On Control

Age-positive adult film performer and director Morgana Muses, subject of the new documentary Morgana, on BDSM and her midlife transformation.

I have spent a great deal of my life without much power or control. I grew up in a conservative household, where my gender was a series of expectations firmly placed on my shoulders. Be a wife, a mother, be docile, be demure – definitely don’t even think about your own happiness or pleasure.

I spent my early childhood in Coober Pedy, a remote town in outback Australia. It was when we moved to Sydney that I first felt the weight of expectations for women. I was raised by strict European parents, who drummed into me that girls should be quiet, reserved, submissive. I was very much told that it was my duty to get married, have children and serve my husband.

Morgana Muses on her wedding day.

I went from a conservative home in the suburbs of Sydney, to the arms of a conservative man whom I married. For many years, I did my duty, I had a family and I kept my mouth shut. The one time I brought up my sexual desires (which were a little on the kinky side, even back then), I was shut down. I never mentioned them again; I was made to feel a great deal of shame for being “abnormal.” After 12 years in a sexless marriage, I was so depressed I didn’t really know who I was anymore.

My sadness ultimately manifested in me wanting to end my life. I hadn’t been touched or seen as a sexual being in so long, I wanted to go out with a final hurrah, so to speak. I booked an escort in Sydney and planned to have one final experience before going home and ending things once and for all. That night ended up being a revelation for me; it was like someone flicked a switch and the lights came on. I was 47.

Morgana Muses channeling her inner Madonna.

By 50, I was an out-and-proud porn performer and producer making age-positive films. Now at 55, a feature-length film documentary about my life, Morgana, has been made – the act of relinquishing control to two filmmakers to tell my story ended up being an act of radical trust in others. I had to learn how to surrender control in a way that was safe, and I think BDSM helped with that.

Let me explain.

As a porn producer, director and performer, I am very much in control. I choose my sexual partners, I choose the location, we discuss the acts and scenarios ahead of time. I control the crew, the lighting, the music – everything is curated to provide a safe, enjoyable environment for my films to be created in. All the artifice of filmmaking aside, at my production company, Permission4Pleasure, we always strive to capture real sex – it’s much more like a documentary once I call action! You have to surrender to the moment in order to be authentic.

I produce pornographic films focused on fetish and BDSM. BDSM, in particular, has a wonderful open dialogue-based framework for the safe practice of what is essentially a transfer of power. Even as a submissive in my films, I can very much still be in control.

Morgana Muses in a scene from Morgana.

I think many people use compartmentalization as a coping mechanism; for me, film offers that in a very deliberate way. I changed from my birth name to Morgana Muses when I decided to work in pornography officially. I found that in creating a new identity, like appearing in film, there was an ability for me to let go of the shame and expectations I had placed on myself. Changing my name gave me the freedom to be all the things I was always afraid of being as my former self. The performance aspect is less about performativity and more about compartmentalization as a coping mechanism for dealing with internalized shame.

BDSM is all about surrendering control – to lose control on my terms, which is still control. The framework of BDSM means someone can be the bottom, but still in control. In terms of my own agency, my own volition is to give up control in a controlled environment that is aligned to my own desires.

The documentary Morgana was shot in segments over a period of years, so it wasn’t until very late on, when the edit was close to being finished, that I really started to think about the whole thing. Of course, once the filmmakers told me they wanted to make a feature – not a short, as they had originally planned – I was conscious that this was going to be a full-length film about my life. But it felt the most real several years later when I was finally sitting there watching the final cut.

Morgana Muses in Morgana.

To go from being a director in my own right to a subject felt like a natural step in surrendering control. The directors, Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard, took great care of me and the trust that developed between us was not unlike the trust that develops between performers. We took tools from BDSM: We had check-ins and aftercare and debriefs about what we had filmed and how I was feeling.

In my life, I went from one set of expectations to another. From being a wife and mother, where others expected so much of me, to my own expectations of myself as a performer and filmmaker. I was tired of pretending to be what everyone wanted me to be, so to be able to show the truth through this documentary was liberating. From a young age, I never felt like I had control – part of my rebirth was taking control, without people telling me what to do or living for other people’s expectations. I can now live for myself instead.

Morgana Muses is the age-positive, sex-positive creative director and performer of Permission4Pleasure. She shares her journey of sexual exploration with audiences through her award winning films. The new documentary about her, Morgana, screens at the Fantasia Festival between August 20 and September 2. In 2012, she was the recipient of the Petra Joy Award for first time film-makers with her entry Duty Bound, which detailed her own experience hiring a male escort. Since then Morgana’s films have screened all over the world in leading erotic festivals such as Cinekink New York, the Berlin Porn Film Festival and in 2015 she won the Feminist Porn Awards’ Heart Throb of the Year. In 2017, she received three awards at the Toronto Porn Film Festival, including Best Fetish Film for Having My Cake, followed up in 2018 with Labia of Love picking up the Hottest Artful Porn Award.