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How Ethical Is “Ethical Porn,” Really?

Many people argue in favor of ethical porn that allegedly guarantees performers’ consent, fair pay, and enjoyment. But is ethical porn really exploitation-free? Let’s discuss.

By December 1, 2021No Comments

It’s becoming less of a secret that the mainstream porn industry has a history of exploitation. For that reason, many people argue in favor of so-called “ethical porn” that allegedly guarantees performers’ consent, fair pay, and enjoyment.

But is ethical porn really exploitation-free? Let’s discuss.

In an effort to become more ethical, some studios have tried to implement “exit interviews” where after a shoot is over, the performers state on-camera that they consented to everything. But unfortunately, many performers report being coerced into lying in exit interviews since their paycheck and future jobs often depend on them saying everything was consensual.

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As one performer said, “I was severely abused on set a few times… and had to say on camera at the end [that] I was fine. In fact, one time I said, ‘no, I am not okay,’ and they screamed at me that I couldn’t say that and get paid.”

Related: Let’s Talk About Ethical Porn—Is It Really Exploitation-Free?

Paying performers directly through sites like OnlyFans is another way people claim consent can be guaranteed in porn. But what many people don’t realize is that OnlyFans—much like the mainstream porn industry—has a history of profiting from nonconsensual content, trafficking, and even child sexual abuse material (aka “child porn”).Titheradge, N., & Croxford, R. (2021). The children selling explicit videos on OnlyFans. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-57255983COPY 

But paying performers directly comes with its own issues. Many OnlyFans creators find that because they are obligated to the demands of subscribers, their boundaries are pushed further and further in order to keep making fresh, competitive content and thus keep an income.

Even if someone “consents,” is it enthusiastic consent? Are they free to revoke that consent without fear of losing their livelihood?Agnew, M. (2020). How influencers are being talked into porn on OnlyFans. The Times Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/onlyfans-influencers-online-sex-workers-porn-sr55qhx9hCOPY 

Related: If The Porn Industry Was Ethical, Would That Make Porn Healthy To Watch?

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As one OnlyFans creator said, “Every time I posted something, my followers would say, ‘That’s good but it’s not enough,’ I felt like I had to keep getting more extreme. I told myself that I was empowered and wanted to pretend that I was, but I felt horrible… I couldn’t stop, because everyone was telling me I had to keep going. I was being forced—honestly, it felt like that.”Agnew, M. (2020). How influencers are being talked into porn on OnlyFans. The Times Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/onlyfans-influencers-online-sex-workers-porn-sr55qhx9hCOPY 

Many people consider “amateur” porn an ethical option, since it doesn’t usually rely on big studios that could exploit performers, but research suggests that amateur porn usually promotes the same toxic, violent, and problematic depictions as mainstream porn—in fact, it’s often worse.Klaassen, M. J. E., & Peter, J. (2015). Gender (in)equality in internet pornography: A content analysis of popular pornographic internet videos.52(7), 721-735. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.976781COPY 

But even if consent in porn could be fully guaranteed, that wouldn’t make porn harm-free. There are hundreds and hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that show that porn can play a role in relationship issues, poorer mental health, normalizing sexual violence, etc.

Related: Would “Exploitation-Free” Porn Be Harm-Free For Consumers?

So while the concept of ethical porn may be well-intentioned, unfortunately, there is still no way to guarantee that it’s truly exploitation-free.

And regardless, porn can still have serious negative effects on the consumer and their relationships. Is watching worth it?

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