Pandora Blake — Why Ethical Porn

Article by · April 11, 2017 ·

By Pandora Blake

“Ethical porn” is one of those phrases beloved by the media designed to get people talking. Its appeal lies in the implied contradiction — the underlying assumption that most porn isn’t ethical. For this reason I think it’s problematic, as this idea of the “ethics” of porn isn’t one developed through consultation with performers, but rather one imposed from outside. A lot of the discussions around the ethics of porn seem to focus on aesthetics, or the types of sex acts performed. We see an assumption, particularly in feminist discourse, that so-called “mainstream” porn is inevitably unethical, and that the visual tropes of it (particularly regarding the appearance of female performers) and the standard formulae of sex acts, are innately “degrading” — and, by implication, unethical.

The truth is that the ethics of porn are more complicated than that. It’s perfectly possible to produce mainstream, Silicon-valley porn in an ethical way; and some porn that brands itself as “ethical” or “feminist” is produced in a way that exploits its performers. For me, working conditions are the bottom line. The ethics of porn aren’t measured in aesthetics, but in labour rights.

Here are some of the questions that for me, interrogate how “ethical” a particular porn production is.

  • Are performers paid fairly and equally regardless of gender, skin colour and body type; or are white, cisgender, skinny performers paid more than others? How fair and diverse are hiring processes. Does the company work with a diverse range of performers and crew members, including transgender people and people of colour?
  • Are performers paid in a timely fashion, or are they jerked around and required to jump through hoops to get their pay, or even wait around for weeks after the shoot? Are contracts negotiated up front, do performers have a say in what they do and who they work with, and are those agreements honoured on set?
  • What is the company’s safer sex policy, and to what extent to they respect the agency of performers to make informed choices about their own bodies?
  • Are performers well looked after, supported, treated kindly and respectfully? Is food and drink made available?
  • Are performers pressured or coerced to do anything they don’t want to do; are their “no”s and “yes”es listened to and respected?
  • What is the process on set for pausing or stopping the action? If a performer calls “cut,” are they supported and honoured in their communication, or made to feel bad about it?
  • Do producers and directors take responsibility for what happens on set, or do they blame performers if things don’t go to plan? What accountability processes are in place to deal with miscommunications, upsets, or bad behaviour?

It’s true that the public face of a porn production can have an impact on its perceived ethics. How a company talks about its performers in marketing materials and copy, whether slurs are used and their personhood respected. These can be just as important as having ethical, professional business practices behind the scenes. And it’s immediately, visually, obvious how diverse a porn production is. But beyond that, I’m of the opinion that any sex act, and any aesthetic, can be produced in an ethical way; and that concentrating on these more visible attributes of porn is a way of erasing the more important conversation about workers’ rights.

While porn is still a stigmatised industry, and while sex work in general is still criminalised, it is hard for performers to talk openly about labour rights issues and advocate for better working conditions. While our work is not considered to be socially or legally equivalent to other contract work, it is hard for us to seek redress if contracts are not honoured. If we want ethical porn, decriminalising the sex industry is a necessary step to empower porn performers to negotiate for the working conditions and labour rights they deserve.

Pandora Blake is a feminist pornographer, sex worker and sexual freedom campaigner.  You can visit Pandora at PandoraBlake.com & .

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