Maxine Holloway

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Lights, camera…victim blaming?

Photo by Larry Sultan, The Valley photographic series

This morning an article that I am quoted in was published in the SF Bay Guardian about capitalism and consent in BDSM pornography. The writer, Caitlin Donohue, and I talked at length on the phone, fully aware of complex nature of these issues. Since this subject is so loaded and important I wanted to expand on a few things that the article initiated.

This past year I have been teaching classes to high school and college students about healthy relationship, consent, and sexual assault. The program that I teach looks at sexual violence in a very comprehensive way. We break down power, oppression and privilege. We address homophobic and sexist language and how all of these things contribute to oppression and rape culture. Most of us have seen this image floating around FB, twitter and tumblr Our society focuses on teaching women not to get raped, and skips over the part where we teach men not to rape women and other men. When assault or rape occurs our society frequently questions what the person was wearing, if they already went on a date with him, if they are promiscuous, went out alone or drank too much. Society rarely questions why the abuser has any right to hurt someone. This type of timeless victim blaming perpetuates inequality and rape culture. Most of the sex workers, activists, and educators in my community recognize this problematic imbalance when talking about sexual violence and abuse.

So it seems strange to me to not apply this framework of systematic oppression and privilege when we talk about consent in pornography, specifically BDSM porn. Sexism, classism, racism, homo and transphobia do not disappear when the film starts rolling. We seem very focused on the porn model’s responsibility to make sure nothing bad happens to us during a shoot. I have heard countless times that when it comes down to it, it is the models responsibility to draw the line. If a models does not use a safe word it is not anyone’s fault but their own. When I describe consent to young students I say that consent is “when both parties enthusiastically agree. It is both parties responsibility to GIVE and GET consent.” I believe that on a pornography set both parties, the performers and the production company/director, have a shared role in giving and getting consent. It seems that as a sex positive community we understand the value of teaching the group with the most societal power (men), not to rape people and that it is not a person’s fault if their consent is violated. So then would it not be appropriate to equally value the producer and directors role in consent on set?

As models we want to perform well, we want to push our boundaries, we want to look desirable on film- so we can get paid, propel our careers, and hopefully be hired again and again. As a director you have deadlines, product, budgets, employees and profits that you are responsible for. Each party has their own pressures. But it is important to recognize who has more power in the situation. You can be responsible with power and you can also abuse it. In a working environment the boss has more power. This does not mean that models have zero power, it just means that we have less. The boss has the funding, the ability to rehire you, give a good or bad reference, further your career and money making ability. And they often have a slew of other models that would love to take your place. It is a models responsibility to learn about our boundaries and capabilities, to communicate our needs and use a safe word. And is the production company/director’s responsibility to communicate expectations clearly and to create an environment where the models truly feel comfortable changing something, slowing down or saying no. It is also their responsibility to decide if the performer understands the agreement, and is able to truly give informed consent. BDSM porn is based on playing out power dynamics, it is unfortunate that every day power dynamics are not more frequently acknowledged.

When capitalism is involved it makes things….interesting. Money can be a perfectly legitimate reason to consent. Most people would not agree to show up at their 9-5 job if they were not being paid an agreed amount of money. Same applies in the adult industry. I absolutely love performing in porn, but if I was not being paid for a shoot, I would probably stay home and watch Downton Abbey. Consenting to sex for money can be about identifying your monetary value and making worth your time and talents. In any job it feels awful to give more than you are being compinsated for. Taking money for something does not make it ok to take things further than originally agreed upon, and it is ok for a model to change their mind. Exploitation can be a common theme in capitalism, but this does not just pertain to the pornography industry. Porn as a job is not designed the way other industries are, we do not have a hand book or training manual, and can sometimes mistakes when defining or asserting our abilities and boundaries. Part of the problem can be that each company or director communicates limits and safe words differently - if at all. This variance can make each shooting experience vastly different. As Dylan Ryan said in the SF Bay Guardian article, “so much of the onus is on the person to be thier own agent.”

It is important to not solely view consent in sex work as an abuser and victim scenario. Porn performers are not inherently victims and producers are not inherently exploitive. I am not writing this because I think a majority of models are being abused on set. I think that most of the time the producers, directors and models to a great job of communicating, giving and getting consent - beautiful porno magic is mighty and thriving in the Bay Area! But I do think it matters how we handle it as a “community” when something does happen. The porn, BDSM, and kink community is a tight knit group and we face a lot of stigma and judgment from society because of our lifestyle and job. When speaking publicly I have a tendency to emphasize that, “Porn is empowering and makes me so happy!” because it does, but I also want to de-stigmatize and normalize what I do to the general public. But when abuses of power do happen it is not ok to deny or criticize someone’s experience it because it is not your own, or because it makes us all look bad. I believe that denouncing or hiding something abusive makes us all look much worse.

Revolution rarely comes from the people with the most power and profit, I believe any industry change will need to be made by the models. I have been talking with many other performers and sex work rights activists about creating a type of “industry standards” rating system that would give performers access more information about each company/director, while creating a sense of accountability from production companies. I would love to talk with other models, directors and producers about what this could look like. I am interested in holding a meeting to talk about some of these issues further. If you are interested or have any ideas or input, please send me an email at I would love for our community to work together to maintain and improve consent culture on set.

* * *

Kitty Stryker has been fighting the good fight for consent and BDSM for a while now. Please check out and love her organization

Special thanks to Coral Aorta and her amazing poem “Whore Says”. The beautiful last line kept going through my head when I was thinking about capitalism, sex work and consent.

i don’t have an issue
with the word:
but i would like to form
a new definition:
the priceless one
who is always
worth their price

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