Nina Sever: “Before my period, my body feels like it doesn’t belong to me”
Nina Sever is an erotic artist based in London – and when we say artist, we mean artist. After eleven years working as a nude model, they now also work as a photographer, director, musician, and writer. They recently directed a film for Erika Lust, the independent adult filmmaker, and we were lucky enough to discover their work after they reached out about collaborating with OHNE for a photoshoot. You can see some of the stunning photos they took (alongside their OHNE tampons – seriously, has a tampon ever looked so great?!) below. We had a chat with them about their work, expressing sexuality through art, and the serious highs and lows menstrual cycles put us through.
My career doesn’t take a single ‘form’ and it probably never will
“My career started when I began taking nude self-portraits. No one told me it was wrong, I was just doing what came to me intuitively. Shortly after my first few experiments, I started working as a nude model, which I did for eleven years before putting myself behind the camera. I now describe myself as an erotic artist because I finally realised I don’t have to chose one talent to focus on and develop more, I do many things and can put myself under the biggest umbrella.
I like to stay flexible and evolve and never say no when a big opportunity presents itself even when I’m not ready; I’m happy to learn on the go. I think that’s why I was able to work for Erika Lust as a guest director. That alone opened many doors in my brain and broke down some of the walls and insecurities I had built in years. I’m always creating and I never stop, especially when it’s difficult. Perseverance is my tool.
I’ve always been interested in nudity but [my interest in] the sexual side came later. Only now can I fully embrace it. Growing up, my mum always had these beautiful erotic illustrations hanging around the house. It was a great reminder for me to be free in my own sexuality, and feel comfortable with my naked body.
A few months ago, I started working as a sex performer, which gives me more freedom to express my artistic energy with my body. My experience as a performer and model allows me to be more comfortable when I am directing or photographing, because I know what it’s like to be naked in front of a lens. I try to always be aware. Just because you’ve worked in a certain industry for a long time doesn’t mean that you are immune to mistakes and human misunderstanding – that’s arrogance.
I feel feel vulnerable modelling while menstruating
My period doesn’t often mess with my ability to work when I’m working as a writer or director – I may not be at my best but I suck it up and push through the day. When I’m in front of the camera, however, I feel more vulnerable because I know my body looks different, even if just to me.
When I’m working with male photographers I always tend to say that I feel weak or tired and not at my best, not caring too much if they are uncomfortable with that, because it’s time that people who work with humans and who represent intimacy through their work start to educate themselves on such things. You want to work with a person with a vagina? Learn about vaginas first.
For the shoot for OHNE, I was actually on my period, so the tampon you see on my body is not the only tampon in the photo, technically! I was struggling a little bit to stretch my body because of the tension in my uterus, but I really wanted that look! It wouldn’t have been possible without my partner, because he understands and is supportive when I am struggling. We took it easy, a slow shoot, no pressure. It was beautiful to be there, naked and comfortable. I felt loved and respected and learned how to love my body a little bit more on days like that too. In general, love and art can do miracles in my world.
There’s more understanding of periods in the ethical adult film industry
I’ve never had the chance to work as a sex performer whilst on my period – I know it can be tricky, but I think it would be alright in the industry I work in. When I cast sex performers, I ask them if they think they are going to be on their period on the dates I am aiming to film, and we talk about our options in case they think they will be menstruating. The more we talk about it, the better, because we normalise it.
Before my period, my body feels like it doesn’t belong to me
I’m still trying to trying to figure out if my premenstrual body dysphoria has anything to do with my gender identity, which is non-binary neutral, or if it’s PDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). Either way, that week prior to my period is depressing, physiologically much more than physically. I don’t like to be so aware of my body, especially my breasts. I don’t like those little changes out of my control – it feels like it’s not my body. The fact that my body doesn’t look and feel like it usually does makes me more aware of my female physical appearance in society. I try my best to neutralise that feeling by wearing more masculine clothes. Normally, I’ll switch between femininity and masculinity and I enjoy going for whatever my brain is more comfortable with on a certain day. When I’m PMS-ing or on my period I feel like I can’t do that so easily, so I feel like I’m trapped in my desire to look less feminine. It’s really complex and difficult to explain.
I’m cool with the blood itself, that’s just a bodily function. It’s the premenstrual phase that fucks me up. I do feel some relief when I start bleeding because I start coming back to myself after my hormones have been playing their games at the end of my cycle. I just deal with the technical issues and carry on with my day – not comfortable, but at least with a brain behaving as it should.
The pill affects my mental health in devastating ways
I used to track my menstrual cycle because my ex partner and I were in a long-term, monogamous relationship, so we decided to try other forms of contraception as I cannot take the pill. For a while, I tracked my ovulation and it worked, giving me a good sense of what was going on with my body and brain. I don’t use any apps anymore, but I still write in my calendar. Now that I think about it, I should probably pop in those PDD symptoms, because each month I feel almost suicidal and then get my period and I’m like ‘aaaah, now that explains everything’.
Routines kill my creativity
I don’t have real routines but I do have my little habits that keep me grounded. I prefer change over stability, as long as I am connected to my inner centre. When I am working on something specific, the only thing that is mandatory to get anything done is ‘scheduling’, but once I’ve established the main targets to hit in my week, I stay flexible.
My one constant in terms of ‘routine’ is my beauty and body care routine in the mornings and evenings, which I keep really simple (the other thing that stays the same is coffee. Loads of coffee). As for self care, I try to find the time to workout and, when I feel low, I realise it’s because I haven’t spent enough time alone and feel disconnected from myself and the good things in the world. London is a great place to live for going on long walks to my favourite spots with a book. I remind myself I have amazing friends and try to meet up with them, make some delicious food, and talk as openly as we can. Depending on what’s going on with my menstrual cycle, I may take it easier on myself too. You should see me when I’m ovulating though!
I am in a long distance relationship, so my partner and I make sure we always find time to connect and talk. We also work together, so depending on what’s going on we integrate that into our conversations.
My advice for others looking to explore identity, sex, and sexuality through art
Taking photos of myself has saved my life more than once. It’s a good way to focus on something else and create a safe space but still be in the moment with yourself. Posing for my partner was healing and soothing, so I’d suggest finding sensitive and understanding human beings to surround yourself with – and not only in a creative context. If you need to, take time to feel uncomfortable and hurt, breathe it in and allow yourself to go through pain and insecurity. How are you supposed to fight something you don’t know? And why would you fight yourself to begin with? Intimacy comes from a silent place; the confidence follows. Get to know yourself. And masturbate! Let that energy flow, because it’s yours, and no one can take that away from you. Masturbation is also a way to show yourself that you don’t need anyone to feel happy – others can help, but you don’t need them.”
A huge thank you to Nina Sever for their beautiful images and words. The photographs featured in this article, including the header image, were taken by Hoss, @hossyposs, with the art direction and modelling by Nina, @ninaseverart. You can also find Nina at their website, and on Twitter.