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‘Sex positive’ Mike Itkis’ porn tape isn’t doing what he thinks it is


A New York City congressional candidate uploaded his sex tape to PornHub earlier this year, but it made headlines last week. Mike Itkis, an independent whose campaign highlights a “sex positive approach” to domestic policy, reportedly released the tape in part to show support for sex workers. He’s quoted as saying he hopes the porn video will be a “starting point for conversations.

As a former sex worker who cares deeply about the rights and protections of those who work in the industry, I was curious to follow these dialogues. But there aren’t many worth joining.

I’m not here to shame Itkis for making a porno. (I hope he had fun!) But releasing that tape isn’t an act of solidarity. It’s performative allyship.

The video’s popularity is rising, with over 800,000 views, so I waded through the 200 comments posted below it in search of a good debate. But I only found three people discussing politics. Most viewers were telling jokes. On social media, the response is a mix of high-fives, eye rolls, and pearl-clutching. Journalistic platforms aren’t engaged in meaningful discourse either. That’s the problem with this kind of publicity stunt: It’s more of a distraction than a catalyst.

I’m not here to shame Itkis for making a porno. (I hope he had fun!) But releasing that tape isn’t an act of solidarity. It’s performative allyship.

“If I would just talk about it, it wouldn’t demonstrate my commitment to the issue,” Itkis told New York’s City & State, which was the first to report on the video on Friday. 

But gimmicks like this detract from more genuine efforts to share people’s real-world concerns and explore the tangible policies that could improve their lives. The result is typically further stigmatization.

If Itkis truly hopes to start conversations, it’s his responsibility to initiate them — perhaps by posting questions to his constituents on social media or hosting a forum for sex workers to talk about experiences. I’ve yet to see him try to leverage his time in the spotlight for their benefit or invite them to collaborate. This indicates to me that even though Itkis wants to be viewed as different from other politicians, he’s similar in the sense that he’s not ready to give sex workers a real platform to discuss the issues that matter to them.

Activists have been immersed in efforts to support and protect sex workers for decades, often using online spaces to educate the public and learn from each other. Itkis, like most other politicians, isn’t following any relevant advocates on social media, though. I also haven’t seen him engaging with any sex workers outside of the tape he released. 

In that video, his co-star makes a statement revoking her rights to the finished film. I don’t know if or how much the actress, Nicole Sage, was paid for participating, but I worry that terminating her rights means she won’t see any of the film’s profits. As a verified PornHub user, Itkis will receive ad revenue, and he could decide to sell the video to another company. I don’t know if he’ll share that money with his co-star, use the funds for his campaign, or something else — but I worry that the stunt exploits her and the cause. This feels similar to the photo ops politicians regularly use to show they’re engaged in a movement they actually know little about.

This feels similar to the photo ops politicians regularly use to show they’re engaged in a movement they actually know little about.

When I searched Itkis’ campaign website for his official plans and positions, I was disappointed to find vague goals that lack any way to measure progress. The section on campaign issues reads more like a list of buzzwords — but we deserve more information. If he or other politicians want to be taken seriously as allies, they have to demonstrate that they understand our specific needs and experiences.

At the least, politicians who claim to support sex workers should be able to honestly discuss their knowledge or lack of knowledge about the industry, list the relevant legislation or proposals they endorse, and name the activists or organizations that inform their perspectives. Politicians who want to be allies need to clarify their own policies to ensure they’re straightforward, distinct and tangible.

Politicians who are truly informed should be able to discuss the nuance of debates. One of my concerns about the Itkis campaign is that he calls to both decriminalize and legalize sex work. On the surface, this might seem like semantics, but the terms carry an important distinction that those outside the industry sometimes misunderstand.

If sex work is legalized, a system with laws and regulatory oversight will be created. That means sex workers and consumers who participate in the trade outside the sanctioned system would be breaking the law. (If that’s confusing, think of home-grown marijuana deals in states that now require buyers and sellers to use dispensaries.) This perpetuates oppression and protects only those who are privileged enough to remain in compliance. For example, sex workers who lack enough money to pay for access to licenses could be cited or arrested for promoting or performing an unlicensed trade. 

Industry professionals and human rights leaders generally call for full decriminalization without legalization. This allows consenting adults to voluntarily participate in the industry without treating their participation as a crime. The model improves public health and access to social services while upholding protections against exploitation (such as abuse and human trafficking, which should not be conflated with legitimate sex work). By reforming problematic policing practices, decriminalization reduces violence and empowers those who are wronged to self-advocate and seek justice. 

The distinction between legalization and decriminalization is just one example that underlines how important it is for politicians to understand the policies they promote, clarify their language, and outline specific plans. We need allies who understand our own positions on the issues and are ready to be held accountable to the work they say they’ll do.

Voters who want to support sex workers should learn more about the legislation affecting this and other vulnerable groups — especially those living at the intersection of multiple marginalized experiences (such as migrant or trans sex workers). When considering candidates, ask pointed questions about plans to develop new policies that support sex workers and amend the laws that don’t. If conversations get clouded by political stunts and antics, slow down to remind others why it’s important to get back to the real issues at hand. 

Politicians, we deserve more than pillow talk. I hope Itkis enjoyed making his sex tape — but he needs to prioritize listening to the sex workers in his constituency now that he’s done.



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