PORN: Realities from the Life of Performers – Sexpression Talk Review

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From the 4th – 10th of March, student-led charity “Sexpression:UK” has been hosting a sexual health awareness and sex positivity week in the student union. This week includes talks on sexual health and how to access important resources as well as a screening of “Sex Education” and a “Sex Positive Arts Market”.

The events thus far have been well received and relatively popular, but on the 7th, a talk from two former adult film performers saw queues to get into the 340 seat Rupert Beckett lecture theatre trail out of the side of the building. By the time the talk began, every seat was full and a couple of people were lucky enough to get spots perched on the steps or at the back before people were turned away.

The talk began with an icebreaker asking everyone to be honest about their porn habits. Making the bold assumption that everyone was being honest, most people like watching porn, but no one wants to pay for it. The speakers went on to highlight interesting facts about how we as a society consume our adult media, like how Pornhub saw 92 million visits to its website a day in 2018 and that women are proportionally 151% more likely to search for lesbian porn than men. But where the event really started to take off was when the speakers started getting more into what the reality of the porn industry was for them.

It seems we have a lot of perceptions about the porn industry that don’t necessarily line up with reality. Women working in the adult film industry are seen as downtrodden when they are not being dehumanised and there is a misconception that all adult entertainers are “damaged goods” whose desperate situation is being taken advantage of. Sexpression’s speakers addressed these misconceptions. First, emphasising the very real issue of exploitation in the sex industry, but also providing testament to the fact that the majority of adult performers are empowered and sexually healthy individuals.

The speakers went on to address that they rarely felt judged or pressured from anyone inside the porn industry, but it was actually the rest of the world that has a problem with the way it treats adult entertainers. One speaker described trying to move into video game developing after leaving the adult film industry. She recounted working for a company whose games let players violently kill sex workers for fun. Yet when it was discovered that they had an ex sex worker working for them, they fired her for “gross misconduct” in a hypocritical and discriminatory manner that is unfortunately entirely legal.

From the hypocrisy of those willing to consume sexually graphic and/or violent content but not to treat those who make that content as people; to the slew of creepy messages and threats from “fans” the speakers have had to put up with in the years after leaving the industry.

In an hour and a half the speakers made it abundantly clear that we do not treat those in adult industries with the respect or decency they deserve. Adult film stars have little-to-nothing in the way of protecting their ability not to be discriminated against in the workplace and our sexual hangups have prevented us from taking these men and women seriously.

It is so refreshing then, to see adult film stars such as the event’s speakers out and active in the community trying to breakdown these stigmas and make a difference through education. If we’re going to consume porn, we should start taking better care of those who create it, and that includes how we pay them.

It may not have occurred to the speakers how ballsy it was to end on asking a room of over 300 students to pay for their porn. Nevertheless the room erupted into applause as soon as the event concluded and the speakers left with one final message for the audience. “Don’t bite the hand that jerks you off!”

Matthew Jeffery