What Isabella Rossellini Acting Out Animal Sex Taught Me About People Sex

Who invented sex? Well—no one: it’s been a part of human nature ever since we were animals (if you buy that evolution talk). Actress Isabella Rossellini, however, has something to say on the subject. Or, uh, something to show you.

Rossellini’s exploration of “Who invented sex? Why and how?” comes in the form of a show called Green Porno. (When a passerby asked a group standing on line for opening night rush tickets outside the BAM Fisher Theater what they were waiting for, a shouted response of “Green Porno!” and further enthusiastic and earnest explanations seemed not to disabuse the notion that the line consisted of perverts). Green Porno isn’t a new endeavor for Rossellini; she has been dressing up and acting out animal sex on the internet and for the Sundance Channel since 2008. The iteration currently touring is a little different, however—part lecture, part film, part performance, part science, part humor. Rossellini mentions around 67 different animals over the course of her 75-minute one-woman stage show.

“I have always loved animals,” Rossellini explains in Green Porno’s playbill. “I am particularly fascinated by the diversity in nature. My family knows this well. Since I was a little girl I brought home all kinds of stray cats and dogs, but also worms, frogs, insects, and read a great deal of books about animals and took many biology courses at university.”

Green Porno got me thinking, inevitably, not just about sex in the “animal world,” but in the human one as well. Indeed, Rossellini filled Green Porno with ample invitations to encourage such parallels: “Do you ever wish you were the opposite sex? I do!”—as well as cheeky discussions of the importance, or lack thereof, of size. One segment humorously questions Noah’s arc, and its rigid two-by-two, male-and-female admittance of animals.

But while Rossellini bridged from the animal world to the human one, she never directly addressed the kind of sexual diversity most important to us—the human kind. And, I confess, I am no expert on the subject of, well, porn. But these parallels intrigued me, so I found someone who was: Lux Alptraum. We spoke online.

First of all, for the folks just tuning in, what is it that you do?

In the broadest sense, I work to make people more comfortable with sexuality, in a large part by normalizing discussion of the topic. My work has take a variety of forms: I’ve done HIV pre-test counseling, worked as a sex educator at an adolescent pregnancy prevention program, taught blowjob workshops, run indie porn sites; at present I run Fleshbot.com, write for several sites (including Medium most regularly), and offer consulting services to select sex-focused and adult industry companies.

Rossellini demonstrated a range of sexual acts in her performance, ending on a note that called out people who look at particular sexual interests as “unnatural.” She pointed out that nothing’s unheard of in the animal world—hermaphrodites, female-only sexual societies, homosexuality, and so on. Do you think by recognizing that a range of sexual interests exist in the so-called “natural world,” it changes the ways that we consider our own interests and tendencies?

One of the most common questions people have about sex is, “Am I normal?” The more we realize and recognize that “normal” sexuality is a fiction, the more comfortable we can all become with our own tendencies and desires, which is one of the key components to having a healthy, happy sex life (whether that sex life involves one partner, multiple partners, or just you on your own).

Sorry to be asking the oldest question in the book, but I’m curious on your take: In what ways is the performance of sex “art?” Can porn be art, or is it purely intended to stimulate erotic feelings?

I think this is way more a question about what art is than about what sex is. I don’t think that arousal negates the artistic value of a project; I think that a great deal of art is intended to induce strong feelings—one of which could, in fact, be arousal. When it comes to deciding what works of pornography are art, however— well, I think that that’s up to the individual viewer, really.

I found that, listening to Rossellini (a 61-year-old woman!) talk about the joys of sexual diversity and, implicitly, her own sexual interest and enjoyment, I walked away feeling unembarrassed to discuss my own sexuality. We hear all about how “bad” porn is for women, but I’m wondering if, like my experience at the (admittedly, much tamer) Green Porno, you see porn as being something more positive for a female viewer?

Porn is an incredibly diverse genre. It includes a wide array of projects: Digital Playground’s “Pirates;” Tobi Hill-Meyer’s by trans women, for trans women projects like “Doing It Ourselves;” Erika Lust’s XConfessions.com; Manuel Ferrara’s “Raw” series—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Likewise, women are an incredibly diverse group of people. To say that a diverse genre is “positive” or “negative” for a diverse population is an incredibly vague statement. I absolutely think that some women (and some men) find some porn to be a positive, mind opening experience—those same people may find other porn to be disturbing, upsetting, and difficult to watch. But yes, generally speaking, becoming more comfortable with sexuality—which some porn can help with—is a good thing for people, including women.

Green Porno runs in New York through January 25th; then it heads to London. Tickets are $120, which is a little ridiculous for a 75-minute performance, unless you’re a huge Blue Velvet fan. Do rush for $30. Photo via BAM