At five years old, Kitty Stryker began her work as an activist. Now, she’s a master of all trades: a pornstar in her own right, a founder of Consent Culture, an organization dedicated to both recognizing and informing a greater population about the issues surrounding consent, rape culture, and how they’re inextricably linked to society, a member of the BDSM community, and an incredibly candid woman. She recently sat down with Project Consent and helped us demystify the misconceptions that surround the porn industry and how the sex industry seems to be inextricably linked to rape culture.

One of the biggest goals of the porn industry is the illusion of authenticity: viewers crave context, and the idea that the situation presented to them is real. While the acts themselves are, Stryker argues that the biggest misunderstanding about the porn industry is that any of it is authentic: “At the end of the day, it’s still a job, it’s still labor and it’s hard work. Questioning whether people are having fun is kind of irrelevant. It’s like: is your workplace safe? Are you making enough money for the effort you’re putting in? Are you able to put money aside? Do you have childcare? That shit is way more important than if you’re having fun.” She continues on to point out the obvious double standard that exists for women: “But, because it’s porn, and because it relates to sex, I think there’s a lot more sense of oh now, it has to be - you have to be a greedy slut who super loves it, or you’re a horrified victim.”

The porn industry is seen to be a “dirty” thing, but according to Internet Filter Review, in 2006, 42.7% of internet users viewed pornography, but perhaps more compellingly, the porn industry made over 13.33 billion dollars -- more than the revenues of ABC, CBS, AND NBC combined. Porn offers a space for people to test their boundaries, find out their sexual likes and dislikes before necessarily engaging in sex. “If people have access to a variety of porn, for a variety of tastes, they’re more likely to have better communication with their partners and have more satisfying sex. I think that was a study in Sweden maybe, or one of the Norwegian countries, but like there was a sense of: oh, right the more porn there is available, the more likely it is that you’re going to find something you like, and the more likely you’re going to find a healthy experience for you,” she explains.

Though it may be looked at as “shameful,” there is no doubt of its prevalence in society. Stryker attempts to explain the shame of it: “I have a theory that one of the reasons we are scared of sex workers generally -- female sex workers -- is that these are women who have managed to take a very male thing, objectification, and take money away from men by doing it. I think men feel very manipulated by that, even if it’s by of their own creation.”

She furthers her point, stating candidly “Once you start making money for objectification, you will never sit and take that sort of shit again. You’ll be like oh no, that’s like 50 bucks at least before we will even start with that. It’s an area where women are wholeheartedly taking capitalism on, and that’s really scary for society as a whole.” Women in porn have begun to take back consent that society has stripped from them: by being in control of their own sexual objectification, they have reclaimed the idea of consent, whereas in rape culture, which is nearly ubiquitous throughout cultures, women have their consent taken from them. Though porn may seem the obvious antithesis to a world striving against oversexualization of women, it provides an opportunity for women to take back their consent in a world that holds it from them.

Though not unaware of the haranguing aspect of the porn industry, she believes the strong issue with porn is capitalism. “I think it’s one of the only, if not the only job, where women make more than men. And that says a lot about how fucked up our society is, how hard it is to leave the sex industry once you’re in it, and you know, why so many people enter it in the first place,” she argues. “I think it’s more about capitalism than anything else.”

She elaborates, adding that “there’s not a lot of jobs, really, as much as people suggest that there are, especially if you’re non-normative. If you’re not, probably early 20s-ish, probably blonde, currently probably with real breasts (though you might, later on in your career, getting fake breasts to be more competitive when you get towards MILF status), if you’re not slender, if you have any tattoos. [...] You’re more likely to make compromises on your safety because you really need to get the work.”

Throughout the interview, Stryker emphasized the idea that: BDSM and feminism do not have to be (and often, are not) mutually exclusive. While struggling with the conflict between the seemingly anti-feminist aspects of BDSM and her own values, Stryker turned to her mother for advice: “I was brought up by a family who was very accepting about talking about sex, and so my shame was about having very unfeminist fantasies,” she explains. “I wasn’t seeking equality, I was seeking to be hit by a lover, and that seemed completely against feminism. Later, of all people, my mother recontextualized it for me and was like look, it’s about agency. If you have the agency to enter the situation and the agency to exit the situation, I think that it’s feminist, and that’s a feminist choice you can make.”

Kitty Stryker is many things, but above all, she is shameless: fearlessly navigating the world of porn, exposing the seedy undercurrents of sexual assault within the BDSM community and working to create a better, more inclusive space for those hoping to have BDSM experiences.  Kitty Stryker is both the woman that we so desperately need, and the one that we hardly deserve.