So it's Friday night, you and the girls are a bit tipsy, and someone suggests watching something a little bit harder (pun intended) than Magic Mike XXL. A few moments into ViXXXens 2, however, something strikes you: that position couldn't possibly be making her cum . . . in fact, you're pretty sure it would hurt.
You know it's acting, but she doesn't look like she's enjoying herself, and suddenly neither are you. The twist in your gut could be the result of too much tequila, but you think it's far too similar to the feeling you had when you found out that battery hens were kept in tiny cages.
So now what? Well, just like you eat free-range eggs, you can still watch porn; maybe you just have to make it more ethical.
What is ethical porn?
Ethical porn (sometimes called feminist porn) began in the late '80s and early '90s when third-wave feminists started to voice the opinion that porn and sex work needn't be oppressive to women and might actually be enjoyable (say what?). They built on the sexual freedoms that second-wave feminists had won in the '60s and '70s (thanks, ladies), but they focused on intersectionality, taking into account people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. They had also learned from the devastation of AIDS, and so safe sex became commonplace in feminist porn (but not in other sectors of the industry).
The theory behind ethical porn is that when the performers are treated fairly, they perform better, and better performances mean more money for the company and more fun for you and your friends.
One of the main differences between ethical and mainstream porn is that ethical porn offers a diversity of performers without treating them as fetishes.
How does ethical porn correspond with feminist issues?
Ethical porn promotes intersectionality, which is important not only for performers but for viewers as well. People want to see themselves represented in the media they consume, but not as a one-dimensional stereotype of themselves.
It encourages people to explore what turns them on, rather than what they think should turn them on, and allows them to get off without compromising their ethics. It also protects the people who work in the industry by providing fair wages and workers' rights, which we can all agree is a good thing.
When did ethical porn come into the public eye? (Pun unintended)
In terms of public knowledge, ethical porn only really came to the forefront in the last decade or so. It received greater public attention through award shows like the Feminist Porn Awards and PorYes and even a TED Talk from Cindy Gallop, the founder of Make Love Not Porn, a site that aims to show the difference between porn and sex.
Cindy thinks that one of the main problems is that, as a society, we shun any talk of sexuality. She said, "When you force something, anything, into the shadows and underground, you make it a lot harder for good things to happen, and you make it a lot easier for bad things to happen."
Ethical porn seems too good to be true . . . so, is it?
It has its problems, but these issues stem from the porn industry in general, rather than from ethical porn itself.
In terms of the gender wage gap, porn is one of the few industries in which women (and, in some cases, trans people) can actually earn more than cis men.
There is also a debate about how ethical it is to show violent scenes in general; after all, in most BDSM scenes, you aren't seeing the performers talk about boundaries in advance. Consent is sexy, after all.
Now that ethical porn has become more popular (and therefore profitable), we can expect it to be bought up by more mainstream porn outlets. There's a chance that ethical porn production could wane; from the outside, the clips will look the same, but actors' rights could be in danger.
How can you make sure the porn you're watching is ethical?
Unlike other industries, there are no consumer reports for porn (despite gossip about a Kitemark for porn), so it's mostly up to us to decide, preferably before we get to the bedroom. Here are some general guidelines you can use when you're searching for ethical porn.
- Pay for your porn
Free sites make it harder for reputable companies to pay decent wages to their performers, as it devalues the product. Much like torrenting music or films, this can cause the industry to cut corners, and the performers end up paying the price.
- Pick a favorite
We all have our favorite stars, and one of the best things we can do for them is to watch their films over and over. (Hey, no reason it can't be good for us, too.) Find interviews with performers, and listen to what they're saying about their work; they're likely to have more control over what they do and with whom. Some performers have their own websites, where they have even more control regarding the production.
- Follow your gut
Ask yourself if the actors look like they're having fun. Does the scene feel safe? Is it something you'd do? That's not to say that you aren't allowed to explore your fantasies (f*ck that). For a lot of people, porn provides a safe outlet for fantasies that they wouldn't necessarily attempt in real life (i.e., BDSM). It's fine to enjoy those scenes, but you want to make sure that the actors are consenting adults who respect each other's boundaries. Sites like Make Love Not Porn do all the hard work for you and aim to provide porn that is sexy, fun, and consensual.
So watch all the porn you want, but support the idea of an ethical framework for porn and support the performers, because at the end of the day, they've already done so much for you.