“I wish that it wasn’t what all my interviews were about.”

Tasha Reign is cheerful and patient, but she’s frustrated. I’m on the phone with Reign, an adult performer (porn star, porn actress, sex worker—many in the industry are catholic about the terms they use) and the chairperson of Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, better known by its acronym APAC, asking about the five porn actresses who died recently within weeks of each other.

I wish the media would cover the adult industry in times of goodness and happiness... instead of just when there are suicides and dark times.

She keeps going. “I also wish that the media would cover the adult industry in times of goodness and happiness. When performers are being the artists that they are, and doing well and creating content and unique things and thriving, instead of just when there are suicides and dark times. I think that’s actually a huge part of the issue in and of itself.”

Her frustration is understandable. The deaths of Shyla Stylez, August Ames, Olivia Nova, Yurizan Beltran, and Olivia Lua all occurred between November, 2017 and January, 2018. The tragic cluster got national media attention from all sorts of outlets, including places which only cover the industry when something outrageous happens—or when talking about the president. There was no direct connection between the deaths, which happened for a variety of reasons ranging from suicide to sepsis to overdose.

“I would love if there were one clear solution for why we’ve lost the five performers in the past few months,” says Mike Stabile, the communications director for the Free Speech Coalition, an industry advocacy group. “I don’t think there is. If there were, it would be so much easier.” Similarly, the mononymed Ruby, the vice president of the Adult Performers Actors Guild (APAG), a performers’ union, points out that the deaths mirror rising rates nationally of suicide and drug addiction. “They were bound to reflect in our industry,” she comments via email.

What Stabile, Reign, Ruby, and other performers and advocates are trying to do is take on a number of issues that affect their sex worker compatriots. They want to make a stigmatized and sometimes economically precarious job safer. And, as with any profession—and certainly this cinematic variation on the oldest one—the way to improve things lies first and foremost in listening to the people who do it.

Suicide, as many of the people I talked to in the industry pointed out, is sadly common in many artistic communities. Mia Li, APAC’s president and an adult performer and cam model, noted that she’s seen more than her share of suicides in the peer groups of artists she knows.