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What Is Ethical Porn? : Perhaps That's the Wrong Question.

What Is Ethical Porn? by Luna Malbroux

Perhaps That's the Wrong Question.

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This article is provided free of charge. Sometimes we make an issue item free because we feel the message is more important than the commerce. Enjoy!

To the non-performer lay-person, the average foiled human socialized in a world without adequate sex education much less honest, open conversations about sex- ‘porn’ is a word enshrined in secrecy and shame. Even those of us, like myself, who ascribe to a sex-positive worldview, with friends in the industry and maybe a history of sex work can fall subject to the stigma that surrounds the making and performing of porn.

Combine that stigma with a growing cultural and social movement over the last decade to critique existing institutions with a lens tuned to identify and root out inequality, racism and abuse rooted in previously unquestioned patriarchal norms and what bubbles to the surface is huge big theories- like equity and ethics, without a roadmap or an agreed upon understanding of what that means in that application.

To put it simply. Some of us may want to pat ourselves on the back as morally aligned beings who always do what’s right. We want ethical porn- but we don’t know what ‘ethical’ means. And even worse, if we’re not careful- our search for the application of ethics in the porn industry can be a trojan horse to sneak in some of that same stigma and shame surrounding sex that we’re trying to move away from.

In my search for trying to pinpoint ethical porn, it was conversations with Vex Ashley and Andre Shakti that really solidified that as sex-positive and equity-minded as I thought I was, I still have so much shit to unlearn and explore about porn as a non-performer.

Porn performer, director and filmmaker, Vex Ashley, unpacked my question around ethical porn really quickly.

“I don’t think anything is inherently ethical!”

She continued,

“Ethics are subjective and based on an individual's personal values and experiences. I think reducing stigma and reframing sex work and porn in the public eye as something with value and to value the lives and experiences of the people in it.”

Andre Shakti, a porn performer and film maker, agreed, and expanded even more on how the determinations of what is “ethical” could be inherently problematic.

“Many people who consume pornography, lay-people not in the industry, think they can watch a porn and tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt whether it was made ethically or unethically,” Andre said.

“You know, when we're talking about ethical, moral, we're like looking at a kind of binary. You know, then we have to infer that any other form that is not ethical, its thereby unethical. And I have a problem with that as well.”

I gulped as I listened to Andre, because I have definitely come to those conclusions before, looking at performers in porn when that question arises in the back of my head ‘But how much are they really enjoying it?’

Andre continued to explain how that question is loaded with a lot of assumptions that can potentially be problematic.

“We get paid to literally sell a fantasy,” she continued.

“The concept of enjoyment and how it relates to, uh, the work itself is not called into question in almost any other profession. If I'm a banker, no one is going to stop supporting me in my career. If I just say, ‘yeah, today, I didn't like my job.’”

The fact is, every job has good days and bad days. There are things we like to do related to our work and those tasks we’d rather avoid. Setting this reality aside for porn is another way that we can invalidate sex work as work, and ignore the value that porn performers bring to our perspectives about sex.

Ultimately, to put it in Vex Ashley’s own words, “We need to radically change our cultural consciousness around sex and sexuality.”

But that requires work. And she has some ideas about how we get there.

“This starts with an acceptance of sex as an important part of the human experience and then learning, discussing, sharing stories, teaching and making art about it as such. Share the porn you like, talk to your friends about sex, fight for labour rights and protections for sex working people, get involved in campaigns for sex education reform and reproductive rights justice.”

And when it comes to ethics in porn, Andre Shakti clarified that shifting the focus to the work conditions of filming has the potential to be the place to support performers without our subjective judgement and fluctuating principles of morality flooding our judgement.

“It is critical to be working towards ethical working conditions. When it comes to porn sets, making sure that people are paid fairly and that they are treated with respect and provided with basic human needs on sets.”

Which for Shakti, brought up a whole other host of issues- the shifts that are occurring from performers and film makers in the industry who are deciding that some of the decades old racist, homophobic, and transphobic practices- like how many cis white women are still paid extra when they perform with a Black male, or cis male and trans women performers that perform with men are given extra scrutiny and extra restrictions placed on them as being potential carriers of HIV, even though across the board, porn performers continue to have some of the lowest rates of STI transmission.

If you’re a consumer who wants to continue to support progress in the industry, one of the best things you can do is see the value and inspiration in the art.

“I love going to porn film festivals and soaking up what’s hot for other people, I always come away with new ideas and my sexual consciousness is expanded. Actionist art and artists that use their bodies in their work were some of my earliest and most enduring inspirations,” Vex Ashley shared.

And of course, support performers and filmmakers directly.

“There’s a lot of great female directors like Shine Louise Houston. I love working with her. She has a great eye, she makes sets really comfortable,” Andre beamed.

She continued, “If you have a favorite performer. Follow them on social media. See if they have an Only Fans or a website where you can support them directly.”

Great advice from two performers who are changing the game in an emerging world, expanding our narratives about sex. 

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