Part Three – Madison Missina talks sexual health and personal safety in the sex industry
Late last year I was lucky enough to spend a morning chatting with Madison Missina, porn star and private escort. Missina talked about her experiences in the sex and adult entertainment industries. We spoke at length about her career, what happens on a porn set, and sexual health and personal safety in the industry. This is the last in a series of excerpts from our conversation. In Part One – Meet Madison, Missina talks about her life in the sex industry, and in Part Two, Missina describes a day in the life on a porn set. You can also read the full interview in the Sex Issue of The Lifted Brow.
Discussing Missina’s experience in the sex and porn industries, two main themes recurred: personal safety and sexual health. Missina described encounters with sexual assault and how she manages her safety, and the health scare that led to her advocating for better sexual health practices in the adult entertainment industry.
‘Rape is something most sex workers will experience at some point,’ Madison Missina said. ‘I estimate that in thirteen years I’ve had somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 clients, and I’ve experienced rape five times.’ Missina encountered fear and intimidation early in her career, from her first job working in massage. ‘The manager was a bit violent with some of the girls and that scared me, so I left,’ she said. ‘In hindsight it was a valuable experience because it forced me to plan.’ It was from that incident that Missina made sure she had career options outside the sex industry.
Missina has learned a lot over the years about staying safe. ‘I know how to pick up from a client’s body language when he first walks in that something is off,’ she said. ‘If I turn up and the guy has said something that doesn’t sit right, or if I am about to walk in the door and I get a knot in my stomach, I walk away. I always have enough money in the bank so that I never need to accept a job. No amount of money is worth being unsafe.’
These days Missina has mechanisms built into her practice to help maintain her safety. ‘I’m one of the only girls in the industry who employs a security guard when meeting new clients,’ she said. Like many sex workers, she also uses GPS tracking apps and keeps in contact with someone who can double-check her movements against bookings.
Missina said that when sexual assault happens, safety is her priority. ‘I’ll say no three times, and if the guy is starting to look like he’s getting physical and I don’t think I can safely get myself out of there, I don’t fight it. I’ll say, “I don’t consent to this happening, but fucking put on a condom.” I don’t want HIV, I don’t want a broken arm or no income for three months, so I’ll let him finish, get it over with, leave safely, and go back to work the next day.’
Missina learned the hard way that the criminal justice system views this approach very differently. ‘Not fighting back and agreeing to a sexual health practice doesn’t make an act consensual,’ she said, yet these protections will be used as evidence of consent. ‘Never mind that I was bawling my eyes out and saying, “I really don’t want you to do this.” Never mind the text messages that clearly state that what happened was rape,’ she said. Knowing the likely outcome in court, Missina said she would always do the same. ‘My health is more important to me than pressing charges in a system that doesn’t support working women trying to protect themselves.’
Consent is also an issue in porn. In Australia, a lot of checking and double-checking goes on to make sure all the stars are comfortable with what happens on set, particularly as inexperienced stars may feel pressure to conform to expectations. Missina gave the example of one new star who turned up on set saying she wanted to try everything and that she had no boundaries. ‘The producer said, “Okay, so I can fuck you with a bat?” When the girl hesitated, the producer said, “So you do have boundaries.”’ The producer told the girl she could still be a big star without feeling as if she had to do everything, but she needed to be clear about her limits.
Missina believes the sex industry teaches resilience. ‘I’ve seen girls who’ve been sexually assaulted on the job. They will be upset, cry, go downstairs for a cup of tea, and then go straight to see their next client. To many sex workers, sexual assault is just another brick in the wall. That’s how fucking strong we are.’
Missina stressed that sex workers take sexual health very seriously. ‘We’re not there because we want to get our rocks off, we’re there because it’s our income,’ she said. ‘It’s not like when people are out drinking at a poorly lit bar and pick someone up. We work completely sober, and we’re trained to give visual health checks to clients using LED torches.’ If Missina sees anything that looks dodgy, she turns the client away. ‘I tell them that I think they might have an STI, and recommend they get it checked out.’
Missina believes education is paramount in protecting against unwanted infections. ‘I don’t think people in the broader community are properly educated about what sexual health means,’ she said. ‘Chances are people are going to be exposed to STIs in their sexual lifetime; it’s not a big deal. No sex is safe. Using a condom does not guarantee protection against the transmission of infections, particularly for viruses like genital herpes or HPV. If your partner does have herpes, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to make sure they’re taking antivirals, paying attention to their outbreaks and avoiding sexual contact during that time.’
She would also like to see the stigma around STIs broken down. ‘It stops us having the conversations we need to have with our sexual partners, and deters people from being tested because they’re too ashamed and don’t want to see a doctor,’ she said. ‘We’re all happy to go to work and say we had tonsillitis, and people don’t tell you how diseased you are, so why do they say that for chlamydia or gonorrhea?’
While working in porn, Missina learned first-hand what could happen when safer sex practices aren’t adhered to. ‘We go without condoms when filming, so prior to every shoot the stars go into lock-down, which is where we have to use condoms for all sexual activities, including oral, to limit our exposure to STIs,’ she said. Stars are tested for sexually transmissible infections before they are allowed to perform, but if there is a gap between when the test was conducted and when shooting begins, and that person has had unprotected sex, there may be new STIs present.
‘One star turned up on set with clear tests and assured me he used condoms in all this sexual activity for the last three weeks,’ she said. ‘Forty-eight hours after a shoot where he had cum inside me, I was in pain, pissing blood, and I could barely get out of the shower. We were on a residential shoot, so I called out to him and said he needed to call a doctor right away.’ Afterwards Missina sat him down and asked again about his condom compliance. ‘This time he admitted he hadn’t used condoms for oral… and hadn’t always used condoms for sex, including anal,’ she said. ‘I was treated for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and was given a broad-spectrum antibiotic. He was suspended but there are rumours he will be cast again. I hope that I don’t see him around set in future – what he did was so irresponsible.’
Since that health incident, Missina has been quite vocal about sexual health standards in the industry, using this actor as an example. ‘[It] has caused a bit of tension because he was a much-loved star who fucked up. The industry is so small in Australia that word gets around very quickly, but it’s a huge issue when producers don’t take sexual health seriously and cast high-risk talent,’ she said.
Missina pointed to three recent cases of HIV infection in the industry in the United States, as well as other outbreaks that have occurred in The US and Europe over the years. ‘It’s not inevitable,’ she said. ‘There are ways around it. I want the industry to have zero tolerance for stars who behave promiscuously and engage in high-risk sexual activity. They should be instantly barred.’
Last year, Missina formalised her advocacy by founding the Australian Adult Industry Network (AAIN), a body that is working towards standardising sexual health testing and the performer code of conduct for the porn industry in Australia. ‘I spent hours negotiating with doctors and the porn industry about adequate risk levels for testing and latency periods and the types of sexual behaviours that are appropriate.’ The next step, she said, is working out how to manage compliance. ‘[It’s] going to be a shit-fight, but if someone doesn’t step in and set guidelines, we will end up with outbreaks like those in America, jeopardising the local industry.’