If you don’t want to, say No: a porn star's guide to sexual consent

Stoya can't give talks in high schools, because she makes porn films. If she could, here's what she'd say about respecting other people's boundaries during sex.

In August 2013, a bunch of performers in adult entertainment got together to talk about our industry and said: "Shit's fucked up. The shit in question is more fucked up than it was a few years ago. Someone ought to do something."

Rather than wait for someone to become an actual person who will fix things, we collectively pulled on our grown-up pants and decided to do something ourselves. Thus began the organisation called the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee.

We've got grand utopian dreams. We've got practical short term goals. We’ve got Nina Hartley (who, if the United States had a monarchy, should have been given the title of Dame by now) teaching us phrases like “best ethical practice guidelines”.

The first project we put together was an educational primer on performing in the adult film industry. We collected all the lessons we learned the hard way, and all the lessons we watched other performers learn the hard way. We cut out the personal opinions.

We prioritised the most important concepts and mercilessly edited them until they fit into 15 pages of solid dialogue. Medical professionals donated their time and expertise. People with experience in workers’ rights and the fight for recognition of sex work as real work gave their wisdom.

On 5 January, we shot the video. Thirty performers showed up on very short notice. As I was listening to the script being read over and over, I noticed that almost everything boiled down to three subjects:

Are you really really sure you want to make the decision to have sex on camera?

Here’s all this sexual health information you need to know.

Let’s talk about consent and boundaries.

 

 

I was overjoyed at the amount of support shown by both the performer community and people who have absolutely no stake in the adult film industry, but I also couldn’t help thinking that it’s kind of absurd that people sometimes make it to 18 or 22 without knowing at least the basics of this stuff.

For instance: “You always have the right to say No, and you do not have to defend or explain your choice. ‘I don’t want to’ is a perfectly good reason for saying No.”

Before you assume that inability to express limits is a porno problem, think about how many times you’ve heard a friend talk about not knowing how to say they’re uncomfortable with something at work or during sex. Toddlers are generally fantastic at saying No. How do so many people lose their ability to say No to things between the terrible twos and adulthood?

Not only is there a sad lack of publicly accessible education regarding physical sexual health, there’s a sad lack of discussion about mental sexual health.

A person’s first condom, strap-on, or lacy thong doesn’t come with a pamphlet explaining active consent. Tampon companies don’t print statements on the back of their boxes encouraging teenagers to express their desires and ask for the desires of their sexual partners. Someone should do something about this.

It would be extremely inappropriate for me to march into high schools and begin expounding upon communication, respecting other people’s limits, and taking responsibility for expressing your own. What I can do is expound upon some basic guidelines on the internet and hope the core concepts trickle down. So, here they are:

1. Ask the people you will be having sex with what their preferences and limits are. This fosters active consent and encourages communication.

2. In order for a sexual partner to be able to give you what you want, you have to tell them what your desires are. A sexual partner can’t respect your limits if you don’t express them.

3. It is completely OK to retract your consent during a sex act. You can say that something is more intense than you thought it would be and you are no longer OK with it. If you do not speak up your partner(s) have no guaranteed way of knowing that you are unhappy or uncomfortable.

4. If a sexual partner says something hurts, uses a “safe word” or other signal to communicate that they want the sexual interaction to stop, or just looks unhappy, freaked out, or generally not OK, you need to stop what you’re doing and check in with them.

5. If your partner(s) are drunk or high, their ability to consent is questionable. If they’ve previously expressed distaste for anal sex and are slurring “Fuck my asshole” you should politely decline and bring the subject up later when they’re sober. This applies to any sexual act that you have not previously engaged in with this person.

6. As a general rule, don’t penetrate an orifice, pee, vomit, or bleed on someone, or slap them around without discussing the act first.

7. If your sexual partner(s) express a limit or ask for something to stop and you do not respect it, you are stepping onto a scale that ranges from “jerk” to “full-on rapist”. Personally, I don’t want to be on that scale at all, and I don’t want to engage in sexual activity with anyone who does hang out on that scale.

8. If one of your sexual partners steps on to the jerk-to-full-on rapist scale, call them out on it. You have the right to end the sexual activity you are engaged in and to decline sexual activity with them in the future.

There you are. If any condom companies want to use those bits on their wrappers, hit me up.

Stoya with James Deen. Photo: Getty
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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