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August 02, 2018

Learning Curves: Performers Mix Adult and Education

Above, from left, Alison Rey, Ela Darling and Lydia Love. A Duke University student was outed as the porn star Belle Knox in 2014. It has long been accepted that many college students engaged in sex work for extra money, but this story gained so much attention due to Knox being a student at a prestigious university and because it highlighted the increasing costs of college in the United States. Knox’s career and popularity did spike after this event, but she eventually left porn and has recently enrolled in law school. Though Knox was only one student, her outing increased the awareness that many college students are also sex workers. Moreover, in light of the #MeToo movement, campaigns against slut-shamming, and more voices advocating for sex-positive attitudes all converging on college and university campuses across America, it is time to re-examine the concerns and perspectives of college students who are also sex workers. Work/School: The Balancing Act With college tuition rising faster than inflation and outpacing student aid, many co-eds have to work in order to pay for college and afford food. (Finances for many college students have become so strained that they deal with hunger on a regular basis.) Given that most jobs available to college students don’t pay a living wage and that student loans are more financially suffocating than anything found on a BDSM set, many co-eds are turning to adult entertainment and sex work to earn the money needed to subsist. Lydia Love is relatively new to the adult entertainment industry and pursued work in porn when she realized that balancing college courses with a ‘normal’ job simply wouldn’t work. “I went to school to get my CNA license. While taking my class five days a week, I was also working at a retirement home and a strip club,” Lydia Love told AVN. “It was very hard on me physically and emotionally to work so much just to pay for school. My need to pay for college and maintain my personal happiness was my reason for initially entering the adult industry.” Alison Rey has also observed the physical and emotional tolls that come from working full time and going to school full time. Reflecting on how her friends struggled to balance work and school, Alison Rey said to AVN, “I had a lot of friends who were working full-time jobs at restaurants and would have to miss class or skip out on homework assignments, just so they could make enough money to support themselves while in school.” In contrast to her friends, Rey only had to work in college when long weekends and holiday breaks afforded her the time to travel to Los Angeles to shoot scenes. “It was nice to have a source of income that didn't conflict with my school hours,” Rey said. This ease of balancing school and work isn’t something that all performers enjoy. Lydia Love shared with AVN how she frequently struggles to juggle her work and school life. “At times, it feels as though I have to choose one over the other,” Love said. “It’s very hard not to check my phone or think about work when I need to focus on school, but it’s all about being disciplined. When I travel out of town for work related reasons I’m always doing homework at airports and on the plane.” Porn provides performers similar to Alison Rey and Lydia Love some financial stability, and for these two performers, being in this industry has also allowed them to gain distinctive insights into the fields they studied. “I absolutely do feel that my experience in the adult entertainment industry has shaped my studies in a way that is unique from my peers,” Rey said when discussing how her porn career influenced the way she approached her three majors. “I feel a lot of college students are only aware of the world around them as it is defined by their university bubble.” She continued, “They might be able to apply concepts of sociology and justice to their world via social media or what they see on the news, but by and large, their human experience is relatively homogeneous. They aren't exposed to the wide variety of people that I have been exposed to because of performing; instead, they are familiar with the students in their class, the people they work with, their families and communities. While these groups can be much different on their own, I think it's safe to say that someone who is constantly in contact with thousands of followers has a much better view of the wide breath of humanity than someone who sees the same few hundred people every day.” Lydia Love, who is a business major, has similarly benefited from the real-world experiences she has gained outside of the university bubble. “I definitely think that it gives me a unique perspective on materials I study. I notice myself already understanding marketing strategies or business tactics I learn about,” Love said. In addition to her porn career informing her studies, Love also told AVN, “I’m constantly thinking about how I can utilize what I learned in my career.” Meaning that whenever she learns something new in class, she has the ability and opportunity to immediately apply this knowledge to a real-world business; giving her access to a learning experience few students will ever have. “It is my first semester studying business and my courses have already helped me understand tactics to increase my sales and build a loyal fan base,” Love explained. “I think that the more I learn about marketing, business and finance, the more successful I will be in my career.” School of Hard Knox Individuals who decide to balance going to college and sex work all have their own reasons and goals. And they all have to wrestle with the legacy of Belle Knox’s outing and do their best to learn from it. Ela Darling had already completed her master’s degree when Belle Knox was outed, but she was still outraged by the situation. “I thought that the way people treated Belle Knox was repugnant and the reactions from her classmates were incredibly disheartening,” Darling told AVN. “I reached out to Belle when I found out about her experience and offered my support.” “I think that is one of the most vulnerable aspects of the adult performer experience, when your career is made public discussion amongst your peers, friends, and family,” Darling said, “and I think the way it went for Belle is the worst nightmare for most performers.” Alison Rey didn’t learn of Belle Knox until she entered the industry, but she immediately understood the pain Knox endured. “I don't think it was right. I think it was a definite violation of her privacy,” Rey said. “It shows that her peers had no respect for her as a human being, but rather, they saw her as an object to fetishize and sensationalize.” “People generally don't think of performing as a legitimate job or a legitimate source of income,” Rey further shared with AVN. “Once you've had sex on camera, you more or less become the characters you portray to the people around you who don't know you very well. You're no longer a human being with rights, but something to talk about for the entertainment of others. It wasn't fair that she was outed; I think it was a terrible thing for people to do to her.” When asked about Knox, Love remembered being confused as to how people reacted to her profession. “I remember hearing about this story when I was in high school and I was very confused as to why people cared so much about what she chose to do with her body,” Love said. “Interviews she did on major news networks shed light on the fact that people in the adult industry have lives and goals outside of the industry. It was very upsetting that many people saw her as undeserving of respect because of her job.” Rey describes herself as always being a cautious person, but she was still frightened by Knox’s story and how the public treated her. “Her story certainly scared me, after I realized the same thing could happen to me at my school, but it didn't really stop me from making friends at all,” Rey said. “It made me wary of telling people what I did for a living.” Love is similarly guarded as to how she interacts with other college students. “It has made me much more cautious when it comes to what I say to people at school,” Love said when discussing what she learned from Knox’s outing. “I’ve gone to a few different schools since starting college and I’ve never talked about what school I go to. I was always scared of people recognizing me when I went to school in Los Angeles. I now choose to do online classes because of witnessing what Belle and others have gone through.” Even as an online student, Love takes steps to protect her identity as best as possible. “When we share details about our lives in my online classes I don’t put a profile picture in the forum or talk about my work. I am not ashamed of my job, but I don’t want anyone treating me differently or talking about me online outside of class.” The Anti-Bullying Pulpit In spite of what happened to Belle Knox, there is no way to accurately predict how every college community would react to a student being outed as a porn star. “I don’t think you would see the same response from a college in Los Angeles as you would see at a small-town campus in middle America,” Ela Darling told AVN. “The fact is there is no universal college or grad school experience, just like there’s no universal adult performer experience.” While attitudes to sex, sex work, and sexual harassment vary from campus to campus, Darling does see a need for uniform policies that protect adult entertainers. “I would like to see school policy reflect a mission to protect students regardless of their career choices. I think that schools should have a sex-positive sexual education for incoming freshmen and a zero-tolerance policy of sexual harassment, including harassing people who are sex workers,” Darling said. Alison Rey’s perspective on what colleges should do to protect sex workers echoes Darling’s words. “I would want to see schools respect ethical sex work. I've heard of several girls getting expelled or losing their scholarships for doing adult work,” Rey said. “In my opinion, if what you're doing is ethical, and especially if it’s legal, the school has no right to judge you based on your occupation alone.” “In my experience, most of the time schools don’t take action against bullying or sexual harassment until it is too late and something tragic has happened,” Love said when discussing how colleges react to students being sex workers. “I believe that it is very important for schools to be proactive and listen to concerns and complaints from student sex workers to ensure their safety. Student sex workers that have been outed need support from schools or students will think that verbal and sexual harassment is acceptable. I believe that major consequences should be put in effect for those who make anyone feel unsafe or uncomfortable.” With colleges and universities across the country being forced to do more to address ingrained sexism and sexual harassment, there is an opportunity and need for these institutions to take steps to protect student sex workers. As Darling said to AVN, “Amnesty International takes a firm stance on protecting sex workers’ rights and I would like to see that extended to student services as well.” Privacy, Please Students in need of extra money or who just have an interest in exploring their sexuality in a professional setting will always be able to find work in the porn industry. So while educational institutions should do more to protect their students who are also sex workers, it is important for those entering the adult entertainment industry to learn from other performers who are willing to share the wisdom they’ve gained. For instance, Ela Darling stresses protecting one’s privacy, building a supportive community, and preparing for what to do when people find out about one’s adult work. “I would advise being very protective of one’s privacy and personal information, especially when it comes to your home address and your legal name. There is no shame in the work that we do, but there will likely be people who find out and try to weaponize it against you,” Darling told AVN. “Be ready for people to find out and surround yourself with a support system. Stand tall. Get to know the college staff and offices that exist to advocate for you and be ready to file a report if someone tries to violate your safety or makes threats against you.” “Anyone entering the porn industry should be prepared for when people find out about the work you do/did and should only pursue a career in porn if they’re certain that these tough discussions won’t end their future professional opportunities after their work in the industry,” Darling continued to explain, “but that doesn’t make it okay for people to use your work to harass, threaten or harm you.” In addition to protecting one’s privacy, both Lydia Love and Alison Rey stress that performers still in college should prioritize their studies. “My number-one piece of advice would be to keep going to school. Don't drop out just because you're making money and you want to make more money,” Rey said. “Even if you want to move to Los Angeles so you are available for more shoots, keep going to school. Transfer if you have to, or take online classes to complete your degree—that's what I did.  “Just always remember that porn won't be forever, but your college degrees will always be worth something. All too often, girls come in to the industry and start performing with no plans for what they'll do after they stop,” Rey further explained. “That bachelor’s degree you're working on right there? That's your exit strategy.” Rey’s sentiment is also shared by Love, who—like many performers—understands the appeal of quick money and encourages all adult film stars to continue working to pursue their goals. “If school is your first priority, don’t let work take you away from that. It is difficult at times, but don’t give up on your goals because your hard work will pay off in the end,” Love said. “You’re capable of whatever you want to achieve in life.”

 
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