Does the Public Care About Ethical Porn?

Article by · May 21, 2017 ·

By Rich Moreland. 

Instead of offering my personal view on ethical porn, I decided to ask others for theirs. I went into my community (Washington D.C. Metro area) to talk with the “person on the street” about the topic.

I made informal contact with thirty people of both sexes aged nineteen to seventy-four and asked each for a definition of ethical porn. A scattering of respondents knew of my industry connections. A handful were friends, others hardly acquaintances, and some did not know me at all.

Overall, most people were genuinely puzzled by the term. Discussing ethical porn often created discomfort leading a few individuals to disregard the question altogether. Some people were familiar with the industry, but rarely did I find anyone who mentioned watching pornography and no one admitted paying for it.

Most people knew nothing about how the business operates and, not surprisingly, a few believed that unwilling women are lured or forced into having sex on film.

So, here we go.

The High Ground?

Some respondents, a doctor, an ex-military officer, a teacher, and a small business owner among them, dismissed ethical porn as an oxymoron. Our culture teaches us that porn is immoral by its very nature, they said.

For them, pornography is a black and white issue, as one person said, with no middle ground. Though conceding pornography is a part of our culture, some respondents felt talking about it was inappropriate.

Porn is an addiction, a few people insisted, and brought up ruined marriages as the typical danger it presents.

Though one respondent believed pornography is “inherently unethical and socially destructive,” some guidelines should be observed in its production. He didn’t offer any examples.

One young man said all nudity is pornographic unless it’s tastefully displayed in a museum where it passes for art. Another admitted to looking at pornography before he fell into a “dark bad place.” Thankfully he has experienced a “positive change,” he said, and offered me a Biblical quote on guilt and sin. No one should be involved with porn, he added.

On the other hand, a minister mentioned that he had “nothing against the industry” but was concerned about the humiliation and abuse of women in it.

A lay addiction counselor suggested the following.

If a married couple takes explicit pictures of themselves for private use (i.e. masturbation), that passes the ethical porn test. However, pornography is addictive and can lead to sex outside the relationship because men are “created” to look at women. He did say that sex inside marriage can become repetitive and porn might keep a husband from cheating.

Finally, one person saw ethical porn through a political filter.

The idea sounds like a scam, he declared. The whole industry is questionable and probably using ethical porn as a way to promote unionization and “up the minimum wage” for performers. After all, they’re California leftists so “what can you expect.”

Finally, one respondent said there is a gray area between unethical and ethical porn. He could not define it, but like Justice Potter Stewart, he knows the difference when he sees it.

So What About the Rest?

Summarizing the other respondents fits generally into the ethical porn paradigm of consent and choice as it is emerging within the industry.

Some people indicated that the moral issue is sticky because whose concept of morality prevails is always in question. On the whole, however, ethical means “all participants feel they have earned a good income, don’t feel that they have been taken advantage of in any way, and feel a sense of accomplishment in their product,” as one person put it.

Another phrased it this way, porn is ethical if it uses “willing participants that are happy to perform in an adult-themed video and are satisfied with the compensation” they get.

Here is a sampling of other points of view.

Ethics is important in all aspects of our culture, an academician said. For her, porn is a business and ethical procedures must be followed. Another respondent mentioned if porn is to be ethical, the industry should self-regulate with a governing board that gives films the stamp of approval.

A business owner insisted that consent and choice are markers of ethical porn. Porn should not degrade women (he mentioned face slapping, in particular). Concerns about piracy make sense to him because he understands the costs of doing business.

A stock broker brought up performer humiliation and objectification, further reinforcing consent and choice. On the other hand, he supports a total free market economy and sees piracy as a problem the industry must handle on its own.

Most porn companies honor consent and choice, a young woman said, despite the existence of some disreputable companies. She hopes ethical practices will increase porn’s diversity regarding people of color, sexualities, and body types. But, she commented, some porn looks like it hurts, asserting that “the contortion in gonzo has always looked unnatural and weird.”

Another twenty-something female talked about respect in terms of clear boundaries on both sides of the camera. Performer comfort level must be established before shooting begins and the health and safety of all performers must be honored.

A married couple also emphasized performer consent. No children or animals should ever appear on-screen. Porn is ethical in its own right, the husband said, and the religious views or personal philosophies of others should never determine what is ethical for anyone. Both mentioned that parents should take responsibility for keeping their kids away from porn.

A cinematographer who shoots commercial shorts believes ethical means filming should use professionals familiar with lightning, sound, and directing. Health and safety guidelines (no drugs or alcohol) also should be observed. He did believe that monitoring these guidelines are part of the responsibility of the crew.

One person gave me an indirect answer. Here it is.

There is a balance between the right to do what you want and the dignity of the other person. What is ethical is a perception, an individual decision. This applies to the production and consumption of pornography, though he didn’t say how.

Finally, an independent filmmaker who does not shoot pornography had an interesting view. When production is considered, porn is an industry and “surely must have a code of ethics that is followed and respected.”

What about content?  Pornography has “certain stories, styles, and aesthetics,” he continued, and defining it is difficult because “what is porn for some is poetry for others.”

Which led to this:

“If by ethical porn we are referring to content, then we’re entering murky waters where once again the line that separates porn from poetry is non-existent.”

Where Does this Leave Us?

Most respondents wanted to talk further when they were finished with their thoughts and many were genuinely surprised when I explained how the adult film business operates. Nevertheless, among people who were openly anti-porn, words like sex slaves, human trafficking, child pornography, and drug addiction kept coming up and I felt some did not believe what I had to say because they “know” what the industry is all about.

The idea of ethical porn is baffling to many people, I think, because our cultural upbringing does not allow us to see pornography in a positive light or as a legitimate business. Plus, the media rarely draws distinctions between reputable and disreputable pornography producers . . . or good and bad porn, for that matter.

As a result, ethical porn does not resonate broadly with the public. However, the opportunity to educate the “person on the street” exists as the discussion now taking place within the industry spills over into the “civilian” world.

Rich Moreland Porn JournalistRich Moreland is an educator who writes in the adult industry. He blogs at 3hattergrindhouse.com and contributes articles to Adult Industry News (AINews.com). Rich’s book, Pornography Feminism: As Powerful as She Wants to Be, was published in 2015. He can be reached on Twitter at @PornoFeminism

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