Sex & Relationships

Here's How You Can Tell If You're Watching Ethical Porn

“It creates safety and a sense of intimacy that can be felt off-screen.”

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If you like to be mindful of your masturbation material, you may already be selective with the sexy scenes you want to watch. When it comes to knowing what constitutes ethical porn, experts say it's essential to consider the production and reception.

According to Ayesha Hussain, a sex and porn coach, porn activist, and founder of The Violet, ethical porn is made in a sex-positive way with conscious business practices. This can mean nixing harmful racial and gender stereotypes, casting a wider ranger of performers, showing consent on screen, as well as pleasure for all. But it can also look like ensuring safe working conditions, giving performers more agency in who they work with, and fair pay for performers.

"This creates safety and a sense of intimacy that can be felt off-screen," Hussain tells Bustle.

For Lola Jean, sex educator and mental health professional, ethical porn means porn that tries to incorporate better production practices. Ethical porn creators will try to honor performers' boundaries, give them time to physically and emotionally prepare before filming, and hire producers and writers who are more intentional and content-driven. But Jean emphasizes that "ethical porn" doesn't mean stopping all aggressive behavior or power play.

"People can have healthy, consensual, aggressive sex," Jean says. "It just shouldn't be that we only see abusive porn, or only seeing women being submissive, or only seeing the person with a penis ejaculating — it's the variety. We need more things available."

Jean and Hussain explain that it can be nearly impossible to determine what constitutes "ethical porn." Because sexuality is so nuanced, even on smaller, independent, or women-run sets, "unethical" things can still happen.

"There's no way of knowing if something was 'ethically made,'" Jean says. "If something comes out after, if there was a consent violation on set, if there was something after the fact — it's not like someone is sitting there, making sure they went by the ethical standards."

Jean adds that the use of "ethical" in the porn world has become similar to the word "organic" at a health foods store. "After a while, it starts to lose its meaning," Jean says.

Rev. Rucifer, the founder of Reiki Bondage, explains that terms like "ethical" or "responsible" can be subjective to both viewers and performers. "Overall, we prefer language like 'independent' to note the difference between this category and mainstream porn," Rucifer tells Bustle.

Kinkly's Dictionary of Sex Terms defines mainstream porn as "Pornography produced and distributed by large porn production companies that will appeal to a more broad audience." Unlike independently produced or subscription-based porn, mainstream porn is generally free, and widely accessible on giant sites like Pornhub or YouPorn (read: it's likely what you find when you Google "porn").

Jean says that mainstream porn is often defined by the "feedback loop" of search engine optimization (SEO). "Right now, abusive porn is a lot because that's what people are into," Jean says. "SEO drives that, so then the porn companies supply it."

While no one person is responsible for the problematic trends in mainstream porn (like normative beauty standards or racial stereotypes), Jean says individual viewers can choose to break the patterns and to be more intentional with what they're watching. "If you're only seeing the same types of bodies over and over again, and only seeing them behave the same way — then that starts to be what we expect, it starts to be what we're into," Jean says. "It's important to expose yourself to various bodies, to a variety of races, sexual identities, to change things up, and learn new things."

Danielle Blunt, Femdom Dominatrix, independent porn producer, and tech and sex consultant agrees with Jean, noting the importance of being an intentional porn viewer. "All labor under capitalism is vulnerable to exploitation," Blunt tells Bustle. "But we can do our best to be ethical consumers."

For Blunt, being an ethical porn consumer means paying for your porn, tipping your favorite performers, and working to decriminalize sex work. "It also means funding robust sex education that talks about consent, harm reduction, and queer sex," Blunt says. "Porn is not meant to be a replacement for sex-ed."

Though Hussain, Jean, Rucifer, and Blunt all reiterate the importance of consent and safe working conditions for performers, they agree that establishing certain porn as "ethical" or "responsible" creates an unfair dichotomy within porn. In other words, when some porn is deemed "ethical" or "good," it means other porn is considered "unethical" or "bad" by default. This can create further divides within the porn world — an industry that's already largely misunderstood and misrepresented.

"Shaming for any behaviors creates more dissonance," Hussain says. "It's important to see healthy ways of doing all things reflected on screen! But that doesn't mean that we can't also watch things for pure entertainment. It's about balance and understanding when and how we are watching."

Sources:

Ayesha Hussain, a sex and porn coach, porn activist, and founder of The Violet, pop up porn cinema

Lola Jean, sex educator and mental health professional

Rev. Rucifer, founder of Reiki Bondage

Danielle Blunt, Femdom Dominatrix, independent porn producer, and tech and sex consultant