Culture

Here’s How To Make Sure Your Porn Is Ethical

We know, it can be hard

ethical porn

Over the last few month we’ve all been spending a lot more time inside, and a lot less time with other people.

There’s only one logical conclusion, and PornHub is backing us up with some official stats — worldwide, we’ve been spending a lot more time watching porn. Look, it’s been a very long isolation. I get it. If you’re in Victoria right now, you probably get it even more.

Let’s just assume we’re all here for the same reason and acknowledge that porn can be enjoyable — but it can also be really, really ethically bad.

Unfortunately not every titillating video is created equally, and every day million of people click on videos of performers who have been exploited by an industry which suffers from a severe lack of regulation.

So, how can you be sure your erotica is ethical? Honestly, it’s hard (an easy pun, sorry).

For more info Junkee spoke to Gala Vanting and Kim Cums, two women who have worked as both porn producers and porn performers.

They both acknowledge there is no foolproof way to absolutely guarantee the porn you’re watching has been produced ethically, but they have plenty of tips on how to act as ethically as possible.

Here’s what you need to know.

Firstly, What Is Ethical Porn?

Looking for something to really get the blood pumping? How about boundaries? Enthusiastic Consent!

You can call it ethical, fair trade, feminist, whatever – but that consent is really the key thing.

In its simplest terms, ethical porn has been produced with the rights and well-being of the performer in mind. They’re not pressured to do anything they’re uncomfortable with, and their bodily autonomy is respected.

Kim has worked as a producer and performer, and it was her experience as the latter that helped shape every part of her production process.

“Ethical porn should always be defined by a performer’s experience throughout the production process. Was a performer given a clear set of expectations before arriving on set? Did they know what the scene was going to be about, what sex acts were going to be involved?” she asked.

This also extends to things like the behaviour of crew onset, or the size of the performer’s pay packet.

Activist Gala says that’s something the feminist porn movement is still grappling with.

“There’s a lot of discourse in queer and feminist porn, the pay rates are lower for that type of porn generally speaking because they’re small producers so they don’t have the capital to pay people $500 per piece, maybe they can only afford to pay them $350,” she said.

That’s one of the reasons why people are encouraged to support smaller producers, rather than click on free tube sites — but more on that later.

However, Gala doesn’t want to throw more mainstream producers or performers under the bus.

“There’s a tendency to position ethical porn in opposition to mainstream porn and therefore to suggest mainstream porn is inherently unethical, and I think there’s a lot of mainstream porn performers and producers who would argue with that,” she said.

Ethics in porn also come down to representation – making sure companies show a wide mix of body types, ethnicities, sexualities and desires.

What Stops All Porn From Being Considered Ethical?

Unfortunately, exploitative porn exists. Often, it’s less experienced workers who become victims of this when producers try to push their boundaries.

One example of this is Mia Khalifa, who was 21 when she entered the industry. Despite only working for three months she became PornHub’s most searched for star, after controversially wearing a hijab in a shoot. She’s since revealed the production team laughed off concerns she had about the video, and she went on to receive death threats.

“It can be hard to set your boundaries as a sex worker, and they do actually move as you progress in your career,” Gala said.

“I think it (exploitation) happens more with less-seasoned workers, with people who are new to the industry, because they don’t yet have the peer networks that they would need to support them to stay only within their boundaries.”

Kim said this can be a major issue if companies aren’t upfront about exactly what they’re looking for when recruiting performers, particularly if they’re new.

“A lot of time companies aren’t honest about what they are recruiting for, or try to put a glamorous or artsy marketing spin on what they are doing. However, at the end of the day what they are shooting is still porn,” she said.

It may not always be malicious; sometimes it’s down to poor communication, or misplaced enthusiasm for a last-minute idea.

“If the performer is new or you’ve never worked with them before, I think you have to be really careful; they might say ‘yes’ to a change because they are worried about not getting more work from you, or they might feel too anxious on the spot to say ‘no’”, Kim said.

Producers know there’s a huge market for people who want porn and don’t want to feel guilty about it — that’s why feminist-branded tube sites have been popping up, and more established tube sites are adding “for women” categories.

But it’s also why Gala is sceptical about even using the term “ethical porn”. She says often it’s used as a greenwashing technique to make the audience feel better, without actually being better.

Bellesa is one high profile example of this — it was celebrated for being a free feminist-friendly site when it first launched back in 2017, before people discovered that a lot of their content had actually been pirated.

This is a huge problem in the industry — in fact, most tube sites steal content from smaller producers who then never see a cent of profit for their work.

That brings us to the most important thing that you, as a consumer, can do to remain ethical — pay for your porn.

What’s Wrong With Free Porn?

Sex work is work, just like any other industry. That means if you’re not paying for it, the people involved aren’t being paid fairly for it.

Free tube sites like YouPorn and RedTube often pirate videos from the original creators, who then can’t profit off their work — and that’s a problem for smaller producers who typically are able to take more care, but run on tight margins.

Last year, PornHub received 42 billion hits to its website. More than 115 million every day. Clearly, free porn is popular.

Gala’s own content has been pirated onto free tube sites, and she doesn’t get any royalties from that.

But aside from that, Kim also said free porn sites are also full of revenge porn, and don’t require age verification.

So, How Can You Tell Whether Your Porn Is Ethical?

Both Kim and Gala agree it’s not easy — so as we’ve said, the best thing you can do it pay for it.

But as a voyeur it’s almost impossible to know what’s gone down on set (ahem).

One way of checking is to keep an eye out for behind-the-scenes content where you can watch interviews with performers. That’s something many paid sites make available, but aren’t often shown on free sites.

They can be a good way to check how sets are run, boundary negotiations, consent check-ins, lube breaks, and other processes that don’t make the final cut.

“I would really go for small producers, because you know that there has to be more care in what they’re doing,” Gala also said.

That’s not to say that mainstream production houses are all unethical — but the constant content churn means they’re able to get away with less attention to detail.

On top of this, have a look at the variety they offer — if it only features tall, slim, white bodies that should raise some questions about how seriously they take representation.

Seek Out Your Favourite Stars

Another good place to start is by tracking down performers you enjoy on social media (not in a creepy way). A lot of people in the porn industry end up getting shadow banned from social media, but can be found on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

OnlyFans is another platform that’s become a popular way for sex workers to take control of their content. The subscription service allows people to collect money from followers in exchange for posting exclusive content, meaning sex workers are now able to sell directly to clients.

“A lot of performers produce their own porn these days, so you can buy your porn directly from their websites or from the various clip sites that they have accounts on,” Kim said.

“Performers often use these platforms to talk about their experiences with various companies too. Pay attention to their tweets — even when there isn’t a nude attached — and you’ll probably quite quickly learn which companies a performer has had good experiences with and which ones they haven’t.”

If you’re looking for ways to further support them, also check out any affiliate links performers share. Kim said since they don’t get royalties on scenes, affiliate sales are one of the way few ways performers can make ongoing profit.

Lastly … What Impact Has Coronavirus Had On Porn?

For Australia, March 25 was more or less D-Day. Late the night before, the national cabinet had announced mass shutdowns of non-essential services.

People were told to remain home as much as possible, and threatened with fines for breaching social distancing restrictions.

Whether it was by correlation or causation, March 25 also saw a huge 18 percent increase in PornHub’s average traffic for Australia.

According to their most recent update, PornHub has had more than 18 million searches for “corona” worldwide; 11 million searches for “quarantine” and 1.4 million searches containing “covid”.

It’s probably not going to dethroning last year’s most popular search term in Australia (which was lesbian, btw), but it’s an interesting tidbit nonetheless.


Rachael Conaghan is a staff writer at Junkee. She tweets @ConaghanRachael.