When Kink.com purchased the San Francisco Armory in 2006, Mayor Newsom asked the planning department to host an informational hearing so that concerns could be raised. Anti Pornography activist Melissa Farley drove in from Santa Cruz to compare activities at kink.com to those at Abu Ghraib prison.
Over the subsequent months, opposition faded as we replaced the boarded up Armory windows, brought in 24×7 security, and worked to become a good neighbor. We have striven to operate as transparently as possible, and now host public tours daily. However, central misunderstandings still remain in some minds. For instance, Gail Dines recently argued that Kink.com violates the UN Convention Against Torture, and she is now leading a charge to ban BDSM porn in Iceland. It is clear that we still have a long ways to go in talking about consent, fantasy, and the rights of models.
The difference between the activities portrayed in BDSM porn produced by companies like kink.com and the acts the UN Convention Against Torture aims to forbid by is quite simple: consent. The difference between negotiating a BDSM scene and undergoing torture at Abu Girab prison is as clear as the distinction between consensual sex and rape. The two could hardly be more different. In the minds of Melissa Farley or Gail Dines however, the activities portrayed on kink.com are so degrading that it is ‘not possible to meaningfully consent to them’. This is a difference of opinion, to say the least.
For us, consenting to a given activity begins with explaining exactly what a shoot entails and making sure the model wants to participate. If the booker senses the model is in it solely for money, or isn’t in a headspace to handle it, we won’t book them. It’s not just ethics, it’s business sense.
To further ensure consent, each model who works for Kink is presented with a Model Bill of Rights. This lists some common-sense rights which models should have. The right to stop a shoot at any time. The right to verify STD tests before a scene. The right to test any toy or equipment before the scene. Because we know that commerce clouds issues of consent we also let models know that if they choose to end a shoot early, they’ll still be paid a pro-rated amount.
After a shoot is over, we also employ aftercare — another element drawn from BDSM — to make sure that the shoot went well for the model. (Each shoot we do features an exit interview with the model talking about his or her experience.) BDSM is an intense experience, and it’s important for us that we do have those conversations, and address any issues — physical or emotional — that may have resulted from the shoot.
We understand that what we do seems confounding to some. That not everyone understands the relationship between pain and pleasure, and that consent may not always be apparent to an outside viewer. However, I would like to assure the reader that it is possible to get meaningful consent for intense BDSM acts in the context of making pornographic movies.
I look forward to the coming discussion with readers, the community and with our past, current and future performers — as well as for scholars like Ms. Dines.