How To Not Watch Porn Like A Dick

Photo: Courtesy of Stoya.
What are the ethics of watching porn? While we speak openly about whether certain clothing lines support slave labor, if we’re morally obligated to buy cage-free eggs, and whether pirating Taylor Swift’s latest album (hey, it’s no longer on Spotify) makes us bad people, we shy away from discussion of the ethical consumption of porn.

In part, that’s because a vocal contingent maintains that the most ethical consumption of porn is the consumption of no porn at all, while others believe it means no consumption of porn that hasn’t loudly been declared to be of the “feminist” variety. After all, that woman can’t actually want to be doing that sex act, can she? Those hapless 18-year-olds must have been lured into the business under false pretenses, right? Haven’t you seen Hot Girls Wanted?

Many performers say: Fuck that. “A lot of the mainstream conversation about ethics in porn runs parallel to the conversation about sex trafficking and being coerced into doing something you don’t want to do,” Kelly Shibari, porn performer and CEO of marketing firm ThePRSMGroup (as well as the first/only plus-size Penthouse Forum cover model), tells us. In Shibari’s experience, “Performers aren’t coerced into doing the kinds of scenes that they don’t want to do.” One 2013 study of 177 female performers found that only one reported having been coerced into a porn career (the same study also found that performers had “higher levels of self-esteem, positive feelings, social support, sexual satisfaction, and spirituality” than a matched non-performer group). But according to certain factions of both conservatives and feminists, even if adult entertainment isn’t corrupting its performers, it’s somehow corrupting its viewers.

Research indicates that some 66% of men and 41% of women watch pornography at least once a month

Advertisement
As it happens, a study just published in The Journal of Sex Research found that pornography users have more egalitarian attitudes toward women than non-users do. That’s good news, especially considering that most of us have been or will be porn consumers at some point. Research indicates that some 66% of men and 41% of women watch pornography at least once a month, while from 2009 to 2010, a reported 13% of all internet searches were for sexual content.

Porn is here. We’re watching it, whether we’re talking about it or not. There are, of course, performers who have negative experiences on set and non-performers who have negative experiences rooted in porn — for example, pornography addiction or interaction with a partner who insists on recreating what he or she has seen on-screen without first receiving enthusiastic consent. But, if we acknowledge that pornographic videos are not inherently bad — "bad" on the merits of their content alone — for either performers or viewers, a new question takes center stage: How do we consume porn correctly? As piracy by porn-aggregating tube sites such as PornHub and Redtube proliferates and studios’ budgets shrink accordingly, the question is more relevant than ever. It hinges on who in the porn-supply chain is paid how much for doing what.

The only time I’ve ever felt exploited as a performer in porn is when my work is pirated

For Jiz Lee, a genderqueer performer and the online marketing director of Pink & White Productions, the answer is simple: If consumers don’t support performers and studios financially, working standards will drop. “The only time I’ve ever felt exploited as a performer in porn is when my work is pirated,” wrote Lee in a recent op-ed published by The Daily Dot.

“Most pirated porn on tube sites is uploaded by anonymous users who haven't paid the performer or camera crew a cent,” Lee explains to me. “They don't own the content, don't pay anyone, and while they may not be making money from it, the tube site generates ad revenue and web traffic, unfairly benefiting off the backs of thousands of hard-working professionals.”

That means that even if you’re paying for the porn you watch, but you’re paying a tube site, you aren’t supporting the porn’s creators; you’re supporting people who likely pirated content that they are then turning around to sell you. (On top of that, tube sites are also making money from the ads they run.)
Photo: Courtesy of Jiz Lee/Pink and White Productions.
Jiz Lee and Chocolate Chip on the set of SNAPSHOT.
Porn performer Stoya, who along with with fellow perfomer Kayden Kross recently launched a paid platform for episodic porn called TrenchcoatX, echoes Lee’s frustration with tube sites’ shady business models. “There’s a very large company now called MindGeek — they own the bulk of the tube sites, where you’ll frequently find the pirated content of other companies,” she observes. “They also, though, have what Slate called a monopoly on the production studios now — so if you’re paying for [porn] but you’re paying for it on Digital Playground, Brazzers, Mofos, Twistys, any property that MindGeek owns, then you’re just putting more money in the pockets of the guys that seem to have leveraged stolen content from other studios to then buy up a choke-hold on the adult film industry." In other words, not only has MindGeek undercut the revenue of studios by stealing their work; it's bought up a number of large porn-content producers, effectively limiting performers' ability to turn down offers from producers with whom they haven't enjoyed working.

With TrenchcoatX, Stoya and Kross are attempting to redirect autonomy and the flow of resources to smaller filmmakers. When Stoya tells me that their website offers both pay-per-scene and monthly subscription options, I point out that MindGeek-owned PornHub, one of the largest tube sites, also recently launched a $9.99-a-month all-you-can-watch subscription service. “Yeah, it’s really fascinating that they’re doing that when [erotic photography site] MetArt is suing them for having MetArt-copyrighted content in their pay-to-access membership section,” she comments dryly. “Not only would you enable the spread of someone else’s work and profit from it...but then charge consumers to access the stolen stuff — that’s an interesting little maneuver there.”
Advertisement

You’re just putting more money in the pockets of the guys that seem to have leveraged stolen content

Stoya is deeply attuned to the exploitation that occurs when performers aren’t paid for their film work, as well as their limited alternative options for earning a living in the industry. She cites the difference between porn and music, another industry rocked by and still navigating the transition from analog to digital: While both porn and music are easily pirated, “musical artists have concert tours,” Stoya points out. “In porn, the thing for the artist — the performers, the workers — that would be most analogous is escorting, which is something that is illegal in the United States outside of Nevada.”

Shibari is more hopeful about the diversity of revenue streams available to performers. “On one hand, yes, you want people to pay for all of the porn they consume,” she says. “But on the other hand, I also know that as a niche performer, a lot of my fans found me because of free porn, so I can’t necessarily completely demonize [it].” Some studios even license tube sites to show short, one- to three-minute clips of their work, followed by a link at the end to a site on which consumers can pay for the full version (entire scenes on tube sites are almost always pirated).
Image: Courtesy Of Kelly Shibari.
After tube-site browsers find a performer they like, says Shibari, the responsible next step is to find that person's Twitter or Facebook and see what products he or she sells, which may include merchandise, webcam shows, custom scenes, or live appearances. Successful performers are increasingly pursuing these “alternatives” as their bread and butter — and “if you don’t support your performers, then they either retire or become bitter or stop making as much porn as they used to,” Shibari warns. (And they have: Porn production plummeted an estimated 75% from 2008 to 2014.)

As for exactly which porn creators you should be supporting, Stoya has a few in mind — besides, of course, TrenchcoatX. She names afourchamberedheart, Pink & White Productions, Ovidie, Joanna Angel, and narrative-focused filmmaker Erika Lust (“One of the old jokes about porn is ‘Why are these people having sex? I need to know why!’” Stoya says. “With Erika Lust’s stuff, you know why.”)

One question often on conscientious consumers’ minds is whether performers enjoy shooting their scenes, particularly ones featuring rough sex, rape fantasies, and BDSM. For those interested in responsibly shot BDSM, Shibari points to Kink and Evil Angel, which consistently shoot before-and-after performer interviews that may appeal to viewers who like extra reassurance of participants’ enthusiastic consent. Or, just reach out to performers. “Most of these performers are extremely active on social media — ask them!” says Shibari. “Say ‘Hey, so I saw you in Rape Fantasy 14, did you like that scene?’ The best performers are the ones that have ongoing conversations with their fans, so I would ask them outright.”

Rape fantasy is a fantasy. There’s a lot of people that watch Scarface but have never done coke, right?

Shibari adds that responsible consumption of porn also includes how you do (or don’t) enact what you see in your own life. “Rape fantasy is a fantasy,” Shibari points out. “There’s a lot of people that watch Scarface but have never done coke, right?”

If porn, then, can be best understood as “fantasy created by professionals” — not as a form of sex trafficking, not as an educational resource, and not as some gratis favor to the internet — then those who watch it can best be understood as consumers. It’s still taboo, though, to identify as such. People who pay for porn, who support the professionals behind it, are still stereotyped as People Who Need To Watch Porn — and even worse, people who aren’t savvy enough to get it for free. But, as with anything else in a market, if we don’t support what we like, it’s going to disappear.
Advertisement

More from Sex & Relationships