The term “ethical porn” has become an increasingly popular descriptor in the sex entertainment world. Its rise in popularity could be compared to the use of “organic” in the food industry. These labels seem to denote a certain standard that is marketed as a “better product” that conscientious consumers should buy. But what does ethical porn mean? Why is it important? Where can you find it?

 

What is Ethical Porn?

Currently there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the definition of ethical porn. That’s not surprising considering “ethics” are subjective. Moral codes and ethics can vary among different cultures and even from person to person within the same culture.

Perhaps an easier way to approach defining what ethical porn means would be to explore some of the elements that are commonly cited as criteria for ethical porn.

Actors are consensual participants:

  • They are at least 18 years old,
  • Their judgment is not impaired by drugs or alcohol,
  • They are Not forced directly (e.g., physical threats of abuse, sex trafficking) or indirectly (e.g., mental health, substance addiction or financial distress), and
  • They use prophylactics (because STI status can’t be guaranteed to be 100% accurate at the time of filming due to challenges with testing windows and results, informed consent about STI risk is compromised unless prophylactics are used).

Actors are treated with respect:

  • They are fairly compensated,
  • They perform under reasonable work conditions (e.g., no 10-hour-a-day, 5-day shoots),
  • Productions adhere to medical safety standards (e.g., STI testing, bondage best practices), and
  • Sexual boundaries are protected (e.g., actors are not pressured to do anal or other acts if they don’t want to).

Other less common (but equally important) factors to consider when evaluating the ethicalness of porn include whether there is a good representation of diverse body types, race, gender and story plots. For some, porn is not ethical unless the erotic material attempts to highlight positive sexual images rather than reinforce negative stereotypes, such as an over reliance on altered bodies through surgeries (e.g., breast implants, labia reduction) or procedures (e.g., anal bleaching) or dehumanizing storylines (e.g., hostile sexism, racism). On the other hand, some advocates suggest that fantasy content should be disregarded when deciding if porn is ethical. They assert that pornography provides a non-threating sexual outlet and people should be free to explore “taboo” topics (e.g., rape, incest, gang bangs). They argue you can have ethical, kinky porn and, conversely, unethical, vanilla porn; therefore, content shouldn’t be the focus of evaluation. Taking this content-neutral argument further, some people suggest that ethical porn should focus on the actors’ pleasure and preferences, whatever the context, to provide a more realistic representation of sexual interactions.

In view of these points, the simplest definition of ethical porn would be: erotic material that is produced legally, respects the rights of the performers and for which performers are compensated fairly. Again, because of the subjective nature of ethics, each viewer can expand this definition based on the viewer’s own value system to include any additional elements that are important to the viewer.

 

Why is Ethical Porn Important?

Within the last few decades, the consumer pool for porn has been expanding to include more women. Although this is a fantastic leap for women in reclaiming their sexuality and pleasure, this can create some challenges for pornography producers. Women tend to experience more challenges with letting themselves get immersed in the fantasy of porn if they have any doubts about the consensual nature (i.e., physical, emotional, financial) of the scene. There are different terms associated with this phenomenon (e.g., high emotional labor or activation of the sexual inhibition system), but they are all describing the same thing: getting “turned off” at a time when you should be getting “turned on.”

This phenomenon is not limited to just women. Men can experience negative feelings and distress if they view video they believe may violate their personal value system (e.g., actual non-consensual scenes versus scripted fantasy storylines). Many sex therapists, educators and researchers highlight the potential value of using pornography to enhance sexual communication, fantasies, desire and even reduce stress. Therefore, ethical porn can help people engage in the erotic material more fully and without the doubts or concerns that might otherwise inhibit the enjoyment and benefit of it.

 

Where Can I Find Ethical Porn?

Unfortunately, there isn’t an official, Consumer Report for ethical pornography. However, there are specific ways you can become an informed consumer.

Do research

Read up on a porn production company’s philosophy and standards, specifically looking for content that supports ethical practices. Many companies will do behind-the-scenes interviews with the actors. For example, Kink.com will record the consent process with performers prior to filming, as well as their reactions post filming, to give you more insight into the actors’ relationship with the film. Another approach is to find certain producers or production companies that promote ethical porn. For example, Tristan Taormino, Shine Louise Houston and Erika Lust are well-known producers of ethical porn.

If you feel like you don’t have the time or energy to do all the leg work, there are trusted groups and professionals that make it their mission to vet and promote ethical porn. For example, the following groups have created databases or lists of ethical porn resources:

  • Feminist Porn Awards (feministpornawards.com) – Nominates and awards films that “treat actors fairly, embrace diversity, and depict real pleasure.”
  • Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (thecsph.org) – Created a comprehensive guide to feminist and sex positive porn.

Get to know the actors

Read or watch interviews; follow performers on social media or their professional pages. Actors will be able to provide firsthand accounts of the behind-the-scenes activities that will give you insight into the different production companies’ philosophies regarding work conditions and support for their talent. More often than not, if the actors are promoting certain films it is because they our proud of the work they have completed, which might lend itself to more ethical labor practices.

Pay for porn

Streaming free videos may be a nice benefit for your bank account, but it does very little to promote workers’ rights and compensation. Pornography is a business. The actors (among a long list of other pre- and post-production folks) need to get paid, and the best way to ensure they are getting a fair wage is to pay for your erotic viewing material. Additionally, many  of the free porn hubs or collection sites (but not all; e.g., Porntube) include pirated material or amateur submissions, which both have inherent ethical concerns. If you want to ensure your pornography is ethical, go the extra step and pay for it from responsible distributors.

Focus on U.S. productions

There is a wide variety of good porn produced globally, but there is equally a wide variety of ethical and legal standards associated with its production. In the U.S., pornography must adhere to certain legal standards, such as 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2257, which requires that all actors are at least 18 years old. 

Trust your gut

One of the best ways to evaluate porn is to trust your instincts. Do the actors look like they are enjoying themselves? Does it feel safe? Do you like what you are watching? Does this feel like a high-quality production or an amateur submission? If you start to have any visceral reactions or see potential red flags, trust your gut and stop watching it. 

 

Examples of Ethical Porn

To get a better understanding of the different types of ethical porn available, here is a very brief list of a few ethical porn sites:

  • Literotica.com – free, erotic stories submitted by users
  • Kink.com – BDSM, fetishes and other kinky sex
  • Porntube.com – free clips within a variety of categories
  • Pinkwhite.biz – queer films (production company of Shine Louise Houston)
  • Pinklabel.tv – gender queer and fluid sexuality films
  • Adameve.com – primarily a sex toy and educational website that sells DVDs
  • Sweetsinner.com – mainstream, cis-gender/heterosexual films.

 

Ethical porn is changing the way pornography is produced and consumed. Although this article focused primarily on the production of ethical porn, there is an entire second part to this discussion: how people can ethically use porn. It goes without saying that an ethically created film could be used unethically to shame, objectify, devalue or even abuse people. Part of the culture within the ethical porn framework is to reclaim this erotic medium (from start to finish) as a vehicle to promote a healthy sexual well-being. This includes using ethically created porn with consent and respect towards those people viewing it.

Fortunately, with the rise in ethical porn popularity and the discussions it has generated, more viewers can utilize porn as it was intended: a sexual aid without all the emotional and cognitive distractions.  Ultimately, it can feel good to know that while you are having a little me (or couple) time you are actually engaging in activism. All the pleasure; none of the guilt. That’s a win-win in my book.