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    Not All Porn Is Ethical — Here's What You Should Know

    How does one consume porn ethically? We talked to porn performers to try and get to the bottom of this question once and for all.

    Hey, everyone, Jessie here! As a sex worker and founder and managing editor of Peepshow Media (a multimedia online magazine featuring news and stories from the sex industry), one of the most common questions I see around the discussion of porn is: How can I consume porn ethically?

    And yet, porn performers provide a valuable service that I would venture to guess most of the readers of this article have at some time indulged in. A thoughtful consumer who wants to make sure not to contribute to any of these harms probably asks themselves a seemingly simple question: How the hell do I ethically consume porn? To dive into this, I turned to three experts: Dr. Heather Berg and porn performers Lotus Lain and Lena Paul.

    Berg, assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis and author of the book Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism, points out that when the question is aimed at the performers themselves, it creates a lot of unpaid work for performers (thus being antithetical to the aim). She says, “There is a way that the hope to consume ethically ends up requiring a lot more labor of performers to convince consumers that they are doing the right thing.”

    Sex workers weren't joking when they warned that they'd be the first, but not the last, targets of web surveillance. The underground Plan B distribution feminists are now dreaming up is going to be a lot harder if you can't talk to each other without the state watching.

    Twitter: @DrHeatherBerg

    Lain, an adult performer and activist within the adult industry says that it is complicated, in part, because ethics are subjective: “My feelings are, everyone has a different set of ethics.”

    What’s more, consumption — in porn or any other industry — is complicated. “I wish that there was one convenient answer to this question,” says porn star Paul. “It is such a simple question, but the more we unpack it, the more complicated it becomes.”

    While there is no simple answer to this question, here are a few things to consider when you think about consuming porn more ethically in the future:

    Unfortunately, porn is not ethical just because it is branded so or looks like it was ethically produced.

    An image of a march for sex worker rights
    Erik Mcgregor / Getty Images

    In her interviews of porn performers for her book, Berg says that they quite often expressed their frustration with working for production companies that were branded ethical. “Performers had a lot of critiques of feminist and queer porn,” she says. “It often requires extra and unpaid work to communicate ethics to consumers.”

    This often includes pre- or post-interviews wherein performers express their pleasure in the scene or demands other signaling that is ultimately not for the benefit of the performers. The purpose is to make consumers feel better about their consumption. “The companies want aesthetic and postproduction add-ons to convey to the customers that it is ethically safe.”

    Lain points out that scenes with the sort of signaling that make the consumers feel good because they either are soft-core or make an aesthetic show of consent and ethics don’t necessarily feel that way to the performers themselves. She says that even though the scene may feel good to watch, “the actors could have been underpaid, the location could have been dangerous, etc.”

    Consumers should do their own research.

    An image of women at a march for sex worker rights
    Claire Doherty / Getty Images

    In looking for studio porn, both Lain and Paul suggest that consuming your favorite star’s performances alone won’t give you insight into how they feel. After all, they are performers.

    Instead, customers can do their research by following performers online and paying attention to how they talk about their work experiences. Lain suggests, “Twitter is the best way of finding out how performers feel about working for particular companies.” She asserts that looking at what people who are not currently a company’s favorite say will give you a more accurate picture. “Find out what former favorites feel about the company when they are no longer favorites,” she says.

    Paul says that if your concern as a consumer is mitigating suffering of individual performers and you want to make sure that the performers are not being mistreated, following them and being positively engaged are also good ways to know. She says, “The biggest way to have ethical consumption is to have a degree of interaction online, be it with a studio model or independent content creator." It is important to remember, however, that contacting and interacting with your favorite performers on their work social media accounts requires labor on their part and you should be compensating them for their time — even when your interactions are not sexual in nature.

    Consumers should pay as directly as possible for their porn.

    An image of women at a march for sex worker rights
    Nurphoto / Getty Images

    Another advantage of following your favorite performers on social media is that they will show you where they prefer to sell their content. Some platforms take larger cuts than others, and Berg suggests that everyone ought to be “paying attention to platforms’ own rate structures and following your favorite performers to the platforms they prefer.” Or, in other words, Berg says, “Subscribe to platforms that give performers higher cuts.”

    Paul agrees that trying to pay the models you follow as directly as possible is best for performers. She reminds us, “As performers, we receive no royalties from studio porn.” She adds, “The odds of your money going to a model if you buy porn directly from them are orders of magnitude higher.”

    Lain echoes Paul’s sentiments: “Obviously the most ethical way is to buy it from the performers.” She is quick to add, “Pay them if you want to see certain things. Don’t hassle them on their Instagram comments.” Many performers are more than happy to create custom content when they are being paid for it. They do not, however, appreciate being told what to do on social media by folks who aren’t paying them.

    In terms of paying for your porn, Berg also points out that if you have seen a performer's work that you really like on one of the big tube sites, tipping them encourages them to continue to create what you like. She says, “If you are pirating, most performers have a Cash App. You can find that and pay them directly for content you’ve already seen.”

    And when you can, definitely diversify your porn diet!

    An image of women at a march for sex worker rights
    John W Banagan / Getty Images

    One last thing to remember is that not all of your porn budget needs to be spent on visual prerecorded videos. In Lain’s words: “There are many different ways to be titillated.” She suggests considering interacting with your favorite performers on pay sites like NiteFlirt and SextPanther, where you can chat, text, send pics, and create custom fantasies.

    But what if you simply don't have the means to pay?

    An image of a woman at a march for sex worker's rights
    Bsr Agency / Getty Images

    If you have reasons that make it impossible to pay for your porn, there are other ways you can be conscious about supporting the performers you admire. On Pornhub, for example, you can make sure you are only giving your traffic to verified users (they will have a blue check by their name) so that they get kickbacks for your view. If you enjoy webcam performances, you can positively contribute to the room by engaging the performer in conversations that help to keep the spirits up in the room and encouraging others to tip and help the model reach her goals. And you can also help to promote the work of your favorite models on social media by retweeting and sharing their promo tweets if and when applicable.

    Do you have more questions about how to consume porn ethically? Let us know in the comments and we'll do our best to create more informative content moving forward!