Is There Such A Thing as "Ethical Porn"?

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One question I hear a lot as someone in the adult industry who also identifies as a feminist is, "What *is* ethical porn? " And is it even possible?

I’ve written about ethical pornography in the past, and it’s a topic I think about a lot as a porn performer myself. I am personally of a mind that a set of standards would be useful, as it’s easy to label something as “feminist” or “ethical” when there’s no clear definition of what that entails. I don’t see a company that only hires slender white women as particularly feminist, or a site that tells performers they have the right to safer sex supplies, but then will get a kill fee for insisting on them, as particularly ethical, for example. Yet, of course when “feminist porn” or “ethical porn” become marketable points, you’re going to see the quality vary across the board. That’s similar to other areas where politics meet an industry- the food industry with “organic”, for example, or what “fairtrade” actually means in practice for  those making handicrafts.

 


Image: Colin Brown via Flickr

I have my own checklist for what makes porn ethical, and I know that over in the UK the Ethical Porn Partnership is forming to address this issue.  I think having some basic agreements, especially ones that address sexism, racism, transphobia ,and safer sex allowances, would be a first step towards making the adult industry an ethical workplace. It’s one of the reasons I’m excited about performers maintaining their own sites, creating and selling content on their own terms. Personally, I feel creating ethical porn also involves a safe workplace – making sure that people are expected to be sober on set and not employing people who are abusive, though I acknowledge that can be more difficult to enforce when the behaviour isn’t witnessed on set.

One of the things I find important is that the discussion of ethical pornography needs to acknowledge gender diversity. The adult industry is one of the only areas where women are often paid more than men, and is therefore a path of potential upward mobility, especially useful for those without degrees yet. When even entry level jobs seem to require you have multiple years experience, as well as a Bachelor’s degree, is it any surprise that some people turn to pornography to pay the bills? This is not only true of cisgender women, but trans* women, who struggle to get employed or keep their jobs if their trans* status is outed. To stigmatize porn performers is often to further marginalize people who are already marginalized.

I think it’s frustrating that this is true of the adult industry, to be honest. I’ve written about my own desire to leave the industry and move on to other employment, as I entered sex work like many do, to pay bills while going to school. Even though I have excellent references and know what I’m doing, it’s been incredibly difficult to get past my searchable porn history. I’ve particularly noticed that women who have a history with the adult industry are, over and over again, punished for it while simultaneously being told they need to be “saved” from it. This stigma keeps people who may be unhappy doing porn from being able to do anything else. That’s not a great basis for any type of ethical work… when you have no other options. Considering these people offering to “save” people from the adult industry often fall short of practical support in getting another job, I’m not buying it.

It’s interesting to me that an 18 year old male high schooler was kicked out of school for being a porn performer and then taken back thanks to the support of the other students and his mother. Would it have been different if he wasn’t a cisgendered male? We already know how teachers are treated, even if revenge porn of them is posted online and they have no agency over the images being released, even if it’s a racy photo. Once you’ve been an adult performer, you’re given the scarlet letter for life. As the aforementioned student said, ”It’s just (my mom) trying to feed me and the dogs and pay bills,” so he went into porn, a job with flexible hours, a good time-to-money ratio, and constant demand. Who can blame him, or anyone else struggling to get by in this economy, for taking that step?

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