Interview with Scarlett Chaos aka Essin’Em

I promised that I’d be trying to get all aspects of the ethical porn making world and so far I’ve mostly focused on those who run things, but now I’d like to focus on someone who has spent some time in front of the camera and is now just starting to shoot porn as well.

Essin’Em is best known for her sex blogging and sex education, but did you know that she’s also made porn as Scarlett Chaos? She’s a super awesome subject for this article because of her varied background. All of her experiences and activism really lend themselves to the creation of ethical pornography. Plus she’s just sweet as pie.

Garnet Joyce: How did you decide to start performing in porn and why do you continue?

Scarlett Chaos: I have always been a performer/bit of a ham; I’ve been doing theater since I was 5. As I delved more into the sexuality field, it always seemed like something that might interested me at some point. However, as a chubby queer with red hair and tattoos, I always figured that no one (aside from my partners) would want to see me naked, and that I certainly wouldn’t get paid to shoot. Then, at Pornotopia in New Mexico in November 2008, I saw Crash Pad excerpts on the big screen. I had heard of them, yes, but just seeing them and their gender/body diversity made me quickly fall in love. I applied to be a model that night, and shot a few months later.

I’m actually no longer working in front of the camera. I live in AZ currently (although hoping to head back to CO soon), and there aren’t many ethical/sex-positive porn opportunities. Additionally, between working a full time job, and maintaining my blog, I don’t have a lot of free time to visit places that can shoot. That said, I’m now rocking out behind the camera. I just filmed 4 episodes for Shine’s Point of Contact, and am shooting a couple shortly for GoodDykePorn. Should the right chance come along for me to be on screen again, I’d probably take it, but for now, I think director/videographer works best for me.

GJ: What companies have you worked for? What inspired you to work with these companies specifically?

SC: Pink and White, NoFauxxx, GoodDykePorn, Veg Porn, and Good Releasing. Why did I choose them? Because each of these companies is run by someone (or someones, in the case of Good Releasing) who puts their ethics and information as to why they are shooting out there, and I happen to agree with their views. In the case of Shine/Pink and White, I love her goal of increasing diversity in her casts, and creating queer visibility. For Courtney Trouble/NoFauxxx, I think it’s awesome that she doesn’t sort her site by gender/orientation, and just shows people of all orientations in hot ways. Plus, her fat acceptance is awesome. Bren Ryder/GoodDykePorn is an amazing example of small, DIY, from the ground up queer porn that looks to get real queers/dykes having sex in settings comfortable to them (rather than on-set), and encourages the use of barriers in non-fluid bound couples. Furry Girl (who runs VegPorn) is very outspoken about her beliefs of treatment of women and other minorities in the adult industry, as well as products, companies, and more.  She is always 100% honest about her feelings, and whether I always agree with her about them, at least I know where I stand.  Also, as a vegetarian, I’ve always thought Veg Porn was great; they were one of the first place I considered modeling for. Good Releasing was created by Carol Queen, and Coyote, two strong women in the industry whose views I’ve always admired. Plus, with Madison Young directing, I felt really comfortable, and in a queer and diversity friendly setting.

GJ: How much do you contribute to your scenes?

SC: If you’ve seen any of them, one would know I contribute pretty much 100%. I like a little bit of campiness, a little bit of old school cheesiness from the dialogue in Crash Pad about the hanky code to having Sabrina Morgan bring the Njoy Eleven as room service (in an ice bucket) on GoodDykePorn. The NoFauxxx shoot was totally up my alley in a pin-up in the kitchen getting off kind of way, and Veg Porn involved getting it on with (condomed) veggies in my friend’s backyard. Lots of cute, lots of camp, and of course, always the femmetasticness!

GJ: How do you define ethical pornography?

SC: Ethical pornography is when everyone involved (usually the actors, but also the crew) gets their input involved, where everyone is comfortable with what is happening, and where everyone is adequately compensated for their work.  This means that the actors should at least partially get to dictate who they are shooting with (at least gender/orientation), what type of sex is happening (oral, anal, vaginal, toys, kink, etc) to whom, and are given the options to discuss having barriers. It seems pretty simple, yes? Unfortunately, many companies don’t tell people who they are shooting with until the day of, or hire someone for a girl/girl scene, and then when they show up, tell them they have to do an anal scene, or they’re fired. Barriers are almost never brought up in much mainstream porn.

That said, I don’t feel ethical pornography has to have a queer or feminist bent (although much of current ethical porn happens to). Ethical means treating everyone in a fair and respectful manner. It means listening to talent, and respecting limits/needs/etc. It means not lying, half-truth-ing or purposely deceiving people. Ethical porn is hot because you know the people in it are really enjoying the sex they are having, and not solely putting on a show of pleasure.

GJ: Have all of the companies that you’ve worked with been ethical? What kinds of standards have they followed? Was there anyone you thought was unethical (no need to include names)? How was working for them different and do you plan on working for them again?

SC: I would say yes. Why? Because they all let me decide what to do on camera, who to do (if I was with a partner), what toys I chose to use and how, whether I wanted barriers, etc. They also all paid me, in a timely manner, an amount that I felt truly compensated the work I did. I got to guide the direction the scenes went, I got to choose what to wear and say, and I felt completely comfortable and in control of myself and my sexuality at all times.

There was one situation where I wanted to use barriers, but it was so unorganized that I really didn’t have time to bring that up, and I felt like I had to start, regardless of my want for safer sex. Afterward, I felt a bit upset, but realized it was my responsibility to bring it up. They didn’t tell me I couldn’t use them, they just never brought them up. I would work with the company again if I was offered to do so, but would make sure barriers got brought up first and foremost.

GJ:  Do you think there is anyone making ethical pornography in the mainstream porn world? If so, who?

SC: I think Vivid has been doing a good job, at least with the Chemistry, Ed and Rough Sex Series (granted, I think Tristan Taormino has a lot to do with that). I’m hopeful to see where they go in the future.
Belladonna is mainstream, but I would consider her ethical. She hired talents who happen to have/enjoy the fetishes she’s filming (as compared to telling someone to pretend they like feet/body hair/gang bangs).  Also, she’s bringing in diversity in her talent; Jiz Lee, Syd Blakovich and April Flores have all filmed for her; people of color, gender and size diversity. In fact, she even told me she’d let me do a casting couch if I was ever in LA. I think some companies and individuals are ethical in mainstream pornography, they just tend to be more few and far between.

GJ: You’ve recently started working behind the camera for Point of Contact. How do you feel your experience in front of the camera influences what you do behind it?

SC:I think it helps because of the whole “been there, done that” concept, but in a good way. I know what it’s like to have to wait for a check, to be asked what it is I want to do, to wonder what the appropriate thing to wear is, how to address people, etc.  Since I’ve gone through this, I can kind of help out more; I tend to communicate a lot with my talent before I shoot them. I have them meet up (in partner scenes, if they’re not already partnered), I give ideas of how to choose clothes, let them know what kind of food/drink/bathroom/dressing room facilities there will be, etc. I also feel a lot of those working with me are more relaxed because they know I’ve done this, and I know that sex isn’t always choreographable, and so on.

GJ: Do you think your background in sex education plays a role in how you approach porn (both in front of the camera and behind)?

SC: I do. I think it leads to being more open and flexible about what the scenes look like, what types of sexual activity plays out, how people interact with one another sexually and more. I get that there is a huge diversity in what sex and sexuality mean to different people, and am open to letting people express it in their own way. For example, my shoots for Point of Contact were all about masturbation, and reclaiming it as a sexy piece of porn. I don’t know if I would have ever thought about masturbation as sex, none the less porn-worthy without my background in sex ed. However, the shoots were HOT, and I’m so glad I went that direction.   My background in sex ed also helps me to discuss choices about barriers, STI testing/knowledge, etc with talent, which I might not have felt as comfortable with in another career.

GJ:  If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is interested in making ethical pornography what would it be?

SC: Before you start, decide what is important to you; what you will/won’t do, who you’ll shoot with, what barriers (if any) you’ll use, whether you’ll alter your body hair/look, whether you’ll do free content-trade shoots or only for money, etc. Make all of these decisions first. Then stick to them. It’s easy to get caught up in the world of porn (both ethical and not), and it’s very easy to change your mind and go back on the things that are important to you.  These are the things you may regret. Ethical companies will not ask you to do things you’re not comfortable with.

Images courtesy of Essin’Em.

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