Graja / Shutterstock.com

For starters, get out your credit card.

You probably watch porn. No? Whatever you say.

A lot of people look at pornography. More Americans do now than even back in the late 1970s, when Deep Throat was a national phenomenon and you could still watch X-rated movies in public theaters.

As a nation, we don't like that we like porn, though. We draw correlations between porn and rape, even when we're the ones watching it. At the heart of a lot of criticism of the porn industry is the idea that performers are coerced, exploited, even possibly underage, and that watching porn supports this treatment.

But what do the performers think? Workplaces—at least in California and New Hampshire, where filming porn is legal—are regulated: Production companies want to be and need to be above board in order to run their businesses. But independent, feminist-focused production companies—as well as some of the old guard—have also created a sea change in the industry over the past decade by committing to making "ethical porn."  

Yes, there's porn you can feel good about watching and supporting.

"I identify as a feminist pornographer, and a big part of my mission is ethical production practices and fair labor practices," says Tristan Taormino, an adult film performer, director, and educator. Taromino was one of the first feminist directors to work with Vivid, an established mainstream adult film production company known for such titles as Bad Wives and Backdoor to Chyna.

In 2006, Taormino challenged the mainstream image of porn with Tristan Taormino's Chemistry, a series for Vivid in which performers chose their partners, chose how they had sex, and engaged in interviews on their work and what they enjoyed throughout the films. Taormino also made a series of sex education films for Vivid's VividEd label.

Director Tristan Taormino (center) with the cast of her "Chemistry 4" film. (Vivid.com)

"I feel like a false dichotomy has been set up that feminist pornographers are good and mainstream pornographers are bad," Taormino says. "The difference is that feminist pornographers state their mission and then want to be held accountable to that mission in a very explicit and public way. But I've certainly been on dozens and dozens of mainstream sets where everyone is just fine."

Taormino is referring to a trend in independent, often woman-made adult films toward posting mission statements and "performer's rights" bills on their websites and in their films. Pink and White Productions [NSFW], an indie outlet run by Shine Louise Houston, was at the fore of this movement with the Crash Pad series of films. Such information is included in all Pink and White movies and on the company's website.

Jiz Lee [NSFW], a performer and director known for work with Pink and White as well as with mainstream producers, says that the adult film industry, especially in Los Angeles, has come a long way in supporting performers and protecting their work. Lee, along with Rebecca Sullivan, a professor and director of the women's studies program at the University of Calgary, is guest-editing an upcoming edition of the academic journal Porn Studies, with a focus on labor rights around the world.

Performer and director Jiz Lee (jizlee.com)

"It's so great to have an issue focused on labor, because there are a lot of assumptions about what the environment on a set is like," Lee says. "A lot of my frustration about the buzzword of 'ethical porn' is because of the assumption that only the companies claiming their work to be ethical are doing ethical work."

Lee notes that "there's definitely been a increase in marketing ethics. ... People feel guilty watching porn, so it behooves the company to say, 'It's OK! Look, we're not mistreating anyone, and here's the proof!'"

Lee says that "the differences were very few" between working with Vivid on more mainstream material and working with Pink and White, though Lee was put on payroll at Vivid rather than operating as a contractor. When adult film studios have ethical workplace regulations, Lee says, that's one more step toward legitimacy—which affects whether banks and credit card companies will do business with them.    

So what is the most unethical part of the industry, then? Consumers, says Taormino.

"There's an entire generation of people—and I work with college-age people—that believe porn is free and has always been free," Taormino says. "There needs to be a re-education that says, 'If you want more porn, especially from people whose work you really like, you have to pay for it. Because if you don't, then we can't make more.'"

Both Taormino and Lee call out "tube sites" like PornHub and XTube, which offer pirated free clips and full-length performances, as being one of the worst things to happen to legal performers and producers in the past decade.

"When an average person uploads a video to a tube site that they don't have any rights to, there's no affidavits to prove performers are of legal age, there are no STI results, there's no proof the performer got paid," says Lee. "Most of the time, those uploads don't even feature the performer's name, so it strips any kind of insurance of consent of viewership from performers."

So how can a consumer avoid supporting such practices?

"Pay for your porn!" says Lee. "When you pay for porn, you've got credit card processors looming over the shoulders of producers to ensure that porn is done legally and that all the paperwork and those checks and balances are in place."

Paying for your porn can also be a learning experience about your own desires. Both Taormino and Lee say that researching performers you're drawn to—via their social media accounts, personal websites, and curated collections like Good Vibrations' [NSFW]—is a great way to support the labor and intimate exchange that is part of making and consuming pornography.

Lastly, Lee suggests, you can always make your own. There have been several Feminist Porn Awards [NSFW] won by directors filming with only an iPhone.

Top image: Graja / Shutterstock.com

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to correct Rebecca Sullivan's title. Sullivan is a professor and director of the women's studies program at the University of Calgary .

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