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The Meaning of Consent: Ela Darling

by Rich Moreland, February 2016

I have interviewed Ela Darling previously and can attest that this twenty-nine year old, who holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Illinois, is insightful and well-spoken. Like several other women in the industry, she identifies as a feminist.

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Photo courtesy of AdultDVDTalk

Photo courtesy of AdultDVDTalk

An articulate porn veteran who entered the business in 2009, Ela Darling is known for her girl/girl and bondage shoots. Recently she added boy/girl and the “pleasure of working with excellent men,” she says.

However, Ela has a couple of tales from the dark side where consent was conveniently abandoned.

More Experience with Women

“There was one person who pushed some boundaries with me [and] that was largely due to his unprofessionalism. He was drinking on set,” Ela recalls.

His behavior was “atrocious” and his rude behavior did not stop there. He slapped her off camera.

“That’s the worst I had with a dude,” she says. “I’ve actually had more experience with women crossing my personal boundaries.”

The university graduate remembers “a very prominent performer” with whom she worked a standard girl/girl shoot.

“I told her, ‘Do whatever you want, just don’t slap this side of my face.’ I had a bad tooth. It was very painful and I had a dentist appointment the next day. First thing she does when the camera starts is slap me exactly where I told her not to.”

Ela remembers another shoot involving a personal friend who is also a director. She has a bit of a reputation for ignoring boundaries.

In the three-way scene, “basic hygiene” was shoved aside. Fingers moved from Ela’s backdoor into her vagina, much to her disgust.

There’s is an infection risk with that type of behavior, she remarks, pointing out that she is careful to voice those limits before filming. “Just respect my personal safety.”

This time she was ignored.

After the shoot, Ela’s friend was driving her home and the conversation turned to business.

“We were talking about tough times working with some people in the industry,” Ela says.

Her friend referenced new girls and their “stupid boundaries” which included butt to vagina objections. “Whenever they say that, I just do it anyway,” the director commented.

Ela was astonished. “This is someone who was my friend.”

Having recounted these episodes, Ela Darling is quick to reassure me that consent issues are not widespread within the business. In fact, she can “count on one hand all the people I’ve had problems with.”

Ela and all girl model Pepper Kester Photo courtesy of Ela Darling

Ela and all-girl model Pepper Kester
Photo courtesy of Ela Darling

A Tricky Subject

How does this feminist performer view consent?

“It is a very tricky subject,” Ela says, because consent in porn is different from what everyday people talk about in their sex lives.  For example,  she says, imagine a woman going to an apartment to have sex with someone she didn’t really know or even like, for that matter, carrying a list of all the things she had to do while she was there.

“To a normal civilian that sounds like a really fucked up experience. But that’s the job you’re getting paid for. That’s what we’re signing up for.”

Paperwork finished, Ela ready to shoot a BDSM scene for HardTied Photo courtesy of Ela Darling

Paperwork finished, Ela is ready to shoot a BDSM scene for HardTied
Photo courtesy of Ela Darling

In other words, the “nuances of consent in porn” involve “a lot of grey areas,” Ela concludes.

Because things get overlooked on set, “it is imperative that we outline the things that are actually acceptable and those that are not,” she explains. “Have very detailed conversations before each scene and emphasize those things that are horrible.” Take the attitude that  “if you do this, it’ll ruin my whole month.”

Ela points out that shoots involve having two IDs, filling out 2257 forms (safeguards against child porn) and model releases, checking health tests, and taking “pretty girls” (stills used in marketing). Among all of that, performers must remember to come armed with their limits, which include “your hell yes’s and your hell no’s” and be prepared to talk everything out.

How should situations that violate limits be handled?

Go to the director, the fetish model urges, whoever is in charge, and if no one listens there is another avenue a model can take, talk with APAC (Adult Performer Advocacy Committee).

“I’m on the board of APAC and I hope that people [feel they] can come to us.”

Someone is Going to Listen

APAC is exploring initiatives to improve the workplace. One is a mentorship program that matches veteran performers with newcomers.

“Give new people someone to talk to so they know there’s someone that’s going listen to them,” the native Texan says. APAC believes veterans and newbies alike will benefit.

Another APAC idea is the “the stamp of approval” given out to studios. The hope is that agents, producers, and others will become a part of it.

Because the industry “caters to teenage girls barely hitting eighteen,” Ela declares, “every agent is ethically responsible for new performers.” They are adults, yes, but “lack a lot of life experiences.” These fresh faces don’t understand the business culture nor how to “voice their concerns with a boss.”

Then there is the supply and demand issue, a problem for everyone since studios are shooting less these days.

“When they come in they are told there’s a lot of performers and there’s not a lot of work so you better be really good or no one’s going to want to book you. You’re expected to do everything possible to keep getting booked.”

That is a set up for ignoring boundaries.

Having said that, Ela believes performers should be aware that they can say ‘no’ anytime and leave anytime.

“Your body is your responsibility, but it is also your business. You have to put yourself first.”

Nevertheless, she emphasizes that “the ownership [of ethics] lies with the people who have been in this industry for years and years.” They have a responsibility to new performers.

Ela gives me a final shot on the day we talked.

Ela poses for the camera right after we talked

That Threshold

So in the end, are we saying that unsavory things happen in porn because that’s just the way it is?

“I honestly think we all do sometimes,” Ela begins. “It’s the nature of the work.”

But there is a threshold, she insists, that once crossed turns into real disrespect. Learning to handle that is imperative to survive and flourish in the business.

Every job has people and things a person doesn’t like, Ela concludes. “Every day on a porn set isn’t going to be the best day ever. It’s your job and you have to determine for yourself where that threshold of acceptability is. Stick to it and hold everyone else to it as well.”

Before we close, Ela Darling adds a final thought that references her feminism.

Often asked if she is empowered by her job, Ela believes porn is held to a “higher standard” in the workplace than other more mundane professions.  In other words, performing in adult movies has to be defended. “I guarantee you they don’t pose that same question to baristas, waitresses, or accountants.”

My personal thought is that people do not envision porn as a “normal” career because it exposes our greatest vulnerability, our sexuality presented as naked truth and recorded for all to see. As a result, there must be some reason, other than money, why performers engage in sex work and we are mystified by that reality.



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The Adrenaline and the Terror

by Rich Moreland, August, 2015

For the present, this is the last in the Mercy West series. Here’s hoping she will talk with us again soon. 🙂

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The start of a long day Photo courtesy of Hardtied.com

The start of a long day
Photo courtesy of Hardtied.com

“Just hearing someone using it sends shivers down my spine.”

Mercy West is on the set of Hardtied and the day is getting long. But no worry, it’s all good.

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Some years ago when Kink.com established the practice of pre and post-shoot interviews, the reasoning was simple: avoid obscenity charges. The best way to deflect the law was to demonstrate that the model was fully in control of her cognitive awareness, consenting to everything and having fun.

At first, tears were avoided because of the impression that the girl was in pain. After several performers said that crying was their natural response to the intense pleasure created by their fetish, that restriction was set aside.

Within the BDSM community negotiations are always precursors before anybody does anything to anyone. What are the player’s limits and what will happen during the scene? Kink follows this standard as do the other BDSM-oriented porn companies.

Getting ready for the pre-shoot interview Photo courtesy of Hardtied.com

Getting ready for the pre-shoot interview
Photo courtesy of Hardtied.com

Mercy West gives us an inside look at similar preparation at Intersec, the company that runs the Hardtied site. She’s punished to the extreme, as is her desire.

“The general public isn’t aware of the negotiations that go into professional BDSM scenes,” Mercy begins. What is on-screen for commercial purposes doesn’t reveal the work that leads up to the shoot. There are emails and phone calls that fill the weeks before the actual filming date arrives.

Before she arrived in Oakland for each of her Intersec appearances, Mercy talked with the directors.

“How I was feeling, where my head was, and what I was prepared for,” she relates.

This is important because uncertainty can slow everyone down “if limits aren’t laid out,” Mercy says. Some directors and crew will “tiptoe around talking about the hard stuff” on set and when they finally get to it’s a little late.

It’s the same with submissives or bottoms. Mercy feels comfortable with “full disclosure” and emphasizes there are no “stupid questions” with BDSM play.


An in-person interview on shooting day lays everything out. Though the Intersec folks had a written list of her limits, they insisted that she state them on camera.

“They wanted me to talk about how I was excited to be there and it was of my own free will, that I am aware that the activities are the same as in Hollywood . . . it’s acting. I choose to participate in what they want and I’m not coerced in any way.

They’re basically covering their asses which I can definitely understand. I am sure it all has to do with lawyers and things that may have happened in the past.”

Post-shoot and ready for the interview Photo courtesy of Mercy West

Post-shoot and ready for the interview
Photo courtesy of Mercy West

“As far as prerecorded interviews and interviews after and the type of questions they ask,” Mercy says, procedures vary from company to company. As would be expected, “the post-shoot debriefing” is held after the performer “calms down and takes a breather.”

From her experience with rough bondage scenes, Mercy’s recovery time is fairly short.

“I’m normally pretty smiley and bubbly and happy because it just feels amazing and I love it. I really think they like to show that.”

The twenty-five-year-old is making a name for herself as a submissive who can take it, but mentions that not all porn models are cut from the same BDSM cloth.

“Everybody processes things differently. A lot of girls can seem really sad or be totally unenergetic and very out of it. That’s fine, there is no wrong way to do it, but it might not come off as well [on film]. It’s just not visually pleasing.”

For BDSMers who lean toward masochism, the issue of subspace sometimes arises. Endorphins that elevate the senses while outflanking awareness can be a safety concern so models are carefully monitored as the scene progresses.

Later subdrop, or the crash after the rush, occurs. For some submissives, it can be immediate causing them to be “sort of shy and standoffish,” Mercy says. But that is not who she is.

“When I come out of a scene, I am fully of energy. I’m jumping up and down.” She confesses, “I have such a big smile on my face it’s hard for me to get the words out sometimes.”

But the 5’2” bondage sweetie can’t entirely escape the emotional letdown.

“Generally the subdrop comes . . . way later [for me] sometimes, but definitely not right after [the scene]” she explains. “So the interview with me and the debriefing is important because some people have really strong reactions and I’m one of those people.”

Weaving Terrors into Pleasure

Back to the set and Mercy’s dom in the shoot, Jack Hammer, has his upcoming treat for her. Later she recalled what happened.

“I’m terrified of the single tail whip. I love it, it feels really great. I like having it used on me, but I’m terrified of it and it just makes me tremble. Before Jack brought it to use on me, he started just whipping the air and sort of walking around. I started to lose it.”

Terror takes over Photo courtesy of Hardtied.cm

Terror takes over
Photo courtesy of Hardtied.cm

She is suspended in a chest harness, dangling from the ceiling on tiptoe, giving her wiggle room to highlight her fear, but disallowing escape.

It’s the kind of predicament that sells the shoot to Hardtied fans.

“I started to lose it and bawl uncontrollably before he even touched me.”

To intensify matters, the workday is wrapping up.

“It was the last shoot of the day,” she recalls. “This was the last section [of the scene] and I was totally exhausted but I lost it . . . because in the moment I wasn’t thinking I am on a stage, performing, giving people what they want.”

As the fatigue sets in, Mercy begins to weave the tension into her ecstasy.

Coping with the terror Photo courtesy of Hardtied.cm

Coping with the terror
Photo courtesy of Hardtied.cm

“Oh no, that man has a big whip and he knows how to use it and he wants to hurt me.” She thinks, “I’m trapped!” The excitement increases because none of it is being done to her “in a bad way.” she says.

Swirling emotions in a cauldron of pleasure and pain integrates the staged fantasy into a sensual experience.

“That’s what goes through my head when I’m playing,” Mercy concedes. “That is the sort of space that I want to be in. The adrenaline and the terror and I know I’m safe. I know I’m not going to become injured in a way that I don’t approve of or that is really terrible.”

Record the Marks

For non-BDSMers, it’s a hard sell, but Mercy is reassuring. “I know that I am safe so I can let my mind go to those places. I can let that fear bleed out of me.”

It’s also a statement of why so much care goes into a sexuality charged play scene that comes across as abuse for those who want to see it that way. Mercy explains, “It’s why the debriefing is important because they like to have performers elaborate when things like that happen.”

Checking the marks Photo courtesy of Mercy West

Checking the marks
Photo courtesy of Mercy West

Companies want models to be honest. They will say, “You were crying not because we are holding you here and forcing you to go through these things, but because it excites you and was very overwhelming and you get emotional when you play.”

She is delighted to tell the interviewer that she was not coerced, had a safe word to use if she wished, and “was in total control of the situation.”

Of course, BDSM shooters always walk a legal fine line. Some studios do a full body scan “to record the marks so they have on camera what they did and how you looked after the shoot,” Mercy says. It’s evidence, quite frankly.

The director and crew ask the model to walk, lift her arms and legs. Mercy doesn’t mind. It’s for everybody benefit.

“It makes me feel like they are on top of things.”

No doubt, everybody’s got a lawyer . . .

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Making the Decision

by Rich Moreland, August 2015

Mercy West talks race and her first on-screen penetration.

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Getting into adult film is a process. No one recommends jumping into hardcore without preparation. Some performers and agents suggest taking it slowly. Begin by doing a little research to get a handle on what is expected. Next go with nude modeling, progress to web camming and follow that with some girl-on-girl before taking the step into hardcore.

Some girl/girl camming Photo courtesy of Mercy West

Some girl/girl camming
Photo courtesy of Mercy West

The watchword in the business is to always hold something back. Don’t take on everything at once because it short changes the future. In Mercy’s case she wasn’t reticent about BDSM because it is a natural for her. Right now, her hold back is anal which she may put off for some time to come.

Then there is interracial. Needless to say, some models have careers that never include anal or interracial. Others have no problem with it, but like to delay their first IR shoot until their fans demand something new.

In Casey Calvert’s career, she built her brand before doing her first IR gangbang and superstar Allie Haze did her first anal scene after years in the business. The pre-shoot hype guaranteed fan interest.

Allie Haze Photo courtesy of Naughty America

Allie Haze
Photo courtesy of Naughty America

It’s marketing, pure and simple.

Men of Color

However, when it comes to men of color, the story is a bit different.

For Mercy, performing with African-Americans is seamless and she is perplexed about the never-ending dust-up over race in the industry.

Before her Hardtied shoot, Mercy mentions that Jack Hammer, an African-American performer who works the site, will take her on. “Everything is coming up roses and the thorns feel lovely,” is her response to the prospect.

Later, she adds with anticipation, “Feeling really tense / nervous / excited about my shoot with Jack Hammer tomorrow. I think it’s going to go really well. I’m just not exactly sure what he has in store. All I know is that it’s probably going to be one of the most intense fucking things I ever do.”

Then race creeps into the conversation and Mercy remembers talking with some industry people.

“I was abruptly informed in a dressing room one day that not only was I making the decision to have sex with a big cock and a kinky cock… But I was also making the decision to sleep with a black man. It honestly never crossed my mind when I was considering Hardtied.”

With America’s demographic shift creating a more multicultural nation, Mercy’s naivete reveals something important. Young people are rewriting a portion of the American saga in which acceptance of differences is broader than ever before.

“I didn’t even realize that interracial was still a thing! I get the feeling that it’s one of those ‘that’s the way it has always been, so no one really talks about it,’” Mercy says. “Interracial is a genre and as a phone sex operator I learned quickly that taboos are usually the things that really get people off.”

Despite the no-no attached to black/white sex, Mercy doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. “It’s kind of crazy that white girls and black guys or vice-versa is still somewhat considered a taboo.” Then, she adds, cryptically. “While working on the phone I realized it’s mainly a taboo for middle-aged conservative straight guys.”

There you have it.

Excellent Chemistry

Mercy describes her first on-screen penetration.

“I was up on a pedestal with my legs in the butterfly position and my arms in strappado.”

Mercy and Jack Photo courtesy of Intersec

Mercy and Jack
Photo courtesy of Intersec

Oral preceded it, she says, but it was awkward, not because of the bondage tie, but because of her limitations. “I was suspended from the ceiling on my stomach [which was positioned] on a box.” I had my arms tied behind me and my legs in a hog tie.”

Visually, Mercy doesn’t feel the oral went well. “I’m not really into deep throating . . . I have a tiny mouth and I felt he was a little frustrated after while.” She performed fine, Mercy says, but “it just didn’t go down my throat . . . I don’t have that much mouth.” And, Jack is not small.

Incidentally, the sex isn’t the highlight of most BDSM shoots because it’s the fetish that brings in the customer dollars. Mercy remarks, “I feel like the website doesn’t focus much on the sex, it is more on the rope.” In other words, in her first boy/girl, the sex was secondary and fit in with what she’s accustomed to doing.

“I liked it a lot, actually. It wasn’t far from things that I would do in my real life with someone who is topping me with rope. That’s why I picked this shoot, it was wonderful. I truly, truly enjoyed it.”

The diminutive bondage wench comments on a part of the shoot she believes came out artistically well. Jack was behind her, crouching over with the ever reliable Hitachi and grabbing her hair.

Hitachi at work (slightly out of view) Photo courtesy of Intersec

Hitachi at work (slightly out of view)
Photo courtesy of Intersec

“It looked really nice because he is a giant human being compared to me. It was visually very pleasing. I hope to work with him again, we had excellent chemistry.”

Scream, Curse, and Cry

Crying is normal for Mercy. “It doesn’t take that much for me to cry and I think that is why BDSM people like dealing with me.” She good with pain and can take the marks.

“There was lots of caning,” she says with a smile. “Jack lifted my legs up and caned me quite a bit. That is where the worst marks were, on the back of my thighs, those soft, tender, mushy parts that sadists really love.”

Mercy just let everything flow. “I know I’m in an environment where I am able to twitch, scream, curse, cry, do whatever. I feel like I can take what is given me and deal with it.”

Like all bondage performers, Mercy appreciates the safety of the set. Her personal life offers challenges on two levels that the studio avoids. “I can’t be too loud because my neighbors will hear me. I can’t squirm too much because the restraints will come loose.” Intersec’s warehouse, like Kink.com’s Armory, takes care of that.

Tears in her TopGirl shoot with Bella Rossi Photo courtesy of Intersec

Tears in her TopGirl shoot with Bella Rossi
Photo courtesy of Intersec

“I can react any way that I want and it’s all right and I can be as loud as I want and thrash and do whatever. I can just put up with it [the pain] and feel really good about it after it is done.”

Summing up, Mercy says the intensity turns her on. “Not having to hold back makes me want to be pushed even further.”

Of course, as with all BDSMers, she faces the ultimate moment. She wants to know “how intense my reactions can be before I call red.”

Who knows at this time? One thing, though, our cutie is headed to Kink.com one of these days and will gain more knowledge about her personal limits.


A final comment is due on Mercy West. She confesses that playing in the BDSM scene is emotional. “I get to a certain point when I’m worn down and tired and in a lot of pain.” The thoughts that flood her mind are not the best, she admits, though she is doing exactly what she wants and loving it. Yet, she is “emotionally raw” which leaves her vulnerable.

Aftercare in her Pain Toy shoot Photo courtesy of Pain Toy

Photo courtesy of Mercy West

That is “my pleasure and my ecstasy,” she says, and she knows she can handle it. “It’s all fun times. It’s good stuff.”

However, there is a vital ingredient in the BDSM community that submissives appreciate, aftercare. It means everything to Mercy.

“You know someone is there to be nice and cuddle me and make me tea afterward. So, it’s great, it’s perfect. I get to feel emotional release and sexual release and all that good stuff wrapped up into one.”

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