When filming yourself in the bedroom, a lot can go wrong really fast. So how can you ensure your experience stays sexy?
Last weekend at Coachella, rapper Isaiah Rashad began his show with a montage of reactions to his recent sex tape leak. It was the first time he’d been seen in the public eye since a hacker released the tape online in February, outing Rashad and blowing up the infamously private rapper’s personal sex life.
These days, it seems sex tapes are everywhere. We have the Hulu series Pam and Tommy showcasing a mesmeric narrative of two celebrities who wanted to create a private something to spice up their sex lives. Sex tapes have also created public inflection points for Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and many others. In all these stories, the implication is clear: Making these movies may seem like a fun idea at the time, but if they leak, they can have damaging consequences for those involved.
Yet despite this danger, sex tapes are here to stay. So how should we approach making them?
When it comes to the topic of sending nudes, dick pics, and thirst traps on social media, the statistics are astounding. In 2018, GQ dubbed this “the age of sending nudes,” with 40% of 16- to 24-year-olds agreeing that sending nudes is the new normal. The ninth annual Singles in America survey found that 38% of young singles between the ages of 18 and 22 have sent an X-rated image of themselves, making it among the more widespread sexual practices of the day. And yet, even in the era of OnlyFans and bespoke pornography, sex tapes still remain a massive taboo. There are more than 170 million users on OnlyFans today, and pornography is the most popular content on the platform. With emerging tech platforms, and even deepfake porn being proliferated online, there are many ways your face could end up online in a sexual context.
“I could come up with endless reasons why a person, couple, or group may be interested in making an erotic film, or really any adult content,” says Lauren Morris, a relationship and sex therapist and founder of Glimmer Therapy Services. “Another way to think about this question is, ‘Why are we turned on by the things we are turned on by?’ In my experience, and in the research I’ve consumed, there isn’t usually a causal link between what we like and why we like it. Sometimes, there’s not even a correlation. Instead, there’s a conversation in here about how desire and arousal work.”
Desire is all about context, Morris believes. “For some, making an erotic film might help create the context for our brains to light up with desire. And creating the right context creates desire,” she says. “And desire can—but doesn’t always—lead to an arousal response. This whole process feels good—it’s pleasurable, and we are wired to want pleasure!”
When it comes to the risk and reward of making a sex tape with your partner, things can get complicated fast. Writer and sex educator Emily Nagoski writes extensively about the neuroscience of desire in her bestselling book Come as You Are, and has broken down the science of potential threats when it comes to sex.
“The sexual response mechanism in your brain has both an accelerator, which responds to sexy things, and a brake, which responds to potential threats like STIs, unwanted pregnancy, social reputation, sexual shame, and body self-criticism. The process of becoming aroused is the process of both turning on all the ons and turning off all the offs.”
“The sexual response mechanism in your brain has an accelerator and a brake, which responds to potential threats. [Arousal] is the process of both turning on all the ons and turning off all the offs.”
In the context of making a sex tape with a partner, there are risks that immediately come to mind, like: “What if they share it with their friends? What if my friends see it? What if my partner uses it to blackmail me?” These are all potential threats. However, the threats can be overpowered by the rewards. For sex tapes to be a good part of your sex life, the context needs to be low-pressure, explicitly erotic, and highly affectionate—and it starts with talking about it.
“It’s a fun, sexy, and fulfilling part of a healthy sex life. It can add excitement to the moment and makes me feel coveted and adored. It’s great to rewatch later for inspiration or self-fulfillment,” says Kayli Jarosz, who has been making films with her partner for a couple of years.
There are many ways to bring up making an erotic film with a partner—some more casual than others. “I think the discussion normally begins during sexting,” says Jessicah Hopkins, who has made sex tapes with a couple of different partners. “I personally love taking and sending nudes. I have so much good lingerie that normally gets ripped off so quickly, and it just deserves to be appreciated more. Plus I love being a tease and turning guys on, especially at random times. So [texting] is a good way to do that. It’s just fun. Keeps things interesting.”
For Jarosz, the conversation started with a simple question: “Would you want to make a sexy film together?”
Liara Roux, a sex worker, author, and organizer who has been making sex tapes since they were 18, emphasizes the importance of consent as an ongoing process. “With sex tapes, it’s important to get consent at each step along the way. ‘Are you okay with having sex on video? Are you okay with me saving the video? Are you comfortable with me sharing it with my friends? Would you think it’s hot if I sold it on OnlyFans?’ You can’t just record a video of someone and use it however you like—you need to make sure they’re down!”
When making a video with another professional for OnlyFans or another public platform, Roux has the other performer sign a contract to make it clear how they each can use the video. If they’re making a tape with their partner, they ask questions like, “Would you mind me selling this? How do you feel about your face being in it? If you don’t want me to sell it, are you okay with me showing it to my pervy friends?”
“I would never want to shoot a video with someone that I have to convince! I prefer extreme enthusiasm. It’s much hotter for me that way. Having conversations that make it clear how we both want the video to be used upfront makes both of us feel comfortable,” says Roux.
Morris recommends some exercises you can introduce to better navigate consent.
“With my clients, we get specific, and for folks who are interested in making an erotic film, this may also be a helpful template. We use tools like Yes/No/Maybe/Fantasy checklists to determine what is on or off limits—I like this one from Heather Corinna and CJ Turett—and talk through positive and challenging sexual contexts in detail—I like using the “sexy contexts” worksheets from Nagoski. When it comes to discussing boundaries, I use Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent to have a robust, ongoing conversation. The Wheel of Consent centers around the questions, ‘Who is doing the action?’ and ‘Who is the action for?’” says Morris.
Morris warns this might seem more complicated than it is, but the most important thing this conversation requires is self-reflection and honesty. Morris mentions asking specifics like “Will you do…?” And “May I do…?” as important places to start in an ongoing conversation about consent when creating films.
The bottom line is that humans aren’t perfect, and leaks happen. In the case of a lot of celebrity sex tapes, there is usually a hacker involved—or in the case of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, a literal thief. In non-celebrity sex tapes, there might be a breach of trust in the form of an ex sharing revenge porn, or harassing online. Hopkins refers to a time she had to deal with a sex tape leak involving a coworker when she worked in HR.
“Our company’s social media pages were sent explicit video of one of our employees, along with their LinkedIn page. The individual who sent the videos was trying to get back at the employee by sharing this private information,” she explains. “Again, while it was clearly an extremely embarrassing situation for the employee, he was not reprimanded in any way and we actually worked with authorities on his behalf. While I’m sure not all companies would necessarily operate this way, as it would maybe depend on the content—i.e., was it at work?—it just helps to exemplify why I think the repercussions would be more embarrassing than actual serious consequences, like losing a job.”
So with potential leaks (and their frequent professional consequences) acting as arguably the number one deterrent for making a sex tape, what steps can you take to avoid them?
“It’s important to get consent at each step along the way. ‘Are you okay with having sex on video? Are you comfortable with me sharing it with my friends? Would you think it’s hot if I sold it on OnlyFans?’”
“Sometimes I will jokingly say, ‘You better not share that’—but normally it’s more of a reasonable assumption that that is not the right thing to do. I’ve never laid any ground rules or anything like that. However, if it were to be leaked publicly I would pursue legal action,” says Hopkins.
As we know, consent is an ongoing process. People who are first-time sexual partners, or generally newer to sexual experiences, or challenged with nonverbal communication, or even those with trauma history might have trouble establishing consent when making sex tapes, says Morris. She also notes that the idea that your partner “should just know” is a frequent cause of consent conflict, instead recommending explicit communication as the best policy to ensure your sex tape experience stays safe and sexy.
“It would be a massive breach of trust to know footage had been shown or sent to others without prior consent,” says Jarosz. “We’re proud of our bodies and sexuality, and with that sense of pride comes a sense of privacy. Because of the trust we’ve built, the more likely scenario would be a Cloud hack of the backed-up footage, in which case we’d seek legal repercussions against the responsible party if possible.”
Putting your body out into the world does leave you susceptible to others seeing it—that’s a given. But when is the line drawn when it comes to showing your friends a nude you received, or a tape you made?
“Honestly, I know that my photos, videos, etc. have likely been shown to other people. I know, personally, I’ve shared footage others have given me with my girlfriends—sometimes something is just really hot and you’re like, ‘Girl, I have to show you something.’ Or even with my personal nudes, I’ll send them to my girlfriends first to make sure they look good. We even have a snap group called ‘Nude Review Group.’”
While this might make some uncomfortable, Hopkins does note that showing your friends a dirty photo is entirely different from leaking it publicly. “For example, if someone were to send that footage to my family I would be completely mortified. However, life would move on. It would be a learning experience, and I probably wouldn’t be as free with things I am anymore—but I don’t think there would be serious repercussions. Just having to explain it to family, my future kids one day possibly, or even future partners—depending on how public it is—would be the most embarrassing part. It’s something that so many people do.”
“Show it is normal, equip individuals with the vocabulary and knowledge to talk about sex maturely, and at the end of the day, I think the result will be healthier sexual relationships overall,” Hopkins states. “I am an extremely sex-positive person, so in no way do I want to discourage individuals from exploring [sex tapes. The solution is] to talk about it more.”