Is there such a thing as ethical porn?

fingers on fruit
Numéro 1

Learn the ropes

Pornography: an industry
Pornography is an industry that has boomed in the last decade.
Rather encouraged by repeated lockdowns than victim of the economic crisis, the specialized site Le Tag Parfait estimates that the turnover of the industry amounts to 5 billion dollars per year.

The MindGeek group monopolizes this industry, having bought the largest streaming platforms in 2009. Among them is PornHub, a site that has tallied more than 42 billion hits in 2019. Every 9 minutes, 24 hours of content is uploaded to the site and 219,985 videos are viewed per minute. Pretty dizzying.

Sources: Huffington Post, Les Echos, Le Monde

A very male environment
A criticism often addressed to the porn industry is that it produces content made by men, for men. The societal impact of the objectification of women, the graphic representation of hardcore pornographic content, fantasized violence or extreme female submission, are all matters of debate.

Mainstream porn is based on the mistreatment of porn actresses. The dominant economic model offers very short videos, filmed in a rudimentary way, with actresses who change constantly. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the trivialization of sexual assaults on filming – among other things, when a scene not foreseen in the contract is imposed on the actress, or when the scenarios are more violent than expected.

Sources: Le Monde, Les Echos, Slate

Ethical porn illustrates a division among feminists

However, new voices are being raised in the porn industry, notably by director Ovidie or Erika Lust. More of a minority to date, these voices claim the existence of an ethical (or alternative) porn, which respects actresses and feeds the female sexual imagination as well as the male. Less phallocentric productions, which transform male objectification into a tool for emancipation.

Highlighting one of the fractures within contemporary feminism, the critics of ethical porn, theoretically situated in the radical feminist movement, consider that porn is immoral, both in its production and its distribution, and is only a legalized form of sexual exploitation.

Sources: The Guardian, RTL

Numéro 2

Choose your side

The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.
What is your opinion before reading the article?

FOR

Ethical porn exists and isn’t new: you just didn’t know about it

Bertoulle Beaurebec

Artist-performer, author, sex worker, Afrofeminist pro-choice activist

Bertoulle Beaurebec

Popular, so-called “mainstream” pornography is used as a scapegoat to explain societal ills when they exist in an institutionalized way. The popular film industry has always created narratives that normalize rape culture, justify misogyny, fetishizations of racialized women, racism, ableism, classism, queerphobia. This is true for family, horror, romantic, and adventure films. 

It would be hypocritical to expect popular pornographic films to be the only ones that exist outside of these discriminatory norms by holding them responsible for systemic oppressions that predate modern pornography. 

Because sexual fantasies are often stripped of moral principles, it would be counterproductive for popular pornography to sell only pseudo-romantic sex images.  No capitalist enterprise whose sole purpose is profit can be considered ethical in a society so deeply unequal. 

However, in the lesser-known independent pornography, performers choose their partners, the practices performed and filmed, and the conditions of filming. The remuneration for the performance and the transfer of image rights is also higher.

There is such a thing as ethical pornography. To consume it, you have to look for it, you have to admit that pornography has a culture, various sub-genres and a history like any other film genre.     

The priority is no longer to generate money but to spread a positive and empowering image of many sexualities in a society with binary sexual norms and overall misinformation about human anatomy, sexual practices, and gender identities.

This pornography is queer and militant, sometimes educational, always inclusive of diverse morphologies, genders, sexualities (cf: Carré Rose Films, Lustery, Fours Chambers). This pornography is guilt-free, moving, funny, soft, intense. In the image of our sexualities. In the image of our lives. It empowers performers, especially when they host it themselves on platforms like Mym, Manyvids, or Onlyfans, and benefit from the entirety of the revenues generated by their content.  

There are two realities taking place simultaneously. The one perceived by the dominant ones, lowering their disdainful eyes towards the others, ignoring their approaches, and despising their experiences. And there is one of the othered people. The experience of systemic oppression has allowed queer people to create a movement of ethical, humane, empathetic pornography and the representation of their sexualities, ignored by popular pornography.  

There is such a thing as ethical pornography. To consume it, you have to look for it, you have to admit that pornography has a culture, various sub-genres and a history like any other film genre.     

AGAINST

 There is no such thing as “ethical” porn

Caitlin Roper

PhD candidate and Campaigns Manager, Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation

Collective Shout

The pornography industry is built on men’s sexual violence, domination, cruelty, humiliation and degradation of women. Radical feminist theorists define pornography as the graphic form of women’s subordination and inequality. 

It is impossible to transform an industry that relies on the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies and sexuality, which turns women into things for men’s use and abuse, into an ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ practice. 

While so-called ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ porn is pitched as the solution to violent, misogynist mainstream porn, people don’t seem to be all that interested in watching it. ‘Ethical’ porn is statistically irrelevant. It comprises a tiny corner of the industry, and it’s not ethical porn keeping the nearly $200b industry flourishing. 

The bar for what constitutes ‘ethical’ porn is incredibly low, and typically only refers to conditions of production, such as fair compensation and labour conditions, representations of diverse body types and sexualities, consent and authenticity. The actual content of ‘ethical’ porn is often indistinguishable from sexist and violent mainstream porn.

It is impossible to transform an industry that relies on the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies and sexuality […] into an ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ practice. 

In Rebecca Whisnant’s critique of the work of Tristan Taormino, a so-called ‘feminist pornographer’, it was noted that depictions of violence against women, such as gagging, choking, slapping or misogynist name-calling were still prevalent. “Either it is ethical and honourable to ‘play with’ and promote the dynamics of humiliation and violence that terrorise, maim and kill women daily, or it is not,” concluded the report. 

Torture porn website Kink.com – where women are hogtied, hung upside down and caned, and subjected to ‘water bondage’ among other human rights abuses – is touted as another example of ‘ethical’ porn – even with a number of actresses having alleged abuse.

 We must remember also that women are harmed not just in the production of porn, but in its consumption too. Eroticising and normalising men’s sexual violence against women has serious real-world complications for women, even if performers consent and are paid. 

If we support women’s rights, if we believe in women’s humanity and object to men’s violence and abuse of girls, we cannot ignore the abuse of women that is pornography. It’s not enough to merely improve the conditions of this abuse –  we must abolish it.

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