I Fell Asleep on a Porn Set and It Taught Me a Big Lesson About Consent

In Los Angeles, it should surprise no one that some casting calls are booked through Craigslist. Some are union, many are not—and at least half of those are listed as “no pay,” because some believe IMDb credits can pay the bills. But once in awhile, there’s a good listing, usually a rush call or premium pay to avoid the union, and the rate is too good to pass up. 

I tend to be an easy fit for casting: tall, blonde, white, young-passing female, so I send my headshot along to quick gigs that I can get to and will pay on-site. I never attempt to book anything that requires an audition or actors’ resume because I don’t have one. 

I’ve appeared in music videos, Lifetime movies, commercials, several TV shows… and exactly one porno.

It was 2017. I had just been fired (from a job where I had been hired more or less as a piece of meat anyway), had a road trip coming up that I couldn’t back out of, bills I could scarcely hope to pay, and an empty fridge. A hundred and fifty bucks for four hours of non-sexual gay porn as an “extra” was something I just couldn’t pass up.

I’m used to getting booked almost right away for background gigs; often within a few hours, as assistant casting directors weed through headshots in Gmail like a rudimentary Tinder. One swipe, a cut-and-paste for availability check, another sweep of the inbox again for confirmation and a call sheet, and that’s it. It’s a date!

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Except…I didn’t get hired right away. “We’re so sorry, you’d be a great fit, but we already cast for this production.” 

Wow, I thought. People really jumped at the chance to do porn background work? I was both disappointed and relieved.

“We have another production scheduled for this Friday at 11am. If you’re available, we’ll keep you in mind and let you know.” Being unemployed, I was, to my horror, still very much available. 

Unlike most casting operations, they did actually make good on their word, and within two days reached out and confirmed a booking with me. The call sheet included wardrobe instructions: no patterns, no shorts, sleeves at least ¾ length… and the address of a cheap hotel in North Hollywood.

Despite being fully aware that reputable semi- and fully-professional porn studios typically operate with decorum and professionalism, it still didn’t prepare me for stepping onto a set for the first time. The director met me outside; he had kind eyes and a firm handshake. The producer, a woman, apologized profusely once the other “extra” castmate and I gave each other worried looks over the script she handed us: we’d been told this was a non-speaking role. (To date, this is by far the most lines I’ve had, if any, and we got a bonus for the error.)

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The premise was simple and utterly not believable, but that’s the magic and escapism of adult entertainment. A mother (uh, me), her smoking-hot beefcake second husband, twenty-something son, and his girlfriend all turn in to their hotel after a day of sightseeing. What would you know, the hotel made an error and only had one room available when the family had booked two.  Stepdaddy and son get all googly-eyed at each other and go to town once the women are conked out for the night. End scene.

We shot three takes to nail the introduction—even porn scripts get messed up—and the rest was the easiest work I’ve ever done in my life. I just had to lie on the bed, with my back to my “husband” and “son,” and toss and turn while I pretended to be deaf to the thwap-thwap-thwap of slapping balls. 

The lights were close to the bed and warmed my feet underneath the heavy covers. The pillows were soft, the mattress memory-foam. I’d been up late the night before, sending out resumes and answering so many ads for gig workers…

…Oddly enough, what woke me throughout the four-hour shoot wasn’t the grunting or the dirty talk. It was the director’s, well, direction.

The most time-consuming part of the shoot was the beat in the script when the stepdad approaches “my” son. They’re in the dark and everyone else is asleep, so the goal is to remain silent… yet the actors have to clearly communicate consent through their facial expressions and gestures alone. 

Between long moments of rustling bedding, shush-es, and the unmistakable  slurping of enthusiastic fellatio, the director choreographed his stars’ silent exchange, take by take. Whose eyes glanced where; at which point a hand could cover a mouth; how long to wait and which gesture to make before continuing south.

Soon, the guys needed a break and a camera battery required replacement. The director clapped their shoulders and thanked them for their patience. “I’ll review it before we go again. I think we finally got it.” Then, apologetically: “It has to be a single take, and what constitutes consent is heavily regulated.”

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Some time later, I find myself again curled up in a warm bed that isn’t mine, fighting sleep, knowing I will have to leave soon. This time, I’m loosely tangled with someone else. Our hands rest on each other; holding, but not grasping. His thumb circles the birthmark on my hip. A diffuser and humidifier bubble and whir on the dresser. 

The warm and fuzzy feeling of afterglow has faded. There are no sweet whispers or quiet cuddles. Despite our gentle touches, we’re talking animatedly, volleying sharp barbs in good humor, each person picking up a new subject to talk about as easily as the other sets it down.

We pause at the same moment to Google something the other person mentioned on our phones, lapsing into a companionable silence. I almost choke on my wine when he breaks it a few minutes later: “What do you think about us, you know… filming?”

He reads my uncharacteristic stammering and deer-in-headlights look for indecision and goes for the hard sell.

“Nobody will see it!” Phone forgotten, he’s rolled onto his stomach, head in his hands, pleading eyes puppy-dog round, looking up at me. “I’ll keep it on a separate hard drive… and give you a copy of course. No one will see your face!”

I think of all the headless nudes I have floating around on the internet. There aren’t many, but often repeat the same angle or pose to hide my tattoos or immediate surroundings. Since the porn taping a year prior, I’ve sent fewer and fewer to potential partners… and absolutely zero to the one I’m lying next to. 

My eyes follow the long, gentle curve of his spine; his  glutes; perfectly toned legs. They’re all wrapped up in a golden-brown skin that’s so warm he radiates. I imagine the view of us from a camera lens. I don’t fault him for wanting to commit our romps in bed to video; I am not the only beautiful one between the two of us. Our chemistry is tangible and every touch ignites me. I’m unsure if it would translate well to tape, but I can’t say that the prospect of a reminder isn’t tempting.

I recall that long afternoon in the hotel room the autumn before; how critical it was that things were done in the correct order, were perfectly visible in frame, that nothing was left for the consumer to infer or doubt. That even in a professional setting, where the material and activities are signed off and bound by contract—that there is still a risk that anything less than enthusiastic consent is a liability.

For my friend and I, it’s not a one-way street. Though more of the risk is mine, thanks to misogyny, sexism, and the ever-contradictory world of the overruling patriarchy, it is also his. 

If the video leaked and there was any belief that I was the woman in it, it could not be undone or un-believed. I would be crushed in an avalanche of slut-shaming and fatphobic rage. 

At the same time, if someone doubted the veracity of my consent, there is no way to prove them wrong. Without my face visible, could anyone prove that my moans were my choice to give, or simply physiologic responses to unwanted activity? Could anyone watching be absolutely sure I was sober and could consent? If I stated after that fact that I had, regardless of what transpired in the video, I could not prove it. And who would then be at risk?

If my friend and I had met a year before, or even if he had asked me earlier on as we became acquainted, I’m not sure I would have declined. I wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with it, and would have considered it a reclamation of my femininity and sexual freedom without apologies or asking permission.

But in that moment it was too late, and I couldn’t un-see that removing my identity from something as intimate as sex was the literal act of objectifying me. If he didn’t care to remember my face or voice, then all I ever had been was a walking porno to him, anyway. Putting it to tape would give him tactile memory of my body, but not of me.

I couldn’t put any of this into words. I tried, starting and stopping, making clunky comparisons and analogies; ultimately the fear of that kind of exposure of my life, something I had guarded so tightly for so many years, was not worth the risk. 

In the end, not being able to explain it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t understand, and it wasn’t my job to make sure he did. “No,” for once, was enough. 


 If you enjoyed reading this today, consider my memoir, NORDISCO, which is available on my site or through Amazon.
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