Sex & Dating | January 13, 2021 8:26 am

How to Tell If Your Porn Is Problematic

Performers weigh in on what ethically produced porn really means, and how to know if you're watching it

You probably can't tell ethically made porn just by looking at it.
You probably can't tell ethically made porn just by looking at it.
Casting Couch X

This is the second installment in a three-part series on ethical porn consumption in the aftermath of last month’s Pornhub controversy. Last week, industry professionals shared their insight on the best ways to pay for porn. In this segment, performers from various industry backgrounds (many of whom also work on the production side of the industry) explore the ethics of porn production, content and whether or not you can ever really know what’s going on behind the scenes.

InsideHook: As in any industry, it can be hard for consumers to tell from the outside what steps content creators are taking to make sure performers feel safe and respected on and off sets, when the steps they tout are not actually all that meaningful or substantive, or when they’re not living up to their stated ideals in practice. How can porn consumers with limited industry knowledge figure out which producers or distributors they can trust and should support?   

Kate Kennedy: This is like asking if every component of your iPhone was ethically mined, smelted, designed, configured, manufactured and sold.  

Kendra James: I honestly have no idea. 

Charlotte Sartre: There is no way of knowing, 100 percent of the time, what goes on behind the scenes at any company inside and outside of the porn industry. And some companies may be great 99 percent of the time, but individual performers still end up having bad experiences. 

Jessica Starling: Generally, any professional studio will follow baseline protocols, like age verifications and model releases. However, with high-profile cases like Girls Do Porn [which misled many performers about where and how their content would be distributed and pressured them into acts they had not agreed to beforehand during shoots, among other egregiously abusive practices], I can understand why consumers may be hesitant about what to trust. 

Charlotte Sartre: A lot of studios, especially in the BDSM realm, film intro and exit interviews establishing consent and asking performers about their experiences in a scene. These can be helpful. But even those interviews can be subject to producer coercion or other variables. 

Jessica Starling: To completely avoid issues, buy scenes directly from individual performers who have full control over what happens in those scenes, lessening the chances of on-set abuse. 

Allie Oops: Buying farm-to-table from performers is one of the safer bets. But even that’s not surefire. Even in private, personal sex between consenting adults, things can go wrong or get weird sometimes. There is no easy guide. Anyone can create ethical porn, be it an indie feminist producer, an individual content creator or a big company. But they also all have the potential to exploit performers, be exploited by the people they work with, and ultimately create unethical content. I think transparency and accountability are the big things to look for — companies acknowledging when things go wrong and taking the actions people request in response. 

Rebecca Vanguard: I would suggest a quick Google search of a [company, studio or performer] you’re interested in, alongside keywords such as malpractice, unpaid, disrespect, abuse on set and so on. This will pull up everything from news articles to social media posts about them. Everyone in porn has a Twitter account, down to niche cam girls and fetish models. Everyone. 

Jessica Starling: More and more performers are opening up about abuse that happens on set. It usually becomes clear within a few minutes of scrolling through social media if a company or an individual has been involved in any kind of [publicly discussed] unethical practices or scandals. 

Kate Kennedy: If an individual is promoting a scene on social media, that’s also a good, if not infallible, indicator that it was successful and consensually produced.

Aria Khaide: If this is really important to a consumer, they can reach out to a performer and say, Hey, I saw that you worked with this company or this person. I’m interested in consuming ethically made porn. How was your experience working with them? 

You research what kind of car you want to drive to make sure it’s going to work for you and keep you safe. Why wouldn’t you research the kind of porn you’re going to watch, as well? 

Kendra James: I think putting people on blast on social media is tacky. Not everyone has the same experience with them. It’s hard to know whose accounts to favor … I don’t know. 

Allie Oops: Performers are the number-one sources of information on whether a company treated them well. But there can be power dynamics at play, where people don’t feel capable of speaking up about what they’ve experienced because they don’t want to lose work or connections at these companies. [So, there will always be hard limits on what outsiders can learn about productions.]

Kendra James: And with so many companies, indie producers and hobbyists coming and going, it can be hard to keep track of everyone in the industry today, to know who is and is not okay. 

Jiz Lee: Sometimes, it seems like people give special scrutiny to the ethics of porn just because it deals with sex. But consider mainstream movies and television: We don’t know every detail behind most Hollywood productions, but the average person doesn’t seem nearly as concerned about researching every director and producer’s history. I’ve heard from adult performers who have had auditions for or roles in mainstream movies, and who are shocked by the non-consensual behaviors they experienced on sets, when compared to adult film sets, where people are versed in openly discussing sexual negotiations as part of their primary operations. 

So, yes, be a conscientious consumer. [Try to look at, and make your best judgments about, what goes on behind the scenes.] But don’t limit your ethical concerns to just the porn industry. 

InsideHook: Some commentators argue that ethically engaging with porn also means making sure that people don’t support content that perpetuates racial bias, rape culture or other social crises. What do you make of that argument? Should people steer away from that content? 

Kendra James: I may have a bit of a skewed view on this, because I shoot a lot of fetish content, which often depicts people getting mesmerized and compelled to do things they would not do in other contexts. I believe that, as long as things are shot with consenting adults working within their own boundaries, it’s all okay. It all comes down to understanding what is fantasy versus reality. Unfortunately, I’m not sure fans and consumers always understand that division. 

Rebecca Vanguard: In the world of fantasy, there are no limitations. There are no morals or ethics. It isn’t real. It’s role play. It’s a dream. As long as we can separate fantasy from reality, then there’s no harm, no foul. As long as what content creators are doing isn’t completely batshit insane and no one walks away with lifelong damages, then enjoy to your heart’s content. 

Kate Kennedy: I actually agree that it’s incredibly important, although probably uncomfortable, to face off with what blows your hair back. If you get off on things that are conventionally seen as immoral or wrong, that’s worth exploring, but it’s not necessarily cause for alarm. Sexuality is weird and sometimes upsetting. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. We often compartmentalize our personal traumas, and fetishization is one of the ways our brains take power back over them. It’s worth exploring for the sake of personal growth and peace, if nothing else. 

Jessica Starling: Some of these are extremely valid points. We should always be evaluating what porn we consume and enjoy, what we find sexually attractive or arousing, and why. Porn is a reflection of society, and society is misogynistic, racist, transphobic, ableist and homophobic. There is porn that falls under these -isms. I believe it is unethical to consume that porn. For example, porn that features BBC, Asian women in racially submissive or stereotypical roles, or transmisogynistic slurs are all types of porn that I would consider unethical to consume. 

Charlotte Sartre: Ethics can depend on who you ask. Some people say political correctness has no place in porn, since it’s meant to be fantasy, not reality. Other people believe porn is a good place to affect positive social change, as many people watch it. Porn can be social commentary, art, and creative expression. But sometimes it’s just porn, and it doesn’t need to be anything else. 

There are things I don’t feel comfortable doing in scenes, and stereotypes I don’t want to reinforce. But performers sometimes need money, so they will agree to scenes they don’t feel great about. [They shouldn’t be judged for doing what they need to do.] If a viewer thinks watching gangbang porn or whatever could perpetuate harmful narratives, they don’t have to watch it. This is a complicated issue. No one should be the arbiter of anyone’s moral conduct. 

Allie Oops: This issue gets really complicated. I have a hard time watching Blacked.com. It’s owned by a white man who profits off of sexual stereotypes that come from the legacy of slavery. We don’t need to be perpetuating deeply racist stereotypes to earn a white man millions. On the other hand, I’ve heard black men say that they just want to see themselves in porn. Blacked.com is one of the few places they can see that. It’s sad that black men aren’t just cast equally in any role in porn — that they’re usually only cast in those contexts instead. But maybe I can acknowledge that someone else can thoughtfully engage with and enjoy that site. 

Aria Khaide: The use of the N-word in fetish clips has been a hot topic in 2020. But a lot of the producers who ask for it are black men who want it because it gets them off. I think we really just need to understand the context behind those scenes. Maybe we need more disclaimers? 

Allie Oops: Some of the racial stereotypes porn uses in storylines, no other business in 2020 could reference without being run out of the market. It’s shocking to see porn people just shrug it off. I believe we can have diversity in porn without fetishizing someone’s features, or their race. 

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