It’s long overdue, but consent is at the forefront of many conversations about relationships, sex, and now, porn. It’s probably been at the top of your newsfeed for the last month, particularly because more victims of sexual assault by men in power have spoken out, and now our porn-obsessed society is dealing with what the definition of consent actually is.
It can be a gray area, especially in the world of pornography.
Let’s be real—the porn industry is far from transparent about anything, much less what goes on behind the scenes, which is where consent between actors would happen—if it does happen.
The problem with porn is that, too often, the consumer assumes that because someone is in porn, they consented to be there. But we don’t ever see that consent process, do we? And here’s something to consider: what if it never actually explicitly happened?
And if the consent process happened and was documented before the shoot, what if their consent was violated during the shoot—is there a reporting system set up in that case, and are their protections for performers who speak out? (Hint: no, on both accounts. Click here to read more about those issues.)
The definition of consent
Here are questions every porn consumer should be asking themselves: Did everyone in this video enthusiastically consent to have sex on camera? Did the woman know before filming that she was going to be choked or slapped, or was it a surprise she didn’t agree to? Did the man agree to gagged and tied up? What if a couple agreed to film themselves, but one individual didn’t know the other would share it online?
But wait, let’s back up and talk about what “consent” actually is, since it seems like a lot of people in our society don’t quite grasp it yet.
To better understand the definition of consent TheLine.org, an organization that raises awareness on healthy relationship boundaries, wrote: consent is “mutual, definite, and continuous.” We can all agree that a ‘maybe’ doesn’t cut it, and anyone with true consent should feel free to change their mind at any point.
Consent isn’t all-encompassing, meaning if someone says yes to one sexual act in one video, that doesn’t mean they’ve signed up for everything. Also, consent can only be given voluntarily. No pressure, no bargaining, no coercion, and certainly no threats.
The concept of consent is actually pretty simple. But in reality, sometimes people say one thing and mean another (pro-tip: sex is the time and place for clear communication) and in porn, it gets even more confusing.
Where’s the consent in porn?
Think about this alarming fact: it’s practically impossible to know if the participants in a porn video have consented. In a Hollywood film, if a violent act occurs the audience knows it is fake. But in porn, it’s all too real. In most cases, a performer abused in a video is abused in reality—it’s not a trick of the camera, or fancy stage fighting. The blood, bruises, tears, and injuries are real.
Let’s put this into perspective. Last year, there was outrage in Hollywood when it was revealed how movie director Bernardo Bertolucci did not receive or even seek consent from actress Maria Schneider before filming an unscripted rape scene with Marlon Brando in a film called Last Tango in Paris.
There was outrage then—and rightly—because the film not only broke honesty with the audience, but affected Schneider for years after. And yet, there’s not the same level of outrage for the actual rape videos and other forced sex acts uploaded to porn sites that people around the world watch daily.
If you’re not convinced that there are porn videos on mainstream sites that are real rapes on tape, read these real experiences from porn performers. And read these real stories from famed performers like Linda Lovelace, who reminds consumers that they’re watching her rape on tape when they watch the films she starred in.
“I got the &*%$ kicked out of me…. Most of the girls start crying because they’re hurting so bad…. I couldn’t breathe. I was being hit and choked. I was really upset and they didn’t stop. They kept filming. [I asked them to turn the camera off] and they kept going,” recounted Regan Starr, a former porn performer.
And in one interview with AntiPornography.org, former performer Vanessa stated:
“Like most porn performers, I perpetuated this lie [that I loved my job]. One of my favorite things to say when asked if I liked doing a particular scene was, “I only do what I like! I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it!” I would say this with a big fake smile and giggle. What a total lie! I did what I had to do to get ‘work’ in porn. I did what I knew would help me gain ‘fame’ in the industry.”
To the outside world, porn performers have to appear as no-boundaries, sex-loving entertainers that make everything sound so sexually exciting. But as you can tell from Regan and Vanessa’s stories above, the reality is far different than what is seen on camera, or what even the performer is saying in interviews.
How did violence, lack of respect, and ignoring consent become the norm in porn? And even worse, how did we get to a place where enthusiastic consent isn’t more important than likes and views?
We now know that one of the industry’s dirty little secrets is it’s not all totally consensual.
Where consent gets muddled
Sure, there are plenty of times where two actors agree to everything they are about to do on film. Don’t mistake what we’re saying—there are videos that are produced consensually (though that doesn’t make them safe or healthy to consume). But as consumers, how do you confirm that? How do you really know for absolute certain?
Porn sites feature fantasies and fetishes where consent cannot be confirmed. For example, sex with someone who is unconscious or sleeping—which is, by definition, rape. Or worse, gang rapes, sexual assault, or any act involving teens. And even if the performers did consent to acting out a scripted assault or rape scene, what message is that sending to the consumer, who is often less than 17 years old? That it’s acceptable to be aroused by someone else’s violation?
The reality of the industry today is that many performers are forced into having sex on camera because they have been threatened, or they’ve been intimidated and coerced into saying yes. And if you think this doesn’t happen in mainstream porn, think again.
Consent is not optional
So, how do you know for sure the porn you’re watching is consensual? Well, the truth is, you can’t.
And let us never forget that the demand for porn is directly linked to the demand for sex trafficking, and at home, consumers have no way of knowing for sure what they’re watching, where it came from, and who consented to what.
This is why we need to stop the demand for sex trafficking, learn the dark truths about pornography, and be clear about consent in all relationships. As we talk about sexual assault in current events, and more perpetrators’ names keep coming out, don’t forget about the perpetration in porn that’s consumed every day.
And in case you’re still unclear about the rules around consent, this video should help clear things up.
Any questions? No? Great!