‘There’s no way I’m going back. I don’t want to be made to feel like an object again’
‘The first time I heard talk of the Salón Erotica (erotic trade show), I imagined it as an elegant place.’ 20-year-old porn actress Alexa Nasha has, over the years, become increasingly disillusioned with the event. The Erotic trade show in Madrid, she says, was more like a marketplace for bodies, her body; an event which was unrefined and uncared for.
Around a hundred performers, like Alexa, have already returned to their homes after spending the weekend (from 9 to 11 June) in Spain’s biggest adult cinema trade fair. This year instead of the event’s traditional venue in Barcelona, the fair was held in Casa de Campo arena in Madrid. It’s the first time in 10 years the capital has hosted the show, which, according to the management, attracted 6000 people to its doors.
In any case, the tone remains the same: a host of adult cinema production companies set up their stands and prepare live shows with the actresses and actors they represent. Live orgies, BDSM and oral sex are just some of the practices that visitors can see – and film and photograph – paying 20 euros for an entry ticket or 45 euros for a special pass. The fair also has specialised exhibitions of sex toys, a swingers’ area, stripteases, poledances and spaces for talks and conferences.
On paper it sounds great: a space to address sexuality and porn without taboos, in a way that’s honest, direct and informative. In practice, however, the ideal starts to look a little shaky. At least according to some of the testimonials that have been popping up on the social networks and uncovering the precarious nature of this kind of event. And not just the Madrid version.
Let’s come back to Alexa, the young 20-year-old who felt she was being flogged at a ‘marketplace’. Madrid was her third trade show, after Barcelona and Valencia. ‘None were even remotely dignified,’ she criticises. Although with this last one in Madrid her patience may have run out for good. To start with she didn’t get paid a penny and that was after taking part in a total of six shows in two days. Although payment of the performers does not depend on the event management – but rather the production companies – many decide against paying performers as they see it as good promotion for them.
Outside the trade show, Alexa can get paid between 200 and 300 euros per show.
What is the responsibility of the trade show’s management are the facilities of the venue itself, the accommodation and the meals. And here there seems to be a certain consensus. The main problem: the showers. Or more to the point: the lack thereof.
‘You can’t have an erotic trade fair without a single shower. It’s disgusting. I normally have a couple of showers a day, imagine sweating all day… We should be showering after every show,’ says Rul Jimenez, a 28-year-old porn actor who was at the event in Madrid. Jiménez is also from Barcelona and hasn’t been paid anything.
‘There’s no way I’m going back. I don’t want to feel like an object again’
The performer doesn’t understand how something so basic could be missing from an event of this kind which is meant to guarantee safety and hygiene. ‘All those tests and then we share fluids and sweat washing in the public bathrooms,’ he says. In the Madrid Salón there are no dressing rooms, the professionals shower in the same bathrooms the public uses. Jiménez washed himself as best he could with wet wipes.
This shocking reality, though, is by no means unusual; in fact, most of the testimonials, and indeed the organisation itself, point out that, as a rule, there are no showers in these trade shows. ‘The only one where I did see showers was in Barcelona, and that was because it was held in a sports hall and the showers were already there,’ he tells Playground.
Alexa also describes it as being pretty gross: ‘If I have to use an anal or vaginal enema I don’t want to do it in front of other people, especially not the public.’ The lack of showers complicates hygiene and the prevention of STDs; but the fact that performers share bathrooms with attendees also affects their safety. ‘They’re always coming up to you to talk, ask for a photo or tell you something,’ Alexa comments.
The porn actress Lucia Fernández uploaded a video on Twitter this weekend which actually shows her washing herself with a jug of water outside the venue, proof that this was a much discussed subject among the artists.
— Lucia Fernández (@LuciFerPORN) 11 de junio de 2017
Precarious working conditions: no shower, no meal and all of us sent straight back to Barcelona. Thanks to the production companies for making our lives easier.
Again this this should have fallen to the production companies to sort out: ‘In my case, I tried to make sure they had everything they needed. I bought bottles of water so they could clean themselves. I also tried to look for a portable shower but it wasn’t possible,’ says David (an assumed name), a director of a production company that represented around 10 of the actors at the show. He prefered not to reveal his name. In his case, he assured, they did pay the artists: around 600 euros for the three days. ‘It seemed logical to me. I offer my stand for them so they can promote themselves, but they’re out there giving it everything, so they should get some kind of financial recognition.’ David is aware that not all production companies feel the same.
Another production company took it upon themselves to by vegan food for some of the actresses, as the salón didn’t offer anything vegetarian, despite allegedly being informed of such dietary requirements. Sources from the fair’s management team deny everything.
Representatives of the Erotic Trade Show of Madrid insisted the lack of showers was nothing unusual: ‘There aren’t even showers at Venus in Berlin or the AVN in Los Angeles. Exhibition centres don’t have showers except the ones for the employees, which are not for hire. In Porto, a few months ago, they didn’t have showers either.’ The question the artists are asking is why they don’t rent portable showers like they do at music festivals, for example.
21-year-old porn actress Susy Blue was also among those that got nothing for the three shows she took part in. She says of the situation, ‘You have to like it or lump it. There are things that are ok, the food, for me is first-class, but then there are others that aren’t.’ The management didn’t want anything to do with the transport either. ‘People had to leave Barcelona at 6 in the morning to get to Madrid on time. They had two hours to shower and get changed for the Salón. There was no time to rest.’
On Sunday it was the same, many of them had to get the bus at midnight or the early hours of the morning to go direct to Barcelona, without even spending the night in Madrid. Lucy, being from Madrid, didn’t have that problem and stayed in a hotel in Alcalá de Henares (almost an hour’s bus ride from the venue) from Thursday to Monday.
Wankers, slimebags and free blowjobs
After her third salon, Alex is in no doubt: ‘There’s no way I’m coming back. I don’t want to be made to feel like an object again.’ Alex tells me that when she thought about an erotic trade show, she imagined an ‘elegant’ space with men and women who were ‘well dressed and focused on the shows.’ The reality was quite different: ‘I already felt disillusioned in Barcelona. Two lousy sandwiches and 100 euros for putting up with a day of people putting their hands all over you and showing you no respect.’ On one occasion, as the show came to an end, a man almost ‘put half his finger inside me,’ says the actress.
Another friend in Madrid, had to put up with a stalker who followed her all the way to the bus stop. Although the limits are made perfectly clear between the show and what happens when the actress comes off stage, some guys don’t get it. For Caomei Bala there’s also a problem here in terms of performers themselves being properly informed: ‘We don’t know when we can or need to call security. And we don’t know our rights.’
The actress Lucía Fernández also used the networks to denounce a sexist assault in the salon itself. ‘Yesterday I had a couple of run-ins that ended with a slap. DON’T TOUCH the actresses. Respect them,’ she wrote in this tweet.
Ayer tuve un par de percances que acabaron en bofetón: NO SE TOCA a las actrices. RESPETEN ,en caso contrario atenganse a las consecuencias pic.twitter.com/VFAUCA8tOp
— Lucia Fernández (@LuciFerPORN) 12 de junio de 2017
A day after the show closed its doors the performer, Anneke Necro, a well-known figure in ethical and feminist porn, posted a reflection on her personal blog, titled: ‘ Reasons I won’t attend the erotic salon.’ It was her text, in fact, that started the ball rolling for other girls to manifest their discontent, share their anger or denounce the precarious conditions. She also urged the formation of a trade union.
Anneke’s condemnation also served to highlight these events’ hypocrisies, inviting prominent feminist figures from the porn industry like Amarna Miller or Natalia Ferrari just to give talks, but showing no willing to host truly safe, ethical and feminist shows. ‘We don’t want them to use us to clean up their image,’ Anneke told Playground.
‘We’re talking about events for men, designed for men with the aim of making money’
‘In the Barcelona Erotic Show it was the same,’ says Anneke. They were scheduled in a crappy hall and were hardly even announced. ‘The only people who came to see us were friends, partners and the odd stray who accidently turned up to a room full of women pointlessly trying to stir people’s consciences.’
Feminism is talked about behind closed doors. Besides these talks, the general panorama is quite different. Men, generally heterosexuals, armed with cameras and video cameras line the front rows to record every last detail. ‘In general in this kind of erotic trade show, you get a very heteronormative version of porn, except when someone like Irina Vega does something different.’ And if you try something different, it doesn’t always work, ‘in my first show I experimented with something a bit more aesthetic, but no one came to see it. The people who come here want to get straight down to the nitty gritty, so I’ve had to adapt the shows,’ David from the production company tells me.
‘We’re talking about events for men, designed for men with the aim of making money,’ says sex worker Natalia Ferrari. Natalia was also invited to the salon to give an unpaid talk on prostitution. She rejected the offer. ‘I don’t go in for those places. I think the real problem is that their only interested in the money.’
— FAKings Porno (@FAKingsPorno) 8 de junio de 2017
‘Free blowjobs! Don’t go without getting yours,’ reads this poster from the Spanish production company FAKing, at the fair in Madrid. ‘It’s humiliating,’ criticises Alexa. Anneke Necro believes this practice is, at the very least, dubious. At least, that is, if what they want to do is sell the fair as a place for disseminating ethical and responsible porn. ‘In general, anything to do with sharing with the public, I personally find pretty revolting,’ shoots Anneke.
The management believes that the free blowjobs should be taken more lightly: ‘It’s a one-off activity held on the Saturday night between 7 and 9. The ancient Japanese practice of the glory hole.’ They don’t see this as any kind of reflection of a patriarchal role.
So how are we supposed to reconcile all these different positions? ‘From what I’ve seen, I don’t think it’s a question of trying to patch it up. We have to create an alternative, something new. As a performer I feel much more at ease in spaces like Ero Street. Right now, I can’t see myself coming back to the salon under conditions that I agree with,’ says Anneke.
Alexa thinks that if the conditions were good and the pay fair, ‘people would prepare shows that were artistic and not solely sex-focused, which would bring in another kind of public and more women. If they’re just getting on the stage to fuck for 10 minutes, it’s no wonder that the only people who come to see us are wankers.’
The management flatly rejects this image: ‘The image of a forty-something-year-old man is a false cliché spread by ignorant bad-mouthers. It’s completely untrue. Loads of women come and loads of young people too.’ They claim they’ve been trying to represent all sexualities and working for equality for 25 years. 40% of visitors to the Barcelona Salon last year were women, assures the organisation. ‘We’d love more creative women and those who work in ethical and feminist porn to use the erotic trade shows as a platform for getting their ideas and art out there.’ But the ladies aren’t so convinced.
The event’s decadence also mirrors a latent destitution that has become apparent in the sector for many years. The porn industry was one of the areas most affected by the crisis and, particularly, by the rise of the Internet. The proliferation of free downloads and generalisation of amateur porn has considerably reduced the caché of actors and revenues for production companies. It is estimated that actresses’ salaries have dropped by between 60 and 80% in recent years. The veterans are all coming out with ‘it’s not like it used to be’. And the youngsters are saying ‘it’ll have to change’.
It remains to be seen how all of this can fit into the stifling scenario of ‘everything for free’ and the patriarchal structures that are still very much in place.