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Ethical Porn Is Not a Genre

I have been in the industry since 2010, being able to explore the ethical production of intimate scenes. In addition I interviewed many people from the industry and was able to broadened my understanding of the topic

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“Porn isn’t just about supplying labour in the market economy, this is a very personal investment on the part of the supplier [contributor/performer]. You need to have a more humanistic approach when you are making porn...listen to people and make sure they are comfortable in every step of the process”

Ethical porn is not a genre. Ethical porn or rather the ethical production of intimate scenes is something you do. It’s the way you treat the people you work with. Those are the standards that you conduct and refer to. The ethical production process applies regardless of the genre (mainstream porn, indie production, mainstream cinema) and It’s about people and their physical and emotional boundaries. It’s about a safe work environment and a respectable approach. It’s about values that celebrate diversity in pleasure.

I have been in the industry since 2010, managing the production process, and ensuring participants’ comfort, consent and professional treatment. Through these years I was able to explore the ethical production of intimate scenes. Additionally, I have interviewed many people from the industry and with each conversation, I have broadened my understanding of this topic. One of the people that I had a chance to speak with was Richard Lawrence the owner and creator of projects like Beautiful Agony, IShotMyself or IFeelMyself. Richard is a great guy, with a passion for the production of erotic scenes. During the interview, I asked him how he defines ethical porn. His explanation was astonishing in its simplicity. He divided this seemingly complex and confusing term into two approaches: how it’s made and how it’s used. He says: 

“In terms of how it’s made - it’s stuff that you expect any organisation to adopt in their dealings with people, but the porn industry which historically has been a bit on the fringe hasn’t always done that. There are things like: treating people with respect, being honest, paying well, giving them agency in the process - feels like obvious reasons to do in any business but seems like porn has never approached it that way. [...] The second part is to look at the values that you portray in your work and this is where probably the mainstream porn has fallen the most”.

Let’s unpack this concept a little bit.

The values

Porn should be respectful toward the performers, crew and consumers. It should be inclusive and diverse in portraying pleasure. It must favour a human-centric approach in the process of creation. Since pleasure is individual and different for each of us, the production of intimate scenes should reflect it. Porn is no longer about the “patriarchal  power of heterosexual pleasure”. At present times it has the potential to offer a new dimension to intimacy, the one that is respectful, inclusive and diverse.

Transparency and flow of information.

In one of the interviews, I spoke with Paulita Pappel, a brilliant filmmaker and feminist pornographer. She is the founder of Lustery.com, a platform dedicated to the sex lives of real-life couples from around the world. According to Paulita the transparency in the process is very important. Her company offers a FAQ for couples where they can read what to expect and what are possible consequences of having sex content published online. The performers need to know that the content will end up being pirated and anyone will be able to view it. And since there is a great deal of stigma assigned to porn, the production companies carry a responsibility to honestly inform the performers about the ups and downs of this work. However, transparency is not only about the risks. It is about clearly explaining how and where the content will be used, what are the work conditions and expectations, how much the pay is and what’s the process like. One cannot make a conscious decision if only partial or untruthful information was provided.

ethical-porn

Presence of independent Intimacy Coach(IC)

So far this is an unusual role to be covered in porn productions, but this is slowly changing. We see Erika Lust having a requirement of such a person on the set. Why can this role be beneficial and how? An experienced IC will make the production of intimate scenes professional and hassle-free. And since pornographic cinema is entirely composed of intimacy we should consider this role crucial. The responsibility of IC is to ensure the safety and comfort of performers and to document (or in some cases to create) the process. If necessary the IC mediates between the performer(s) and director, helping to bring the director’s vision into play by choreographing the scene. Whenever possible IC is involved through the entire process from the moment of casting, through the actual production and till the post phase where feedback is gathered. IC discusses and establishes limits and boundaries between the performers, and works toward a safer sex environment.

Approach to consent and boundaries

Being asked for consent is sexy. Personally, it makes me feel included, and having my boundaries respected makes me feel empowered. I would never like for anyone to feel left out, disrespected or powerless. Consent is an ongoing conversation where boundaries are discussed and adjusted. This conversation should be open to anyone and carried without judgment. And it should be a fundamental part of intimacy on screen. 

Consent requires enthusiastic and unforced YES. The performers should be encouraged to express themselves and define their boundaries in a safely conducted conversation. The production company must ensure this requirement. 

We also need to remember that the consent is reversible. People change, boundaries adjust and consent shifts. It’s a natural way of how things are. We are allowed to change our mind, though often if the process has solid bases and the intention is clear, the change of heart rarely occurs. 

A good practice is to offer a “Cooling-off” period where the contributors can change their mind about the shoot until five days after the production. The performer must return the fees that they earned, and the captured material will never be published.

Appropriate pay for work

As quoted earlier “porn […] is a very personal investment on the part of the supplier”, and this investment must be rewarded appropriately. No one should be expected to work for free or under unspecified work conditions. As early as possible in the process, the performers (and the crew) should know how much they will get paid for their time and their emotional investment in the work. There has to be an agreement that clearly defines the pay and reimbursement conditions. And most important, the pay can not be dependent on gender, skin colour, age, or body type. You are getting paid for the value and contribution that you are adding to the production of the scene.

Safe sex environment

Porn creates an opportunity for honest and open discourse about sexual health. It’s a crucial aspect for porn performers – their work depends on it! Therefore, each company should implement a clear procedure for testing. The STI knowledge and language can be challenging to understand. But since the importance is so high (people’s health is at stake) we need to play on the side of caution. Let’s take no risk in this specific sphere. Having on board a specialist who can support the performers about sexual health and explain things in plain language is a smart and very forward-thinking decision. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list (an exhaustive list would become a book). Neither the order matters. What matters is that we implement these elements in the process that will improve with time and feedback. Anyone can contribute to the more ethical production of intimate scenes, and we should advocate for it in our actions. 

And of course, these things are not easy to spot. It’s hard to know if the production companies actually implement them. Ideally, one day, there will be a quality mark for porn to ensure these, and other elements are truly met. But it’s not about policing or restricting porn, it’s about ensuring that we act morally and with respect toward others. That porn grows as a safe work environment. We are human beings and not cogs in the machinery that runs an unknown course. We can change and impact the way things are. We can act ethically and responsibly.

About Izzy Bartyzel

Izzy works with directors, actors and independent moviemakers to ensure that the intimacy you see on screen is professional, safe and hassle-free for everyone involved. She’s a host of the RedCheeks podcast where she’s promoting open-minded conversation about intimacy.

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