I recently corresponded with writer JC Adams, who was doing a special in-depth report for XBIZ on mental health and self care in the adult entertainment industry. The article addressed issues facing models and performers specifically. Adams also had other members of the community with relevant specializations weigh in.

Here’s some of his lede outlining the goals of the article:

XBIZ reached out to industry advocates from various sectors and asked them to talk about mental health and self-care among performers. The conversations were often emotionally raw. There was genuine concern that fans and industry colleagues alike would not want such emotionally fraught topics to potentially spoil their sex-doll fantasies. But as XBIZ prepared this issue to go to print, the news began to circulate of the sudden, shocking death of yet another performer, not yet 30 years old. It is impossible to know what the industry could have done to help them. But the tragic news underscored the pressing importance of this conversation. We’re listening. And so should you.

I corresponded with Adams at length for this piece. You can read my full comments below, as well as the entire article on XBIZ right here: “‘Listen to Us!’ Performers, Advocates Speak Out on Mental Health, Self-Care” (June 7, 2019).

JC Adams: I’m working on a forthcoming cover story on mental health and self-care in the industry. If you’re agreeable, here are some questions to get started. Feel free to expand as you wish.

From your perspective, what should the industry be doing, or what can they do better, to support and protect the mental health of performers?

DrCT: This is such a complex question and even a cursory response comes with many layers.

In society in general, the state of mental health is in very poor shape. This is not new, but I believe it is intensifying. A number of factors – from technology to the changing economy and job market to age-old judgment against people seeking to manage their mental health – contributes to this. Even in instances where support is available and judgment is not present, we have long-standing collective beliefs and patterns associated with this issues that can impact a person’s course of action. Like, thinking you’re going to get judged is probably just as intense as actually being judged. 

Within this wider social environment, we have performers – a collection of diverse humans who deal with mental health issues like everyone else, who are also working within the context of what’s still one of the most stigmatized and front-facing (porn is so public) communities around. This added dimension really ups the ante.

So in terms of what the industry can do — that’s an order that takes on all the issues associated with “what can we do” regarding the mental health of society overall and in general, and then adds on top of it all the issues that come with supporting a stigmatized population that is also – for various reasons — disconnected from and unfamiliar to the wider world. 

Put another way, there are issues with just an “ordinary” (whatever that means) person getting mental health support in today’s world. There are further, fine-point issues associated with getting mental health support for members of communities that are stigmatized in some way and require special care. And within that context, there are all the ins-and-outs of porn-specific sex work that a care provider would need to be able to understand in conjunction with being highly trained in general.

How do we address that? That’s the GIANT question. I am not a psychologist or mental health care provider in any way, so I don’t know the nuts and bolts of what this would entail, but in addition to actually addressing care needs, as a community, we would need to find licensed care providers that also understand (and are not afraid of or judgey about) porn-related issues – and we need a good amount of these people for the long-haul. Therapy doesn’t happen overnight.

So, maybe the industry needs to find a way to create a certification program, the curriculum and standards of which is vetted in conjunction with actual mental health care professionals, in order to provide these services? I feel there may be many people working their way through educational programs and obtaining certifications at this very moment who would certainly want to help, but the civilian world is not going to train care providers to support members of the community. As such, I imagine that porn would have to find a way to create this itself. This is no different from a million other things the industry has had to create for itself though, and the stakes are very high regarding this specific issue. It’s worth our very best and most focused attention.

JC Adams: What are some of the practices you’ve relied on to keep yourself sane and grounded as you deal with the stresses of your own work?

DrCT: I’ve written about sex work stigma and something I call the “sex worker dividend” in my scholarship. Sex work stigma is something we generally understand – sex work, including erotic labor that appears on camera in some way, is stigmatized. As such, so are the workers who perform the sexual labor. An added dimension to this though is the stigma experienced by people who work in a sex work space but do not necessarily perform the actual physical sexual labor — think publicists, directors, crew, office workers of every type, lawyers, and so many other people who work in porn but do not necessarily do porn.

Though the experiences are different, with people who perform actual sexual labor getting a qualitatively different and certainly more intense measure of stigma, all people who work in the industry in some capacity or are associated with it in some way are stigmatized – a sort of dividend, if you will. This is an issue we don’t address and can certainly have a negative impact on individuals who experience it.

So, for all people in the business, dealing with stigma and public judgment can be an issue. There are a litany of ways people can manage the stress, pressure, willful ignorance, and unrepentant inaccuracies that are all-too-frequently levied against members of the community. Don’t read the comments, ban/block users, and everything that goes along with it — though for many who need feedback from consumers, that’s difficult.

One of my own personal strategies is to take a very measured approach to mainstream media. This includes rarely, if ever, giving comments or quotes that I don’t have documentation of. (Audio recorded is acceptable, but I generally will opt to write things down above all other choices.) 

My unwillingness to just hop on the phone with whomever has resulted in several high-profile “missed opportunities,” but I would rather not participate in the sustained exploitation and purposive misrepresentation of the industry that seems to happen over and over again – and almost every time I have made an exception to my “policy,” this happens. It causes a huge level of stress for me that could have easily been avoided. I try not to let fantasies about what could come from my off-the-cuff quotes or mind-blowing insights – Enhanced understanding! Destigmatization! Good stuff for the community and thus the world! – lure me into forgetting what I have seen happen over and over again: sensationalism, use out of context, misquotes, and outright inventions or fabrications.

This is why I always write stuff down, and I’ve found that it really helps me. That, and always remembering that not everyone has to agree with me and there’s no such thing as universally liked or accepted.

Screengrab of art accompanying the full article via XBIZ.

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