When Rocco Antonio Tano was 9, his mother caught him masturbating.
The incident occurred on the balcony of his family’s home in Ortona, a quaint coastal town in Italy that once played host to the Battle of Ortona, otherwise known as “Italian Stalingrad”—a gruesome 8-day confrontation between two battalions of German Fallschirmjäger and a brigade from the Canadian 1st Infantry Division during World War II. An overwhelming sense of shame washed over him. His mother was the light of his life, and, as with most Italian ragazzi, her approval meant everything to him. So young Rocco spent the next two hours locked in the bathroom, divorced from reality.
Then came the all too familiar scream: The pasta is cold! The pasta is cold! Head held low, he dragged his miniature body over to the dinner table. When Rocco mustered the courage to look up, he locked eyes with his mother. And much to his surprise, she was smiling. “Don’t worry,” she said, “you just became an adult.”
That scared little boy grew up to be Rocco Siffredi, aka “The Italian Stallion”—a porn icon who has starred in roughly 1,400 films. Named after Alain Delon’s gangster character Roch Siffredi in the 1970 French film Borsalino, Rocco is renowned for his movie star looks and particularly rough brand of onscreen sex, as well as his majestic cock. If there were a Mount Rushmore of porn penises, his 24 cm fuck stick would assume its rightful place alongside those of John Holmes, Ron Jeremy, and Lexington Steele.
“Can I tell you something?” Rocco asks me. “Did you see the movie Shame?”
We’re seated across from one another at a pop-up café on the Lido, an island in Venice, Italy, about 550 km north of Ortona. The occasion, aside from our stunning view of the Adriatic Sea, is the Venice Film Festival where Rocco, a stylish documentary on the sex god helmed by French duo Thierry Demaiziere and Alban Teurlai, made its world premiere. The film chronicles his tumultuous 2015, the final year of the now-retired Rocco’s porn career, as he travels between his home in Budapest—where he lives with his wife and two sons, and operates a porn studio—to shoots in Los Angeles and elsewhere. It also dedicates much of its 105-minute running time to Rocco’s battle with the “devil between his legs.”
Which brings us to Shame, the powerful Steve McQueen film featuring Michael Fassbender as a sex addict battling his demons in Manhattan. “When I saw this movie,” says Rocco in his thick Italian accent, “it gave me nightmares. Night after night. Fassbender in that movie went through exactly what I went through. All of it.”
It began in 2004 when Rocco decided to quit porn. He’d just turned 40, and his eldest son was starting to reach the age where children wonder what daddy does for a living: “When I decided to do porn, I said, ‘No family.’ Then I decided to start a family, then the boys came. And they grew. I didn’t want them to see, so I thought it was better to stop before they grew too much.”
“One day I’m playing with my son,” he continues, “and then my body changed. I felt I needed to go.”
So Rocco left. He would disappear for days at a time, scouring the internet for sex. “I started to see hookers every day,” he recalls. “Also transsexuals, old women, any kind of thing. I didn’t figure out that I was addicted to sex.”
His lowest point, he says, mirrored a sequence in Shame where Michael Fassbender’s character, after being spurned by a woman and assaulted by her boyfriend, enters a gay sex club where he begrudgingly receives oral sex from a male stranger. A similar scene occurred between Rocco and a random man at a sauna in France.
“There was the point. I went to this, with a guy,” says Rocco. “You see in Shame that he went with a guy not because he’s a homosexual, but because his brain is so fucked up that he needs to do anything to get pleasure, to get sweet release.”
Rocco has always loved sex. He chuckles at the memory of losing his virginity as a 13-year-old to a 21-year-old woman with “the biggest bush ever” (it was the ‘70s, after all). By the time he was 20, he’d started frequenting a sex club in Paris. He became known throughout the club as “the Italian guy with the big dick.” One evening, while he was having sex with a woman, he spotted his porn idol, Gabriel Pontello, looking on—holding a cigar in one hand and his dick in the other. Pontello introduced the 20-year-old to porn producers, and the rest is history.
To say that Rocco engages in “rough” sex is a vast understatement. Spitting, slapping, and choking are hallmarks of a Rocco film. It is animalistic. His most notorious scene involves him taking a woman from behind while flushing her head in a toilet. But Rocco didn’t always like it rough. His taste for the extreme began when he was 22, at the hands of a British porn star named Tina.
“I didn’t know what any of it meant,” he remembers. “I was fucking her and all of a sudden she slapped my face so hard. She couldn’t come. So instinctively I slapped her back—and she immediately came. For six months, we fucked only like this. And it went further, and further, and further. I learned that some women need more attention. What you call violence, I call pain with pleasure. They go together. Men understand this far less than women. I become exactly what they want. I love to give. I am very generous. I can only come if I see them coming.”
Because of his rough style, Rocco has developed a reputation for “breaking” women—that is, pushing them to their absolute sexual limit. In Rocco, porn producers warn their clients beforehand that the sex will be strenuous, and usually give the women a day or two off after to recuperate.
“I had this reputation that was bad,” says Rocco. “Girls didn’t want to work with me because they saw how it was in the movies and they would pre-judge. They’d say, ‘No, I don’t want to work with this guy. He’s too rough.’ And they’d come to me after when they don’t have so much work and say, ‘Now we can work together.’ And after we work together, they say, ‘Oh, I don’t understand why they say this about you. You are such a nice guy.’” “I had people using this part”—he points to his penis—“to put me down. I have a big dick. I am European John Holmes. It got jealous so many people in this business. So they thought, ‘How can we fuck him up? His sexuality.’”
Indeed, Rocco comes off as a very attentive scene partner in the documentary; a man sensitive to the needs of his onscreen women. He claims that consent is of the utmost importance to him, and is adamant that he has never had—unlike the man who idolizes him, James Deen—a co-star accuse him of sexual assault.
“Never. Ever. The reputation is they know. When they arrive, I tell them, ‘I have an amplifier on me. You decide the volume. Just let me know how high or low to turn it,’” he says. “Some girls come to me and say, ‘Rocco, I don’t like your style of sex with the slapping.’ And I say, ‘OK, what kind of sex do you like?’ And I do that. I can adjust. Girls in America come to me and say, ‘Rocco, I have no limits. Try to find my limit.’ And then after they say, ‘Wow, Rocco, you fucked me so hard.’ And I say, ‘Well, you asked me to.’ So it depends how much you want to challenge me.”
Many people consider your style of sex violent and borderline misogynistic, I tell him.
“Visually, it is violent. When you don’t understand this kind of sexuality you only see violence,” he explains. “But if you understand this sexuality, there is no violence. It’s an interchange of pleasure, pain, and pressure. I don’t like to fuck girls only with my dick; I use all the senses. I love to use my sense of smell, saliva—to melt with the person.”
“But none of it is about hating women, or who is more strong,” he adds. “Thirty-two years I do this business. If I hated women, I’d be in a mental hospital.”
Following a five-year hiatus, where Rocco descended into sex addiction and nearly ruined his marriage, he rejoined the porn ranks in 2009. He retired again from performing in 2015 (though still directs and produces) after appearing on L’Isola dei Famosi, an Italian reality show where he was tasked with being stranded naked and alone on a beach for a week.
“I had an experience on the island where you’re completely alone. Completely alone. No more business, no more family. It’s just you,” he recalls. “And it was the analysis that I never really went through. I discovered what my real priorities were—that everything else, all the women, it was all fake. The power and the beauty was not real. And it’s not important to me anymore.”
In addition to porn, Rocco has appeared in a number of acting roles in feature films, including Catherine Breillat’s French dramas Romance and Anatomy of Hell, as well as the Italian comedy Wedding in Paris. These days, he’s acting as a sex ambassador of sorts. Late last year, he launched an online petition addressed to Italian education minister Stefania Giannini calling for mandatory sex education in Italian schools, since most Italian schools do not teach sex ed.
“I’m going to disco most of the time to do special appearance, and lots of teenagers—14, 15 years old—they are asking me for autographs,” says Rocco. “The boyfriend and girlfriend will come, and girlfriend will say, ‘Rocco, can you tell him I don’t like the way he fucks me? He is very rough. He slaps me, he chokes me, and he is your biggest fan. He says he wants to fuck me like Rocco.’” “I’m like, ‘Jesus, this is not very good. Guys: porn is not sex education. It is entertainment for adults. It is fantasy.’ But teenagers don’t understand this. And Italy is the worst because their parents think their teenage sons don’t watch porn. My balls.”
The worst part, he says, is the barrage of onscreen imitators he’s inspired—from accused serial rapist James Deen to a host of others; men who like to be rough with women on camera without forging the proper connection.
“When I hire a new guy, they immediately start up with this”—he mimics a man slapping a woman—“in the first ten seconds. And I’m like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ The guy goes, ‘Hey, Roc! I thought you liked this? It’s your style!’ And I’m like, ‘Is that what you learned?’” He shakes his head. “There is a moment of approval; a moment of connection. First you connect with the girl, you start fucking each other, and there is a moment of connection. And then you can try to push things further with each other.”