The Happy Trail

Ethical porn: The lowdown

Porn is ubiquitous — is there a way to ensure its morality?

Perusing one’s options — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whether you have never seen porn before or you watch it every day, you may have wondered about what’s going on behind the scenes, if the scenes are consensual and if the actors are getting paid fairly.

There is a history of porn being fought back against by feminist groups as well as conservative groups that see pornography as misogynist and inaccurate portrayals of sex. Other feminists claim that as long as pornography is understood as a theatrical performance instead of “real” sex, there is nothing wrong with viewing it.

There is no consensus, but there is no question that Americans watch a LOT of porn. According to PornHub’s 2016 year in review data, visitors to the website viewed a grand total of 91,980,225,000 videos.

Despite the ubiquity of porn (we know that 70 percent of millennial men and 30 percent of millennial women watch porn at least once per week according to a PornHub 2016 survey), the understanding of ethical porn remains muddy. There is well-known abuse of women specifically in the adult film industry, portrayed in the Netflix documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” in which women agree to shoot a scene involving a certain act but then get coerced during the scene into a more hard-core act.

The organization “Fight the New Drug” claims that no porn is ethical because it hurts those watching it by creating unrealistic expectations of sex, creating pornography addictions and harming relationships and people’s relationship with sex.

However, feminist porn star, sex worker and sex educator Annie Sprinkle once said on her blog, “The answer to bad porn isn’t no porn … it’s to try and make better porn!”

This “better porn” is marketed as “ethical porn,” which is pornography that is made fair-trade with performer’s rights and well-being at the forefront. In other words, the actors aren’t forced to do anything in their scenes. Usually, ethical porn sites place a special interest in bodies that aren’t extremely thin, white and hairless. They also often enlist real couples or friends.

According to Autostraddle, a website focused on LGBTQ+ women, a little-known fact is that BDSM porn is often the most consensual (and in turn, ethical) kind of porn because the BDSM community relies heavily on consent.

It is extremely difficult to cover all of your ethical bases in our global capitalist world. The complexities of each action we take can be ethical in many ways but unethical in ways that we cannot see. For example, we cannot always prove consent even when it appears to be evident, we cannot guarantee that our money is making its way to the laborers of the product we are using and so on.

In this way, likely no “ethical porn” is completely ethical. The steps it takes from production to appearing on our personal screens are far too complex for us to have control and make ethical decisions on everything.

However, this is the way that we live and act as consumers in every other aspect of our lives as well, including our food, clothing, technological devices and so on. In other words, as consumers in a capitalist world, there is certainly no black and white; instead there are actions we can take that are slightly more and slightly less ethical.

There are some ways you can make sure the porn you’re watching is more ethical. For example, you can try to find the performer consent policy on the website, find performers on social media, watch the non-porn content on the same site with interviews with the performers that will more explicitly show them giving consent, and yes, pay for porn.

“A viewer will hit most of their ethical concerns if they’ve pulled out a credit card to watch it. When it comes to sex work, payment is an expression of consent between the worker and the client, and that’s no different in pornography,” Jiz Lee, a queer porn star, said in a blurb on her book, “Coming Out Like a Pornstar.”

Finally, at least know the company that produced the porn you’re watching. If you’re on a tube site (such as Pornhub or XVideos), you can go to the producing company’s website instead so that you can support them more directly.

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