Feminists Who Conflate Consensual Sex Work With Rape Aren’t Helping Women

Generally, when I see the word feminist, I tend to think of women supporting other women and other women’s causes. But I forget that not all feminists are supportive of all women. Some feminists have no real respect for sex workers. They pretend to care but they are barely capable of hiding their disdain. These are the feminists who believe all sex workers are victims, that we need saving, and that we can trust the police. This brand of feminism doesn’t allow any room for nuance when it comes to a woman’s sexuality and believes it is impossible to be both a porn star and a feminist, something I wrote about for The Frisky months ago. Feminists like Meghan Murphy (of the site Feminist Current) only care about porn stars and sex workers when there’s a crisis — like the rape allegations against James Deen — that they can latch on to in order to further their own anti-porn/anti-sex work agenda.

But what’s most offensive to me, as a person who has experienced abusive sexual acts before I was old enough to consent or to know what was happening to me, is the idea that as a 26-year-old woman, I’m somehow incapable of consent when it comes to an adult film shoot. Porn has been a great outlet for me in many different ways. It has helped me become more accepting of myself and my body. And, most importantly, because I control what is happening during a scene, it has actually been empowering. Before a shoot you always discuss what’s going to happen, what you will or won’t be comfortable doing. Literally nothing has ever happened to me while shooting that I didn’t want — on any set and for any company. The worst thing I’ve had to put up with? Someone showed up late. Oh, the horror!

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It’s frustrating for me when someone tells me that something I’m consenting to, something I ENJOY, is basically abuse when I know otherwise. I’ve been through both. I’ve had consensual sex and I’ve been raped. I know the difference. And furthermore, when Murphy and her ilk conflate the two, it not only minimizes actual sexual assault, but it makes rape harder to talk about for survivors, especially those who work in the sex industry. After all, if all porn sex is rape, who is going to take a porn star seriously when she says she’s been raped?

What these types of sex negative feminists don’t seem to understand is that a woman could willingly participate in BDSM pornography or BDSM sex in their personal lives and get enjoyment from it. Personally, I prefer rough sex. I love being choked a little. (Key words: a little. I’m not talking about being choked until I black out – sometimes just a hand around the throat is enough.) I shoot very vanilla scenes for companies that aren’t known for “extreme” BDSM, so once when I asked to be choked on camera, the director shot me down. Even though I enjoy that particular sexual act, I appreciated that this male director was careful to make sure the scenes he’s shooting don’t look too rough for his audience.

Feminism isn’t one size fits all, and certain aspects of it are more personal to some of us than others. While Murphy and I hold many different views, I am not trying to discount her as a feminist – I’m simply trying to point out the glaring differences between sex positive feminism and sex negative feminism. But I can’t help but notice only one of these brands of feminism allows room for a woman to make her own decisions about her body and her sexuality. Isn’t that a huge part of feminism? If you can empathize with and support a woman’s right to make decisions about her body when it comes to pregnancy, then shouldn’t you extend the same understanding and support when it comes to her right to have sex the way she chooses? Last week, Murphy tweeted, “This is the women’s MOVEMENT. We learn from one another and are accountable to one another.” Okay, well, it’s your turn.

Just because you conflate trafficking women against their will with professional pornography doesn’t make them the same thing. Just because you don’t understand why a woman would want to do porn for a living doesn’t mean no woman could ever truly consent to having sex on camera. Just because you think “legalization results in further exploitation and abuse of women,” doesn’t mean a prostitute isn’t safer in a legal brothel than she would be on a street corner.

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Meghan told me on Twitter that she “sees the sex industry as something that contributes to the global oppression of women.” But women – men and children too, for that matter — are oppressed in many, many industries, not to mention, far more people are trafficked into agriculture and domestic labor than they are the sex industry. Misogyny is what oppresses women, and misogyny can be found in every industry across the globe. Yet anti-sex work feminists like Murphy somehow see the sex industry as worse or different, and thus project those biases onto even those who choose to do sex work. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t see myself as being exploited by the porn industry. I see myself as someone exploiting the porn industry for my own gain, both sexually and financially.

I know none of my arguments will resonate with Murphy, because I’m a sex worker, and in her view, sex workers don’t know what’s best for themselves. But just because feminists like her won’t listen, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out, especially at a time like this, when the adult film industry is wrestling with abuse amongst our ranks. I’ve refused to be silent about my support of Stoya, Joanna Angel and all the other women who’ve been assaulted and abuse by James Deen, but I also refuse to be silent when those who conflate professional porn with sex trafficking and rape attempt to use Deen’s crimes as a reason to vilify the industry and its participants as a whole. I’m not a victim of the sex industry, and I won’t sit back and shut up while someone else tries to make me into one.