AEE Attendees Get Course on Consent From Actors, Professors

Above from left, Lynn Comella, Jessica Drake, Paul Maginn, Katy Jayne and Barbara Brents. Photo by JFK/

—There's no doubt about it: People come to the Adult Entertainment Expo to have fun. Sure, many conduct business, but most are there to see and hopefully interact in some way with the stars they've seen on their TV and computer screens. Trouble is, some take that interaction too far—and that's why, four years ago, AVN created its AEE Code of Conduct, and required everyone attending the convention to sign a copy.

Sadly, however, not everyone respects that code, so this year, AVN decided to double down on the concept and hold a panel discussion titled "Consent and Sexualized Leisure at the AVN Expo," featuring two actresses and two social scientists giving the audience the benefits of their experiences and research on the topic of consent.

The panel was moderated by Lynn Comella, an associate professor in the Gender and Sexuality Studies Department of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV), who introduced the panelists: Wicked Pictures contract actress Jessica Drake, who recently celebrated her 20th year in the business; Katy Jayne, a British performer who, since 2016, has divided her on-screen time between DVD and web scenes; Paul Maginn of the University of Western Australia's Department of Geography and Planning; and Dr. Barbara Brents of UNLV's Department of Sociology.

Comella explained at the outset that while fans come to AEE expecting to get autographs from their favorite stars, and possibly even get them to pose for photos, academic researchers also use the Expo to help in their research on the adult industry in general, and performers in particular. She also noted that a study had recently been published, in which Maginn and Brents had taken part, that looked at consent and "sexualized leisure" at the Expo.

Brents then further explained why AEE was such a good landscape for studying the sexual attitudes of porn fans, noting that she and others did a study in 2009 about that, which apparently inspired Maginn to contact her for another survey which, she said, "looks at the negotiation of consent in AVN's space." Maginn added that their research had identified two types of consent: institutional—"How AVN frames the rules of engagement and interaction particularly between performers and fans," including AVN's Code of Conduct form—and individual—"How they negotiate and manage consent," and how "they may transgress boundaries."

In response to questions posed by Comella, Jayne noted that before a show like AEE, she tweets invitations to fans to say hello but not to touch her. She recounted one situation where she consented to let a fan take a photograph with her, but that as the flash went off, he groped her, "and by the time you realize it's over, they're already on the other side of the room, and you're just left feeling frustrated because you didn't even have time to say anything."

Drake wanted to make the point that the Code of Conduct document and similar signs posted around the convention "are there for a reason, because throughout the years, we have had problems as performers. ... We're such public people that we get a lot of attention because of it."

She went on to discuss the difficulties of "navigating" interpersonal contact, because "on the one hand, you want to always be super-accessible and very friendly and make fans happy ... but it can be really difficult to navigate our own personal boundaries because they're going to be different from person to person, so for me, it's definitely been a learning process."

"Performers are exceptionally open to consent violations on the show floor like this, because when fans see us naked, performing on screen, they feel as if they can relate to us on even a more intimate level and maybe know us better than they actually do, just from seeing us have sex, and seeing us on social media," Drake analyzed. "So my method is, like Katy, I normally go into a show by posting something, like I did, and if anybody here follows me on Twitter, they saw what I posted yesterday. I usually just tell people, hey, I'm supercool as long as you're cool. This means don't stalk me, don't come after me in the hallway to take pictures of me without my knowing. If someone puts their hands on me during a photo—it happens to women all the time—if they do that, I stop them immediately and I tell them that it's not acceptable to do that, and if they give me any resistance at all, I want them gone, period."

Brents noted that Drake's and Jayne's experiences lined up well with what she'd found in her study, though Drake did say that in recent years, fans have more often asked if they could put their hands on her while photographing her—something that Comella suggested could be because aware actresses have taken the time to educate the fan base in these "norms."

Jayne responded by agreeing that "Whether people like it or not, porn is a form of education. We can argue whether or not it should be, but we are on the front lines here, and ... my motive in this industry partly is to show that you can be a sexual woman and a respectful woman, and the two don't need to be in contradiction. You can be intelligent, respectful, maternal, and still be this wonderful sexual creature." She also noted that the AEE attendees are "more respectful than when I previously worked an office job."

Maginn said that among the subjects interviewed in the study he was a part of were porn "super fans," and that contrary to common assumptions, the study found that such super fans held "more gender positive views about women's roles in society as well. ... These guys are here to interact with [the models] but there are boundaries, and if you move around, some performers are very interactive, very hands-on, so to speak ... directing the whole interaction to completely control all interactions."

Drake then lamented the fact that some fans do seem to get their "sex education" from watching porn, and are not given any instruction in sexual interaction in their schools.

"I would also love to see people better able to navigate porn in general and understand what they're seeing on the screen is a polished fantasy and the performers have negotiated consent prior, and maybe if they understand that a little bit better, they'll understand why we are so confident and why we do negotiate consent so well," she said, adding later, "I noticed immediately, as soon as attendees had to sign a consent form, they became more aware of their behavior."

She also noted that Wicked Pictures had already implemented a mandatory sexual harassment prevention online training program for anyone who's on their sets, whether crew or talent, and had also created reporting methods for violations of those rules.

In response to a comment by Maginn about whether attendees at AEE look at performers with "fan's gaze" or a "touristic gaze," Drake noted that she had people run into an elevator right before the doors close "so they could be in that elevator with me, and then I can't get off at my floor, I can't do this, you know. We were joking yesterday but I'm gonna out myself right now: I put on a New York baseball cap and dark sunglasses and I hug the side of the wall and I speed-walk like you see people in the mall, and that's how I get around, not making eye contact. It's a different type of attention than on the show floor."

In that vein, Comella mentioned the Peepshow podcast, which last year did a show on AEE, wherein one performer shared "several instances of being really aggressively accosted on elevators. ... There's a challenge to safety for wherever you're going. ... This performer on this podcast was sharing some stories that were frankly quite terrifying, that could have ended in a physical assault or sexual assault, even, had it not been for bystander intervention or a security guard intervening."

Drake then disclosed that she wears a personal security device on her finger, a ring that not only has a tracking device embedded but has a panic button that can alert a friend or security. Jayne added that when she attended the university, she contributed data to a website that mapped instances of harassment on campus and nearby streets—and suggested that perhaps such a map would be useful at the convention.

Comella observed that, when walking the show floor, she saw numerous companies that had their models up on risers so that it was more difficult for fans to "engage in unfortunate interactions"—a practice that Drake said Wicked had done for years. Brents noticed, however, that at least one performer was stationed so high above the show floor that she had to come down off the riser to interact with a fan.

During the Q&A period that followed, one male performer noted that how cautious female performers have to be, and said he had friends who took six or seven months before they would trust him with their real names—but he questioned that with so many women (and men) now camming online, what educational programs were being developed to teach them how to keep safe?

"What can we do as performers to help these women to protect themselves online?" he asked. "Because a lot of them don't know they have the right to say 'no.'"

"I think that because the business has been through so many changes so rapidly over the years, we are left with a new generation of performers who don't have the resources or the tools or even the presence or awareness to understand bodily autonomy," Drake replied, "so we have to take a look at the broader picture and realize that much more education is needed in that area. One action we can take is to talk to performers even if we're just saying it to one or two or a handful of people, and put it out on social media, reminding them that they are the ones in control."

Maginn added that sexologist Dr. David Ley recently created a video for, he thought, Stripchat about "self-care and well-being" directed toward the performer community, and felt that performers themselves could create similar videos.

Brents said that in the Unite Kingdom, where the online community doesn't have the restrictions imposed by SESTA/FOSTA, sex workers and their clients have online discussions regarding how to interact appropriately.

Another questioner wondered how to go about having a "consent" conversation "without coming off as abrasive or aggressive" since she wants to be viewed as accessible and friendly?

Drake has no specific ideas on the subject, noting that such conversations are usually off-the-cuff, but that what's said would depend on the fan's attitude, demeanor, even what time of day it is, but, "I think the best thing we can do is just be direct and if they take being direct as being a bitch or being abrasive, that's too bad. You're protecting yourself and setting boundaries for yourself." Jayne added that the fans she's attracted are "super respectful," and that she's had no trouble with 99 percent of the people she's come in contact with, but "It's that .001 percent that ruins it for the rest of us."

In response to another question, Drake informed that the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) has done some videos to help newer performers become accustomed to how things work in the adult industry.

Another questioner wondered if fans come to AEE expecting their fantasies to be fulfilled.

"I think that the majority of people that I've met that are coming to shows to meet me, they’ve watched my movies, they're super-fans, they just want to see me in person; they want to see how I really am; they want to watch me, my actual mannerisms," Drake detailed. "But they're also hoping their fantasy will come true. ... There are celebrities out there that even I hope to meet one day, but that doesn't mean I'm going to put my hands on them without consent."

Maginn added that considering that actresses like Drake have branded Fleshlights and may appear in virtual reality scenes, "When you put the goggles on and the Fleshlight on, that's the closest in a virtual reality sense that your fantasy is real, you're being intimate with Jessica Drake or whichever performers have a Fleshlight."

As the panel wound down, Jayne got in the last words: "Pay for your porn! It's something I can't stress enough. A lot of companies have gone under, and it's because of the change in the way we consume pornography, and it's my sense that the under-35 age group have never paid for porn, so support your performers by buying their product."