Sex & Dating | January 8, 2021 9:15 am

How You Should Be Watching Porn, According to Performers

A roundtable conversation on everything from tube sites to exploitation to where to find "the farmer's market" of porn

paywalled porn site on laptop screen
Is there a wrong way to pay for your porn?
Illustration by Mike Falco / Adult Time / Getty Images

This is the first installment in a three-part series on ethical porn consumption. In this segment, industry professionals share their insight on the best ways to pay for porn.

Last month, a New York Times article accused adult streaming titan Pornhub of profiting off of videos of child sexual exploitation and assaults. That led Mastercard and Visa to cut off payment processing for the site. That in turn prompted the tube site to institute new rules limiting uploads to verified users — and to purge the vast majority of its videos, uploaded by anonymous users. 

The ongoing saga has been both dramatic and thorny. It raised legitimate concerns about the challenges of judging whether content was made or shared legally and considerately without being able to trace its provenance. However, Pornhub arguably faced disproportionate scrutiny just because it is a sexual platform. Major social media sites pose similar challenges — and self-report much more user-uploaded child sexual exploitation and non-consensual material on their sites than the Times identified on Pornhub. But regardless of its complexities, this mess has gotten people talking about how to watch porn ethically. After all, Pornhub is the default adult site for many. It is mainstream and massive. If it is indeed problematic, which sites are guilt free?  

This is hardly the first big public conversation about ethical porn consumption. Over the last five years especially, concerns about floods of pirated content on tube sites siphoning income away from performers and producers and a string of on-set abuse allegations have spawned countless think pieces on the subject, and even a book — psychologist David Ley’s Ethical Porn for Dicks.

Most of this discourse has landed on two keystone principles: 1) Pay for your porn. Performers and producers deserve compensation for their work. And 2) Make sure that you are patronizing sites that treat their performers and crews well. That doesn’t mean, as many assume, that you can only watch gentle porn. A lot of the roughest, kinkiest stuff is made with more respect for performers’ boundaries, gives them more opportunities to help shape scenes, and has better protocols in place to stop shoots if anyone feels uncomfortable than the most vanilla of sets.  

However, often the people promulgating these sorts of succinct guidelines are outsiders rather than actual voices from within the adult industry. These principles are also a little too simple to be useful to people navigating the modern pornscape. To wit, there are many different ways to pay for porn now. Are any payment models more ethical than others? Some free sites actually compensate partnered creators with a slice of their ad revenues, and some creators put bits of their shoots out online for free as a form of advertising. So, is it really never ethical to consume porn without directly paying for it? Also, some content creators who tout their ethical bona fides publicly may not practice what they preach. A few still get caught up in abuse allegations. So, how can consumers actually know if what they’re watching really is ethically produced content? 

Industry insiders often have highly nuanced perspectives on these thorny issues. But that doesn’t mean that they all agree on what it means to be an ethical porn consumer. As performer Aria Khaide told InsideHook, “This can be a very personal and subjective topic, based on things like the niche of the industry we work in,” and on individual philosophical and political ideals. A few performers, like Mary Moody, actually challenge the entire endeavor of outlining ethical porn consumption, as it “rests on a few shaky premises, like whether consumption can be ethical at all in our society … or if anyone can even calculate the ethical fallout [of] a single purchase.” 

To grapple with the complexities of porn consumption and the diverse views on how to navigate them, InsideHook reached out to over a dozen performers from varied industry backgrounds to get their views on the topic. Here’s what they told us about how to watch porn more ethically.    

InsideHook: There are many different ways of paying for porn: Subscriptions to tube sites, to studios, to individual performers’ fan sites; a la carte clip purchases; direct commissions for custom content; tipping during live cam shows. Are any of them more or less ethical than others? 

Charlotte Sartre: Whichever puts the most money directly into performers’ pockets is best. Paying for a big subscription site may be a great deal for the consumer, because you can watch thousands of scenes for one price. But the performers in these scenes only got paid once, while the site owners make money off of them forever. There’s no such thing as royalties in porn.

Jessica Starling: The more people watch the scenes a performer is in, the more likely a studio will be to hire that performer again. [But they will still only get one flat payout per scene.]  

Dana Vespoli: Ideally, the best way to ensure models-slash-producers are fairly compensated is to buy the content that they produce themselves via their personal platforms. You can get content that’s tailored to your specific tastes, and models often provide fans who support their personal content creation efforts with perks, like personal messages, photos, and so on. 

Kate Kennedy: Do things like subscribe to an individual performer’s OnlyFans account. It’s akin to shopping at a farmer’s market versus at Walmart. If you want to ensure ethical labor practices at all stages of the supply chain, go directly to the guy with his hands in the soil 

Rebecca Vanguard: As a consumer, the best option is buying individuals’ clips. With some subscription sites, like OnlyFans, you can’t download anything. That’s great for cutting down on piracy. But you might want a download you can keep for the rest of your life, if you so choose. 

Charlotte Sartre: I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all option, though, because different platforms ultimately serve unique needs and preferences for creators and consumers alike.

Aria Khaide: A lot of performers don’t sell their own content directly. They may just want to get one big payment up front rather than ongoing passive income from sales — and that’s fine. 

Jiz Lee: Not every performer has the skill set or the bandwidth to produce their own content, for example. Likewise, not all consumers will feel strongly about a specific fantasy, or be able to afford, or justify the expense, of commissioning an individualized clip. I’ve dabbled in a few content creation methods, and working on set for a few hours and taking home a paycheck is one of my preferred modes of operating. Some of my favorite scenes were produced by directors who had creative ideas, and talented crews who could produce and distribute films beyond my own abilities. At the end of the day, I get a paycheck, an exciting video to share, and I can often share a referral link to get a 20 to 60 percent commission on each sale after a click through.  

Kendra James: As long as people are paying, supporting legitimate producers and performers, it doesn’t really matter how they pay. If they subscribe to Brazzers because they like hardcore boy-girl porn shot in that studio’s style, then great. It supports the company, which pays performers, directors, camera operators and editors. It allows them to keep hiring people in the future. 

Jiz Lee: The popularity of a studio scene [among paid subscribers to that site, or on tube sites those studios partner with to share free clips] can benefit performers by inspiring fans to seek a performer’s other work. A fan might watch a studio film and look up a performer’s OnlyFans to experience a more intimate exchange with them. So, it’s hard to say anything has a completely null benefit to a performer, unless a scene was pirated and posted with no names given.  

Kendra James: Also, buying from indie producers and performers directly can be great. But posting in an over-saturated industry where piracy runs rampant can be difficult. Sometimes, a clip sells twice, then gets uploaded by pirates to tube sites, taking money away from performers.

Aria Khaide: Some platforms don’t do payouts before you hit a certain amount of income. 

Kendra James: Some platforms take high percentages out of raw income. Cam sites specifically take a lot — they pay performers pennies on the dollar. You can bust your ass for eight to 10 hours a day, make a ton, but then have to fork over 50 percent or more to the cam platform. Of course, cam sites aren’t going anywhere, and many performers happily use them even with that cut. 

Aria Khaide: It’s often best to pay directly to a performer, through their own site, where they can do their own payment processing. We always lose something to processing costs, but not as much as on other platforms. [But of course, not every performer wants to run their own site.] 

Kendra James: Pornhub is one platform I feel is totally unethical, though. Even if you pay for Pornhub Premium, the site makes the money. Performers and studios get a fraction of a penny per view [of videos officially connected to their verified accounts]. And if you’re an independent content creator and you’re not in one of your videos, you don’t make the same money on it that a studio would, even though you paid for its production. You get less. Sorry, but that’s bullshit. 

Charlotte Sartre: View-share payment rates averaged $35.58 per 1,000 views in 2019, but they were subject to change each month based on the program’s overall performance. That can work well for performers who have high Pornhub rankings, but does not work well for everyone else. 

Kendra James: Pornhub profited immensely off the backs of performers and producers without paying us a cent until recently, and even now whether or not you can make money is hit or miss.

Charlotte Sartre: Ultimately, if you don’t have a platform preference to start, it’s a great idea to follow your favorite performers on social media and see which platforms they post about or link to. Most people I follow make it very easy to tell which platforms they prefer to work with. 

InsideHook: Many people with limited means don’t feel like they can afford to pay for porn regularly, or at all. Are there any ethical ways for them to watch porn without paying for it? 

Kate Kennedy: This is a ridiculous question. Labor is labor. Sex work is work. You cannot ethically consume labor without paying for it. Most sex workers price clips at $5 to $10, and OnlyFans subscriptions rarely exceed $15 per month. If you want to jack off and feel good about it, the least you can do is fork over the equivalent of the price of a few cups of coffee. 

Kendra James: I think a lot of fans have this misconception that performers or indie producers make a ton of money and shoot for the fun of it. Sorry, no. I’m doing okay, but I’m not rich — most adult industry professionals aren’t. Some performers really struggle hard. So, any time you watch a pirated movie, download something without paying for it, use someone else’s password, you are potentially taking money out of someone’s pocket who might really need it. 

Jiz Lee: Porn is a luxury item. If you discover content that speaks to your sexuality and pleasure, the price is worth it. It’s unfortunate that piracy on free tube sites devalued many people’s sense of the worth of adult films such that they feel entitled now to demand that porn be free of charge. 

Charlotte Sartre: Pornhub [and its ilk] changed the porn industry, and the way people consume porn. Some of the richest people I’ve ever met still pay for their music and movies, but watch all their porn for free on tube sites because it’s never crossed their minds that they should pay for it, or they don’t care about it. Much of society sees sex workers as less deserving of respect and a living wage than other entertainers. We pay taxes, but people tell us to get a real job

Now that people who watch Pornhub have lost their precious favorites lists, filled with stolen content, they might start paying attention, and maybe even caring about our industry. 

Jessica Starling: Pornhub, xHamster and XVIDEOS’s model payment programs do give a portion of revenue generated from views of their free videos. [If you watch free content,] watch the videos that performers upload themselves, so that we can earn ad revenue from those views. 

Charlotte Sartre: Most companies use Pornhub rankings to judge who is worthy of being hired for scenes. If you’re not on Pornhub, people don’t know that you exist. So I have content up there. But if they did not have a monopoly on our industry, I would not upload my content there. 

Jiz Lee: The free tube site revenue model for verified videos is one of the best approaches for someone reluctant to pay for porn — but it is sticky, because the traffic on tube sites is driven by piracy and the percentages for payouts should be much higher. But there are other ways that clever consumers can find to watch porn without paying for it while still supporting the people who make it. Become an adult film reviewer, perhaps. Become an affiliate to earn money by referring your online following to paid adult sites. See if a company gives free memberships to volunteers who assist them with projects. Most don’t, but it doesn’t hurt to look into it. 

Dana Vespoli: You can also just watch the teasers models and producers upload as promotions. 

Jamie Jett: There’s always a high risk that amateur porn [uploaded to sites like Reddit, and in the past frequently to Pornhub and Tumblr, by anonymous users] was produced using unethical practices off camera. You don’t know how it was made, [or if the people in it consented to its distribution on that channel]. If you want to avoid abusive materials, watch professionals. 

Aria Khaide: I got into porn because my husband and I were amateurs posting on a free forum and people asked where they could find and buy more of our stuff. So there are always people who just like to be watched and don’t want or need compensation. But I don’t think content should ever be posted anonymously. There needs to be some kind of verification. Even just having a box to click that says I own and have the right or consent to post this content can be a useful tool, because in many cases it is legally binding. I know a lot of people don’t want their names associated with adult content on the internet. But it’s always possible — in fact it’s likely — that someone will identify you, even if you keep your name and face out of your content. 

Allie Oops: Porn performers have been telling [Pornhub’s parent company] MindGeek that they needed to move to verified user-only content uploads on their sites for years now. 

Kendra James: Their platform, where anyone could upload whatever they wanted without verification, led to rampant piracy. My movies were stolen and posted every day and removing them was like pulling teeth. They caused performers’ solo and indie companies’ sites to tank, and large, mainstream companies to cut performer rates due to declining sales. I also think the lack of verification does help to spread non-consensual and child sexual abuse content. 

Kate Kennedy: The fact that Pornhub only now, [after mainstream media and financial pressure,] decided to limit their uploads to verified accounts and to disable downloads is a slap in the face to the hundreds, thousands of sex workers who have begged them to do this, and begged the world to see that their content policies were ripe for contributing to potential abuse, for over a decade. Pornhub could have done much more, much sooner [to tackle the problems with its model.]

Rebecca Vanguard: I expect everyone else to follow Pornhub’s lead, though, and start requiring verified accounts for uploads in the near future. In some ways, it is a win for humanity. 

Allie Oops: Pornhub has been a good influence on the industry in some ways. They have donated tons of money to free speech causes, and for performers to get their monthly STI testing done. And Modelhub is the biggest venue for independent performers to sell their content online. I have plenty of friends with content up on Pornhub who’ve had a good experience with it. So, I’ve always had a hard time with the binary idea that, for porn to be ethical, you have to pay for it. But my stance has started to change. Like in music or journalism, free content can push everyone towards cheaper and cheaper business models. I don’t know if those are sustainable. But when those models become the norm in mainstream industries, how do you tell someone they have to pay for their porn, but not their music or news? I don’t know where I fall on this issue anymore.

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