Actor James Deen poses for photographers at the 70th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy on Aug. 30, 2013.
Photo by David Azia/AP

Adult film star James Deen labeled the ‘Bill Cosby of porn’

Updated

How did crossover adult film star James Deen go from being lauded as a feminist fellow traveler to loathed as an alleged “Bill Cosby of porn” by The Daily Beast?

Last weekend, Stoya, Deen’s former girlfriend and co-star, went public with accusations of sexual assault against him. This allegation was followed by further claims of sexual assault made by two other adult film performers, Tori Lux and Ashley Fires, and several others on Twitter showed their solidarity with Stoya this week by sharing a #StandwithStoya hashtag.

Deen, who has not been charged with a crime, has vehemently denied the accusations on social media. “I respect women and I know and respect limits both professionally a privately,” he tweeted on Nov. 29. “I want to assure my friends, fans and colleagues that these allegations are both false and defamatory.” MSNBC reached out to Deen’s press contact for further comment but have not heard back at this time. Cosby, the legendary stand-up comedian and former sitcom star, has seen himself tarnished by recent allegations of drugging and/or sexual assault from over 50 women, accusations he too has continuously denied. 

Meanwhile, the damage to Deen’s reputation is already being felt. A sex advice column he regularly penned for the female-skewing website The Frisky was scrapped when the allegations surfaced. “I very much liked James Deen. I enjoyed working with him on [What Would James Dean Do?]. I asked him to do an advice column because I liked his directness and his confidence, but most of all, I liked his emphasis on communication, honesty and, most of all, CONSENT. That he has been accused of violating Stoya’s consent, that women I respect have since contacted me directly to say that they know of others to whom he has done the same thing? Well, I’m f**king heartsick over it,” wrote Frisky editor Amelia McDonnell-Parry on Nov. 29.

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Kink.com, a BDSM pornography website that emphasizes “safe, sane and consensual” working conditions has severed ties with Deen amid the controversy. “Our performers deserve not only safe sets, but the ability to work without fear of assault. Rape or sexual assault, with or without a safe-word, off-set or on, should never be accepted as a hazard of adult production. While many of the allegations against Deen are new, the pattern is alarming,” the site said in a statement. And Deen has voluntarily stepped down from the board of directors for the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee.

In the wake of the news, some, such as adult performer Kitty Stryker, have questioned whether Deen’s boy-next-door image and supposed feminist leanings shielded him from more intense scrutiny. In a Nov. 29 column for Medium she argued that Deen may have used feminism as a “marketable identity to cover up” abusive behavior. “This is not about sex. This is about power. And that power, mixed with toxic masculinity, is a poison that affects all aspects of life, not just the sex industry,” she wrote.

Despite saying he is “maybe” a feminist in Elle this summer, Deen has shied away from the label in the past. “I believe in equality, and I think a lot of feminism has a – I think there’s a lot of really bad people in the feminist movement,” he told The New York Observer last year. “I don’t identify as a feminist. I absolutely do not,” he added.

In a previous Observer interview, Deen said: “I don’t know how to say it without being a hideous prick, but I’m pretty good at having rough sex. It got to the point where a lot of girls who aren’t into that type of sex were afraid to work with me because they thought I was going to slap them in the face or something. But I only do that if the girl is into it. There’s no reason to choke somebody if they don’t like getting choked. Then you’re basically being an a**hole.”

And yet, the perception that Deen was not-your-average male porn star has persisted. He was cast as a lead opposite Lindsay Lohan in a mainstream film production, director Paul Schrader’s infamous “The Canyons” (2013), was the subject of a 2012 “Nightline” profile and several publications have dubbed him the “Ryan Gosling of porn.” Virtually every profile of Deen highlighted his feminist-friendly appeal and swoon-worthy stances on women’s sexuality.

“People have seen his porn scenes as epitomizing good communication during sex,” Margaret Corvid, a UK-based writer and professional dominatrix, told MSNBC Tuesday. “Feminists have hit on him as a feminist icon because so much porn doesn’t really center on female desire.”

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Now his alleged actions are being blasted on both sides of the pornography debate. The non-profit AntiPornography.org tweeted Monday: “It’s horrific that James Deen has raped several women in porn & even more so how porn fuels rape of ALL women.” On the other hand, Corvid has said Deen’s alleged actions could lead to the criminalization of “every form of sex work, including porn,” in an open letter published in The Establishment.“ Given your fame and public pronouncements about consent, your behavior could unleash a conservative backlash that might place the safety and livelihoods of thousands of porn performers at risk,” she wrote to Deen.

The perceptions of women in the industry was very much on the mind of one of Deen’s accusers, Tori Lux.

“A few people with whom I’ve shared this story over the years have asked me why I didn’t call the police as soon as it happened, or publicly speak up about it shortly thereafter. The reason for that is because people—including the police—tend to believe that sex workers have placed themselves in harm’s way, and therefore can’t be assaulted,” Lux wrote in an essay regarding a 2011 incident titled “James Deen Assaulted Me, Too” for The Daily Beast.

Just last year, this cognitive dissonance took on very real dimensions, when adult film star Christy Mack reported brutal physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her former boyfriend MMA fighter Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver. Mack published gruesome photos of the aftermath of a beating she allegedly received from Koppenhaven at her home in Las Vegas on social media, only to see her allegations trivialized and ridiculed by skeptics. The defense attorneys in the case argued that Mack’s background as a porn actress made her more likely than not to consent to rough sex.

Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, Koppenhaven laughed and, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, blew a kiss at the female chief deputy district attorney during criminal proceedings. Koppenhaven, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is currently in jail and set to go on trial for 34 felony counts, including battery, sexual assault and coercion next summer.

“A lot of people don’t see sex work as work. They see it as a negative lifestyle choice where this kind of thing happens. A sex worker can be raped or violated just like anyone else if their consent is broached,” Corvid told MSNBC. “Male violence and rape culture is everywhere,” she added.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, more than a quarter of a million women are sexually assaulted every year. And a 2014 study from the American Journal of Public Health found that sex workers have roughly a 45% to 75% chance of experiencing workplace violence in their lifetime.

Still, Corvid believes that the Deen controversy could potentially be a game-changer for the porn industry. She believes that it could be a rallying cry for the burgeoning sex workers rights movement and raise awareness of the challenges women in the business face. Still, she said adult performers can’t just rely on “community policing.”

“The industry has to take a lead,” she told MSNBC.

James Deen, Rape and Sexual Assault

Adult film star James Deen labeled the 'Bill Cosby of porn'

Updated