The Horizontal

What Does Ethical Porn Look Like?

by Emma McGowan

Porn. Some people love it. Others hate it. Even more feel… weird about it. But pretty much everyone has watched it. The internet has made watching other people have sex more possible — and more varied — than ever. So we decided to survey our community to find out: What do people think of porn?

Our survey found that the Dame community’s biggest concern about porn was “I’m worried about the ethics of treatment of many porn workers (70.40%).” And while that’s admirable — we should all be concerned about the labor rights and treatment of workers in general — the concern about sex workers in porn is actually more complicated than it seems at first.

“There’s this moral panic that we have with porn right now, where everyone is irrationally scared about how evil porn is,” Allie Oops, queer porn director, producer, and performer tells Dame. “And it’s not based in reality. It’s a moral panic that we put onto porn.”

The feeling that porn is “evil” can be found in a wide range of people, from the staunchest feminists to the most stringent conservatives. In conservatives, it manifests as the idea that porn — and sex in general — are inherently wrong. It’s a belief that’s often tied to religious morality. But in feminists, it manifests as concern about performers — a concern that can come off as condescending (dare we say… paternalistic?) at times.

(This survey went out to the Dame community and the 324 respondents were largely straight [59.94%] women [87.58%] between the ages of 18 and 34 [83.29%]. Considering the fact that the most popular Dame product, Eva, is a toy specifically designed for a person with a penis having sex with a person with a vagina, that breakdown was unsurprising. But we want to emphasize before we jump into the details that this is not a representative sample of the entire world’s view of porn. This is a sample of a specific community.)

”I would like to see more porn that I feel is ethical. Also more porn catered to women!!”

“A more prominent conversation on ethics, both for porn workers and in general people who are negatively affected by the expectations set by porn (women, POC, LGBTQ+, etc)”

There’s a lot of talk about “ethical” and “feminist” porn but, as is the case with porn in general, it can be hard to define. A lot of people believe that the action on the screen is what makes porn “ethical,” but Allie says that’s a mistake.

“You’ll never be able to judge a porn as being ethical by what you see on the screen. Ever,” Allie says. “As I’ve unpacked my own whorephobia and my own anger and resentment toward mainstream porn — because that’s what I was taught to feel about it — the more I’ve realized that ethical porn as a concept is not a genre, but a set of labor rights and practices that apply to indie porn, feminist porn, mainstream porn, triple anal porn — whatever. It’s a set of work standards that can be applied to anything.”

“I hope that the sex workers in porn are protected and safe”

“I hope that people who act in porn can have the freedom to only do scenes they are enthusiastically consenting to do with other people they are comfortable interacting with.”

The going advice for people who are interested in consuming ethical porn has long been to follow a few directors who have made names for themselves in the genre. But is that actually the best move?

“Sometimes there’s this binary that I think feminist porn makes like, ‘We’re ethical and they’re not,’” Allie says. “We have this history in porn of feminist pornographers positioning themselves against mainstream porn, which feeds into the narrative that porn is unethical. What I’m really trying to work on is the idea that ethical porn should apply to all porn and all aspects of the industry.”

Instead of following directors or producers, then, Allie recommends following the performers themselves. Social media has given porn performers a medium for communicating directly with their audiences. That means you don’t have to wonder about how a porn is produced. You can see for yourself what the performer says about it.

“The first and most important thing in porn is the performer. The performer is the most marginalized person on set,” Allie says. “If you want to know if the porn you’re watching is ethical, follow the porn performer. See what they’re saying about their work. I know social media is curated, but I also know that porn performers are pretty good at saying when things aren’t going right.”

“I’d like to see the average porn video/movie not be heteronormative by default. Even porn that is queer in nature still has a heteronormative lens to it, mostly to try and sell it better.”

“I want more diversity! More queer femme porn that is by and for queer femmes! More compensation for workers! Less stigma! More disabled bodies, or unconventional ones!”

Despite the many professed concerns about porn performers, 84.26% of respondents said that they consume porn on free video sites, also known as “tube” sites. The problem with that? Much of the content stolen. And that means that the people who produce them aren’t getting any money for their work.

So if tube sites are out, where should the responsible, ethical, feminist porn viewer get their porn? The answer is simple: Directly from the performers.

“One way you can really ensure that you’re having an ethical porn experience is buying porn directly from the performer, rather than production companies,” Allie says. “There are a lot of sites where you can buy directly from the performer. Consistently, across the board, I’ve heard porn performers say that’s the best thing.”

And buying directly from porn performers means that the money goes directly into their pockets — and that’s money they can use to make more varied, representative porn that so many Dame respondents said they want. That porn isn’t cheap to make, and because of very low demand, it isn’t easy to sell.

“My trans porn? I made no money on them,” Allie says. “But the porn where I literally paid a guy $50 and sucked his dick and shot it POV? I made like $5k on that one.”

So if you find that queer porn with people of all different races and abilities, and it gets you off? Pay for it. Pay the people who made it, and keep paying them.

“I think it’s important to remember that porn exists in a capitalist lens, just like Dame exists in a capitalist lens,” Allie says. “Most queer porn is just not super realistic to sell, and we live in a capitalist society where people in porn are trying to survive.”

Allie hopes that one day, the queer and trans porn that she half-jokingly refers to as her “volunteer work” will be popular enough to bring in money. And in the meantime, she has one request.

“If you find those people who are making that kind of porn, give them your money,” Allie says. “Give. Them. Your. Money.”

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