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Why Paying for Porn Makes You a Better Feminist

"If you pay a pound for a hamburger, it’s going to be shitty. And when it comes to porn, how the hell can it be free?"

For all our so-called faults, millennials are undoubtedly the most socially conscious generation. We’re moving away from fast fashion and backing sustainable brands that don’t destroy the planet. We boycott the work of sexual abusers, and more of us are going vegan than ever before. But, when it comes to pornography, we don't seem to hold quite the same ethical standards.

Adult tube site giant PornHub saw more than 33 million visits in 2018 – that’s around 92 million visitors every day. And, 61 per cent of those visitors were aged 18 to 34. That’s a hell of a lot of millennials mindlessly wanking to (seemingly) free porn.

Tube porn site - many of which are owned by controversial company MindGeek - are so incredibly problematic it's hard to know where to start, but they're regularly accused of pirating content without the actor/director's consent. Whether they know the content they're uploading is stolen, no one can be sure. But it's happening.

There's also no (or very little) detail about the actors featured in the videos they host. We don't know their names, let alone whether they were paid for their work or were consenting to every single scene they appeared in. We don't know anything about the director, what their values are as a creator, and whether they treated the actors fairly.

Plus, you just have to look at the sidebar of categories to see how women, BAME and trans people are fetishised and reduced to harmful stereotypes. Video descriptions often contain derogatory and violent language, and much of the content depicts violence against women and femmes. It's an industry governed by bullshit misogynist laws - you can see men and people with penises ejaculating in porn, but for a vagina-having person to do it is illegal - and one that gives little recourse to those who find their work on tube sites being given away for free, without their permission.

Ultimately, it's women who are suffering because of this. And that's why, if we really care about women, we should be paying for, and seeking out ethical and feminist porn. “Most porn today is shot by someone who’s not really interested in cinema, or even in sex. They just want to earn a quick buck by showing people fucking,” says adult film director and writer Erika Lust.

Unlike the tech-company owned tube sites, the Swedish mother-of-two isn’t in the business for the money. For her, porn is political. And she's trying to tackle the problematic mainstream porn sites one beautifully-shot video at a time. “I like to call my films ‘indie adult cinema’ because that sounds fabulous and intriguing. I really care about the aesthetics, and about telling a cinematic story. I could use the word ‘porn’ because I do show explicit sex in my films. But the word is a little contaminated.

“Today, when you say the word ‘porn’ to people, they think of something dirty or nasty. My kind of indie porn takes time. It’s about every small decision… the entire concept is different.”

Rather than just creating quick fix videos for horny sofa masturbators to get off to, Erika believes the erotic films she creates for her platforms Lustcinema.com and XConfessions are about much more than naked people rubbing their genitals together. “The first time I realised pornography is more than just sex was when I found the book Porn Studies by Linda Williams, a film professor at Berkeley. It’s a discourse about society and how people relate to each other. It’s about masculinity, and femininity and the gender roles we play.”

While studying political science at university, a then 21-year-old Erika began to analyse porn from a political and intellectual perspective. So she took a night school course in directing and started funding her own short erotic films.

In 2007, after having her second daughter, Erika started directing full time. And she committed to doing it right - in an ethical, feminist and inclusive way that mainstream porn had failed to do for so long.

Getting women behind the camera

“I knew I had to have women behind the camera and involved in all the decision-making roles,” she says. “Next, I wanted to focus on the way I represented women on screen. For me it’s about real people experiencing good relations together, and women having real pleasure.”

Erika’s production process is also transparent, with a focus on exemplary working conditions for everyone involved – from the performers to the crew. “I also try to show people from diverse backgrounds, with different body types,” she explains. “If one of my films has a woman with a heavier body, the narrative isn’t about her body, she’s just a character in the story. There’s an overload of very slim, white teenage girls in the porn business and they make them look lounger than 18… it’s disgusting.”

Her films also feature performers of many gender identities and sexualities. “It’s important to broaden our visions of sexuality,” she says. “I get emails from men who identify as straight saying, ‘Thanks for making that gay film because I never would have watched it, but it popped up and wow’. That’s important because the mainstream heterosexual porn industry is full of homophobia.”

Erika is careful to treat the performers she works with like… well, human beings. “I talk to them on the telephone or Skype, I find out what they like and don’t like, I ask who they’re happy to work with and if they have anyone on their ‘no go’ list,” she explains. “I listen to them. We talk about health and if they want to use a condom, what kind of lubricant they like and if they have any allergies.”

The anonymity of porn

She’s also dedicated to fighting against the anonymity of mainstream porn. You click on a video on a tube site and have no idea who directed it, who the actors are, or anything about the production process. “It’s crazy that it’s gone completely anonymous. If I’m going to watch a video, I want to read about who’s making it,” Erika explains. “I want to see a picture of them, read an interview with them, but there’s nothing. It feels like porn is made by robots or computers today. It’s sad.”

The answer certainly isn't to boycott porn all together. Erika just wants consumers to be more responsible in their choices. Fortunately, there are a few legitimate places to find good, sexy and ethical porn. FrolicMe is a female-focused site founded by British producer Anna Richards. And if audio porn (yep, having erotic stories read out to you) is your thing, sex blogger Girl on the Net is doing it really damn well.

How to know if the porn you're watching is ethical:

Pay for it

First of all, ditch free porn and put your hand in your wallet if you want to wank. “You have to pay for it,” Erika says. “It’s just logical reasoning – if you pay a pound for a hamburger, it’s going to be a shitty hamburger. And when it comes to porn, how the hell can it be free? Ask yourself that question.”

Research the performers

Social media is a great source for finding adult actors, and many post a lot on Twitter about their work. You'll know if they're happy with work they appear in if they're sharing it on social and promoting it. You may also be able to use their social media to gauge whether the performer is at least 18 years old.

Go directly to the source

If you see a video on a tube site that you want to watch, find out who produced it go directly to the creator's website and pay to watch it. That way, they indie filmmakers are actually getting paid.

Seek out a company's non-sexy content

Many good, legit and ethical creators will film behind-the-scenes content that you can watch to see how the video was made. Often, performers will be giving consent on camera before the video is shot. That way, you can be more sure the video you're watching was made by happy and consenting actors.

Sure, having to pay and dedicate time to research may make your masturbatory experience a little bit more of a chore. But knowing the people you’re wanking to are paid, safe, and consenting will make that orgasm all the sweeter.