Can the porn industry ever be ethical?

“I respect women and I know and respect limits both professionally and privately” – A statement from James Deen, the famous porn star who has recently been accused of various cases of sexual assault. After Deen furiously denied the rape of his ex-girlfriend, other women have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault. One of these women, who accused Deen of assaulting her on set after her shoot, said that she chose not to go to the police at the time due to the stigma surrounding the industry and prejudice she might face because of it.

This sounds like a story that we are hearing far too often these days. Afraid to come forward and report sexual assault due to a fear of being discriminated against, simply not listened to, or intimidated by the public profile of the perpetrator, victims suppress their stories and choose instead to live with the anxiety and depression that can stem from such trauma. With regards to the allegations made against Deen, they point to a certain grey area in terms of how such issues are handled within the sex industry and raise related questions about whether or not pornography can portray sexual violence as acceptable.

What measures are in place to maintain safe working environments for pornography actors? Paid to act out erotic scenes, it could be difficult to discern where the acting ends and if the cast are indeed comfortable with performing such acts. Being coerced into performing sexual acts that have not been afore agreed upon is something that can affect the young women and men who are starting out in the industry and prepared to go beyond their personal limits in order to make quick money. Just how far are these actors pushed to create a visual enactment of fetishised acts, which are increasingly focussed on violence under the guise of S&M rather than portraying a realistic representation of sex? The fact that such questions can be posed suggests that the porn industry continues, perhaps, to remain under little scrutiny in terms of its worker’s rights.

Is this because it is still considered taboo to talk about porn? Do we retain too much of a stiff upper lip, even today, to question what standards are put in place to protect workers in the industry from cases of physical assault or other accounts of injustice in the workplace, such as an absence of wage transparency or lack of payment protection? I don’t think so. Porn is so mainstream nowadays that people can find and watch pretty much anything that satisfies their innermost sexual fantasies, without feeling demonised or judged by society, or at least are happy to turn a blind eye and accept that porn is a part of contemporary culture. But is ignorance truly bliss if such ignorance results in a lack of proper regulations that should ensure job safety and stability, in any sector, purely because no one wants to talk about it? We still seem to be somewhat denying the existence of porn, and in so doing we are ultimately denying safe working environments for the people who work in the industry.

But can the porn industry ever be ethical? Many people will have a problem with discussing such issues surrounding porn because they are morally against the industry itself. Some people believe that porn is misinforming young people about what sex “should” look like and damaging feminist fundamentals by presenting objectifications of women and creating dangerous allusions between sex and violence. It is important, however, to remember this isn’t a question of personal objection to porn as an entity; it is about the fact that everyone deserves basic rights in their workplace and how denying such problems can be equally damaging, especially to workers who can be taken advantage of due to a lack of ethical standards within their chosen line of work. The sex industry has long been stigmatized and, as such, its workers’ rights undermined. There have already been countless debates about legalising prostitution, for example; establishing brothels where women (and men) can work in safe, clean environments, rather than leaving them to seek customers out on the street and possibly find themselves in dangerous situations. The first step in questioning the stigma is to accept that the sex industry exists, and as such, its workers deserve to be recognised and protected. Porn exists, and will continue to exist if not for the simple fact that it is a billion-dollar industry. And people who make their living as porn actors definitely exist. It’s time for the stigma surrounding the porn industry to be lifted.

One group who are attempting to conquer the stigma are the Ethical Porn Partnership. Nichi Hodgson, founder of the EPP and former porn actress, is spearheading the movement to implement better working standards in the porn industry. Hodgson has spoken of her own experiences working in the industry, saying that many porn actors experience anxiety over their job, whether it be from a lack of transparency concerning wages, or from not knowing exactly what would be expected from them before heading out on set. She is now determined to set better working standards across the industry in order to give both workers and customers better peace of mind in the knowledge that they are producing and watching pornography that adheres to such regulations.

For starters, the EPP have come up with a kitemark denoting good practice within the production, which will be used only in films that are ethically produced. Something like a Fairtrade sticker, but for porn. Hodgson wants to bring not only safer working conditions for all porn actors, but also implement the basic rights to wage transparency and regular breaks that should be expected in any line of work. Listed on their website [ethicalporn.org] are some of the main aims and principles, which are agreed to by affiliated pornography producers. Alongside “performer choice on condom” and “optimal sexual health screening” are points such as “regular breaks, access to food etc” and “protection of payment”. This sounds like such minor and petty details to expect from a place of work that it is hard to believe such points are continuously not being met.

The EPP are still a pretty young and evolving organisation, but have already had support from several independent studios. Hodgson hopes that, more than anything, the use of the kitemark will be a platform for further discourse about the industry as a whole. EPP are challenging the concept that all porn is exploitative, but with increasing talks about the violent and misogynistic undertones presented in pornography, it could be an uphill struggle to bring round the masses that don’t believe that pornography can ever be truly ethical.

Advertisements

One thought on “Can the porn industry ever be ethical?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s