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The rise and fall of ‘feminist porn star’ James Deen

The poster boy for the porn industry has been shoved off his throne by accusations of rape, here’s why we should take it seriously

James Deen is arguably the biggest star in adult film in the world. If you’ve even casually browsed a porn site before, you’ll have come across him. He is a category all of his own. A few days ago, he was even hailed the world’s first “feminist porn star”. Indeed, he’s a favourite of female porn viewers. And that’s what made it all the more shocking when his ex-girlfriend and extremely successful porn actress, Stoya, took to Twitter to accuse Deen of rape. “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, and used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore,” she wrote.

As is often the ripple effect with rape exposés, once one woman spoke up, others followed. It’s the porn star equivalent of the Bill Cosby downfall. Ashley Fires and Tori Lux detailed Deen’s violent sexual advances behind the scenes at porn studios on the Daily Beast. Today, Amber Rayne and Kora Peters shared their stories, both extremely disconcerting accounts of a man crossing the line from consensual sex into rape.

During an anal sex scene Rayne filmed with Deen, she says, he punched her twice in the face and used enough force on her anus that she bled and needed stitches. In Peters’ account, she specifically told Deen and the director she wouldn’t have anal sex but Deen tried despite that. When she pushed him off, Deen allegedly choked her and anally raped her while the camera was rolling.

Stoya had previously performed in hardcore sex videos with Deen: does that mean her safeword is less valid than that of someone who isn’t in the industry?

If these allegations are true, Deen is clearly crossing a professional line as well as disregarding consent. The more you look at these stories in the context of each other, the more you see a false narrative at play. Women who work in the sex industry on any level lose their right to agency because they are consensually using their bodies for work. Because Stoya has previously performed in hardcore sex videos with Deen, does that mean her safeword is less valid? Is it far less valid than that of someone who isn’t in the industry? Because Rayne was consensually engaging in anal sex with Deen does that absolve him of the basic decency of not knowingly harming her? 

There’s nothing morally dubious about enjoying rough sex, but the fact is, the entire industry is dependent on consent. Perversely, it’s one of the reasons why Deen is so lauded. Project Consent, a grassroots campaign to combat sexual assault and rape culture, had announced an initiative in May to help bring consent to the porn industry off the back of an interview they did with Deen. They tweeted Sunday that it had been removed from the site. Amelia McDonnell-Parry, editor-in-chief of The Frisky released a statement almost immediately after Stoya’s tweets announcing the end to Deen’s sex advice column. “I asked him to do an advice column because I liked his directness and his confidence, but most of all, I liked his emphasis on communication, honesty and, most of all, CONSENT.”

“He said I should feel honored that James wanted me so badly because he was one of the best male performers”

The fact sex is quite literally so out in the open does not mean women feel more able to report assault. Ironically, these accounts suggest the industry breeds ambiguity and silence. As foul as the accounts of Deen’s assaults are the experiences of indifference they encountered on set while this was going on. After Deen allegedy forced anal sex on Peters, she said, “The crew all high-fived him and told him what a great job he did getting an anal scene for the price of a (non-anal) scene.” She called her agent to tell him what happened. “He said I should feel honored that James wanted me so badly because he was one of the best male performers.” She’s not alone in having this response from others in the industry. Aurora Snow, the former porn actress covering the Deen story for the Daily Beast, remembers seeing a porn director, actor, and crew going ahead with a scene after the starring woman passed out. “They propped her up with her face in a pile of pillows and raped her,” Snow said.

The compliance and negligence of many of the people in these stories gestures towards a can happen within a male dominated porn industry; one led by male directors and crew, one which fetishizes a male star and by and large – one which consistently places the man at the centre of pleasure and power. Deen’s been called a feminist, but if the allegations are true, he’s simply a rapist. Straying from the agreed-on boundaries of a sexual experience are just as wrong as any other type of sexual assault or rape. Anal or no anal. Starting or stopping. When an industry turns a blind eye to that, the entire thing becomes the darkest farce you could imagine.