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How to ethically consume porn

Timaree answers your questions about sex, love and relationships

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Sex advice shouldn’t be syndicated. We wanted a local feel to ours so we’ve enlisted the sound advice of resident sex professor Timaree Schmit. Have a question about your love life that needs answers? Email her at asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com. | Image: Redlite photos

So, you’re an adult human with sexual attraction to others and it brings you pleasure to watch other adults get naked and/or engage in sexual activity.

Congratulations, you are very much in a majority. But you’re also a conscious consumer, someone who wants to support creators and not contribute to larger social problems or capitalist exploitation. Great, let’s talk about how to do that. 

First thing’s first: is it ethical to consume porn?

Pornography is as ethical as any other form of entertainment. There’s nothing inherently degrading about watching adults give each other sexual pleasure, and certainly it’s not more exploitative than watching an action film that required actors to do dangerous fight scenes or a rom-com that perpetuates unhealthy ideas of love. 

Research has consistently found that viewing porn does not increase violence, and regular viewers are actually more likely to hold egalitarian gender views. Some people like to blame porn consumption for misogyny, but it’s actually the other way around: Our media reflect our real world power imbalances back to us. 

“Sure, you can get really obsessed with porn and spend too much time with it. Same with food, Twitter or Candy Crush.”

What about the ways that porn impacts our expectations of bodies? There are concerns that porn perpetuates unrealistic expectations: Gigantic boobs and dicks, hairless labia, and endless erections. Maybe – but certainly no more than magazines, TV or movies. In reality, there’s greater bodily diversity within porn than most media, reflecting the huge variation within human bodies and genitals. Professor Alan McKee says “pornography shows young people a wider range of genitalia than they might see in other ways.” 

Speaking of young people: Kids should not be accessing porn – it’s illegal, for one – but they do. The average age of first interaction with adult content is still around 14, same as it was before the internet. How they interpret the content is what matters. When there is no comprehensive sexuality education to contextualize the images, children (and adults!) may get inaccurate and even harmful ideas about sex. But if they have media literacy training and understand that porn is entertainment – like “Fast & the Furious” or the “Saw” movies, then they won’t confuse it for a documentary.

Finally, porn isn’t a health issue and porn addiction isn’t a thing. Sure, you can get really obsessed with porn and spend too much time with it. Same with food, Twitter or Candy Crush. But relying on the dopamine hits from a thing you really like isn’t the same thing as an actual addiction – a physical reliance where withdrawal means horrifically painful symptoms. 

How to be an ethical consumer

The number one rule is: Pay for your porn. Tube sites that post free content give no guarantee that the people depicted consented to the film being made or distributed and you have no way to know if everyone was on board with the production or was of age to consent. It’s also stealing copyrighted material. 

Performer Jiz Lee said in a piece for Daily Dot, “To be honest, the only time I’ve ever felt exploited, as a performer in porn, is when my work is pirated.” If everyone who watched a film could throw in even a few dollars toward it, the producers could pay performers more and there’s less pressure to keep working past the point of comfort. 

“Personally, I don’t think watching porn is cheating but I’m not dating you, so I have no idea how you feel about it and, ultimately, that’s what matters.”

Not all productions are equally concerned with performers’ rights, working conditions or fair payment, and “there’s no Consumer Reports” for adult content. Your best bet is to aim for more ethical sites, more respected production houses, and to get as direct to paying the source as possible. Stay away from PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube – all owned by dodgy mega corporation MindGeek. Buy directly from the companies that performers tout, like Pink & White/CrashPad Series, Burning Angel, KJD Media, Wicked, Adam & Eve, Kink.com and Brazzers (yes, Brazzers). 

Follow content creators on social media to get a behind-the-scenes understanding of the industry and find out ways to purchase content directly from them. Porn stars are people too, so be sure to be polite and not a weird stalker or time waster. 

What about porn within relationships?

Personally, I don’t think watching porn is cheating but I’m not dating you, so I have no idea how you feel about it and, ultimately, that’s what matters. 

Dr. David Ley, author of “Ethical Porn for Dicks,” says, “I do believe that watching porn can be considered cheating, if the couple has never talked about and negotiated what role masturbation or fantasy about other people plays in their relationship. By that same standard, if the woman ever sexually fantasizes about someone else, or uses a vibrator or sex toy in secret, that could be cheating as well.” So hash that shit out openly. 

There are some basic manners around porn that we can all agree on, though. Be mindful about where you open your porn, keep it out of workplaces and other public spaces where folks have not opted in to participate. Don’t send unsolicited nudes and don’t share nudes that are sent to you without expressed permission. Sharing porn with partners can be great, but it requires “sophisticated interpersonal skills” to navigate that, according to Dr. Ley. And just because a partner saw or liked something in a porn doesn’t mean they want to reenact it without discussion. 

Take some basic steps to ensure that you’re not part of the problem and feel free to enjoy. 

Have a question for Timaree? Send an email to asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com.

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  • Timaree Schmit Headshot

    Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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