The Great Porn Star ~ Sex Worker Divide

Whorephobia drives me insane, especially when it results in separation and even worse among sex workers. Perhaps nowhere is this as clear than the divide between porn stars and all the other sex workers. This was made pretty clear, again, in the comments, Tweets, etc. regarding the recent auction for sex with a porn star.

Listen, I get that porn stars once wanted to distance themselves from “prostitution” for legal reasons; they fought so many legal battles, especially while building the Golden Age Of Porn. But time has passed now. And not in a way that has brought us all closer together. While I once hoped ~ and even thought ~ that the acceptance of porn and porn stars might lead to the acceptance of sex work as work, my hopes are continually dashed.

annie_sprinkleEarlier this year, Salon covered the issue of separation of porn church and sex worker state, discussing the “new dangerous trend” of porn stars working as escorts. First of all, this is not a new trend. Many a porn star, like Annie Sprinkle, began her sex work career being paid for sex by an individual before cashing her check for coitus on camera. Vice versa, many porn stars have cashed in on their fan popularity by escorting to supplement or replace dwindling paychecks as porn studios phased out “aging stars” in favor of newer (i.e. younger) porn starlets. Frankly, before the Golden Age Of Porn, before there were such things as “porn stars” as all, just who do you think was starring in those old stag films and posing in the old French postcards? Sex workers were. Yet porn stars are far more accepted than other sex workers. Just what is it about the cultural celebration of “celebrity” that means anything, anyone, on camera is somehow different than the “rest of us”?

Fundamentally, I don’t see a damn difference in terms of the actual work involved. Consensual sex for money as a porn actor or actress is equal to the consensual sex for money as an escort or other sex worker. (Hell, what’s the difference between either of those acts and mainstream film actors having sex, masturbating, etc. in scenes that are “integral to the story”. And let’s not forget the number of mainstream celebs who opt to be paid for appearances & “dates” either.)

sunny-lane-nudeI’m not saying that being a hardcore porn star is exactly the same as being an escort; of course it’s not. Just like being an escort it not just like being a phone sex operator, a sex blogger, erotica author, sex toy shop employee, a cam girl, a nude male model, a stripper, a dominatrix, etc… Each form of sex work comes with it’s own tasks, privacy, complexities, limitations, rate of pay, risks, etc. They are different types of jobs within the category of sex work. And it is precisely these job differences which a person choosing to enter sex work evaluates and considers when entering the adult industry.

But, according to Sunny Lane, who entered the porn industry after a stint at Nevada’s Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the porn industry is not-so welcoming to the idea that sex work is sex work:

“They thought it looked bad on the business,” says Lane. “It was like, ‘Ewwww, you’re an escort? Ewwww, you’re seeing your fans?’”

[It’s statements like this that make me think the decision makers in the porn industry are completely out of touch with reality. Not just the matter of what it is to be paid for sex, but the very notion of what drives those who pay for sex, on film or not ~ their customers and target market. Being so unaware of the power and desire of the fans means the porn execs have themselves to blame for the decrease in DVD porn sales; not just the usual scapegoats of “tube sites” and “the Internet”.]

The “Danger, Will Robinson!” alert of the Salon article points to the climate of diminishing porn returns pushing more porn stars not only into the more honest, yet less socially tolerated, work of paid escort dates, but into the less safe practice of unprotected sex too. Michael Whiteacre, a writer and industry activist who helps run the website the Real Porn Wiki Leaks, explains to EJ Dickson in the Salon article:

Because escorting is more profitable than shooting films, many view it in the same vein as feature dancing or doing interactive cam work: as a way to advertise themselves and earn extra cash in an increasingly competitive market. “The vast majority of performers who escort see it as part of one of their multiple revenue streams, because that’s what you need in the adult industry today,” says Whiteacre. “If you’re just waiting around for a booking from adult producers, it’s very hard to make ends meet.”

…Although most of these escort listings are intentionally vague, some performers’ back-page listings make no secret of the services they provide, with a few offering BBFS (“bareback full service,” or sex without a condom) for a nominal fee.

Having unprotected sex, especially with untested partners, is a thing to be concerned about ~ especially if you’re another sex worker, err, porn star who will be working with a partner who has had unprotected sex. Mike South (the very controversial Mike South aka Michael Strother) sounds off in the Salon article:

“I have no problem with escorting or prostitution,” says South. “It makes no sense whatsoever that selling sex is illegal and selling it with a camera in the room is legal. But I believe, like any profession, it should be practiced responsibly. When you are in the adult film industry and primarily shooting without condoms, it is your responsibility when you escort to wear a condom, and take into consideration that if you don’t, you might be endangering your co-workers.”

This argument would be more valid, however, if, as Salon points out, the adult film industry didn’t simply rely on the rigorous STD testing (which at least one study suggests results in porn performers having a lower risk of contracting HIV than members of the general population) and actually hired performers who demanded condoms be used on porn film sets.

Meanwhile, escorts and other “real” sex workers say they are feeling the pressure to perform their services without condoms in order to compete with the supposedly growing number of porn stars who promise bareback services. But are that many escorts, porn stars or not, really offering such services? Again, from that Salon report:

It’s important to note that escorts offering BBFS is relatively rare, and those who do offer the service generally require an up-to-date STI test before meeting the client. It’s difficult to gauge how many of the performers who escort offer this service, and many industry insiders I spoke with refuted the notion that the practice was widespread. “I see a lot of fear-mongering about it: ‘My God, they’re out there, these Typhoid Marys,’” says Whiteacre. “For sex workers, their body is their business, and it doesn’t make sense to have their bodies fail on them if that’s what’s making them their money.” Derek Hay, a former adult performer who runs the talent agency LA Direct Models, agrees: “It would surprise me a great deal if escorts are offering to see clients without a condom,” he told me.

I believe that Whiteacre and Hay are correct. Like any industry, sex work is bound to have some bad apples; so some escorts (those who have been in pornos or not) may offer sexual services without condoms. If I were still escorting today, I wouldn’t worry about them too much. Worry for them & their health, their clients’ health, yes; but I wouldn’t let them impact my business. I would still practice safe sex.

But somehow I just can’t help but feel that beneath this whole discussion lies the dreaded whorephobia… Porn stars just aren’t supposed to be “sex workers”. They’re supposed to have “risen above” that. But the reality is that sex workers are sex workers are sex workers.

2 thoughts on “The Great Porn Star ~ Sex Worker Divide

  1. Pingback: Why Violence Against Sex Workers Is A Very Real & Feminist Issue | Sex~Kitten.net

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