focused on the dominant man’s perspective –that of the brothers. Mr. Greene also sets his novel in modern day Los Angeles where “O” is a photographer for a kink magazine, and the brothers’ lives revolve around publishing, and the law.
My personal take on the book was that it was an amusing, fast-paced read (considering the size of 917 pages), and it was a well written novel. The characters are detailed and believable. You may or may not like them, but you can understand their motivations (and this is critical in a book about BDSM relationships). You really want to know what happens, next! In truth, some of the descriptions of BDSM techniques and practices in The Master of O” might seem extreme, but the author makes it very clear that this is not a template for “the lifestyle,” but merely a work of fiction. BDSM and d/s relationships require exceptional consensual interaction, trust and intimacy and it isn’t always what it appears on the surface. **if you need to clarification of terms used in this introduction or in Parts I and II of this feature, some are provided at the end of Part II and easily referenced.
BDSM is a subject that Mr. Greene knows intimately. He is well known for his approach to the presentation of unconventional sexuality as it related to BDSM, and d/s dynamics. and been active in the BDSM community for many decades. He has also been the Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM).. He has also directed about 500 xxx videos, including most of Nina Harttley’s 40 “Guides for Adam and Eve, ” and his own, O-based series: The Power of Submission; Surrender of O and The Truth About O.Mr. Greene also is an expert writer and Editor with plenty of credits to his name, including Details and Rolling Stone (among many other positions) , Executive Editor of Hustler’s Taboo for 15 years and most recently as Chief Associate Editor for Hustler’s All-Sex issues.
Nina Hartley is such a multi-faceted woman that if we tried to list all her movies and other accomplishments we’d need a “Part III of this article to list them. She is a sex educator and also the author of Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex published in 2006. Together, Ernest and Nina have created a multi-volume kink videography, among other projects.
NOTE: We originally planned to write a feature paraphrasing our conversation with Ernest and Nina, but their interaction was so powerful, we felt it was a shame to ruin it. So what follows is the hour-long conversation, nearly verbatim, split into two parts, for read-ability . Part I focuses on intimacy between the couple and Part II focuses on intimacy in the Master of O . ***also includes a glossary of some basic BDSM terms and exclusive intimacy tips taken from BOTH PARTS OF our conversation with Ernest & Nina that we feel will be of value to every couple. We hope this special feature inspires and informs you, as it did us, and we welcome your comments.
Alison Blackman Dunham, Editor In Chief of Leather and Lace Advice (and/for my co-writer, Tony Sabatini)
(Part I): Ernest Greene & Nina Hartley -Intimacy in Their Relationship and MASTER OF O
Q: How long have you and Nina been married and how did you meet?
Ernest: We have known each other 25 years, married 12 years, living together for 14 year. We originally met on the job. Nina was already a big name in the industry, playing the lead in an x rated feature for which I was Assistant Director for a large company. It was being directed by a friend of mine. Nina was staying with the friend, and that is how we got to know each other, and we were friends first, then we were lovers, then we were friends again and since 2000 we’ve been inseparable.
Q: What attracted you to each other and What do you think are each other’s best qualities?
Nina: When I met Ernest I was unhappily married, although I didn’t realize at first just how unhappy. If I knew then what I knew then what I know now I would have gone home to my ex and said: “ 60 days good for you?” (lots of laughing!). What I liked about him right away was that he his humor. He was funny, he was smart, and most importantly he was the only person in the 5 years of adult entertainment that I’d been in at that time he was the first person who had come into porn for the reason of talking about sex. He was the only one who had sexual philosophy as the motivating force as an idea, what he was here for. Ernest: It was sort of a shared sense of mission. I felt the same way., I came into the business with the idea of expressing some views I had about sexuality through about the only medium in which you could do so. when I first met Nina I was immediately impressed by her intelligence and the seriousness by which she did the job. I was used to working with people who did it just for a paycheck and didn’t have any particular sense of mission. She was the first person in the business with whom I had that kind of philosophical conversation so actually it was a meeting of minds, first. Nina: YES
Q: ERNEST, So what do you think is Nina’s best quality?
Ernest: Oh Gosh! That’s a tough one. There are SO many. This is a broader observation but it applies, especially in her case. I think the best quality and the most under-rated quality in this society is compassion. And I think she brings a lot of that to her life, work and to her general orientation in dealing with people and issues. Nina: Ohhhhh! Ernest: Not to mention she had a lot of compassion for me! And God knows my need for it is endless!
ON INTIMACY AND LIVING A d/s LIFESTYLE:
Q: You are very open about the fact that you live a d/s lifestyle. But you also work together as equal partners. How do you manage the dynamic as partners in business and life, and as intimate partners? When are you in scene and out of scene or are you always in scene? How do you handle disagreements?
Nina: I came from a long line of bad marriages — bad on communication, bad on everything that you need to have in a marriage, he came from a long line of dating women of various stages of not completely sane maybe? (her voice rises in question). By the time we found each other we just put personal value on reasonableness and respect . Ernest likes to say that we are more old world than old school. I am a sub, but I don’t call him Mr. Greene, We never just dump on each other. We carry that same respect through the whole day. I don’t stand behind him and call him Sir unless we are actually playing.
Ernest: We have very relaxed protocols when it comes to non play situations. She wears her lightweight silver collar around the house and generally nothing else and that’s just when we’re together, but when we’re out in public we always go as equals unless it’s to a BDSM-specific function where one way or another we are going to be presenting ourselves in our dominant and submissive roles. But generally speaking it is a thing that characterizes our sexuality and has some influence over the rest of our lives. In terms of sexual expression when we get together and have fun, when our busy schedules allow us to, she’s always in a submissive role and I’m always in a dominant Role, but I don’t expect to play a dominant role in her life under any other circumstances. We’re not a 24/7 couple we are a 7-midnight couple, as far as BDSM is concerned.
Q: Could you comment on the concept of intimacy as it is portrayed in your book Master of O and intimacy in your own life?
Ernest: Well they’re very different. Our kind of intimacy in our relationship is really in many ways very conventionally that of a happy married and we are intimate in the ways in which happy married couples are intimate. We are MORE intimate in one particular way than most couples are in that we have elaborate complex sexual imaginations and we get to act them out. We really do. We put our knowledge and experience into the way we play and have sex together, and this is one defining characteristic of this kind of relationship. That is an intimacy that a lot of couples don’t share. People live together for years and have sex together for years without every really knowing what’s going through the other person’s head at that time. Well that’s not true for us.
Nina: Well, we’re also unusual because our sexuality allows us to hear our partner’s fantasies without being personally offended or hurt by what[‘s going on in our heads. We give each other a lot of mental privacy. The idea that I desire this behavior, he wants that activity, neither or us gets hurt –how could you want that? –ok, hmm…I can meet you this far but I can’t go that far…and so we negotiate it. Once you give permission to your partner to be a fully sexual being independent with you and not take what they want or don’t want personally, it opens up a lot of possibilities for negotiation we go that far.
Ernest: That’s a good point. One thing I’d like to say that could be of use to couples who are not BDSM oriented is that they do need to negotiate and they do need to share their inner lives, that’s what sexual beings are all about, if they want to achieve that kind of intimacy. Ideally, BDSM or d/s should not be a barrier to intimacy, it should be a facilitator of intimacy so in that way, if you’ll pardon the unintended pun, we share a special bond (Nina shrilly giggles) because we share these things with each so completely. Nina: And, as well, what makes sex together 14 years into it as exciting or even more exciting than the first time because of the roles and because of the ritualistic nature we’re not hyper about it but the rituals we do share are consistent, we view the whole lovemaking event with a special outside of our regular life energy is that unlike conventional couples who can fall into a rut we are unable to do that. We must be present to do this or we don’t bother. Ernest: We are still experimental. We still try new things. There’s an endless variety of things to be tried in the realm of a d/S relationship. we explore those things…we tend to stick with the ones we both like. Our whole relationship is pleasure centered. We have no punishment dynamic , there are no special rules that must be obeyed. No, it is a matter of working out what we both find pleasurable. Everyone has a different approach to this. It is a model that might not necessarily work for eveyr couple but it does work for us. Nina: If I want more spanking I don’t have to misbehave I just say please Sir, give me some more (giggles), and he’s happy to do it. He’s always smiling when we’re making love. He’s never angry. He’s always in a very jolly mood. Ernest: What’s not to smile about?! I have a beautiful woman kneeling at my boots, why should I not be smiling? dominant men present themselves with that stern expression and I think to myself, what are you so grim about, dude?! You’ve got something that men really envy, you should be happy and it should show, and you should be letting your partner know that you’re happy. I’m not the withholding type of Dom where you have to prove yourself to me.
Nina: When I met Ernest I had about a point two level experience with any kind of d/s or power exchange. I really had no clue about it and when I met him I was struck by his smarts and his humor and his experience and his brain and all that, and he was already an experienced dominant. He knew what he wanted and I what I wanted was someone to be fully themselves, 100%, no guilt, no shame, so I was very happy to learn all the nuances and language of BDSM, and power exchange which I knew nothing about. For him, his expression of dominance us an expression of affection and attraction, it was coming from a positive place, not an angry place. It was coming from a happy place in him. This is how he shows affection, and I like affection, so I liked the way he showed affection. Ernest: But let me not understate these things. I enjoy sexual cruelty. That makes me happy.
ON WORK, PLAY AND COLLABORATION:
Q: What role if any did you Nina, have in writing Master of O?
Nina: I got the benefit of first reading. I made a couple of comments on this or that detail, but really my influence was cooking him dinner –remember he was working a good double shift. He was working at the magazine all day and he would put in at least three hours a night seven days a week on this (book). So my big job was playing the classic supportive wife role, making sure he had hot food and clean towels (she laughs) and all those things that you need.. Ernest: If I may interrupt …but you were also a very enthusiastic cheerleader. I’d put out a days’ worth of pages and at some point and at that could be 20 pages and I’d bring them to her and she would give them the first in every part of the project no matter when and she generally did find things ….I think she is being a little over modest in terms of did find things..I think she is being over modest….Nina: I did find things of continuity… I would mention things about that.. Ernest: Yes, somebody’s shirt suddenly changed color between the beginning of the chapter and the end…wasn’t that a blue shirt? That kind of thing. She was a dedicated and very acute reader very attuned to detail and this book is very much about detail. Of course her familiarity through our long association with BDSM and BDSM relationships and d/s relationships was very helpful in keeping on course. I had a plan for the book for the very beginning and I wanted to make it consistent throughout, and she helped keep me pointed toward where we were headed. And that was very helpful. She was very patient, because there were number of drafts and a number of things that I had to rethink more than once.
Q: Alison: Nina I wanted to Ask You About Your Book: Both chime In. Nina’s Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex.
Nina: Ernest was my co-author on this (book). That was a wonderful collaborative experience. It was a frictionless exchange. I sat down and came up with 5,000 to 8,000 words and he would do the first edit, I would address his changes, answer questions, we smoothed it and then we’d stick in the in the folder. That went so well. Ernest: It was a very smooth editing process. The book was helped to a great extent by the nearly 40 or so instructional videos we have done for Adam and Eve which sold about a million DVDs. We basically went through the whole list of topics that we covered in the guide series and just as she described, figured out her take on it and then I would do a pass and then she would read mine. We sort of worked alternate shifts on it. It was amazingly easy and pleasant — unlike Gilbert and Sullivan who had to collaborate by mail because they didn’t get along (Nina laughs), all we had to do was walk from one room to the other and say “what do you think of this?” (Nina: “yeah…it was a great experience, actually).
Ernest: What our two books have in common is that they’re both based on direct personal experience. (Nina: not conjecture, in practice, not theory). One of the things that has always annoyed me about the genre (of BDSM or d/s fiction) is it’s coyness. There’s a habit some writers have of establishing a situation and then they close the door before they show you what people actually do. And I’ve had that questions put to me directly in workshops: “So what is it that you guys actually do?” so I tell them I wrote this book to let the audience in and let them see what we actually do. Nina: You know, it’s a lot of conventional intercourse with a lot of fun stuff built in as desired to keep the plates spinning on the stick. Ernest: Some people say their BDSM is not sex based, which makes me wonder what base it is. Ours certainly is. What we do is foreplay all through our sexual behavior (Nina: yah) that includes some BDSM elements, whipping, a little bit of bondage, a little of that, a lot of sex, because that, I believe is what most people really do, whether they want to talk about it in public or not. Nina: on a good day a lot of beating! (laughs) Ernest: Yeah, yeah, and on a good day, a nice stiff caning to warm things up (Nina: wheee!!) Ernest: One of the questions I used to get a lot, I think people are more sophisticated now, was:“So do you guys ever actually have sex or do you just tie each other up and then go take a cold shower?” Uh, yeah, we have sex. It is about that. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any of us now, would there? Of course we do! In fact, in my book, I really wanted to focus on what was hot about it. On what it was that would make a person want to do these things. The idea was to tune up and power up the sexual magnetism between the players. So that was the orientation that I’m coming from and everyone has their own definition, that’s mine. There’s a lot of sex in that book!
THOUGHTS ON BDSM (IN GENERAL):
Q: Some like to say that a submissive is a canvas on which a dominant creates a masterpiece. How do you think this applies to your book, the Master of O, and how does it apply to your own life?
Ernest: I would say that actually for my own life the opposite. I like to tell people, especially those who say wow you know a lot about this ,you sure have a lot of practice in a lot of different things after 40 years, that well I am just a product of all the submissive partners I’ve had. They’d all had input, they’ve all had suggestions, they all had fantasies, many of them were things that I thought of and wanted and some of them were not, and I tried them and thought they were a lot of fun and incorporated them into my own construction of power exchange.
Nina: I thank every former lover of his, every time. Ernest: but, on the other hand, I did also have ideas of my own, and I did bring those to it. In the most successful d/s relationships that is a collaboration between two people. They play different roles just like two people dancing a tango play different roles,, but it’s the same dance. I’d say in terms of being a “canvas,” dominant and submissive couples both make their marks. When I was first learning about this, Ernest would say that Doms set the agenda, the submissive sets the mood or the tone. Ernest: Or it could be the other way around. There isn’t one true way. One thing my book Master of O is not, and I hope no one ever takes it as such, is a prescriptive in any way. It describes a unique relationship among rather unusual people and what works for them might not work for other people. For instance, the relationship between Steven and O is very protocol driven. They’re very formal in the way they do things, although underneath that formality there is a certain amount of collegiality, which is part of what makes them a happy couple (for as long as they’re a happy couple), but that is for the imagination– that is largely fictional. We know people who observe those kind of protocols in day to day life but know what they have in common? They’re retired! They have nothing else to do! When we get together with this couple and we play together whatever our particular schedule is we got through ours in about an hour and a half and they’re just warming up hours and they have 3 hours to go. I admire the discipline of people who can live that kind of life, and I also admire their ability to somehow integrate that into the real world, but for us, we are a two career creative household where Nina travels a lot, I am at the magazine a lot, we work a lot, and then, at some point, we make space for this because it takes work, it takes time. It takes a certain kind of protected bubble of intimacy that you have to create from which the rest of the world is excluded. We set aside time to do this and when we come into our play space to do what we do we just shut everything else out and for a couple of hours just devote ourselves to the pleasure of that. Nina: We like to say that if nothing is burning or bleeding, anything can wait 90 minutes. Ernest: Unless there is an earthquake in progress, we’re going to have that 90 minutes. We turn off the phone…whatever happened during the day we forget about it. Nina: We prioritize. If you don’t consciously make time to be intimate it doesn’t just happen, so when we are in that space, the conversation is strictly what we are doing now, no talk about tomorrow, last week, my mother, other deadlines…no! Ernest: No! We are fully present.
Nina: Ernest has an amazing sense of style. I like the way he gets dressed up. I liked having a stylish guy, When women compliment him on the street…and he dresses himself! In this culture most women still do the shopping for their male partner. Ernest does his own shopping….(Ernest: I do some of your shopping). Nina: All the very nicest things I own clothing wise either he bought or own he encouraged me to buy. He could have been a personal shopper. ….he has a great sense of style. Ernest: There are many ways in which we are unconventional, although we’ve told you many ways we are conventional. She is the more relaxed kind of less style oriented (Nina: recovering Berkley Hippie, let’s just say it) She’s a football fan, I’m not very interested in sports. I’m the sort of guy that’s more turned on by shopping than she is. A close friend of Nina’s a gay man who is well know read my book and loved it and said that in his own mind he changed genders, but basically the ideas about their sexuality were constructed were very familiar. Nina: The d/s dynamic is so clear in this book that gender is irrelevant. Ernest: I once had an editor once ask: So when did you figure out when you hated women? I answered: I don’t hate anyone and if were gay I’d do exactly the same thing to my male partners. One of the things I’ve been sorry to see in the BDSM community in the past couple of years is influx of conservative heterosexual couples building their thing on a patriarchal model which ours most definitely is not. It’s about deciding what kind of sexual orientation you want to pursue. Nina: My natural style when I’m not at work is more conservative. I like trousers and blazers and a nice crisp blouse. Ernest: And I know just where to find them for her! Nina: Unlike many husband he doesn’t shame me for my shoe thing. He’ll say hey honey, look at this! Ernest: in the world of fetishm shoes are life. (Nina: yeah, they are, totally totally!. Ernest: what she wears when we play, are a collar and shoes. (Nina: yes, and cuffs) (Ernest: yes, and cuffs). Alison: very tall shoes? Nina: the six inch kind, the kind you can’t go outside in. Ernest: Right, those shoes aren’t made for walking, but they certainly do look good up in the air!
Q: It is said that in a vanilla relationship whatever is not specifically allowed is forbidden and that the freedom of a d/s relationship is that everything that is not specifically disallowed is acceptable. Would both you and Nina comment on this with respect to Master of O, and in your own relationship with the world?
Ernest: A general operational status for all negotiated relationships is that all intimate relationship should be negotiated. This is a foundational principle of consensual BDSM. Submissive doesn’t mean passive. We negotiate as equals with both partners setting limits, so just because there isn’t an objection to a new thing suddenly introduced doesn’t mean active consent was given. Active consent is the only kind that matters. Going along to get along is a mistake kinky couples make that leads to big problems. I would hesitate to apply your statement as a general principal to (BDSM) relationships unless and until specific acts have been discussed and negotiated. There’s a lot of fine tuning that has to go on to make it pleasurable for whatever number can play. You can’t just assume that the absence of no constitutes assent. Consent means an active desire on the part of those involved to do a particular thing, which means it’s been discussed and examined and understood before you go to that place. It is a bad mistake that some dominants make that just because one is in the dominant role and one person is in the submissive role that anything that isn’t a hard limit that the submissive laid down as something he or she will not do doesn’t fit into that is ok to do. It may be that the thing that the other partner had in mind is something the other partner hadn’t considered before. Just because it hasn’t been discussed and a yes or no hasn’t been gotten means that it isn’t consensual –I would disagree with that assessment, that anything that is not specifically specifically prohibited is allowed. I think that anything that is not specifically identified as desired by both parties is not allowed. The default of any kind of a power exchange is no until I say yes. I am a great believer in yes means yes. No means no, but it isn’t all about no. It is about yes. It is about people who have a mutual desire to please , and what the other person would find pleasing. It’s all about the people doing it, it’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels, but nevertheless, affirmative consent, strong, definite, affirmative consent, or at least a strongly expressed curiosity about exploring a thing, has to be mutually understood.
Nina: I’m a switch, but I know what dominants hate hearing from a submissive partner is: “Oh, anything’s ok with me…” (Ernest breaks in:) No! not everything is ok with everyone. People should not say things like that, it’s not helpful to either party. If people don’t know what they want but they’re curious they can say: “well, I haven’t done this before, but if we do it and we like it we can go on with it and if we do it and we don’t like it we can scratch it off the list.” Nina: Things he tried ten years ago then he tried again and Oh!” Ernest: The nice thing about long term power exchange relationships among the many things that you can try is that it doesn’t fall into a rut. d/s relationships (power exchange relationships) like any other kind, evolve over time, and something that was very hot in the beginning and you did a whole lot of…well…you may get to the point where you had enough of that for a while….you put that on the shelf, then 5 or 6 years later you have an inspiration to try that again and all of a sudden it’s gotten hot again.
If you would like to get a copy of Master of O, you can get the E-book version ($9.99 eBook includes ePub and Kindle versions) or the paperback version ($17.99 $17 + 6.95 shipping. 763 pages) at MasterofO.com *it is also available at amazon.com
CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO OF OUR CONVERSATION WITH ERNEST AND NINA, learn more about the book Master of O , check our BDSM Glossary for basic terms used in this feature, and read our exclusive Leather and Lace Advice Enhancing Intimacy Tips