Mia Khalifa – once the most popular porn star on the planet – has just done the least sexy thing a woman can do: speak out against the adult entertainment industry, the one that made her rich and famous. Well, famous at least; Khalifa has been frank about how little she made during her three-month stint in porn – about $12,000, which is made even more paltry given it has since blocked her getting work in other professions. She added that she has “never seen a penny” from a site still hosting videos of her under her name; that she does not own the domain name and has been trying to get it altered for years, to no avail. “[Porn] corporations prey on callow young women and trap them legally into contracts when they’re vulnerable,” she said. It is a boner-killing truth ignored by the many consumers who visit the site in their droves.
In the porn industry, there is a belief that anything can and, more importantly, should go. Discourse on how to regulate it is deemed diametrically opposed to its need to be “dirty”. A fear of appearing puritanical prohibits any genuine meaningful critiques of it from the left, leaving it to pearl-clutching Conservatives. A need to appear liberal and open-minded has left many modern feminists uncharacteristically quiet on the industry’s ethics. And because of this, it is held to a completely different standard to any other part of the entertainment industry. Sexual abuse at the hands of music managers is a scandal; in porn, it is seen as a hazard of the job. We chastise the film industry for racially stereotyping characters, but barely blink at the wildly racist caricatures in porn - in cuckolding porn, in which black men are portrayed as perma-erect, part animal “mandingos”; in overtly racist parodies that make light of ongoing atrocities such as “Black Wives Matter” or “Border Patrol Sex”- as though sexual desire mitigates any type of responsibility.
Khalifa says she “blacked out” during every single sex scene she shot. Nobody noticed this, presumably because preying on young, vulnerable women is normalised and, for many, part of its allure.
It is an industry where a parody such as Game of Bones (in which actual demeaning sex is taking place) elicits less outrage than an episode of Game of Thrones in which they pretend to do the same thing - Game of Thrones has often been criticised for its graphic, gratuitous sex scenes which were at times violent. When Khalifa, a Lebanese Catholic, donned a hijab in her most popular video, the outrage was largely from religious extremists, with Isis threatening her life. The chorus of “woke” Twitter film critics who regularly harangue Scarlett Johansson for cultural insensitivity regarding the roles she takes on were nowhere to be found.
As with all types of media, porn is not made in a vacuum, but has largely escaped the ramifications of #MeToo and the encroaching conversation about violence against women. It still emerges unscathed when mainstream entertainment is continually held to higher standards. As Khalifa has shown, the viewer’s right to orgasm outweighs the right to safety for many of its performers.