Dee Severe: Performer Consent and Safety on Set Starts With the Director

Dee Severe: Performer Consent and Safety on Set Starts With the Director

CANOGA PARK, Calif. — Sometimes, the best things come out of the worst things. So hopefully, the recent chain of events will serve as a wake-up call, and result in an industrywide rethinking of standards of what is and isn’t acceptable on a porn set.

In recent discussions, the thing that is most disturbing to me is performers revealing that on some sets, they don’t feel comfortable with calling for a hold in the scene when something is not right. They’re afraid the director will be angry and fire them. 

In what universe is it even remotely OK to plow through a scene without regard to performers’ well-being? Or react with anger and threats when one of them speaks up about feeling uncomfortable with what’s going on? We as directors and producers are the ones with the power, and it is our responsibility to make sure everyone on our set is safe. 

Performers should always feel they have a right to pause a scene when they’re not comfortable. And the director should specifically tell them, before shooting, that it’s OK to do so. In recent weeks I’ve heard stories about performers who end up sucking it up through a scene to collect the paycheck, because they felt they had no other recourse. That’s awful, and a few directors are placing our industry in a negative light by putting performers in such a position.

There has also been a trend in social media, to throw BDSM production companies under the bus as the villains in recent allegations of abuse. But rough sex done without regards to limits is just as damaging as BDSM without negotiation, consent and a safeword. Additionally, BDSM directors tend to be more knowledgeable of the strict protocols necessary to shoot edgy material safely.

Since the advent of “Fifty Shades,” there has been an increase in pseudo BDSM — essentially, rough sex with BDSM trappings. Those scenes should play by the same rules as real BDSM.  Safewords, a discussion of what’s going to take place and consent beforehand, as well as a complete plan for a scene that the director and performers agree to. As an example, while we primarily produce femdom and lesbian BDSM content, we just shot a male dom scene for our upcoming feature. The performers and I talked about the tone I had in mind (edgy and dark but with a little humor to it), what impact toys they felt comfortable with, then the two of them talked among themselves about their limits, likes and dislikes. And then they did the scene. Everything was fine, everybody was happy and we got a great scene.

Now, is that so hard? Is there any reason everyone can't have a similar conversation before a scene? And let performers, especially newbies, know if they’re having a problem, if something hurts (which can be from regular sex just as much as it can be from BDSM) all they have to do is say "hold" and production will be stopped to address the issue and come up with a solution that works for them.

Another suggestion when shooting edgy, kinky content: hire edgy, kinky performers. A lot of performers of both genders are lifestyle kinksters who genuinely enjoy such roles. You’ll get a better performance and will have a happier set if you hire these performers instead of a newbie who is unfamiliar with the genre’s demands. And hire performers who understand that an extreme scene involves acting. For instance, I know a male dom performer who does the darkest, creepiest scenes ever — but scrupulously adheres to limits and is also the nicest, most respectful guy when the cameras aren’t rolling. A kinky set can be a happy set where everyone is having a great time. We do it all the time.

Also, it’s up to everybody — agents, producers, directors, crew and veteran performers — to inform performers new to the industry about what’s OK and what’s not, what their rights are on a set and to help them figure out what their limits are.

In light of recent events, there should also be some sort of system for reporting members of the production community who are unprofessional towards performers. I don’t know what the best way to do this is, but if a workable system can be established, it would identify the people who are putting our performers at risk.  

All of these problems are not unique to porn. There are hostile workplaces and bullying employers in all industries. But that’s no excuse to be one of them. Why give anti-porn nuts more ammunition to attack us? I love shooting fetish porn, I love the adult industry and I know we’re better than this.   

Dee Severe’s company, Severe Sex, produces an instructional video series called “Kink School.” They’re now offering a free copy of “A Beginner’s Guide to BDSM,” which covers consent and safety, to the adult performer community. The DVDs can be obtained by picking them up through APAC or by contacting Severe at They’re also offering DVDs to agents for distribution to their talent.