The day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade was also the day porn performer Siri Dahl started limiting how often she’d allow colleagues to ejaculate inside of her.
“Alright, AFAB [assigned female at birth] porn performers: we’re all doubling our scene rates for creampie scenes, right?” Dahl tweeted.
“I’m sure a lot of Republican dipshits like to watch it,” Dahl continued. “And personally even if I do have an IUD, I’m not gonna risk my life and health unless I get paid enough to fly across (or leave) the country for a safe and legal abortion.”
This wasn’t an empty promise. Months after Roe was overturned, Dahl now caps the number of creampie scenes she’ll do, which involve a performer with a penis finishing inside their scene partner’s vagina. Dahl, who lives in Kentucky, a state that has banned almost all abortions, is also considering a more permanent way to protect herself from an unwanted pregnancy: She wants to get her tubes tied.
Dahl told VICE News that she doesn’t even want to risk an unwanted pregnancy. “The resources, the time, the emotional aspect—I don't want to be in a position like that. That’s why I’ve decided that, instead of just getting my IUD replaced with a new IUD, I am going to at least try to convince my doctor to give me a tubal ligation,” she said. “For me, it is the only choice at this point.”
In the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eradicated the national right to abortion, many sex workers are wrestling with the possibility that they may be unable to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. They worry abortion bans give doctors more opportunity to spy on them, and worry that traveling across state lines to get a legal abortion will be too expensive. And if the Supreme Court goes after the right to contraception next, their very livelihoods will be at stake.
“We have to maintain our bodies and we have to have autonomy over that. So it is frightening to know that this [abortion] is inaccessible to us,” said Janet Xmas, who has worked as a full-service escort and a dominatrix, among other jobs. Even before Roe’s overturning, Xmas had to leave her home state of Missouri to get an abortion earlier this year. “It's just constantly having to adapt to politics that are just aimed at trying to criminalize and destroy us.”
Sex workers from every corner of the industry are used to being treated like criminals, especially in the wake of a pair of acts known as Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking (FOSTA).
Signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, these acts ostensibly fight sex trafficking, but in practice, amp up surveillance of sex workers. Platforms hosting third-party content—including Instagram, Google, Reddit, or even online payment mechanisms—are liable if content posted by users could be viewed as “promotion of facilitation of prostitution.”
According to dominatrix Savannah Sly, the end of Roe and its impact on bodily autonomy is inherently connected to this kind of legislation. “It's like there's a playbook of tactics that have been deployed on people like sex workers for a long time now, and now it's happening to the broader public,” said Sly, who also serves as director of the sex worker rights group the New Moon Fund.
Conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, have repeatedly connected abortion access to the sex trade and often link the two when pushing for anti-abortion policies. In the majority opinion overturning Roe, Alito suggested that granting people the right to abortion could lead to loosening laws around sex work—something he doesn’t support. “These attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ prove too much,” he wrote. “Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.”
Sex workers have long warned that they are often targets in battles over bodily autonomy.
“This is a lesson as to why the movement for sex workers rights and protecting people in the sex trade is not a niche issue,” Sly said. “Sex workers, like other canaries in the coal mine, help us see down the pipe.”
But Alito would be disappointed to learn that restricting access to abortion doesn’t keep people away from sex work. Advocates suggest that, in reality, forcing someone to have a child they do not want or cannot care for is more likely to push them towards sex work. Multiple studies have found that up to 90 percent of sex workers in non-industrial countries are mothers, and that women often become sex workers out of a desire to support their families.
Once someone becomes a sex worker, their children can be penalized for it. In one survey of 399 Canadian sex workers, 132 said that they’d struggled to get adequate social and family services while pregnant or parenting. They faced a lack of financial support and avoided government help because they worried their children would be taken from them.
“It’s so cyclical,” Sly said. “A lot of sex workers are single parents who are working around their family schedules, taking care of their kids, and they work a lot less hours as a sex worker, for greater risk, so they can spend more time with their family.”
“It's just another example of how morally conservative movements are so shortsighted,” Sly added.
An unplanned pregnancy doesn’t necessarily torpedo a sex worker’s livelihood; some clients like to fetishize pregnant bodies, sex workers told VICE News.
“When I was pregnant, a guy asked me if he could rub my feet, take feet pictures, and I said sure,” said Cristine Sardina, who has been a sex worker for more than 40 years and serves executive director of the sex worker rights group Desiree Alliance. “So that was one way to make a living.”
But in an unreliable industry where workers often live paycheck to paycheck, the unpredictability of an unplanned pregnancy can also be disastrous. It could force a sex worker to change how they do their jobs, or to stop working altogether. Many sex workers aren’t able to cover the heavy healthcare costs associated with pregnancy and giving birth.
“I always recommend performers get health insurance. Always,” said Corey Silverstein, a lawyer who has represented adult industry workers for two decades. But, he pointed out, that’s not always realistic, in part because many people simply don’t have the consistent income to afford it.
While the end of Roe carries unique risks for sex workers, they might actually be better prepared than the rest of the population. They’re far more used to suspicion and uncertainty, and they already have an arsenal of survival mechanisms. Sex workers, Sly pointed out, have long had to be leery of their doctors and border crossings—something that pregnant people seeking abortions now need to think about.
“I have yet to come across one instance in 20 years of a performer actually getting pregnant on set,” Silverstein said. Multiple sex workers told VICE News that, because their job relies on their sexual health, they are far more vigilant about the risks of pregnancy than people who only have sex recreationally.
MO Ho, a sex worker rights organization in Missouri, is already at work setting up a fund for people who need abortions. “We are very, very good at making sure that we find ways to, unfortunately, get around this systematic oppression,” said Zola Bruce, of the Urban Justice Project’s Sex Workers Project. “Because otherwise, you know, we have no support.”
They also added that Black and trans sex workers tend to face more barriers than their cis, white counterparts.
In the meantime, many sex workers worry legislators will take things even further by limiting access to contraceptives next. In his concurring opinion to the decision overturning Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the Supreme Court should review rulings on the rights to contraception and same-sex marriage.
“While the other conservative justices insist that those rights are safe from future attack, why would we believe them?” the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association representing the US adult entertainment industry, said in a statement following the end of Roe.
Even sex workers in blue states are taking precautions.
Henri June, a second-generation sex worker, lives in Vermont, so they feel confident that their legal right to get an abortion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Before Roe’s overturning, they had started to feel “grossed out by men in general,” they said. But afterward, they decided to move solely to doing online sex work.
“Whatever was left in my patience before Roe v. Wade was overturned, it’s just kind of gone-zo,” said June. “It got harder to provide service like that, or even just hold space for gnarly dude behavior in any way.”