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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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.”
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.”
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.
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.