Porn star Madison Missina: ‘Other industries protect their workers, so why not mine?’

Video by MWN

Today I’m angry, and I want to open up my world just a little bit to you so you can see the darker side of the porn industry.

I have received word from a director I had previously admired for their focus on creating ethical porn that I would not be suitable for a porn shoot.

As with all actors, we learn to get used to being rejected; the fact is we’re not always going to be suitable for every project. Over my career I’ve been turned down because my look is too fake or not fake enough, or my hair is too long, or simply because I don’t own the right type of underwear, or because I’m too well known as a porn star. While it seems crazy, I view all those reasons to be turned down for a role OK.

But today’s rejection was not for any of those reasons. Today I was told I was not suitable to shoot for their latest production contract because I refuse to have unsafe sex with someone I don’t know.

When you think about any commercial industry in the first world, there are rules and regulations in place to ensure the safety of the employees. Most companies in our country are just not allowed to put their profits before their employee’s health and safety. This is thankfully something so many of us take for granted.

As a porn performer, the biggest risk we take in the course of our employment is our sexual health. So you would assume we as porn performers have some form of right or regulation in place that would support our right to perform our jobs safely, right?

The very sad answer is no.

The porn industry is one of the only professional industries in which companies can, and do, force their employees to take safety risks.

I began my porn career in 2012. I was seduced by the producers telling me that the porn industry takes sexual health seriously, everyone is tested, just like the US industry, so there is no need for the Australian porn industry to use condoms or safe sex supplies.

But then, in my first year in porn, I witnessed three onset transmissions of chlamydia. Things weren’t as rosy as they initially seemed, so I began researching why.

LISTEN: Madison talks ethical porn consumption on the Prude and the Pornstar podcast. (Post continues after snippet…)

The Australian and US porn industries are very different. The US porn industry is huge, with many performers being able to make a full time career of it. In Australia being a porn performer is more like a casual job — we don’t have any full time porn performers, and many of us can go months between shoots.

The US testing procedure is also very different; all active porn performers have to get monthly and sometimes fortnightly sexual health tests at industry clinics. Their results are all added to a database producers and performers can use to verify a performer’s status. If a performer tests positive for something, their recent co-stars and producers are notified. Though this system has its flaws it mitigates risks, as performers who have regular shoots booked know they will be tested regularly and their partners will be notified if there is an issue.

In Australia, however, there are no standardised testing facilities or notification systems, meaning sexual health tests can be faked. Even if they aren’t, a performer can take a sexual health test a month before a shoot then engage in risky sexual activity, contract an STI and pass it onto their co-star — with no one really knowing, as the average distance between porn shoots in Australia is months.

The other problem is that while porn producers, through their refusal to allow porn performers to use condoms and safe sex supplies during shoots, force performers to take risks to their health. They also don’t cover their performers if something does go wrong. Porn producers do not pay for treatments or compensate us for lost income if we have to take time away from work due to contracting something or being injured on set.

And if you think about the money, most porn performers are paid somewhere between $350 to $1000 for a shoot. That scene can then be resold as many times as the producer sees fit. This means the bulk of the profit from a porn scene ends up in the producer’s pocket while the bulk of the health risk falls on the performer.

A simple rhetoric is if you don’t want to shoot without condoms, then just don’t shoot — but it’s not as simple as that. There are performers who are looking at porn to pay their bills and build their career. If we have an environment set up that supports producers to profit by risking the health of their performers then the industry is exploitative. I’ve heard many times of performers not being comfortable about taking on the additional risk, but they needed to pay the rent that week so it was have unsafe sex or be in financial turmoil. Sadly, this dynamic is sexual exploitation.

I also hold a dual role — I’m also a sex educator, and in my work with kids I started to notice STI and HIV new cases were rising while condom use was falling. It was also during a time where the latest sexual health statistics showed that between 2008 and 2013 gonorrhoea had increased 60% with the addition of the antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhoea and chlamydia. I started to hear a very unsettling comment from teenagers: “if porn stars don’t use condoms, why should [we]?”

Source: iStock

So in 2014 I took a very controversial and risky stand. I wanted to challenge the industry norm of no condom use in porn and I also wanted to call on the porn industry to start setting a better sexual health standard. I made a public pledge to never again film a porn scene without using a condom. I also partnered with a porn company to produce Australia’s first ever feature porn DVD displaying safe sex, called BLONDE, and created a public protest called #safesexissexy calling on the Australian porn industry to start respecting individual performers right to elect to use condoms in the course of their work.

A buzzword in the porn industry right now is ethical porn, which means respecting performers autonomy and rights. It means not exploiting performers by forcing them to partake in sexual acts that they are not comfortable with. It means paying them fair wages and providing safe working conditions. Any porn production company rejecting performers simply because that performer is asking to use safety equipment is not producing ethical porn.

Although I am seeing an increase in productions that use condoms, and some Australian porn companies that include performers' choice in their sexual health policies, clearly we still have a way to go. I hope that in my life I see a healthy and booming porn industry where performers don’t have to risk their health to have careers and producers aren’t valuing profits over our health. Wouldn’t it be nice if porn made safe sex sexy again?

JOIN THE CONVERSATION