Ali May: Can porn ever be ethical?

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There is the notion that all porn is exploitative. The industry’s secretiveness has added to the legitimate concerns of those who point out the existence of trafficking and abuse. What can the industry do to reassure its consumers?

Porn is good visual stimulation for those days you have to resort to “me time”, rather than “us time”. But there are issues: It is not transparent. You can’t tell if the performers are doing what they are doing out of their free will or if they are forced to do it. Worse than that, you are not sure if the performers are trafficked into the industry or have made a choice to engage in their career.

“In my dream world I’d like to create a model similar to those of fair-trade sugar, coffee, chocolate: a coalition of individuals, small companies and ethically-minded entrepreneurs to get together and establish a collective to design the ethical standards for the porn industry,” says the dashing Nichi Hodgson, the founder of the Ethical Porn Partnership (EPP), in an interview in the appropriately named bar Holborn Grind.

A dominatrix, a novelist and a journalist are only some of the modifiers you can put against Nichi Hodgson. Being familiar with the industry inside-out, she tells me that she certainly does not champion all porn; on the contrary, she is aware of its problems and is critical of them. But one thing that she wants to achieve is give a better understanding to the consumers of the porn’s behind the scenes.

“Too many people have too little understanding about the porn they’re watching. A website where you can check how the product is made and what standards it adheres to does not exist for porn. The porn industry itself has rules about production, but consumers don’t know about it. The industry is always on the back foot defending its existence, that’s why it becomes secretive about its processes. But it doesn’t need to be. The EPP can be the mechanism to lift the lid.”

While the puritanical moan about the moral implications of watching porn, the numbers alone show the prevalence.

Since the start of 2015, the internet has been searched almost 1.4 billion times for porn. This is according to Covenant Eyes, an internet accountability and filtering site that provides a subscription service so one’s internet use can be monitored by family or friends. As ridiculous as the premise of this website may sound, it does provide some interesting stats.

Porn kitemarks

The porn industry is huge. The annual revenues are in billions of dollars. How likely is the EPP to influence big players?

“My idea is to start small and grow organically. I would love to go and get big porn studios involved, the likes of Wicked Pictures or Brazzers, but they will probably argue that they do have checks and balances in place that are as good as anything that EPP can recommend. When we have the big traffic and the kite mark is recognised, that’s when we will approach big studios.”

The kite mark model is interesting. It is similar to the Fair-trade stamp. If you see it on a porn site, you will know that they follow certain ethical guidelines. And there is a simple reason for having the stamp, says Hodgson:

“When you are in the mood to watch porn, that’s all you want to do. You can come and do your research through us beforehand and then go and enjoy the experience the next time you are in the mood. After all, when you are really hungry, the last thing you would do is read a book about nutrition prior to eating. But you might be happy to read that when you’re relaxed, in between meals, when you’re researching how to eat better.”

At the core of EPP there is the aim to change the porn landscape by making it more transparent, more diverse, and more creative. It is not about censoring content and making porn all rose petals, but about encouraging the most innovative content makers to give us more imaginative, more considered content.

Consenting adults should be able to watch and enjoy adult content depicting sexual acts made by other consenting adults, without fear of reprise, shame or censorship. The answer is simple: free choice paired with ethical standards.

But that’s not all. The EPP will go beyond just establishing “best practice”. It will also channel funds to anti-trafficking, anti-sexual violence and sex education initiatives, as well as taking an unequivocal stand on condemning child abuse imagery, and all non-consensual sexually explicit material, such as so-called “revenge porn”.

Ali May is a writer, broadcaster and international editor of the Erotic ReviewHis book Geography of Attraction is out now. E-book available on Amazon and paperback here

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  • http://ryzeonline.com Jason Fonceca

    Super interesting article, thanks for sharing Nichi Hogdson’s story, Ali. I’d love to see some more innovation, compassion, and positivity in the porn arena.

    Looking forward to checking out more of Salt. 🙂