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illustration by @estherlalanne

Emotional fluffers, sex parties and ethical porn

How Bedside Productions is reframing pleasure

Anyone who’s listened to The Butterfly Effect podcast knows that the birth of PornHub in the 00s forever changed our relationship with the porn industry. Leading to an explosion of free pornography, the site allowed anyone with the internet to access erotica films online. As revolutionary as this was, it came with many issues, including but not limited to: addiction, exploitation and an increase in sex trafficking. 

Years later, many of these issues continue to hang over the free content found online and as a response, we have seen a surge in ethical porn films. Production house, sex party curator and educational guide Bedside Productions is one of these platforms creating a safer space – not only for performers, but also for consumers.

I was lucky enough to meet writer and editor of Bedside Productions, Polina Bachlakova, at Roskilde Festival in Denmark last month, where she had just hosted a panel event on sex, boundaries and consent in a festival setting. 

As well as providing resources around safety and consent at festival spaces and sex parties, Bedside Productions is creating a new kind of vision for eroticism and intimacy based on these values. This starts with the production, where ‘emotional fluffers’ are a key part of filming on the day. 

If you remember the scene with Martin Freeman and Joanna Page in Love Actually, you’ll be familiar with ‘fluffers’ on the set of porn films – a person whose job it is to keep a porn performer’s penis erect during filming. Coined from this term, an emotional fluffer is present at all of Bedside Production filming to make sure that the performer’s needs are met and their boundaries respected. 

As well as being provided with emotional fluffers, the performers also have a key role in the final film. They decide on the sexual content, determine who they want to work with, and approve the final version. 

Alongside producing films and curating sex parties across Copenhagen, Bedside Productions is also an educational platform that encourages nuanced approaches to sex, eroticism and intimacy in different settings. 

Last year, Polina and the team launched the Classroom Project, an online hub for educational articles on safe sex and drug use. The platform has a range of resources for sex workers, those in the porn industry, partiers, and those who simply wish to pursue pleasure. 

“Pleasure is a huge part of life. It’s something people naturally seek so we need to make space for all different types of pleasure and make sure we have the resources available to make informed choices,” Polina tells me.

Taking a look at the resources available, I was immediately aware that I had never come across anything like them before and they made me question how I had managed my way into adulthood without a bank of information like this. According to Polina, I’m not the only one.

“In terms of drug taking and being sexually explorative, there’s not a lot of information out there on how to be safe. It’s just not accessible. People are always going to do drugs and going to have sex, so our aim is to make sure they have all the information they need.”

And this is exactly what Polina and the Bedside editorial team are ensuring through their range of guides exploring everything from drug taking at sex parties, how to survive shadow bans as a sex worker, and mixing drugs with medication. 

When I ask Polina about how we can navigate sex, boundaries and drugs at a festival, she emphasised the importance of negotiating consent in real-time. 

“If someone says no, how do you accept that gracefully? If someone is pushing your boundaries, how can you be firm but gentle? We need to normalise a culture of having consent ingrained in our interactions,” Polina says.

“Having said this, we need to also remember that it’s not your responsibility to avoid getting assaulted. That’s the tricky thing – there’s only so much we can do individually but normalising language around consent is definitely a beginning in bringing the conversation forward.”

“Festivals are a reflection of all of the issues we have in society – as well as the pleasures, of course,” Polina continues, when I ask if boundaries and consent are particular issues within a festival space. 

“It’s almost inevitable that assault and rape occur at festivals because the numbers are already so problematic in daily life. The problem might be magnified here but ultimately, it’s a wider societal issue.”

Like any other music festival, Roskilde is not immune to cases of sexual assault. However,  unlike other festival’s I’ve attended, it was clearly keen to acknowledge and address this issue through art and installations it had commissioned throughout the site. 

For this year’s festival, Swedish graffiti artist Carolina Falkholt created a mural that incorporated a personal testimony about an assault that previously took place at Roskilde. A powerful message emblazoned across one of the main stages, the artwork highlights how staff are aware of the fundamental issues that take place within festival spaces – and acknowledging they must do better. 

Through the bold art at this year’s festival, it’s clear that Roskilde is prioritising safety and understands that collaborating with organisations such as Bedside Productions is a valuable way to do this. 

And although these actions won’t eliminate these problems altogether, it is definitely something I welcomed. The festival proves that creating positive spaces for conversations around sex and pleasure can – and should – be normalised as a provision at events.

What can you do? Organisations to follow

  • Beducated: The sex education platform for adults
  • Erika Lust: Sex positive, indie adult films that focus on female pleasure
  • Ferly: An audio guide to mindful sex
  • Good Night Out: tackles safety in music, culture and club spaces. 
  • OMGyes: The platform focusing on women’s pleasure
  • Make Love Not Porn: Real couples having real sex. Films are submitted by couples, who make back half of the film’s profits

Roskilde Festival 2023 will take place from Saturday 24 June to Saturday 1 July. Find out more at roskilde-festival.dk and follow the official 2023 event on Facebook.

illustration by @estherlalanne who says “this illustration is focused on creating a narrative where characters feel safe in an intimate space. their body language and expression convey they feel free and are at ease, showing that both eroticism and respect can co-exist. the warm colours suggest a comforting setting, the gradients swirling like a cocoon is held by two ‘emotional fluffers’ enveloping the actors creating an inviting space.”
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