How Can Porn Be COVID-Safe?

With face-to-face fucking no longer allowed, porn studios all over the world are coming up with some surprisingly creative — if not totally kinky — workarounds

In the U.S., the last few weeks have been dedicated to not-so-slowly (or arguably, smartly) “opening back up.” First, there was curbside pickup for most big box stores, then restaurants, bars and gyms (gotta stay swole) threw open their doors. Even the porn industry is slowly beginning to resume production, but in a business where swapping saliva and other bodily fluids is all in a day’s work, a looming question remains: what does COVID-safe porn look like?

A handful of newly released documents are offering up a few answers. Last month, the Free Speech Coalition released a 32-page guidance dossier as well as an online resource bank, which collectively laid down rules on everything from catering (no deli plates!) to hot tubs (also, sadly, a no-go). As for the sex itself, readers are directed to the NYC Safer Sex factsheet, which encourages mutual masturbation, cybersex and fucking through walls (which some have interpreted as glory-hole endorsements).

In the U.K., nonprofit organization UKAP has offered a more specific toolkit. Arguably the most important takeaway is that there’s no concrete evidence to prove that coronavirus can be sexually transmitted, but since it can be passed anally and orally, considerations have to be made when it comes to writing and performing in scenes. Gagging for someone to spit in your mouth? Honestly, same — but sadly, you’ll just have to wait. COVID-19 has also been found in semen, so condoms are advised, as are positions like reverse-cowgirl and doggy-style, which avoid face-to-face contact.

As such, creativity is being encouraged. There’s even a suggestion that studios ask “performers to fulfill specific content briefs using the tools they have in their own homes.” This experimental approach has been trialed across the sex industry over the last few months with online initiatives like CyberTease and Demon Time cropping up to house strippers whose clubs have been closed and Atlanta’s Magic City branching out into the wonderful world of “virtual lap dances.” 

As for IRL porn scenes, UKAP offers up a list of fetishes that are already pretty COVID-safe, including “plastic sheeting scenes, cake-sitting, foot play, bondage [and] role-play involving masks or face-covering gags.” If your kink is watching a performer writhe around in a cream-covered paddling pool while giving a masked stranger a footjob, this Bud’s for you. 

Navigating these restrictions becomes trickier, though, when your audience is less into kink than good, old-fashioned skin-on-skin contact. Porn creator Erika Lust has made her name shooting sexed-up scenes that emphasize intimacy rather than hardcore fucking, so her performers have been brainstorming new ways to incorporate these elements into cybersex and solo scenes, which avoid the potential issues of crowded sets and contact transmission. 

Incidentally though, Lust tells me that requests for these scenes (Lust recreates fan fantasies for her XConfessions series) have actually skyrocketed. “Social distancing has got couples and singles swapping sexy videos of each other, and exploring the thrilling worlds of texting and camming,” she tells me. “It’s so exciting!” 

The rise of coronavirus porn indicates that our searches do mirror cultural changes; so maybe it’s not a stretch to imagine that we’re collectively hornier for the inventive, DIY thirst traps we’ve been swapping with Tinder matches. 

Lust says that this mentality — that self-pleasure and sexual creativity are the best ways to navigate coronavirus concerns — will likely be driving her upcoming productions when filming resumes. Her business is based in Barcelona, so she’ll be operating to guidelines issued by the European Film Commission and following a brand new safety protocol. These regulations aren’t arbitrary in Spain, and they’re not stateside, either; laws in different states (the Free Speech Coalition specifically name-checks Florida, Nevada and California) require businesses to develop COVID-safe reopening plans. Failure to comply could result in a lawsuit.

However, these regulations become trickier to monitor when the porn creators are independent. “Sex workers have been the most affected by the pandemic both financially and personally, as production is still on hold pretty much everywhere,” Lust explains. According to Leyla Tanit, founder of sex worker mental health charity Pineapple Support, the pandemic has taken a huge emotional toll as well: “[It’s] had a huge affect on the mental health of those working in the adult industry, and the lift of the performance hold won’t make this suddenly end.”

These issues have compounded to leave sex workers, plenty of whom have been unable to access government support, with little choice but to work anyway. I speak to an anonymous, U.K.-based porn performer whose only source of income has been self-shot, fan-site content since he lost his day job earlier this year, and then lost opportunities from porn studios and escorting gigs, too. At first, his sex work income was supplementary; now, it’s his survival.

To that end, earlier this week, he shot a group scene. Sex with someone from another household is currently illegal in the U.K., but he maintains that self-screening is the best way for independent porn creators struggling for income to move forward. “The main question for me was whether any of us had COVID symptoms in the last two weeks,” he explains. “Also, whether or not any of us were part of vulnerable groups. If the answer to any of those two questions was a ‘yes,’ then it’s a ‘no’ for me.” 

Other than that, the sex itself was pretty typical. “I know some porn studios are reopening, but I’m not sure if they’re just trying to do the same as I am by doing a risk assessment,” he tells me, praising the UKAP’s filming guidelines. “They’re very good, but maybe a little bit too much for me to follow. I’m not concerned for myself because I think I had the virus back in March, but I am concerned about transmission. It’s just about managing risk.” 

I ask whether he thinks fan-site porn will get more creative in response to the pandemic, but he asserts a belief that things will largely go back to the way they were — albeit with more health tests and an increased emphasis on trust between performers.

So while the porn industry could respond to the pandemic with safely-distanced fetishes we’ve never heard of (naughty step-siblings silently washing their hands in full PPE, anyone?), the most likely option is business-as-usual — just with way more testing and way less bareback.