Illustration: Jim Cooke

Over the weekend, as sex workers marched for their rights on International Whores’ Day, the BDSM porn site Kink.com released a set of documents intended to address consent during porn shoots. These forms, filled with lists of sex acts alongside checkboxes, might seem like simple paperwork, but they address a bigger upheaval in the adult industry. In recent years, a series of performers have come forward with on-set abuse allegations involving claims of misleading booking practices, excessive roughness, and boundary violations. Now Kink, which was named in some previous allegations, is sharing detailed consent checklists that it hopes will become industry standard.

“The documents we’ve published are not dictums, nor legal documents, but starting points for you to customize, adjust, and use to safely create adult content,” reads the new landing page, which is being shared with performers and producers.

Advertisement

As Kink spokesperson Mike Stabile tells it, these documents were necessitated by the reality of a rapidly changing adult industry that used to revolve around big studios and contract stars. Now, thanks to the democratizing powers of the internet and the rise of piracy-fueled tube sites, it’s a decentralized business with hundreds of independent producers without access to institutional knowledge. There has also been a rise in small-time productions making “rougher” content, without any experience with BDSM consent protocols, argues Stabile. Kink, on the other hand, has 20 years of experience shooting and distributing BDSM content.

Kink also has experience with abuse allegations. In 2015, Kink was named in three allegations against performer James Deen—in one case during a porn shoot, as well as in two alleged incidents at the company’s then-headquarters in San Francisco. (Deen denied the allegations.) “It’s not that we’re perfect,” said Stabile. “These are intensive sets. As you know, we have worked through issues before and, hopefully, evolved.”

Advertisement

The recent series of abuse allegations within the adult industry began four years ago when several women made allegations against Deen. The following year, performer Nikki Benz alleged abuse during a shoot for the porn production company Brazzers. Last year, Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon alleged abuse during a shoot for the porn site Black Payback. (In all of these cases, the accused denied the allegations.) This year, still more allegations of on-set abuse have surfaced.

Advertisement

When Raven shared her allegations, Kink started discussing the possibility of translating its own existing consent protocols into documents that could be treated as an open-source resource within the industry. “All of the things she was alleging were things we thought could have been easily addressed if [protocols] were more fleshed out,” said Stabile.

Shortly after the allegations against Deen, Kink announced that it would no longer be working with him. The company also updated its “model bill of rights” to emphasize consent and encourage reporting of non-consensual behavior. “That made us really look at, ‘What are the gray areas?’” said Stabile. “How can we tease this out more?” In the years since, Kink continued to develop its protocols as it went from producing porn to distributing content made by third-parties. “We didn’t want consent to be a competitive advantage that we had,” said Stabile of the decision to share its protocols.

Advertisement

Ashley Fires, a performer who accused Deen of sexually assaulting her at Kink’s former headquarters, says that “any checklist or on-set discussion about consent is always a good thing,” and that Kink’s effort is “way overdue” for a broader adult industry that “fails to self regulate.” (There is no regulatory body overseeing the industry.) But she also argues that these documents can only do so much. “If said checks are ignored as soon as the camera rolls,” the protocols won’t have a meaningful impact, she said, noting that porn directors are often “on an unrealistic time constraint to produce status quo scenes.”

Advertisement

Kink acknowledges the limitations around enforcement. Alison Boden, the company’s CEO, spent the last few months talking with producers and performers about what is needed to address on-set consent violations. She found that, among those she spoke with, most issues arise from a lack of communication. “In many cases, producers aren’t purposely pushing performers’ boundaries, they simply don’t have adequate resources, or they haven’t thought about the issues,” she said. “We can’t do anything about people who are willfully violating someone’s consent, or who simply don’t care. But most people want to do the right thing and we want to do what we can to help.”

The first of Kink’s consent documents is a “basic” checklist that begins by clarifying that consent has to be ongoing. “All participants maintain the right to refuse any activity, re-negotiate terms or ask for clarification at any time, with no questions asked, regardless of what is contained in this or any other document,” it reads. The document, which is meant to be filled out ahead of a shoot, goes on to ask performers to give an answer of “no,” “yes,” or “needs discussion” around sexual activities ranging from “kissing” to “face fucking” to “ass-to-mouth” to “humiliation.”

Advertisement

The “needs discussion” option is meant to indicate that a performer “might participate in this activity, but some clarification is required in order to make an informed decision,” says the document. That clarification could include “the level of intensity or the circumstances under which the action occurs.” This is relevant to several recent abuse allegations—including Benz’s and Raven’s—which have included claims of excessive roughness during shoots. A separate section deals with “fluid exchange,” detailing where, or if, spit or semen can land on, or in, a performer’s body.

Advertisement

Before asking for a signature, the document has performers indicate a safe word, which is meant to bring all action to a sudden halt. It also clarifies that a performer can non-verbally invoke their safeword—if, for example, they have a ball-gag in their mouth—by “shaking their head back and forth three times, or looking directly at the director or other crew member.” There’s a separate, although mostly identical, document for shoots involving two men.

Two additional documents introduce checklists specifically for submissives and dominants, where BDSM activities—ranging from “clamps” to “cock and ball torture” to “pissing”—are detailed with the same multiple-choice options. Additionally, it asks submissive performers to list their relative tolerance—ranging from “strong” to “no”—for things like “hair-pulling” and “face-slapping.” It also asks for sensitivity ratings for specific body parts, like the “inner labia” and the “glans” of the penis. Performers can specify whether or not they can be “marked”—from spanking, for example—and, if so, where.

Advertisement

Kink has also released a “Performer Rights and Responsibilities” document which, in part, addresses specific problems around consent and payment that have arisen recently. Both Raven and Benz alleged that they felt pressured into filming a positive “exit interview”—a standard industry practice in which performers attest on-camera that the shoot was consensual—in order to get their paycheck. It states that performers are allowed to end a shoot at any point and receive prorated payment of the agreed-upon fee. It also says that they are entitled to “honestly discuss” their experiences during exit interviews without any impact on payment or future bookings.

Given that there is no regulatory body overseeing the adult industry, the widespread adoption of these documents entirely relies on the voluntary participation of people on both sides of the camera—not just in providing or filling them out, but also in adhering to and enforcing their principles throughout shoots.

Advertisement

Some performers have begun to offer their support, however. On Sunday, Raven tweeted a link to the protocols along with a black-heart emoji and a graphic with a quote reading, “Your fantasies are built on my boundaries.”