At first listen, the term “ethical porn” might conjure up the same kind of images as “porn for women” – overly artsy drivel that’ll have you drying up quicker than a bad Hinge voice prompt. And when you like things as wet as I do, that’s a pretty depressing thought.
“The term ethical porn, unfortunately, brings up the same connotations as corporate social responsibility,” says Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, a user-generated adult video platform that runs on a paid subscription model. (She prefers to use the term “social sex” to describe her platform.)
But while the name might sound pretty drab, ethical porn in reality is far more exciting – and all-encompassing – than it sounds, covering everything from BDSM to blockchain-enabled porn. Here’s what you should know before diving in.
What is ethical porn?
Most of us were probably first exposed to what we typically see as unethical porn back in the 2000s, when tube sites like Pornhub became the default way to consume adult content. In the same way you’d download a sketchy Limewire song that might infect your parents’ computer, you could also access porn at the click of a button without knowing how it was made or who uploaded it.
Thankfully, the continued march of the streaming era and the criminalisation of revenge porn has led to most tube sites cracking down on illegal and pirated content. It’s also meant that conversations around ethics in porn are more commonplace.
Though there are a myriad of definitions out there, ethical porn is fundamentally porn that centers on the proper treatment of sex workers. “Simply put, [it is] porn that sticks to workers’ rights,” sex educator Evie Plumb explains. “The performer’s pay, safety and treatment is put first and is fair. Consent, sexual health and credit are paramount.”
What makes ‘ethical porn’ ethical?
Deciding what makes ethical porn ethical hinges on knowing what is unethical. “There’s revenge porn or image-based sexual abuse, which is not porn, and we should be really clear that that is nonconsensual and it needs to be taken down. Let’s get it the fuck out of here,” says Lilly Sparks, founder of ethical porn site afterglow, referring to the sharing of sexual content of someone without their consent.
“Then there’s what I like to call douchebag porn, which is like the mainstream tube sites,” she adds. “They’re just run the same way as any other industry. They don’t want to do anything illegal, but they’re in it for the money. Then I think there’s ethical porn, which at its simplest level, is just people who care about the impact of the porn that they’re making.”
Ethical porn can be divided, broadly, into three main areas. It’s content produced in an environment that is safe, where everyone is of age, consenting, and happy to participate. It also fairly compensates its creators for their time and work, like any other business. The final – perhaps the most hotly debated – aspect of ethical porn is the content itself.
For many feminists, ethical porn isn’t performative – it’s inclusive and centres a diverse set of bodies by rejecting the male gaze. Plenty of ethical porn sites are founded on this principle, and many also hope to eradicate unrealistic expectations of sex by dispelling any myths or stereotypes that people might be vicariously exposed to when watching mainstream porn.
Sparks stresses that it’s important not to kinkshame, though, and to recognise that what might seem performative for one person may feel pleasurable or empowering for another. “You shouldn’t yuck someone else’s yum,” she says. “If that performer wanted to get paid 200 bucks to show that guy her feet or whatever, like, who is this other person to say that’s not ethical?”
How do you know if the porn you’re watching is ethically made?
Unfortunately, there’s no singular FDA-style regulator distributing a stamp of approval to individual companies or studios, though trade associations like the Free Speech Coalition exist to protect workers’ rights to a safe working environment. Regulation is also made more complex when some sites are simply collections of homemade content, rather than material shot on location.
Still, there are broader signs to look out that will signpost whether the porn you’re watching has been ethically produced and curated. A transparent breakdown of the verification process is key to knowing that a company ensures its performers are of age and consenting, and many will be vocal about this on their websites and social media accounts. This verification extends to those on camera and those behind it. “We require two forms of government issued ID, one of which must be visual ID,” Gallop says about videos submitted on MakeLoveNotPorn.
Directors should also highlight that they are aware of each performer’s personal experience and limits, and that actors enjoy the content they film. “I send performers a long checklist in advance, with a list of sexual acts from kissing to triple anal, where they can tell me how much experience they have with it and how much they would like to do it,” explains director and intimacy coordinator Paulita Pappel. “On this base, I can create scenarios and concepts catering to their wishes.”
Healthy filming conditions, like regularly scheduled breaks and on-set refreshments, are also strong indicators that a production cares about the wellbeing of its workers. While these might not always be openly listed, some studios, like Pink & White Productions, operate regular paid (obviously) livestreams, where viewers are able to see how the studio operates – allowing them insight into the production process.
When it comes to user-submitted porn sites, the presence of a strong curation or moderation team is a good sign. “Our human curators watch every frame of every video submitted from beginning to end, before we approve or reject and we publish it,” Gallop says. Sites that also use highly discriminatory language in their descriptions and advertisements are also seen by many, including Plumb, as being unethical and should be avoided.
Not all of this information is instantly accessible. Sometimes, it might even require a bit of digging. But the more that you talk about ethical porn, the more companies will see the need to release clear information about their filming practices. This, in turn, might allow performers to feel more able to report any unethical or harmful practices happening in the workplace.
How to pay for ethical porn
Every single person VICE spoke to stressed that paying for porn was paramount in becoming a more ethical consumer. While consuming free “douchebag porn” isn’t as unethical as it was pre-tube crackdown, you can’t always know whether performers have been fairly paid. Paying for porn cuts out a huge amount of ambiguity. It also greatly reduces the chances of accidentally consuming pirated content, which hurts individual performers and the industry as a whole.
“In the same way you pay for going to the cinema, for your streaming platform or music, porn needs to be paid for,” Pappel says. “Consuming pirated porn is not only a copyright infringement but a means to hurt the sexual autonomy of performers. It is disrespectful and harmful.”
There are a huge variety of subscription-based ethical porn sites to choose from depending on your own tastes and kinks – we’ve listed more at the bottom of this article, and many offer free trials so you can try before you buy. If you’re interested in cutting out the middleman completely or have particular performers you’d like to see more of, you can pay for their content directly.
“Creators are likely to post and promote work that they feel proud and good about making,” says Jet Setting Jasmine, a performer, psychotherapist and founder of Royal Fetish Films. “Find a porn star you like and buy directly from them or the scenes they advertise.” Supporting individual creators isn’t just limited to buying their porn, either – you can also get their merch, buy something off their wishlist or purchase something off their affiliate links.
Is OnlyFans considered ethical porn?
It’s impossible to write about porn without mentioning OnlyFans, which has revolutionised the way we consume explicit content online. While some in the industry dislike OnlyFans due to its self-identification as a fan platform – including, of course, its failed 2021 attempt to pull out of the world of adult content – other creators, like Anne, are happy enough with their experience of the site.
Anne, who is speaking anonymously under a psudeonym to protect her privacy, has been doing online sex work since September 2022. She says that the most exploitative thing you can do is illegally rip content from someone’s OnlyFans channel or consume it through third-party sources.
“No means no,” she explains. “In all honesty, once the law catches up with the digital space, anyone who contributes to performer exploitation should be considered a sex offender.”
She’s had to send takedown requests (or DMCAs) to sites that upload their images and videos without their consent and has grappled with the negative effects of this on her mental health.
Although piracy monitoring services like Cam Model Protection tracks copyright infringement, you can make their job easier by avoiding pirated content and reporting any that you see. Never visit a site that appears to source content from creators without their direct consent, or doesn’t clearly verify or credit creators. On OnlyFans, verified creators will have a blue checkmark – they will have obtained this by submitting photos of their government issued ID and passing an age verification check.
How to broaden the type of adult content you’re consuming
Most performers and directors that VICE spoke to agreed that ethical porn usually swerves stereotyping of people of color, LGBTQIA people and people with disabilities. Ensuring that everyone feels fairly represented is critical not just for performers, but also for consumers who might pick up behavior learnt from porn through osmosis.
“When we consume porn that doesn’t have context, and doesn’t humanize the folks that are in it, we can risk normalizing this and we can see these behaviors come out in real life situations where people can be harmed,” Jasmine explains. “Unfortunately, many people learn about sex and sexual relationships through NSFW content. [We] therefore have a responsibility to increase people’s porn literacy and also increase access to content that is safe to learn from.”
If you want to broaden your porn horizons or just fancy a change, you could try another format like audio-based porn – female-founded Dipsea is an ethical, audio-focused, subscription-based app featuring erotic stories and scenarios. Voice actors for Dipsea are paid fairly for their work, with top actors reportedly earning up to $200-$400 an hour. Animated porn is another way to bypass the concern of unethical filming conditions or – but again, make sure you’re supporting artists directly, and just don’t jerk off to AI-generated porn, which is often trained on images of sexual abuse.
Support sex workers
Despite what shitty school sex education might have taught you, abstinence is never the answer. Anti-porn and sex-critical movements would like you to believe that porn should be avoided completely, but considering that porn addiction might not even be real, this is probably bullshit, and a view that further stigmatises sex workers. That stigma has real-life consequences for sex workers, too.
“We have no access to basic business necessities like bank accounts, payment processors or email marketing – private companies like Mailchimp, Paypal and others do not provide their services, which has no legal ground, and it’s therefore blatant discrimination,” Peppel explains. “If we want ‘ethical porn’, we must start as a society – and it starts with the media – to stop discriminating against the industry.”
Jasmine agrees: “Normalization of people consuming porn and participating in the porn industry will hopefully yield access to better working conditions, reduced stigma and shame, cast and crew compensation and an overall better product.”
You might still occasionally boot up a questionable streaming site to avoid getting caught on your ex’s Netflix account, but most people implicitly understand that illegal downloads hurt the creators making stuff that entertains us. The same goes for porn – we have to want ethically-made porn for more to be produced and things to radically shift. In a way, I guess you could say that getting yourself off ethically is an act of activism.
Some more of our favorite ethical porn sites:
CHEEX is a subscription service focusing on realistic sex and erotica, well as audio content and live pleasure workshops. It features a variety of award-winning porn performers, is ad-free, and doesn’t share data with third parties. All performers are of legal age, paid fairly, and tested regularly.
Aortafilms is an award-winning porn studio focusing on queer cinema. They feature performers across a wide range of bodies and identities who are tested and checked in with regularly. Performers are also welcome to suggest edits so they are represented in a way that they agree with.
Dreams of Spanking is the go to site for anyone with this particular kink. They are a sex-positive and inclusive studio who pay their performers fairly and prioritise performer welfare and informed consent.
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