In the infamous carol “The 12 Days of Christmas,” the singer brags about all the bossy gifts their “true love” gave them for the holidays. But since since six geese-a-laying and a bunch of turtle doves seem unsanitary — not to mention a violation of city ordinances — we decided to gift you with 12 of something better: A handful of sex workers you should absolutely know about. Whether they’re becoming literary superstars, breaking the “stunt cock” mold or literally embodying gay Jesus himself, they’re the real gifts we need this Christmas. And no, not one of them is a turtle dove.
Something’s happening on TikTok. You may have seen it: Young women are Photoshopping themselves into photos with a pale, gangly, tattooed 36-year-old. They’re pretending to wake up in their coffins when he arrives at their funerals. They’re dressing him in sombreros and sarapes and having him bring flowers to their doors. And it’s not just women. Young men joke that they’re copying his moves. They broadcast their “masculine urge” to get the same trademark tattoo as him. They swoon over him. When you search his name as a hashtag, the collective videos have over 44 million views on TikTok — but when you hear it spoken, it might not even register. I am, of course, talking about porn’s perpetual boyfriend, Owen Gray.
For his cult following and the deep respect for him in the industry, there’s very little about Gray online. He politely declined to speak for this piece, on the basis that he’s “not interested in any type of interviews,” and, while he’s spoken to the media a handful of times, most of what’s out there about him comes from his own website. “I’ve progressively moved [to be] more and more private,” Gray told fellow porn star Asa Akira on the Pornhub Podcast last year. “I used to be very public online, talking about myself and my relationship. As I get older, I definitely value my privacy.” Although, he does get approached and recognized often.
It’s easy to see why — Gray is distinctive as porn stars go. He’s pale and slight, with thinning brown hair. He has an enormous Y-shaped scar on his chest, which was cut by body modification artist Brian Decker, and he’s covered in tattoos (most notably, a sea of scattered alphabet letters cascades down his right thigh into a block of black ink on his calf). He may not look like a traditional male porn star — think: an average-looking, basic dude with a photogenic penis — but he does look like an en vogue, vaguely androgynous manic pixie dream boyfriend who manages a coffee shop and loves your mother, hence the mass appeal. “I wonder if Owen Gray knows that there’s a section of TikTok that worships him,” one person tweeted last June.
Gray has been in the porn industry since 2012, when he started shooting with Kink.com (he’s advertised on their site as a “sexually fluid” top who “loves to fuck everyone” and “make costumes”). For the last four years, he’s been shooting his own stuff on Pornhub, OnlyFans and DeepLush, where he makes pleasure-focused porn that ranges from romantic and vanilla to kinky and rough. His career before porn may explain his interest in body modification (in addition to his Y-shaped scar, he previously had two large piercings through the head of his penis). As a teenager, he went to cosmetology school, where he got his license to become a hair colorist at just 17. After coloring for a few years, he went on to study fashion design, and worked in the fashion industry for another four. While he told Akira that he enjoyed this job, he said he grew tired of working hard for somebody else, and decided to take a leap of faith into the world of porn.
His wife of 11 years is also in the sex industry, and their relationship — the pair are in an open marriage — appears to be a source of fascination for fans. On his website, Gray fields questions about jealousy, shame and his personal sex life. He answers openly and honestly, affirming his security in his relationship and offering nuanced, thoughtful responses to curious inquiries. Addressing a question about jealousy in open relationships, he writes, “Try imagining that you care for someone so much that you just want to see them happy because that makes you even happier about life, even if that means your partner sleeping with someone else.”
This thoughtfulness explains at least some of the public’s undying obsession with Gray, but it also underscores a change that’s been happening in the porn industry for some time: Male performers, once irrelevant, are finally having their day. Only, it’s not the meathead beefcakes with tribal tattoos and backwards baseball caps people are lusting over — it’s guys like Gray, who show their masculinity and sexuality in more secure, less expected ways.
A 2017 interview with director Erika Lust provides a fitting example. Speaking to her after a scene they shot together, Gray explains what he enjoys about the submissive and dominant sides of BDSM. “When I’m submitting my body to another person, I’m more focused on being able to dissolve into an overstimulation of my senses and to release emotion that I often feel I must contain because of expected roles in our culture,” he told her. “When dominant, I’m fully aware of my partner’s boundaries as I feel like they are in a place of indulgence, and I’m focused on their pleasure.” In the intro to the interview, Lust warns readers to beware: Reading Gray, they might develop a crush.
This, to be clear, isn’t typical. Before the Age of Gray, there was a mold for straight male porn stars, and it rarely involved self-reflection about gender roles and boundaries. It came from household names like Ron Jeremy (who’s not exactly attractive and has recently been accused of sexual assault), the jacked, tan and bald Johnny Sins and the creepy, seedy-feeling James Deen (also accused of sexual assault). These men typically fall into a small subset of categories, most of which indulge red-blooded, stereotypical manliness: the older, gross uncle; the Jersey Shore musclehead; or the completely bland, Average Joe (with an unsettling dark side, if you’re Deen). Few of these options are attractive to women, but that’s the whole point — as many have pointed out, most mainstream straight porn is shot with straight male consumers in mind. Male performers — and their potential for arousing women — are often afterthought.
According to Heather Berg, an assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Washington University in St. Louis, this is because men in positions of power — porn directors, producers and agents, in this case — tend to “make decisions that speak more to their own sexual anxieties than to the market.” These anxieties stem from what we now know as “toxic masculinity” — men are afraid of being shown up. It works in men’s favor to cast other men who look like them in porn — not only does it suggest that average, everyday men can fuck beautiful women, it enforces their position as more “desirable” in society. Enter the big dicks and misogynistic attitudes of mainstream porn.
Only in many cases, these big dicks are all you see of male performers. A disembodied penis pumping away at a hole is often the only part of a man that makes it into a shot at all, rendering the person attached to it less of a performer and more of an appendage. Who he is and what he fucks like is irrelevant — all he has to do is place his cock near a female performer and keep it hard. In fact, as one anonymous male performer told VICE in a rather depressing article titled “Just a Dick: The Sad Reality of Being a Male Porn Star,” his penis is the only part of him that made it into the nearly 400 scenes he’d shot at the time.
These phantom penises are often referred to as “stunt cocks,” and they give women who like men frustratingly little to fantasize about or connect with. Who’s attached to that penis? What’s he like? Is he handsome? Charming? Attainable? Hard-to-get? Straight men get to answer these questions when they watch female performers (who are usually the focal point), but most of the time, women are left guessing. Likewise, as highlighted by Lucy Neville, a criminology professor at the University of Leicester, whose work centers on women’s engagement with sex, sex work and pornography, there are few porn categories for male performers. While straight guys get to choose from all types of women — BBW, redhead, small tits, Asian — women who want to watch and get off to men have few options outside of race (which, she adds, is routinely fetishized for all sexes). No wonder so many straight women prefer lesbian porn.
Then came guys like Gray. Thanks in part to the rise of porn that indulges women’s actual desires — as well as the social push to redefine what masculinity can mean — newer performers like Gray, Aaron Thompson (aka Small Hands) and the aptly named MrPussyLicking have sprung up to offer women a breath of fresh air. MrPussyLicking looks like an overly handsome puppy groomer or summer camp counselor you’d want to fuck by the horse corral, but both Gray and Small Hands paint a similar alt, band-guy image. According to sex, intimacy and relationship coach Lucy Rowett, they “resemble the kind of man that a lot of women would want to date and/or hook up with.” They appear more attainable and familiar because they look like someone you’d actually meet in real life, making the fantasy seem more realistic, and therefore more appealing.
That said, Gray’s looks were a hindrance when he started first performing. Speaking to Akira, he said porn companies described his appearance as “distracting” and “too different.” However, as porn has become increasingly democratized, and displays of female sexuality have been increasingly sought after, mainstream studios have lost their grip over deciding what becomes popular. That means there’s more room for alternative portrayals of masculinity — led by those actually making the porn. “If anything, [those comments were] just more motivation for me to make my own content,” continued Gray.
Yet, it’s not just his appearance that’s attracting the crowd (in fact, that may not even be the half of it). Gray’s videos present a more tender, sensitive side of sex, allowing for the human, sometimes bumbling parts of it to be seen. Skip through any clip of Gray’s, and you’ll likely see a similar format: a teasing intro with lots of slow kissing and caressing, followed by intimate sex that often leads into carnal, hands-around-your-throat, hair-pulling passion. Sometimes, he fumbles with his scene partner’s underwear, giggling as he awkwardly switches positions.
There’s a whole lot of clit stuff, too. Gray almost always goes down on his partners — for like, a while — and he seems to alway have a vibrator on hand for times of need. Given that three-quarters of women need clitoral stimulation to cum, it’s not surprising why Gray fans like 21-year-old Isla (a pseudonym) believe he should be the “blueprint of every sex situation.”
Hailey, a 28-year-old who first discovered Gray in 2018, says she likes men to focus on the pleasure of both parties when she watches porn. “Making sure [male performers] bring the woman to orgasm is key to me,” she explains, adding that being able to see the man’s facial expressions is also essential to her enjoyment, as is the chemistry between the performers. For her, Gray delivers. “He’s kind, caring and rough all in one, and it’s so magnetic,” she continues. “He seems genuinely attracted and attentive to each of his partners, and that really hit something for me.”
For the most part, Gray seems aware that this sets him apart. As his Kink.com bio states, “Owen appreciates the fact that he is different both in look and feel than a lot of other guys in the industry. He says this allows him to be more than just a stunt cock that can fill in for gangbangs, but an actual character that people who love BDSM porn have gotten to know and love.”
As he told Akira, part of his rejection of the stunt cock mold involves reading comments and responding to what his fans want. “I intentionally try to make my videos in a way that I think people can relate to,” he explained, adding that he wants to portray sex that looks hot and shows a connection, but is also attainable. He also likes “watching women in pleasure, and obviously, people enjoy watching that.”
His wife, however, makes a good (if jokey) point. “She’s like, ‘It’s sad, because you do the bare minimum that’s required of you to satisfy other women, and people praise you on such a high level for that,’” Gray relayed. “And she says that in the most loving way. I tremendously appreciate the support and the comments I get, but, you know, this is what I think of as normal sex — it’s not like I’m creating a revolution with porn.”
While Gray may not be reinventing the wheel when it comes to sex, his content is fairly unique in the mainstream cis, heterosexual porn world. In 2018, Pornhub axed its “female-friendly” section — which was targeted toward women and featured more oral sex, “real” couples and basically anything created by Nubile Films — and replaced it with a new called category called “Popular With Women,” which purports to reflect what women actually want, rather than what they’re targeted with. Per Pornhub’s 2019 Year in Review, categories favored by women include “pussy licking,” “solo male,” “fingering” and “lesbian” — videos that tend to indulge pleasure over physicality.
However, if a straight, bi or pansexual woman wanted to watch a male actor experience real pleasure in a partnered performance, that content would be much harder to find. As Neville points out, porn cameras are trained on women, even when the person experiencing the pleasure is a man. For example, in a blow-job scene, we see the woman’s face and her reactions to the fellatio, not the man’s. We rarely see his eyes roll back, and we barely get to hear him moan.
Not so with Gray’s videos. His films appear to be as much about him as they are his female co-stars, giving audiences the main character they’ve been missing. He moans, he talks dirty, he loses himself in the pleasure and he lets us see his enjoyment reflected on his face, even when he’s the one getting his partner off. His films also feature a lot of pegging, rimming and anal stimulation on him, which Neville says is something women often appreciate about gay male porn (of which they’re major consumers). “It celebrates male pleasure and men allowing themselves to be vulnerable during sex,” she explains.
Hailey, for one, loves how “into it” Gray seems, and porn star Kylie Le Beau, who’s shot with Gray twice so far, says she enjoys working with him because he “truly enjoys sex.” “He stands out from other male performers because he’s a passionate lover, and that’s conveyed both on-screen and off,” she says. “He’s nurturing, attentive, sexy and is incredibly attractive. I can’t put my finger on it, but he makes you feel sought after. Honestly, the way he fucks gives me chills.”
With male porn stars making it to the big lights of TikTok — achieving viral, celeb status for their personality and charisma, not just their dicks — it feels like the era of the stunt cock may be reaching its end. Normie dudes who once dominated the industry by just shooting their loads off-camera are losing their pervasiveness — viewers want passion, pleasure and a full-body shot of an edgy-looking guy who poses delicately with flowers and owns more vibrators than you. In other words, nuanced, less conventionally masculine men are in.
This is pretty lucky for Gray, who is, ultimately, just a horny guy. “I’ve joked at times that people always relate sex to pleasure,” he told Akira. “But in a way, it’s almost like the weight of carrying around this insatiable desire. I can’t just ignore it.”
Well, neither can we.