Sexual health

What Porn Performers Can Teach Us About Safer Sex

Published: NOVEMBER 21, 2023
Ethical porn companies are leading the way when it comes to safer sex practices that all of us can learn from.

When’s the last time you got tested for sexually transmitted infections? At your last yearly physical? Have you even been tested within the last year? If you can’t even remember the last time, you’re far from alone. A survey commissioned by LetsGetChecked, a company that produces at-home STI testing kits, found that 53% of people who responded to the survey hadn’t been tested for STIs in the past year, and 19% had never taken an STI test.


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The survey also found that 48% of respondents didn’t know how often they should be tested for STIs, and 24% didn’t talk to new sexual partners about getting tested before having sex because they were too uncomfortable to bring it up. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections, and the sad irony is that this stigma is preventing a lot of us from protecting ourselves against STIs.

But you know where you can learn a lot about safer sex practices? The porn industry.

Safer Sex and the Porn Industry

That's right. Believe it or not, one of the best places to learn about safe sex practices that prevent the spread of STIs is the porn industry. A common stigma associated with porn is that the performers must get STIs all the time, and as with many stigmas, this one is unfortunately based on a kernel of truth.

The porn industry has a sketchy past when it comes to keeping performers safe from STIs. Regular testing wasn’t always mandatory, and many production companies only asked their performers to test for a limited range of STIs, excluding relatively common ones, like syphilis. Even when regular STI testing was mandatory, many production companies relied on performers to get the testing done themselves and bring copies of their test results to set. Unfortunately, this practice made it easy to falsify a clean bill of health.


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Although most performers would never endanger their scene partners that way, some did make that choice, leading to increased transmission rates in the industry. And even though most production companies have always put the safety of their performers first, some haven’t. In a culture that still, without good reason, horribly stigmatizes sex and sex work, the bad decisions of a few reflected poorly on the entire industry.

In response to these poor choices, as well as other problematic aspects of the porn industry, producers and directors like Erika Lust set out to create something entirely new – ethical porn. Lust has been cited as one of the current leading participants in the ethical, feminist porn movement. Since the debut of her first indie erotic film, "The Good Girl," in 2004, Lust has founded the ERIKALUST brand, which encompasses XConfessions, Lust Cinema, Else Cinema and The Porn Conversation.

Read: Ethical Porn: How to Dive in With a Partner


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What's ethical porn?


If you’re stuck in stigma, ethical porn may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s not at all. The foundation of ethical porn is enthusiastic consent, bodily autonomy and prioritizing the safety, comfort and mental health of porn performers. Production companies that make ethical porn, like Lust's production company ERIKALUST, among others, allow performers to choose their scene partners, set the rules for those scenes, and opt out of anything that makes them uncomfortable. Ethical porn production companies also follow rigorous standards for keeping their performers safe, including multiple forms of age verification, on-set intimacy coordinators, and, of course, regular STI testing. Because of these rigorous standards Lust's sets - as well as many others that follow similar protocols - are virtually STI-free.

Kinkly connected with Erika Lust to find out how everyone involved with an ERIKALUST production, from the production staff to the performers, contributes to safety on set and how they prevent the spread of STIs among their performers. As it turns out, we can all learn a lot from porn companies like this in terms of how to keep ourselves and our partners safer.

Read: How Feminist Porn Changed My Stance on Pornography

STI Testing for Porn Performers

The foundation of ERIKALUST’s safety protocols, Lust said, is a strict STI testing policy.


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“Performers are tested before every set! To ensure complete safety for our performers, we request anal, vaginal and oral swabs, depending on the performer and the sex that will be had on set.”

Lust stressed that enforcing this testing policy is the production company’s responsibility. So, they make the process as easy as possible for each performer. They schedule the tests so the performers don’t have to arrange anything themselves. For local performers, each test is already paid for before they’re even tested. When ERIKALUST works with international performers, they either arrange to pay for the test upfront or they reimburse all costs associated with testing.

In the past, performers had to arrange their own tests and keep track of test result documentation, which they had to bring to set. Sometimes, they even had to pay for tests out of pocket. These barriers to access meant that some performers either lost out on jobs or endangered their scene partners when they missed a testing appointment, lost their documentation, or couldn’t afford to get tested. Lust aims to take all that responsibility off the performers so all they have to do is show up and get swabbed.


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Read: 8 Myths About STIs - and The Truth Behind Them

Contraception and Personal Autonomy

Since every ERIKALUST production centers the enthusiastic consent and bodily autonomy of the performers, each performer involved in a scene is in charge of the other precautions taken on set.

“Once casting is complete, we allow the performers to get to know one another and the crew. We will then ask what toys they would like to use, or any accessories they require, and also if they would like to use condoms or diaphragms, or any other form of contraceptive. ERIKALUST films are about authenticity and ‘real’ sex, so we let the performers do what feels natural to them. And with regular STI screening throughout filming, there will be no risks of infection if a barrier method isn’t used.”


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Lust added that though using barrier methods is completely optional, STI testing is not. Every performer in an ERIKALUST production has to do comprehensive STI testing before they’re allowed on set. Erika sees reducing the transmission of STIs on her sets as an essential responsibility of both the performers and the production company, which is why ERIKALUST has such rigorous policies.

“[STI tests] protect the health and well-being of performers and promote a safe working environment, one that ERIKALUST is proud to uphold… As producers of ethical porn, it is important for us that our performers feel happy and safe. STIs can have long-lasting health issues and it is both ours and the performers responsibility to ensure infections aren’t spread.”

Lust said that STI testing protocols are crucial to her personal mission to smash the stigma around STIs in the porn industry.


“The general lack of information regarding STIs causes myths and stigmas to arise. We need to address this and stress the importance of a non-judgmental, preventive approach to sexually transmitted infections and our sexual health," Lust said. "This will, in turn, reduce transmission and stigma. Unfortunately, the porn industry still carries a burden of stigma around the topic, when actually, we are the safest industry when sexual health is regarded… Ensuring strict STI protocols helps to demonstrate that this is a professional and real industry that we take seriously! ”

This safety-first perspective on sexual encounters is something Lust wants to see outside the porn industry as well.

“Anyone who engages in sexual activity risks contracting an STI,” she said. “I think the average sexually active person should be just as alert [as sex workers] and should be routinely checking.”

What We Can Learn from Porn Performers

Get Regular STI Tests

If you’re not a sex worker, getting “routinely” tested for STIs probably doesn’t look like getting tested every time you show up for work. So, what does getting tested “routinely” look like for the rest of us? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all sexually active people under 25 get tested for STIs at least once a year.

For people over 25, the CDC recommends basing your STI testing habits on your sex life. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, getting tested each year is still a good precaution. We’re not saying everyone cheats, but it happens, and you should keep yourself safe by getting tested annually.

If you have multiple sexual partners, it’s a good idea to get tested every three to six months, regardless of whether you have any new partners within that time frame. And, we cannot stress this enough, get tested every time you have a new partner and ask them to get tested too, preferably before you have sex, so you know you’re not risking transmission.


If the moment presents itself and you’re comfortable just going for it with a new partner, ask about their STI status before getting it on. It would be great if this was just something everyone mentioned before getting busy, but don’t assume someone will say something if there’s an issue. Ask every time, and definitely get tested as soon as you can after sexy times, just to be safe.


Another lesson in STI safety we can glean from ethical porn companies like Lust's is that we always have a choice about safer sex and that choice should always involve the enthusiastic consent of both parties. Partner isn’t into using a condom or a diaphragm to protect you both from STIs even though you’d feel more comfortable if they did? You have every right to tell them no protection, no sex! Partner wants you to use a barrier method, but you’re not into it? Sounds like there’s no enthusiastic consent in that situation! Do these standards mean you might miss out on some opportunities to get it on? Maybe. But being on the same page when it comes to STI safety is worth it.

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Robin Zabiegalski

Robin Zabiegalski (they/them) is a queer, non-binary writer, editor, and movement instructor. They've been writing for Kinkly since 2017, and joined Kinkly's Editorial Team in early 2024. Their writing has also been published on xoJane, Heavy.com, Health Digest, Glam, Women.com, The Establishment, Sexual Being, The Tempest, and several other digital media publications. When Robin isn't writing they can be found practicing or teaching yoga, training or teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, playing Fortnite with their partner...

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