Fenuxe Magazine is a print-only publication. This piece appeared in Volume 53. 

Why You Should Start Paying For Porn

When I was about ten years old, I found a thin black book at Barnes & Noble wedged between two huge volumes of fashion photography. I think it was misplaced. I was scanning titles — massive coffee table books with names on the spines that I didn't know then (Chanel, Tom Ford) — when I read the name. The words peeked out like a doorway to Hell: Rare Flesh. 

I pulled it out. On the cover was a bald, hairless man, presumably naked, dipped in gold paint and bent over, obscuring his private parts. The name of the book was printed over his arched back. The authors: David E. Armstrong (photographer) and Clive Barker (writer). I flipped it open. The photograph was a man who looked like he was dipped in tar. He had horns protruding from his head and was gripping his enormous erect cock — the only part of his body not painted black.

It was my first erotic picture of a naked man, and it literally took my breath away. I shut the book, tucked it under my arm, ran to the bathroom, and locked myself in the stall furthest from the door. Sitting on the toilet with my pants at my ankles, I flipped carefully through the book, barely breathing, for what must have been half an hour — when I heard the door open and my dad’s voice say, “Alex, are you in here?”

“Yes!” I called. “I'll be right out.” I left the book on the filthy floor behind the toilet. Today, a copy of the book is on my bookshelf. It marked a turning point in my life the way porn marks the lives of so many queer people — the first manifestation of one’s desires. Porn is a language; it doesn't always communicate perfect things, but it gives you something to communicate to others, gives you a model for what you want and supplies you with fantasies you didn't know you had. 

You can’t close the book and go back. You can't forget what you see. After your first encounter with the erotic, you are revealed to yourself. Armstrong’s photography is grotesque and carnal — naked men dancing around fires and tied onto wooden crosses. My first experience with porn foreshadowed my kinky sexual tastes — or, quite possibly, ignited them. 

Porn is so important. It's an industry queer people have celebrated and depended on quite literally since it began. As artists, creatives, and boundary-pushers — sexual outlaws, according to some — we have a duty to support an industry that has always given space to us and helped us form community and identity. Doing so has never been more important than our current time when porn is aggressively under attack. 

The last few years have seen an increase in legislation attacking porn performers and sex workers. The raid of Rentboy.com under the previous administration was the first step in a string of anti-sex worker legislation that has only increased under Trump. These laws culminated this week in the passage of FOSTA/SESTA, which Trump signed into law last Wednesday.

Countless porn and sex worker advocacy groups spoke against the legislation, including the Free Speech Coalition, a California-based porn advocacy group that has made headlines for lobbying against the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, allegedly the largest HIV/AIDS service provider in the world, because of its vehement anti-PrEP crusade (PrEP is the daily medication that prevents HIV for HIV-negative people). FOSTA/SESTA combines the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and makes websites like Google, Facebook, and other sites where users post content criminally liable for what their users post, including messages users send to other users. Along with the FSC, groups like the ACLU and the Center for Democracy and Technology have warned how devastatingly the bill attacks internet freedom and free speech. Many prominent sex workers have pointed out that the legislation will truly do little to help real victims of online sex trafficking, many who may use these sites to actually find help. 

In simpler terms: This means that if a sex worker is using a dating site available on the Apple app store or Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) to find and vet clients, Apple and Facebook are criminally liable for allowing prostitution — which is illegal — to happen on their platforms. The organizers of FOSTA/SESTA say it was principally drafted to combat illegal sex trafficking, but the language of the bill does not attempt to define the difference between consensual sex work and sex trafficking. Both are illegal, but these platforms make the lives of consensual sex workers far safer. Finding and vetting clients on the Internet is a safer and more stable way of conducting business that being on the street where sex workers are often at the mercy of pimps, harassed by police, and subject to violence. 

Consensual sex workers are really the only community that will be affected by the legislation. FOSTA/SESTA aims to shut down and destroy these sites. We all fear, quite reasonably, that the vague terms of FOSTA/SESTA won’t just stop with sites used by escorts, because the lobbyists who pushed SESTA through have a history of anti-porn views. Google, simultaneously, had cracked down on adult sites and banned adult words from AdWords, hurting smaller adult businesses and boutique porn studios with limited ways to advertise. Many in the industry fear the inevitable result: FOSTA/SESTA was never really about protecting victims of sex trafficking or cracking down on illegal prostitution. It was about censorship, the threat of which has been looming since the publicity storm of #MeToo. 

Many porn performers are sex workers. Many sex workers are porn performers. And many politicians and celebrities who endorsed the legislation — from both sides of the political aisle — likely see sex workers as an acceptable loss in the fight against sex trafficking. Who will miss a dead hooker? 

FOSTA/SESTA will lead to heavier Internet censorship, which means digital access to adequate sex information will likely be threatened and the livelihoods of sex workers and porn stars everywhere may be under threat. 

What can you do? Hire escorts, support sex workers, and pay for porn. It’s no secret that studio porn has struggled in recent years now that sites like OnlyFans.com and JustForFans.com have cut them out. If you don't like studio porn, not a problem: support performers on these personal video sharing platforms. These sites let performers produce and sell their own content and reap full benefits with no studios to share earnings with. And a subscription to your favorite star's OnlyFans is likely cheaper than a subscription to a studio site. 

It’s not enough to spend money. Pay attention to porn performers’ Tweets. Follow their social media. Protest when the next wave of site shutterings happens. And don't vote for candidates with conservative, negative opinions of sex and sex work. Remember: the over-policing of internet media infringes on your right to free speech, too.

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