AN ISSUE OF CONSENT

“The porn industry I work in most certainly requires consent.”

It was almost 2 years ago, in April 2013, and I was in Atlantic City, New Jersey at Exxxotica — a sex and porn convention — seated behind a table displaying a small range of DVDs full of sexually-explicit product that I and many of my colleagues had performed in. A short man with wispy brown hair approached the table, as people tend to do at such events, and asked if I had any “real” porn.

“You know, the stuff that’s all grainy like it was shot on a phone,” he said. I stared blankly at the air six inches in front of his face, attempting to figure out how crappy camera work and low resolution imagery, for him, constituted “real”. He continued: “And maybe the girl doesn’t know the camera is there.” When a man at a porn convention says “maybe,” he almost always means “definitely.”

I told him I didn’t sell work I didn’t consider reasonably consensual—at the very least defined as people knowing about the camera—signaled to the booth assistant that I was stepping out for a moment, and hurried outside in impractical sparkly lingerie and stilettos to get a breath of fresh air.

Yesterday, Twitter executives announced that they will be taking steps to prevent the sharing of non-consensual nudes by changing the company’s rules and abuse behavior policy. This follows Reddit’s March 10th crackdown on sexual material shared without permission, in which higher-ups at the social news site expressed regret over their handling of 2014’s huge celebrity iCloud hackings — also known as the fappening — and prohibited the posting of sexual images and video without the consent of the subjects in them.

Non-consensually recorded and non-consensually posted pictures and video of people in sexual situations may be frequently called “revenge porn,” but they are very different from the way the actual porn industry operates. I perform in commercial porn with high production values, porn in which stacks of paperwork — including model releases and 2257 compliance documentation — confirm the age, identity, and legal consent of the performers to both the recording and distribution of the resulting product.

Professional adult entertainment, though often maligned and defined by its worst iterations — like the dramatized biographies based on the stories of Linda Lovelace and Traci Lords — is largely an industry where consent is absolutely necessary. This is not to say that it is a utopia full of sunshine and vulva daisies — it isn’t — but it most certainly requires consent, consent that may be given based on a variety of reasons, from the desire to indulge an exhibitionistic streak to calculations that balance the pressures of economic necessity against willingness to work in a stigmatized and sometimes risky field.

Standing outside Exxxotica that day, I tried to untangle my emotional reactions. For one, I was insulted by the perceived assumption that because I work in pornography, my moral standards are so low that I’d sell intimate recordings of people unaware that recordings were even being made. I was befuddled by the idea that a person would show up at convention full of adult performers selling DVDs of sex scenes they’d performed in — and in some cases, owned the production and distribution of — and this person would come looking specifically for content that involved a lack of consent.

I was also repulsed.

The rejection of willingly-created and presented pornographic content in favor of material that is unwillingly taken and distributed with the intent of violating or humiliating the subject strikes me as a gleeful attempt to shove women back into a corner, a corner where sexual expression outside of heterotypical marriage-as-ownership is paired with an extra twisted application of the already messed-up Madonna/whore dichotomy. A corner where only the wronged, and therefore the innocent, can be the object of sexual attraction.

Still outside the convention center, I judged.

I judged the upskirt photographers, the people who get off on pictures of people who don’t want the world to see them, and myself for being briefly entertained by the former submissions-based website isanyoneup before realizing that the people appearing in the photos hadn’t given permission for their images to be posted on the internet. I judged my country’s lawmakers for making strict regulations about how and where I can do my job but leaving victims of revenge porn and non-consensual dissemination of nude and explicit photos with slim to no protection—like last year’s Massachusetts ruling that upskirt photography is not illegal, and New York Judge Steve Statsinger’s description of Ian Barber’s sharing of nude photos of his ex-girlfriend which stated “while reprehensible, does not violate any of the criminal statutes under which he is charged.”

It’s terrible to see women who don’t wish to be seen naked in public forced into navigating the stigma associated with visible, public record of their sexuality. And I’m happy to see Twitter and Reddit finally taking steps to curtail this violation of privacy. But I think executives at these companies can do a little better than just allowing users to report violations of their updated terms of service: They should require proof of consent before a nude image is posted, period. After all, adult-themed social site Zivity has been managing to make active consent standard for the sharing of nude photos work for years. If a scrappy, 14 person company with only $8 million dollars in funding like Zivity can manage to make confirmative assent part of their business model, surely the Twitters and Reddits of the world can do the same.

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