Magnus Sullivan — Why Ethical Porn?

Article by · April 16, 2017 ·

By Magnus Sullivan

I assume that anyone who asks the question, “What is ethical porn?” has a very clear answer to the question, “What is ethical capitalism?” If you don’t, you’re way ahead of yourself in asking this question.

The field of ethics has a few ways of looking at behavior to evaluate whether it’s “moral” or “right or wrong.” From a normative ethics perspective, we can say that there is a very basic and clear arrangement that all parties agree to: people are asked to perform a task; they are paid for the tasks; there is a very clear contractual agreement that is signed by all parties that governs the agreement. It is largely transparent and consensual. On this level, it is a very simple “work for hire” agreement.

I think it’s important to note that the question is not about “exploitation,” because that is inherent to capitalism and no one complaining about porn is complaining about capitalism: we generally accept that anytime someone makes money from a transaction or exchange, someone is getting the short end of the stick. Neither is this about “taking advantage of the vulnerable” because that happens every second across the globe in so many different ways. What makes porn different from, say, designing the “Camel Joe” character or creating seductive commercials for Coke or developing algorithms to identify oil embedded in rock or working for a sub-living wage at most of the companies who employ people is that the transaction in porn involves sex—and sex freaks us out.

While there is certainly unethical behavior within the adult industry (just as there is any sector), the industry itself is a highly regulated and scrutinized adult entertainment market. The real issue behind the ethics question is the motivation of talent to perform sex acts for money. We worry that people in vulnerable situations (drug addiction, financial distress, etc.) are essentially driven to the industry as a last resort or, in extreme cases, coerced against their will. But this is not an issue with the industry, but rather socio-economic factors that might drive someone to do something they later regret.

While there is a lot of debate inside the industry over pay rates, rights, royalties and benefits, these are all issues that are common tensions between labor and ownership in any industry. The bottom line for me is that adult productions are ethical when the basic exchange is consensual and when there is complete transparency into and understanding of the level of risk a performer is being asked to assume.

That said, there is a lot of room for improvement. Performers need to have better access to affordable health care specific to their work (testing fees, for instance, are ridiculously high for all but those who perform on a regular basis); performers need to have the ability to better prepare for retirement; performers need better access to legal support; and the groups that advocate for performers need a reliable source of funding. The Free Speech Coalition and the Adult Performers Actors Guild are marching in the right direction, but they need more resources to realize their vision. I believe the Screen Actors Guild provides a good model for APAG, with respect to both the structure and guidelines as well as methods and timelines necessary to exert the full force of performer rights.

Learn more about Magnus Sullivan and his works at BetterThanTheHand.com.

1 Comment

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    Mr. Sullivan,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. The adult entertainment business is, and always been a billion dollar business. And as much as many people in our society (still to this day) want to turn a blind eye to that fact, and try to force (unsuccessfully) a Prop60 measure upon those in the adult entertainment, the fact is that this form of art and entertainment is just relevant, important and needed in our society and culture. 50 Shades of Grey, and many other movies (past and present) have proven that the beauty and intimate art of sex is, and always will be, a part of the human spirit. We can give constitutional protection, rights and legal support to criminals who commit acts of terrorism on our soil, but we cannot take care of a certain group of entertainers because we choose to segregate them into a different “class” of entertainers.

    We point the finger at President Trump, and accuse him of evading, stealing and preventing basic rights to certain people, we accuse him of division and not being accepting and tolerant. But yet, we are the hypocrites, the cowards and the self appointed authority that deems it necessary to deny protection, legal support and rights to those very people who have the spine to give us a different form of what mainstream Hollywood provides to its customers…an out, a release and an escape from this frequent malicious and upside world of ours.

    In the mainstream movies and tv shows, they can be applauded and even put on a pedestal for certains “acts” that they perform on-screen, while their counterparts are shunned and often times silenced.

    Mr. Sullivan, thank you for having the balls and the courage to write this piece, and I also thank you for speaking up at the 2015 Xbiz conference, of which I was an attendee. I had the honor meeting you, and speaking with you. I watched your Marriage 2.0 and absolutely loved it. And I see that during the whole Prop60 campaign, a lot more people in the adult entertainment business started speaking up.

    Once again, thank you Sir. I know we didn’t get a chance to speak more, and possibly work together as you were busy with Marriage 2.0 promotions and other projects at the time, and I was mainly focused on working in mainstream projects. If it be fate, or destiny, we will get that chance to collab.

    Take care Sir, and keep speaking up.

    Respectfully,
    Jeff Johnson


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