Plush Talent, a New York City-based agency representing adult film stars, recently started giving new clients a welcome guide to the porn industry. Along with tips on social media (“Twitter is a must have for every porn star, period.”) and taking photos for producers (“Don’t use filters”) the guide has a section on “Reputation.” It begins: “The adult industry is a lot smaller than you think and everyone talks, especially if they run into a problem with someone. What I tell the girls is, they are to act like robots …. Little adorable performer robots.”
Telling women to be well-behaved may sound repressive, said Kelli Roberts, the 19-year industry veteran who wrote it, but her intention was to warn female performers to let their agents handle on-set issues. The guide even suggests that if an issue arises, they pretend to go to the bathroom to make the call.
Roberts, who serves as kind of den mother/advocate for young women in the industry, said on-set issues tend toward “jackass producers who try and change what they agreed to at the last minute,” like one director who booked a model for a blow job scene then asked her to perform in rape fantasy once she was on location, or adding new partners to a scene last minute.
Her advice is a reminder that on-set “issues” in the porn business are common enough that models literally need a guidebook to help navigate them, and that there’s a wide gulf between what happens on paper and what happens on set.
That ambiguity extends far beyond respecting agreements about what people are willing to do on camera. In interviews with dozens of performers, producers, directors, and agents, BuzzFeed News found that not only are avenues for reporting sexual assault on a porn set unclear — it’s even a point of contention whether such assaults are common. Many described the industry as a close-knit community that bands together to drive out bad actors, where assault is rare and consequences for it unforgiving.
Many also argued such an environment leaves performers, especially those new to the industry, vulnerable to abuse, with little formal recourse if something goes wrong. And the events of recent weeks have shone a harsh spotlight on the industry and one of porn’s few household names, who has been accused of — and vehemently denied — sexual assault against co-stars and fellow performers dating back years.
Since late November, nine women have claimed that James Deen sexually assaulted them, quickly elevating the issue from the insular porn community to the national stage.
Two of the allegations were related to incidents said to have occurred in his personal life, but the others allegedly took place in a professional context, at a shoot or in a porn studio — during and after a scene. None of Deen’s accusers formally reported the alleged assaults at the time; in the instances where the women did speak up in the moment, neither the studio nor the director investigated further.
The lack of reporting is a red flag, many believe. “The question I think our industry has to ask ourselves is why did the women feel that they wouldn’t be heard or why didn’t they feel safe coming forward?” Diane Duke, CEO of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for adult film producers, told BuzzFeed News. “The avenues are there,” she continued. “Why don’t people feel comfortable using them?”
In contrast, the industry’s response to the women going public — long after the fact and without the involvement of authorities — has been unequivocal. “He’s the biggest performer in the industry,” said Eric John, a longtime actor and producer. “And they blacklisted him.” ...
On a warm Saturday night in November, about 800 gay men wearing harnesses and other items made of leather gathered at Brut, a party held at Santos Party House in Lower Manhattan.
Mostly in their 20s and 30s, the men danced to pounding house music, flirted in an intimate lounge below the dance floor and ogled two beefy go-go men gyrating on boxes. Shirts came off, but leather harnesses stayed on all night, as Brut bills itself as New York’s only monthly leather party.
But if the party was introducing the leather scene to younger gay men who had never heard of the Village People, it also underscored a social shift: The leather scene has lost much of its overt sadomasochistic edge, and is now more about dressing up.
“I’m wearing a harness from Nasty Pig” — a sex-oriented clothing store in Chelsea — “but I’m not a part of the leather community,” said Joseph Alexiou, 31, a writer in New York, who was taking a break from the dance floor. “This party is introducing leather in a fun way that doesn’t seem so serious.”
Stalwarts of the leather scene agree that there has been a shift from lifestyle to sexy dress-up.
David Lauterstein, who opened Nasty Pig in 1994 with his husband, Frederick Kearney, said that his store has undergone a transformation of its own. While the store still carries leather harnesses and chaps, they have become seasonal items tied to specific parties; most racks these days display flannel shirts, hoodies and nylon bomber jackets.
“Leather has been integrated into the larger downtown culture, as gay sexuality has become more accepted,” Mr. Lauterstein said. “Being into kinky stuff doesn’t mean you have to wear certain clothing to let the world know.”
The leather scene used to occupy a very visible part of gay culture. In the 1960s through the early ’80s, men in leather caps and chaps could be seen strutting about Christopher Street, looking as if they had emerged from aTom of Finland illustration by way of a Marlon Brando movie still.
“Leather became metaphoric for claiming masculinity,” said Michael Bronski, a gender and sexuality studies professor at Harvard University and author of “A Queer History of the United States.” “These guys were baby boomers who’d been told that being gay meant being a sweater queen or being fluffy or effeminate.”
Gay leather bars dotted Manhattan, with names like the Spike, Rawhide, the Ramrod and Badlands. And during the city’s annual gay pride parade, wearers of leather played a prominent role. Indeed, the annual Leather Pride Night party was one of the parade’s main sources of funding.
But “progress” in the name of same-sex marriage, social acceptance and civil rights seemed to have taken its toll on the leather scene.
“Many factors, like gentrification and the fight for marriage equality, have contributed to the rise in homonormality,” said Jeremiah Moss, who chronicles the city’s evolution on the site Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. “This is a very American melting pot phenomenon: If you assimilate, if you give up what makes you different, you can have rights.” ...
What is there to say about this BRIC TV video on Bushwick's polyamory house that wasn't already said with lingering shots of curved faucets and supple hands wrapped around goblets of wine?
"What's the garbage situation?" the embedded reporter asks the group, comprised of comely 30-somethings all lounging on a mattress covered in fake (?) furs. It's collected on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but look! Poly houses: They're just like us.
"I thought it was going to be like a bad MTV reality show," says housemate Deniz Akyurek, who said he first became acquainted with the place as a subletter. "It was better than any roommate situation I've ever been with."
The buried lede is that the inhabitants of the home—called Hacienda Villa—don't actually sleep with each other, which actually makes perfect sense and shame on us (fine, me) for making the snap judgment that "polyamorous" is just a euphemism for "relentless sex parade." The Bushwick abode is simply a community of people who practice non-monogamous relationships, within whatever context that fits into their particular lives.
"All pants are not khakis but all khakis are pants," the reporter says. "Unpack that notion for us." I can't totally discern what that means, but housemate Kenneth Play seemed to pick up on what he was going for.
"We are human, and we have very opposing needs in a relationship," Play said. "One side, we want security, devotion, dependability....and to count on that person in sickness and health. Then there's times when we want adventure, we want novelty, we want new people." To illustrate that point, the scene switches over to a man in brightly patterned briefs reclining on a long green couch. "I can light you on fire!" offers a peppy woman in striped Zubaz. She does. ...
Want a special someone who will bring you to your knees? One who will be totally in charge? One who will tell you that you are really, really bad and threaten you with punishments? Maybe you have a little day dream about being a captive virgin. Or maybe you prefer to fantasize about a man who is helpless, who, say, has his arms secured to a crossbeam. Christianity has something for everyone.
I’m not the first person to observe that religious and sexual ecstasy have a lot in common—or that the love songs Christians croon to Jesus sound remarkably like other love songs. Nor am I the first to point out that Christian ministers, musicians, and recruiters play with this blurry boundary deliberately. Tim Tebow posing as sexy Jesus-on-the-cross for GQ kind of says it all. As if there weren’t enough Christian girls and boys struggling with Jesus fantasies already. (here, here, here)
Early pagan religions incorporated sexuality explicitly into religious practice, for example, in the form of temple prostitutes or fertility rites or sacred sexuality. Some Dharmic traditions, like tantric Buddhism, continue to do so today. Given the power of religion to arouse and exploit sexual energy, it should come as no surprise that sacred sexuality takes a wide variety of forms—or that, despite an overt attempt by the Abrahamic traditions to constrain and control sexuality, these traditions also make use of the very same urges they seek to suppress.
One offshoot of the religion-sensuality-sexuality nexus that doesn’t get talked about much is the relationship between Christianity and kink. On the surface, the two couldn’t appear more different. Christianity has often advocated abstinence or sex exclusively for procreation, as a means to propagate the religion itself, while kink is about consensual pleasuring limited only by an agreement between the individuals involved. Christianity can be thought of as seeking to sublimate, or redirect, sexual passion, while kink tries to enhance it. Christianity claims to be about the end game, while kink often is about the moment. Christianity is deadly serious, while kink commonly is framed as playful. Christianity is a multi-billion dollar, multi-billion member, multi-national enterprise, while kink is a small counter culture without revenue and membership goals.
But just beneath the surface both communities may be leveraging a similar set of instincts and emotions. Consequently, comparing Christianity and kink may illustrate how seemingly unrelated activities can draw on some basic human impulses that we all share. I am not suggesting that Christianity is all about sexual arousal, even sublimated or redirected sexual arousal, though that most certainly is a part of the picture. Nor am I suggesting that kink typically represents a far-reaching moral and spiritual worldview, though perhaps for some it does. I am suggesting that kink and Christianity appear to tap an overlapping array of social and psychological impulses that include sexual arousal, moral emotions like shame and disgust, our tendency to seek hierarchy, our desire to escape rationality, our heightened sensory acuity in the presence of emotional arousal, and our tendency to take every pleasure to its extreme. In all of these, the themes of dominance and submission, inflicting pain, and receiving pain, have parts to play.
Pleasure and Pain: In the past five hundred years, few Christian writers have described the relationship between pain and pleasure as graphically as St. Teresa of Avila, whose sixteenth century vision of mystical union with God drips with sexuality:
In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by the intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.
Still today, in some Christian traditions, pain and religious passion go hand in hand. Mother Theresa is quoted as saying that love isn’t real unless it hurts. In one anecdote, she tells a suffering woman that her pain is the kiss of Jesus. The nuns of Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, have practiced self-mortification techniques including striking their legs with rope and wearing a spiked chain called a cilice. Dan Brown’s thriller, The DaVinci Code was a wild fantasy, but the mortification practices of the order Opus Dei are real.
With or without the erotic overtones, pain appears to heighten some spiritual experiences through several mechanisms. Self-inflicted pain or voluntary submission to pain can be proof of commitment, as in gang initiations. It may offer temporary relief from guilt, anxiety, emptiness, or self-loathing, like self-cutting does for some depressed girls and others. It may produce an endorphin release as when runners and rowers push past a pain threshold. It may intensify focus on the present moment by causing distractions to recede into the background, like pinching oneself can do. It may offer a mesmerizing rhythm of sensation, as in head banging. The point isn’t that Christian penance and self-mortification are always or even usually erotic—they aren’t—but that both Christianity and kink can use pain as sensory enhancers. ...
My dom once stopped a scene to make sure I was still breathing.
I wasn't mad or anything. I was really glad she checked, because if I hadn't been, it would have confirmed all my mom's fears about the dodgy, catacomb-ish sex dungeons she thinks I frequent.
I was breathing, just deep in subspace and kind of incoherent. I'm a quiet player, and I like scenes that involve monumental stillness, so sometimes it's hard to tell if I'm, you know. Alive. My dom and I hadn't been together long, and she was still working out the whole, "Okay, what do you look like blissed-out versus what do you look like asphyxiated?" puzzle. She's a trooper.
A couple of years before I met her, I was raped during what was supposed to be a no-sex scene. That "dom's" response was, Yeah, but I was just trying to get you turned on so you'd enjoy the scene more. And even though I knew that was bullshit, I spent years wondering if it was a misunderstanding. If I'd failed to communicate clearly. If the rules were somehow different in BDSM because I'd agreed to be "submissive."
Here's what I've learned: Consent works the same way in the kink world as it does in the vanilla world. If you don't know what your partner likes or wants, ask. With your words. You can use nonverbal communication too, but your words are best. It won't kill the mood, I promise. After I told my dom, "Yep, still breathing," the scene went on. Kind of like how in the pre-streaming era, you could watch TV, go microwave a frozen burrito during a commercial break, then return to the couch and dive right back into the story.
Kitty Stryker, in her essay "I Never Called It Rape," says, "[When] I reflected on the number of times I've had fingers in my cunt that I hadn't consented to, or been pressured into a situation where saying 'no' was either not respected or not an option...I'm kind of horrified." I've heard similar stories from other subs -- boundaries are violated, and no action is taken because how do you explain to likely-vanilla authorities that yes, you wanted to be whipped until you bled, but no, you didn't want to be fingered? It can be equally hard to find support within the kink community. Blogger Thomas MacAulay Millar has a seven-article series about unprosecuted rape and abuse in Kinklandia, where he notes that the power structures in BDSM communities sometimes privilege abusers and silence survivors.
So what are some the myths about kink -- particularly about dominant/submissive dynamics -- that perpetuate rape and abuse and make it difficult for survivors to speak up?
Mind-reader dom reads my mind so good.
I write romance novels. And yes, sometimes the Oh, I've never been able to ask for what I want sexually -- please, experienced and outlandishly attractive stranger, make my body your banquet and show me hitherto untold pleasures trope is fun.
But in real life? When you're kinking? All parties need to be able to articulate what they want and what they don't want. Or, if they're exploring uncharted territory, to be able to stop and say, "Nope, that's not working." Or "Yes, do that forever."
Being dominant is about asserting control.
Being submissive is about asserting control. It's about knowing and communicating your limits. Being dominant is about listening. It's about orchestrating a scene within parameters that someone else has set. It's also about communicating your own limits. If there's something a sub asks for that you don't feel comfortable doing, you can say no. You don't have to stumble through out of a desire to prove that you are, in fact, dominant. ...
Miss Jackie* sits in the back of a dingy Leeds café in England, sipping tea and speaking urgently. She describes herself as a T-girl (a transgender woman) who has been a veteran of the BDSM scene for over 20 years, save for a seven-year break in the early 2000s.
When she returned in 2010, she barely recognized it. Jackie moved to a new town and joined her local munch, an informal pub meetup for the community to socialise and play. "To begin with, the play was very mild, people hardly hit each other. After a while, this couple turned up from one of the other munches in the county, and just seemed to take over," she says. "The woman injured my foot, and flogged me on the back of the head, which is a real no-no. She was falling off her high heels because she was drunk, but she'd more or less appointed herself safety monitor."
This behavior went unnoticed by other, inexperienced members, whose knowledge of BDSM came mostly from internet porn. Jackie shudders when she recounts the couple. "They were pushing limits." The man is now banned from a number of British clubs, after an incident when a woman was tied up and touched without permission.
Miss Jackie soon became aware that much had changed since her departure from the scene. "I was topping for a friend who was a prostitute, and she seemed surprised that I was polite to her afterwards," she says with a tinge of irony. "She didn't realize that was the norm. She'd had experiences in London where people had forced ketamine on her, and kept her against her will for days."
In the BDSM community, to 'grass' or out kink abusers is to isolate yourself. When Jackie appealed to prominent figures to help, she was met with outright hostility. In one email exchange seen by Broadly, one of the country's most influential munch figures told her that any "perceived abuse" was likely just part of a normal master/slave interaction in a power exchange dynamic. "A decent master is not going to want to harm their property on any level," he wrote, much to Jackie's horror.
"I have never been the same person since I first read that," she says. "If a dom breaks the law, it's considered vanilla law, and nobody will acknowledge it." ...
... At the moment, the community is trying its best to self-police. Consent Counts is a network of kink activists aiming to do just that—to open a dialogue and introduce an ethical system of care to the scene. "BDSM subcultures need to develop an ethics of care for ourselves and others, and this can only be achieved through collective efforts and networks of support," a spokesperson explains. "In part this will act as a deterrent from abuse, and show potential abusers that their behaviour will not get buried in the sand and forgotten easily. A collective voice is much more powerful than that of an individual."
The “romance options” are one of the most talked-about aspects of modern RPGs, the anodyne name betraying the fundamentally lifeless simulation of sexual relationships afforded to us by most games. But it’s still tremendous fun, finding the right partner for all your grand adventures. “Partner” in the singular, of course; one of the great conflicts imposed by nearly every RPG is the choice of romantic partner. Which “option” do you choose? To whom will your character be committed, ostensibly for life?
It gets tedious after a while, especially in games like Mass Effect where all romance options are not created equal. Falling in love with Specialist Traynor or Kelley Chambers is quite fun and fascinating, but in spite of being mutually exclusive with all other romance options, they lack the sheer depth of Shepard and Liara’s trilogy-spanning love affair. More than once me and my queer gaming friends have said “why do we have to choose?”
Then along comes Fallout 4 with a ray of radioactive sunshine.
In its unpretentious way, Bethesda has set a new industry standard for dealing with one of the most unexplored dimensions of relationships in video games: polyamory. Simply put, Fallout 4’s romance options are not mutually exclusive. You can flirt with, sleep with, and develop relationships with multiple characters concurrently, with both companions and regular NPCs.
No fuss is made about this; neither preachy treacle nor artificial conflict impede the simple presentation of a world where your character can be unproblematically poly.
Make no mistake: this is a watershed moment in mainstream gaming, and it is very much worth celebrating. Just as we are finally moving away from portraying heterosexual relationships as the default norm in story-based games, so too can we move away from the staid portrayal of monogamy as the only option. But this is also a very preliminary first step, and if developers want to really explore polyamory, there are plenty of interesting routes they can take that will generate realistic conflict and even interesting new game mechanics.
When I told my partner and her other girlfriend about this, I described the situation as one where there was “no drama” for carrying on multiple relationships, to which one quipped, “Oh, so it’s definitely a fantasy then.” What her wry joke was hinting at, of course, is that in the real world polyamory is rarely free of theatrics and emotional anguish. Whole websites and books exist to teach people how to conduct themselves in relationships with multiple partners. Communication, the desiderata of any relationship, becomes an absolute lifeline here; clarity, openness, and a willingness to be constantly vulnerable are all necessary to be happily polyamorous, contrary to those who think it's inherently easier than monogamous relationships due to the supposed lack of jealousy (that doesn't quite go away either). ...
When Kink.com severed ties with adult film star James Deen, the company’s disavowal was swift and unwavering. Two days after Deen’s ex-girlfriend, Stoya, alleged on Twitter that he had raped her, the San Francisco-based BDSM and fetish porn studio said it would cease all ties with Deen, who had appeared in more than 250 of its films, effective immediately. “Consent and respect are sacrosanct,” the company said in a public statement. “Our performers deserve not only safe sets, but the ability to work without fear of assault. Rape or sexual assault, with or without a safe-word, off-set or on, should never be accepted as a hazard of adult production.”
What has not been previously reported, however, is that Kink is at the center of four lawsuits filed this year that each allege unsafe working conditions with consequences ranging from retaliation to HIV transmission.
The company’s name also came up repeatedly as more women came forward with allegations against Deen. Adult film performer Ashley Fires told the Daily Beast that Deen had assaulted her a communal bathroom at Kink.com. A few days after that, another porn actor, Nicki Blue, told the Daily Mail Online that when she complained on a Kink.com forum about being brutally raped by Deen at a party, her post was deleted. “There’s a lot [Kink] could have done so that it didn’t happen, so that people don’t end up getting raped,” Blue told the Mail. Last week another performer, Lily LaBeau, alleged that Deen assaulted her on a Kink set in 2012. Deen was not scheduled to film and was eventually “ejected” from the shoot. Michael Stabile, a spokesperson for Kink.com, said that as the news unfolded, the company discussed ways to improve its detection of seemingly isolated incidents. Kink.com needs to do a better job, he said, of making sure directors aren’t siloed and making sure that performers know exit interviews after a shoot are confidential and there won’t be any retribution. Stabile said the alleged assault against LaBeau was likely discussed with talent and booking, but “other directors continued to work with [Deen] and had good experiences.”
Of the four suits, three — filed by performers Cameron Adams, Joshua Rodgers, and an anonymous John Doe with the same lawyer, Sandra Ribera — allege that their respective plaintiffs contracted HIV on Kink sets as a result of negligence. (Kink.com maintains that neither Adams nor Rodgers, who were a couple at the time, performed with someone who was HIV-positive.) The fourth lawsuit, filed in June by a different lawyer, is from a former employee of Cybernet Entertainment, the company that operates Kink.com, who claims her managers did not protect her from assault while filming a public bondage segment, and then retaliated against her when she complained about unsafe working conditions.
All four lawsuits are still in the early stages. Kink.com has challeged the legal basis behind all three cases represented by Ribera. A hearing on Kink’s objections will be held in February. Last month, the company filed an answer to the complaint from the ex-employee denying all the allegations.
The courts, or a settlement, will decide the merits of each case. But the filings present a vivid depiction of what life inside the Armory — Kink’s 2.2-acre studio in San Francisco — can be like for some performers. The court documents also address the protocols for BDSM shoots put in place by an industry that has largely been left alone by regulators when it comes to sexual assault and allowed to police itself. Deen’s female accusers have tried to explain the hardships of speaking up when boundaries have been crossed. These cases speak to those challenges.
The complaints describe a working environment in which employees and contractors are pushed beyond their limits and on-set issues are dismissed — an image that’s quite contrary to the one that the company has projected in the wake of the allegations against James Deen. That image also runs counter to Kink.com’s longstanding reputation as the progressive man’s (or woman’s) BDSM site — a company with strong worker protections, and one that “upholds an ironclad set of values to foster an environment that is safe, sane, and consensual,” according to the official synopsis of Kink, a 2013 James Franco-produced, Sundance-approved documentary about the company.
BuzzFeed News contacted several Kink performers, and those who responded said that the allegations detailed in the suits don’t match their own experiences at the 18-year-old studio. Madelyn Monroe, who appears in several Kink videos, told BuzzFeed News that she was “shocked” by the lawsuits, and that Kink.com “follows protocol more than anybody. They’re really on their shit.” Another, Roxanne Rae, told BuzzFeed News in an email that Kink is “the best and most professional company I’ve ever worked for.”
Mona Wales, who has performed in more than a dozen videos for Kink’s Public Disgrace series — including one at the center of the ex-employee lawsuit — said the same. “People are not running around like maniacs raping each other,” she told BuzzFeed News. “That’s just not what goes down in my day-to-day existence. I would not be a part of that community.”
“Kink.com is about the safest place to make a BDSM porn,” she said.
In interviews with BuzzFeed News, Karen Tynan, the lawyer defending Kink.com in all four cases, characterized the lawsuits as frivolous and not reflective of the company’s record as an employer. The suits represented by Ribera were already dealt with as workers’ compensation claims previously filed, said Tynan. “I think that having one employee sue you every 10 to 15 years is a pretty good batting average.” ...