The Unadulterated Sarah Nicole Prickett
At Home in New York City with the Editor of Adult Magazine
The Unadulterated Sarah Nicole Prickett
At Home in New York City with the Editor of Adult Magazine
“I don’t like the idea of being sex-positive,” says writer and editor Sarah Nicole Prickett, “You’d never describe yourself as food-positive.” For Prickett, sex is a topic of unmatched range and complexity. The Ontario-born New York transplant has published essays on a wide map of topics for T Magazine, The New Inquiry, Artforum, Interview, and n+1. As editor and co-founder of the modern erotica journal Adult, she is now exploring sex to its fullest.
If traditional porn is all disembodied orifices, pop-up ads, and bad lighting, Adult tells the stories that get left out of the browser. Its two print issues feature everything from erotic fiction and provocative editorials to interviews with the porn star Stoya and the cult film actor Udo Kier. A website the magazine describes as “the smartest, and sometimes dirtiest, of chatrooms” gives voice to a diverse cast of contributors examining sexuality from any and all perspectives. Diary-style narratives of mornings after sit next to confessions from sex addicts and round table discussions on rape culture. What unites Adult’s polyamorous approach is the intimacy and cultural depth it brings to erotica—a willingness to see sex as the entry point to just about anything.
Brianna Capozzi photographed Prickett at home in her Brooklyn apartment, where she appears in pieces from Loewe, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Christopher Kane, and Acne Studios. Mary Tramdack spoke with her about her magazine’s roots in early Internet erotica, fashion as a diversion tactic for neuroses, and Adult’s mission to showcase difference:
Mary Tramdack: You started out mostly as a fashion writer.
Sarah Nicole Prickett: I’ll always write about fashion in some capacity. If I were writing fiction I would still be writing about fashion. I love to do long, 19th century descriptions of clothing, for instance. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I’m too old or too wise. Fashion is usually a young person’s pursuit, or it’s thought of as that. But I think style is actually something that gets better as you get older—even if your face doesn’t.
Maybe you need better fashion as you get older.
I don’t like to subscribe to a lot of the dichotomies about this stuff, like the pretty-slash-interesting dichotomy, for one. But I do think that you can embrace a craziness in dressing that you can’t have when you’re worried about being pretty. Sometimes I’m walking down the street, and I don’t think that I dress weirdly at all, but I know that I behave weirdly in certain moods. And so my crazy behavior is basically endearing because I’m a woman with a pretty face wearing the right things. But when, in my life, will I not be pretty anymore? If I’m going to stay crazy—and I probably am—and I want to maintain a way of being crazy that’s socially interesting, then I’m going to have to become very fashionable in old age to make up for not being pretty. A lot of people dress that way in the art world. A lot of older women are very cool-looking and very interesting-looking, and I’m like, yeah. It’s because you’re crazy.
How did you get started writing about fashion?
I applied to do an internship at the fashion magazine in Canada called Fashion Magazine. I had a really exciting boss who was kind of over it. So a lot of things that would come her way she’d be like, “Ugh, I don’t want to do this, you can do it.” If it weren’t for writing in fashion I never would have traveled. I would go to the Tate Museum and sit in a room with Agnes Martin paintings for an hour and a half. Or I would find someone random. Like I met this gay banker who had left his wife in London to do nothing in Barcelona, and he’d take me to the gay club where we’d do poppers, or we’d smoke weed and go to that crazy park. I could see other worlds that I could work in. So when I came to New York I found myself writing about the art world, and that seemed like a very natural, easy progression. I didn’t feel like I was trading a lower form of art for a higher one. Although I will say that the discourse was more intellectual than it is writing fashion.
Was there any kind of clear trajectory from writing about fashion to writing about art and culture and then, eventually, erotica?
You know it’s funny, because in my own work I don’t write about sex that much. But I’ve been obsessed with reading sex since the early stages of my life. The most memorable experience I’ve had on the Internet was reading Literotica.com short stories. I realize in talking to other people that so many people, especially women and sensitive men, would read instead of watching porn. When you’re a child with a good imagination, and especially if you’re a child who was born before the Internet—like I was born in 1985, so I belong to this crazy sensibility that’s bifurcated by the Internet. I remember life perfectly before the Internet. I remember the transformation occurring over my adolescence and my college years. And now I’m on the other side where I can’t imagine life without the Internet. But I feel almost superior—which is a terrible thing to feel, but I do. People older than us don’t have this sensibility, and people younger than us can never know what it’s like. What year were you born?
I was born in 1987, so I have the same experience. I remember the early Internet and how there were sort of these secret identities you could explore. There wasn’t as direct a connection between your online self and your offline self.
When everyone first got email addresses it was unthinkable that you would use your real name. My email addresses would be like some joke username on Twitter now, like “SparkleGirl69.” It wasn’t like I was sparkly or having sex, it was just like, that was what a username was. I didn’t even participate fully in a lot of the online culture that now I feel a certain nostalgia for. But I was in really dank chatrooms—until I got caught. [laughs]
Both fashion and sex—and especially writing about them—can be trivialized by being treated in a very Cosmopolitan magazine way that frames them as things women do for men. But there’s clearly more than one side.
I always hated that point. Not because it’s inaccurate, but because it’s incomplete. Usually what women are chastised for is not for being pretty—because everyone likes a pretty woman. It’s for wanting to be pretty. There’s something unseemly about that. It’s like dying to be more than who you are.
Like trying to deceive people.
Vanity, deception. All of these ideas about women that we’ve had since the days of Tertullian, early Christianity. Telling women not to adorn themselves—not to be liars, essentially. We’ve privileged the male point of view way too much in this putatively feminist, old school view of beauty, which is that it’s repressive or the male gaze or whatever. But males aren’t the only people who gaze. I remember once being with a photographer I really admire, and thinking that I was really impressing her with my knowledge of female photographers of the 90s. And when I went outside to take a phone call she turned to my friend and was like, “Who is that super hot girl?” And I was like, wait, you’re basically as bad as men. [laughs] Because I was tanned and wearing a leather bustier and low-cut blue jeans and I don’t know, I was having a Britney Spears moment. There are all kind of uses for being hot. And they’re not all for men.
Would you say that Adult is a feminist magazine?
I never in the world would describe it that way. But basically everyone involved in it would say that they’re a feminist. It seems like kind of a no-brainer at this point. If you believe in equality, nobody is going to tell you that they’re not a feminist. But there are different ideas of what feminism means even within the people who work on this magazine. I think arguing for difference and variation is important, also around sex. Without differentials like this between people, relationships—which, especially sexual relationships, are in a large part all about power—lose a lot of their appeal. You can have differences, and power can come from those differences, but you can’t abuse that power.
You’ve said that what prompted you and the other Adult co-founders to start the magazine was a dissatisfaction with what was out there in the world of porn and erotica. Do you see it as a platform for highlighting these differences, or representing these other dynamics?
Of course. And for trying to get at a heightened subjectivity for different kinds of people who have identities or ways of being that would be fetishized or objectified. When you see fetishes represented very intelligently, they’re the connection between our brains and the rest of our bodies. I like also the idea that from the 80s on, when—to put it very broadly—feminists and conservatives became aligned in their rejection of porn as part of our culture, there’s a line towards the progressive side of things. We’re seeing a reclamation. Someone who loves Adult and who I love personally is the artist Marilyn Minter. She would make these big, glamorous, splashy, kind of obscene artworks based on images from porn, or using naked women. A lot of dicks. A lot of her works, a lot of Betty Tompkins’ works, they were censored by feminists just as much as anyone else. Because it was like, “How dare you be having fun! If you’re going to be a woman, if you’re going to represent our position, the least you can do is look suitably miserable.” And so now we’re kind of coming back around.
The Internet has definitely helped porn become an undeniable part of our lives. There’s a more open attitude about it, but there’s also a weirder line between public and private. Have there been any moments where you thought that you overshared?
Oh my god, yeah, of course. But not as often as people would think. There’s something protective about putting out what seems like too much information. You can almost scare via transparency, so it’s a nice paradox. An interesting thing about writing for Adult is that a lot of it is emotionally naked even more than it is sexually naked. Sometimes I wish that the world would have fewer stories about longing and more stories about actual desire. Desire to me is one of the most complicated subjects in the world. I don’t think it can ever be exhausted. If I could understand why it is that I want what I want, I’m afraid that I would stop wanting it.