Pride celebrations take place every year during the month of June to recognize the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community and to educate on the history of social strides made by these individuals. Sexual freedom is one of our core values here at the Hub, and the freedom to love, s♥ck and f♥ck whoever you want is one we revere highly. Pornhub is proud to be a platform that encourages LGTBQ+ content creators to embrace, indulge and express themselves freely amongst likeminded peers.
We’re thankful to our partners at Pineapple Support who continue to offer free and affordable mental health services to members of the adult industry. We spoke to Silva Neves, a psychotherapist specializing in the field of sexuality and relationships with extensive work in the LGBTQ+ community to shed light on some of the issues LGBTQ+ content creators face when working in the adult industry.
Tell us about yourself! How did you get involved in this line of work?
I’m passionate about helping people thrive with their sexuality and intimate relationships. When I qualified as a psychotherapist I was surprised how there was hardly any teaching on sexuality, relationships and LGBTQ+ issues, so I decided to do further trainings to specialise in sexology and intimate relationships. It has been my home ever since. I love to be able to offer a truly non-judgmental space for people to unpack and explore the parts of their lives that are the most private, intimate and vulnerable and feeling safe doing so. This involves some very important specialist knowledge in sexuality and relationship diversity. I wish that these areas of knowledge weren’t so ‘specalist’ because I think that every single psychotherapist and psychologist should be much better educated in sexology to meet the growing needs of people seeking therapy for these aspects of their lives. Unfortunately, if therapists do not have enough knowledge, they might perpetuate the most pervasive myths about sex and relationships. One of the things I enjoy doing is offering training for therapists so that they can improve their work with people who wish to explore their erotic and romantic lives.
Are there any recurring issues you see concerning LGBTQ+ sex workers and how do you address them?
The recurring themes concerning LGBTQ+ people is living in a world where there is ongoing homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. Even in the UK, a country that is liberal and where LGBTQ+ have equal rights, there is still much homophobia, transphobia and biphobia because the world is still heteronormative (the assumption that being straight is the ‘normal’ and everything else is ‘weird’ or ‘alternative’) and mononormative (the assumption that monogamy is the only ‘normal’ and everything else is ‘weird’ or ‘alternative’). Living in this world creates minority stress, the kind of micro-stress that LGBTQ+ feel every day by expecting judgments or even attack, conceiling and editing ourselves so as not to ‘offend’ others.
The recurring themes concerning sex workers are ones of stigma and what is called ‘whorephobia’ which comes with a lot of judgmental and inaccurate assumptions. Some of those assumptions are that people who choose sex work are traumatised and victims, and not accepting that people consciously and affirmatively choose sex work just the same way as other people choose other professions. Some people assume that sex workers are drug addicts or that they are spreading sexually transmitted diseases. The mental health of sex workers is very much affected by society stigmatising them.
So, the recurring themes of LGBTQ+ sex workers is double the minority stress, both in navigating the heteronormative and mononormative world as well as the ‘whorephobic’ stigmatising myths that our society perpetuates.
As I was saying earlier, many therapists are not trained in sexuality and relationship diversity and there is literally no training on the specific needs of sex workers. It means that it is likely for a LGBTQ+ sex worker who want therapy that they might be further pathologised by the therapist. This is why organisations like Pineapple Support are so important because those are the very few safe spaces for sex workers.
The way that I work addressing those issues is by being supportive and affirmative of the LGBTQ+ sex workers’ choice as a legitimate profession, affirming of their sexuality and gender identities and their relationship styles. I’m also affirming that their mental health struggles have a lot to do with our society, and it doesn’t mean they’re ‘broken’. Some sex workers come to me to explore and/or resolve some issues that are specific to their sex work, sex lives and intimate relationships. But some come to see me for entirely different issues, and I never make an assumption that sex work is automatically an issue when it might not be.
couresty of Silva Neves
Are there any concerns more likely to be attributed to certain members of the community?
The sexuality of lesbians can be erased in the way that they can be labelled as the common heterosexual men’s fantasies. So, although they might be in demand, they are not seen as lesbians but as an object of fantasy. This is to do with our patriarchal and heteronormative world. The same goes with trans people, especially the trans people with breasts and a penis, which are also very popular with heterosexual men, so they become fetishized.
In the context of sex work, it may not always be a problem to take on the role of a fantasy or a fetish in itself, but because these things occur for the pleasure of heterosexual men within our heteronormative society, it is sometimes difficult for sex workers to feel that there is a clear line between work (providing a fantasy) and how they are perceived outside of work (de-humanised).
For gay male sex workers, they are usually assumed to be HIV-positive and spreading diseases among the heterosexual people. In the gay male community, being a ‘porn star’ is actually highly prized, which can give a good boost for the sex workers, but the issue with that is that they can also be de-humanise outside of work when some gay men might perceive the sex worker as a ‘trophy’ if they have sex with them rather than a person (I had sex with a porn star, rather than I had sex with so and so).
It is worth mentioning here that some sex workers choose to have sex with people who do not match their sexual orientations (for example, a lesbian deciding to have sex with men for work, or heterosexual men who choose to have sex with men for work). Sex work is work, and those choices are perfectly legitimate as long as the sex worker has no conflicts about their choices.
How can sex work differ for LGBTQ+ performers vs straight performers?
The LGBTQ+ performers have increased risks of mental health because they have to navigate multiple oppression and stigma coming from our society, even in liberal countries like the UK. They have less non-judgemental spaces to choose from if they need help (even healthcare workers like nurses and doctors can have negative and non-judgmental reactions when seeing a LGBTQ+ sex worker, shaming them for their profession). There are also more risks of physical abuse because LGBTQ+ sex workers are doubly marginalised compared to straight performers so they are less likely to call the police and report hate crimes or other crime done to them.
What advice would you give to an LGBTQ+ individual who is just getting started in the industry?
Find your people, your ‘tribe’ who can help and guide you getting started in the industry. This is the best way to combat minority stress and living in a heteronormative and mononormative world: feeling there there is a safe space for them, a group of people, a tribe, where they can be themselves, without editing themselves and without fear of being judged.
What are some of the major positives LGBTQ+ individuals find in sex work?
Some of the major positives of LGBTQ+ individuals in sex work are, as I said above, a place where they can find their tribe, there is much camaraderie amongst LGBTQ+ sex workers (although not always, and not with everyone). Some describe finding a ‘new family’ or a ‘family of choice’ with their sex worker peers. For many, sex work is a passion for them, just like psychotherapy is a passion for me, they can thrive in their profession when people’s erotic is at the forefront of their work. Some sex workers feel proud to provide a unique service for their clients that is much more than helping them with their orgasms. LGBTQ+ porn is often a crucial place where LGBTQ+ people can see and affirm their sexuality by watching LGBTQ+ people have sex, especially since there is so very little inclusive sex education or even discussions about same-gender sex. LGBTQ+ porn can be normalising and affirming for many people, and some sex workers feel very proud of that.
Do you have any advice for "closeted" individuals on how to support themselves?
Some may be closeted with their sexuality, and some are openly LGBTQ+ but closeted with being a sex worker. And some are closeted with both. My first advice would be not to rush in ‘coming out’ because it is not always the best thing to do depending on their circumstances. ‘Coming out’ with judgemental people who are homophobic and ‘whorephobic’ could be dangerous. Again, I would suggest that they find their ‘tribe’, if they’re not comfortable to do so, they can find an online group where there are others like them, even if they don’t actively engage in the group chat, they can still see that there are others like them and they’re not alone. Not feeling alone and ‘broken’ in itself, is very comforting. Of course, there is always the option to see a therapist who is both LGBTQ+ and sex worker- knowledgeable.
How can people be genuine allies?
A genuine ally is one who helps create a safe space for marginalised people who are LGBTQ+ sex workers. It is not just about making one social media post saying ‘I’m LGBTQ+ sex work friendly’. It is not about having a rainbow flag on your website for the Pride month and not doing anything else. Those are token gestures that mean nothing for the community. A true ally is one who challenges the heteronormative and mononormative world on an ongoing basis, throughout the year, and one who encourages the visibility of marginalised people, one who invites LGBTQ+ sex workers to speak for themselves rather than listening to people outside of the industry speaking about them.
Can you speak on self-compassion and self-esteem amongst the LGBTQ+ community? How can sex work be detrimental or empowering?
Everybody could do with a bit more self-compassion and self-esteem. LGBTQ+ or not, sex worker or not, most people give themselves a harder time that is necessary. This is because most people are raised to ‘achieve more’ rather than embracing and loving who they are. We live in a ‘doing’ culture where status matters more than ‘being’ kind and caring, unfortunately. But of course, LGBTQ+ are also raised in the heteronormative world where they would have picked up homophobic messages from society (and sometimes their own family) so it is harder for LGBTQ+ people to have enough self-compassion and self-esteem. It is a long hard road to learn to love themselves. Add to that, the stigma of sex work, and it can be even more difficult to have self-compassion. I believe learning to love ourselves is an act of defiance, it is saying to the oppressive heteronormative world: ‘you won’t get to me, I will thrive despite you!’
Sometimes sex work is very empowering for LGBTQ+ because it is the best non-judgmental place they can find belonging and being as ‘queer’ as they wish. But it can also be detrimental if they are around competitive people rather than supportive people, or if they are not clear about their boundaries and keep having those breached by the people they work with, or if they have pre-existing mental health difficulties such as acute anxiety or severe depression. It is important for people who are LGBTQ+ sex workers to find appropriate professional help at the right time (no delay) to develop their resources (including self-compassion) in order to live in the harsh world we live in.
In your experience, would you say there is a different relationship between pornography and LGBTQ+ individuals?
Yes, definitely. Heterosexual people are often shamed for watching porn and they are often unduly pathologized as ‘porn addict’ – a made-up diagnosis that has so very poor scientific evidence supporting it the international mental health and psychiatric communities (WHO and DSM-5) have rejected its conceptualisation, yet a term (or diagnosis) widely used by therapists, unfortunately.
LGBTQ+, and gay men particularly, have a different relationship with porn. It is much more accepted amongst the gay community, much less pathologized and definitely feeling less shame about it. As I said earlier, gay porn can be affirming and validating for individual’s gay/ queer sexuality and it can be a good place for them feeling visible and embracing their erotic/ sexual pleasure as it feels right for them.
Pineapple Support Society is a free support and therapy service for all persons working in the online adult industry – no matter their gender, ethnic origin, social status, age or sexual orientation. PS have an ever growing team of sex-worker friendly, kink-aware therapists who offer face-to-face and online video therapy sessions. PS operate 24/7, and raise funds to help with the costs of professional coaching, counselling and therapy for those who need it.