‘The Sex Factor’ by Xhamster: what the actual fuck

This post includes discussion of coercion and non-consent. If you give a shit about spoilers, it also contains details of episodes 2 and 3 of SexFactor. 

It’s a reality show in which wannabe porn stars compete to complete challenges which include anything from sultry poses to full-on fucking: of course I have watched ‘Sex Factor’. I usually avoid Xhamster, but this show has had a huge amount of press attention, so I couldn’t really not.

And I have very, very, VERY strong feelings about it.

My initial thought was ‘oh, this sounds quite cool – maybe a light-hearted exploration of some of the more everyday quirks of a porn set.’ I assumed that, because it was being made as a PR exercise mostly, it would be fun and lighthearted.

It. Is. Not. That.

It is about as fun as discovering Simon Cowell in your bedroom, screaming through a megaphone about your sexual performance. As enjoyable as walking in on a conversation between two strangers deciding which bits of your body are gross. As ‘lighthearted’ as schoolyard bullying.

What’s more, the way it deals with performer consent is utterly fucked.

I’m writing this because although I’ve seen a couple of reviews, I’m yet to see anything that deals with the things that troubled me (although this piece does tackle the issue of consent and boundaries in episode one). I’m not a porn performer, and most of the stuff I know about it I’ve learned from indie porn performer/producer friends. If you’ve any more insight or you’d like to join in, please do leave a comment or get in touch with me if you’d like more space to write a guest blog.

Before I delve in, let me say that there are some redeeming features. Lots of the contestants seem like lovely people, and a couple of the judges seem nice too. In Episode 3 there is a ridiculously hot, and simultaneously adorable scene between The Colonel and Khaya Peake, directed by Lexi Belle, which made me grin like a kid in a sweetshop. But these moments are overshadowed by the rest.

Sex Factor as cruel reality TV

Sex Factor contestants are shoved into situations they have never been in before, told to perform or they’re out, and then viciously critiqued for anything from their tattoos to their tit jobs. I appreciate that, when you’re working with your body, there are some things you need to be aware of. A tattoo that says ‘fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’ probably isn’t going to work if you’re playing a ‘good girl’ character. But in episode two the women all take part in a glamour photoshoot and by about halfway through – after countless comments of ‘too stiff’ and ‘gottta work out’ and ‘bad boob job’ and ‘she just doesn’t have it’ – I felt ready to crawl under a duvet and cry.

It was the opposite of supportive, and if my boss treated me like that in any job I would be straight on the phone to the union rep. There’s a huge gulf between critique and cruelty, and this was not critique.

The men, meanwhile, went to a strip club to learn some moves on the pole. They got slightly better feedback, although a couple of them were ripped to shreds for not knowing how to pole dance (Is this a skill we’re all supposed to have learned? Because I dance like a fish trying to flip its way out of a bucket). There was a slightly more supportive atmosphere, though, and I suspect that’s because the host – Asa Akira – seemed pretty keen on everyone having a good time.

So far, most of my criticisms could be dismissed by ‘oh but it’s a reality show‘ – and I realise that. Reality shows are hyper-unrealistic situations, combined with ‘characterful’ judges who break down the contestant’s confidence until at least one of them bursts into tears to create a ‘good telly moment.’ They caricature human beings and turn them into heroes, villains, and comedy bit parts.

But that is not all that Sex Factor does.

Sex Factor fucks up consent

I do not like the way that Sex Factor deals with sexual consent. I don’t like the way performers are thrown into a scene, then shouted at to perform, then berated for being uncomfortable about performing. I don’t like the excessive pressure they are put under, which is then ramped up to 11 because – hey! It’s reality TV! What did you expect?!

Let’s remember that none of these people were professional porn stars before they started the programme – the hook is that they’ve never shagged on camera before, they just responded to an open casting call. So consent, respect, politeness: all of these things should be key lessons, especially so early in the series.

And yet. One of the judges (Keiran Lee) embodies many of the things that I’ve heard ethical porn producers speak out against. He grabs people’s legs to move position, touches them mid-scene, gets his face right up next to their junk to demonstrate things, and only occasionally – usually after the fact – says ‘is that OK?’ Shudder.

Here’s an example from episode 3. Compare and contrast:

Remy Lacroix – one of the mentors – oversees an incredible sex scene between two of the contestants. They romp in the sunlight by the pool, and she’s encouraging, constructive, and complimentary. Their scene is incredibly hot, and they seem happy.

In a different scene, Keiran Lee (who has either been deliberately told to play up his ‘dickhead’ side, or is actually a solid-gold dickead), begins by telling the male performer:

“You HAVE to get your dick hard, man. If you don’t?… You’re never gonna make it.” Which is about as relaxing for the poor lad as being made to do it while standing on his head. With his Mum watching. In a walk-in freezer.

Kieran then spots Blair (the female performer in the scene), exclaims to fellow judge Asa Akira ‘LOOK AT HER VAGINA!’, before grabbing Asa’s head and shoving it towards Blair’s crotch. It’s not the only head-shoving Asa has had to deal with in the series so far – when the guys were practicing their stripping, one of them got onto her lap, grabbed her head, and held it right in front of his crotch even as she tried to pull away. I hope these things were discussed off-camera beforehand, but I don’t know.

“Is that OK?”

Later in the scene, Kieran grabs Blair by the throat, slaps her face, tells the other guy “See? You can grab here there, choke her, do all that shit.” *long pause before he turns to Blair* “Is that OK?”


Blair says ‘yes’ and smiles, which is… umm… good I guess? But surely Kieran should have asked before he grabbed her by the throat? Combine that with the fact that Kieran is the judge, therefore technically Blair’s boss, and all the cameras are rolling, I suspect she was under an extraordinary amount of pressure to say ‘yes.’ That’s not to say she didn’t mean it, just that I don’t think ‘after the fact, in an incredibly high-pressure situation’ is the right time to be asking that question.

And oh, more. So much more. But I want to get to the bit that shocked me most.

Dani Darko

Dani is one of the women competing in the show. In Episode 3, the episode revolves around coupled scenes, in which the performers are all paired off to fuck. I don’t know if they got to choose who they were working with, or they picked names out of a hat, but I’d hazard a guess that it wasn’t the former, because quite a few of them seemed either delighted or disappointed with who they ‘got.’ This doesn’t seem like the best of starts, but let’s press on. Dani got paired with a cute guy named Johnny Black, who seemed quite nervous but keen to give it a good shot.

Once on set, Keiran Lee (him again!) starts directing, in his usual style. Grabbing their heads while they’re kissing, whispering in their ears, etc. At one point when Johnny’s eating Dani out, Kieran leaps in…

“What you wanna do is…” *grabs her leg, hauls her around the sofa* “get her up like that.” She giggles, and he continues. No ‘is this OK?’ after the fact this time, just grabbing, moving, then a swift exit.

In the voiceover, Johnny explains that he didn’t like the way Dani kissed, and he had to ask her not to put her tongue down his throat. He struggles to get hard (understandable, especially when as soon as it’s apparent there’s a problem, Keiran Lee stomps in to tell him “it looks like a little frightened slug”) and Johnny and Dani eventually end the scene in some softcore positions.

So far, so ‘oh God this is awkward but I think I can keep watching.’

Now let’s skip to the end: the bit where they line up all the contestants in a row and explain who’s going home because they weren’t good enough.

“Dani. You crossed the line by disrespecting your partner’s boundaries. After he said he didn’t like that, you continued to do so.”

“Dani – crossing your partner’s boundaries is one of the worst things that you can do. You really need to respect that boundary. When somebody says ‘no’, you do not push further. Ever. And for that reason you have to go home.”

Dani says “I didn’t know I’d crossed any boundaries.”

Tori Black: “Maybe that’s the problem.”

Yes. Yes it absolutely is the problem. And I want to be really careful here to articulate this properly, because crossing someone’s boundaries is a fucking appalling thing to do, especially if you’re supposed to be a professional. It’s appalling far beyond just ‘Dani needs to be chucked out’, it’s unacceptable in how the show dealt with it – as if it were just a plot point.

When they told her that, I had no idea which boundary had been crossed. I deduced later that maybe it was the tongue thing – perhaps she’d continued snogging with tongues even after Johnny asked her not to. But why make the audience play some sort of weird deduction game to work it out? If Kieran – who was directing the scene and so involved he was practically fucking the performers himself – had spotted a problem during the scene, why did he not stop the scene and deal with it then and there? He, as the director, has a responsibility to the performers. And he’s as responsible for Johnny’s well-being as he is for Dani’s. If he noticed that she was doing something that Johnny had asked her not to, why did he not say anything? Why was he not checking in with the performers to make sure they were OK?

Moreover, if he genuinely couldn’t have known during the scene, but discovered it later (maybe after a chat with Johnny) then why on Earth ‘save it up’ for a ‘good telly moment’? Why leave Dani bewildered as to what she’d done rather than explain to her exactly so she could make sure to never do it again? Why put Johnny in the deeply uncomfortable position of having to watch as Dani got a dressing-down in front of the entire cast and crew?

Maybe Kieran discussed this with Johnny beforehand, and he was OK with it. Maybe. Maybe I’ve no right to comment on it, because I’m not – and never have been – a performer or producer on a porn set.

But maybe it’s also true that SexFactor showcases some of the ugliest mainstream porn industry tropes: non-consent, aggressive pressure, extreme nitpicking about the details of someone’s body. Perhaps it’s a skewed representation of all the individuals involved – as most reality TV is. Maybe it’s played up for drama, or stirred up for effect.

I don’t know exactly, because I don’t have all the behind-the-scenes info. But I do know that it’s nothing like the porn set I visited, or other sets I’ve heard about from performers and friends. And porn doesn’t have to be made like this. There are plenty of ethical porn producers creating films with people who they respect, treating everyone on set well, and leaving no one with a nasty taste in their mouth. There are some recommendations at the bottom of this post – please do include any others in the comments.

I’ll leave you with this quote from The Sex Factor’s ‘about’ page:

“xHamster`s goal is to raise awareness in the community about safe sex and the health of men and women around the world.”

get in the bin


  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    For a show that’s had ‘a huge amount of press attention’ this is the first I’ve heard of it, but I guess I’m reading the wrong newspapers…

    Sounds pretty depressing (like most reality TV), although I would expect/hope that more it is actually staged than appears to be the case (again, like most ‘reality’ TV).

    The ironic thing is, from the sound of it, that it lives up to an anti-porn crusader’s view of what the porn industry is like. And probably some parts of it *are* like that, with people being judged harshly and bullied by domineering directors with dubious attitudes to consent. But if you’re trying to promote porn as a fun and exciting career choice, that’s a funny way to depict it.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah yeah maybe I shouldn’t have said ‘press’ because it’s more than possible it’s just my filter bubble. But yeah, it’s a pretty neat demonstration of lots of the things anti-porn crusaders think are ‘inevitable’ or ‘acceptable’ simply because porn.

  • Bekah Rigby says:

    In an age where consent seems more and more to be perceived as “optional” (yes, I’m looking at YOU, Stanford Rapist), you’d think that a show that’s supposed to promote awareness about sex would be SUPER fucking clear on how to be clear that you’re fucking the right way.
    I don’t understand people.
    I just don’t.
    I wish I had something far more articulate to say than that, but it’s exactly how I feel.

    • Azkyroth says:

      Uh, no, the opposite. “Consent being perceived as optional” is more or more being seen as out of the ordinary.

  • Vida says:

    I think we do a great line in pretending porn is all great and wonderful and modern and everybody has a liberated time.

    I don’t think most of it’s like that. I think most of it is probably more like this, but no one can say so in case they damage the industry. The descriptions that came out after Stoya’s revelation sounded more like this than I’d been hoping (or maybe just kidding myself). They made me very reluctant to stand up for porn when people are clutching their pearls about it.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I’m not sure we do, to be honest – I think those who are most likely to speak out about shitty practices in porn are directors and performers who know how to do it better. I know that the anti-porn arguments often seem to paint pro-porn people as thinking it’s all sunshine and flowers, but actually I think the most valuable discussions being had are by independent/ethical producers, who have a very good argument when they’re speaking out against porn, because they can show that it doesn’t have to be this way.

      I definitely have a fairly one-sided view of porn, because the porn performers/producers that I know and have worked with have always put ethics at the core of their work. I know they’re in the minority, but I think… well… what are the alternatives? Either we say ‘porn can be incredibly exploitative’ and thus give up on all porn altogether (although it wouldn’t stop existing – it’d just continue to be shitty and exploitative under the radar) or we can say ‘some porn is exploitative, but it doesn’t have to be this way – look at all these people who are doing it much better.’ I think the latter is kind of my point whenever I talk about porn. And I think as a pro-porn person, it’s really important to hold porn up to criticism like any other industry. There’s a longer thingy I wrote about it here a while ago if you’re interested: https://www.girlonthenet.com/2014/10/22/porn-censorship-feminist-porn-debate/

  • Andrew says:

    Now I am imagining a lovely supportive “Great British Get Off” but I fear it would be ruined by endless “soggy bottom” jokes.

  • Gilly langley says:

    Good Lord I’m not going to even attempt to watch an episode but my God a chance here to do what the statement said and prove that ethical consensual porn can be made. Lets hope these poor folk taking part are being asked prior or a whole legal can of worms is going to open up. Sounds like the industry folk are truly showing their horrid colours shame it was not an ethical porn producer getting the exposure and making something really positive to give the industry a better name.

  • KYPREOS says:

    HALLO , i will not use my real name or my real Email, but if you be kind enought to send me an answear to the Email that i am using for this perpose it would be for me a releve… I will start now explaining what is going on…Before 2 months my colligs start having a weard behavior, and after a while someone told me that there ara videos from a girl with the name ……… in internet! I dont know how many people from the company that i am working ,have seen this video { there are 6 videos, 4 of them are mein and the other 2 refering to my name bat it is not me bat they are all in a grup with the name ………} the Manager from the company that i work want me to quit my job! I would like to notice at this point that I DIDNT KNOW that this person was filming me in my PRIVATE moments.PLEASE …!!!!!! I dont know what to do…. PLEASE ANSWEAR TO MY IN THIS EMAIL , so that i can give more deteils .I would like you please to remove this video,its harmful to my reputation,my job,it is emotionally traumatic.PLEASE come in kontakt with me from this Email if anybody can help me? Thank you for your time.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hey, I’m so sorry – that’s an awful thing to have to deal with. You need to get in touch with the site that is hosting the video and they should take it down. If you report it to the police too they might be able to prosecute whoever did it. Best of luck.

      • KYPREOS says:

        Thank you very mach! I am glad someone answaerd! I just send an Email to them, explaining the situation.. I HOPE that they would be kind enought to take down this videos! THANK YOU VERY MACH for your respons, it was very helpful! I dont have anything agenst porn videos,and the people that they like to take part, i respect their choices, but it is not beutifull to use hidden camera to damaged a persons life. I wisch you ,with all my hart ,a beautiful new year!

        • Girl on the net says:

          You’re welcome – I hope they can take the videos down soon, and sorry again that this happened to you. May you have a better year this year! x

    • KYPREOS says:

      I am sorry wrong Emai,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.