I was having dinner with a coworker from my vanilla job recently. He knows about the work that I do at Cherrystems and Ciné Sinclaire and, after just enough liquid courage, he had a question for me.
“So what you do, you make porn with people and you say you make sure they’re safe?” he asked, eyes darting around a little bit.
“Yeah, that’s the main goal of the sets that I run – that everyone is respected and feels safe coming forward with any concerns.”
“Well. For someone like me, how do I tell if the porn I’m watching is porn like that? How do I know if it’s something that was a good experience for the people in it?”
This is a conversation I’ve had before. I’ve been asked it by journalists, friends, fans, and coworkers alike. People are starting to show concern that perhaps the films they’re using to get off might be from sources that are a little bit less than positive. I feel like this is mostly due to documentaries like Netflix’s Hot Girls Wanted (which encourages a kind of shitty saviour/rescue complex), but either way it seems there’s a bit of an awakening happening in which sex workers are *starting* to be recognized as human beings worthy of respect (!!!!YAAAAY!!!!). … … (very tentatively). That said, I live in Canada and realize that things here may be very different than other Western countries with even stricter laws.
I want to be clear as I start writing this that there are plenty of folks that make porn for companies that have done exploitative things to some performers but they themselves had a great time there. There’s always nuance, and that’s important.
So here’s the thing: the society we live in has taught us not to think about where things come from. Our clothing, cars, food, it’s all just supposed to have magically appeared on the shelves and racks of the shops we frequent. But it doesn’t. Most of the possessions that we in the Western world tend to have were made in countries where working standards and minimum wages are well below the standard where we live. Work conditions can range from good to absolutely abhorrent. The huge fire in a factory in Bangladesh in 2012 did make some folks take pause, but apparently only for a moment.
In the US (as of 2012), only about 2% of the clothing that is purchased was actually made there – compared with 95% in 1960. A lot of factors played into this – globalization, demand for less expensive items, higher levels of consumerism, and more. The effects are generally that we have lost touch with where the things that we consume actually come from.
So what does porn have to do with clothing? It’s the same concept. I asked my coworker if he knew where his clothes came from. He said “Old Navy”.
“Yeah, but where? Like, in the world? Do you know the labour laws in that country?” I asked, leaning forward a bit more. He did not know the answer to any of those questions. I explained where my outfit had come from (romper from atelier b Montreal, shrug from moovment Montreal, bag from Barbara and Cecile Winnipeg, etc). He looked stunned. Why? Because knowing where your shit comes from (and even the people that make it) is not common anymore.
With the advent of the internet, porn is a globally shared phenomenon just like clothing. Unfortunately, just like clothing again, we can’t always verify where it came from and what the working conditions were like on site. No matter where it was made geographically, it’s hard to tell. Typically, folks are getting their porn for free from a tube site or pornhub, with little to no information on where the porn originated, who made it, who is in it, and under what circumstances it was made. Finding this out is not easy.
I’m going to provide you with a list of a few things that you can do to ensure that the porn that you watch would make you feel as good to be on set for as it would to watch in the comfort of your bedroom (or kitchen or whatever). There are of course ALWAYS exceptions, and using your critical consumer brain and these tips, you might end up watching something that makes you feel even sexier than you ever have. Because happy performers = happy life.
1. Get to know your production companies
So ya know those little screens and logos you see at the start or end of a porn flick? Mine looks a little something like this:
Those are your production companies.
It’s easy enough to google things in this day and age, so do just that. Googling the production company is going to have a few possible outcomes for you.
You might find nothing at all for that company. No casting calls, no production company site, no location, nothing. I’d warn that in general, production companies with no online record are ones you might want to avoid a bit, or at least be weary of. I understand that there are likely some smaller production companies that don’t have a huge web presence, but sites like twitter and tumblr are free to set up and use, and allow adult content on them. There are ways to get your business name out there, and so if it’s not out there, this may be a fly-by-night operation. The trouble that lies therein is really that if this company is hard to track down, they might not *want* to be tracked down, for any number of reasons. They may also be a smaller production group under a larger umbrella but using that separate name to distance themselves from issues with the larger company.
You might find lots about the production company you’re googling! Great! Look for what people are saying about this production company. Are there any warnings on message boards about how they treat their performers? Does the company have a mission statement that aligns with your values? Do they have one at all? Even an “about us” section? Does that sort of thing matter to you? Should it? Didn’t you ask me this question in the first place? Ok.
You can tell a lot from a production company just from a little google search. You’d be surprised.
You can also then have a look at the other titles released by the company. Reflect on the collection a bit (while breathing heavily, maybe). If having a diverse cast matters to you – does the company work toward that? Are the titles exploitative (more on that later)? These are all things you can look for.
2. Know your performers (a little)
Some performers are just starting out in the world; some only make one foray into porn; and some have shot hundreds of scenes, operating their own personal site, production company, twitter, tumblr, facebook, and even a LinkedIn account. Basically, some performers are going to be easier to track down than others. Just because you can’t find a performer online doesn’t mean you should raise a red flag, at all.
However, if the performer you’re into has their own twitter, tumblr, blog, or anything like that, try following it and reading what they have to say. They might tweet out that they had an amazing time working with a certain company, or the opposite – that working with one was terrible. A note on this would be that performers often do feel a pressure not to publicly say negative things about working with certain production companies or directors. The whole idea here is that if they say anything bad, they won’t be cast again. Unfortunately, this can be true to certain extents in some circles of porn-making. So how can you counteract that issue?
The short answer is that you can’t. The long answer is that, by getting to know performers online, you’ll come to know when they’re genuinely happy about a certain scene. Follow some neat people like Jiz Lee, Andre Shakti, Wolf Hudson, Mickey Mod, James Darling, Chelsea Poe, and more! See who they work with, who they’re retweeting, and start to kinda get acquainted with who’s on twitter. It’s a relatively safe space for us porn folk to hang out, unlike Facebook.
3. Look at the language used in titles and marketing
Straight up here, some companies use slurs in their marketing. Slurs that specifically target LGBTQ people and people of colour. Generally speaking, these slurs are pretty not ok. I’m not going to mention them here because that’s not ok. If a company is using these sorts of words, they may have cleared it with the performer first, but they may not have.
For example, if you’re looking for porn with trans women in it, look for the term “trans women”. If a company isn’t marketing their trans porn in a way that respects those women, then that’s not a great jumping off point to trust that everyone was respected at other points along the way.
*There are some folks that are ok with using those slurs in a sexual play type of way. I’ll add that as our bit of nuance to this bullet point, but keep in mind that you should *really* know that the performer(s) in question were ok with using the word. Maybe they did an interview (like kink.com does) to explain the reasons behind it. But yeah. That’s the kind of thing that needs some ‘splaining.
4. Find a company/performer you trust and pay for their porn
Oh that sweet sweet green. Yeah, we don’t make much of it down here in the queer/feminist porn sphere. For many of us, the whole love of doing/making porn is to make a statement about our world, our sexuality, and ourselves. But another great motivating factor is getting *paid* to do that. In a world full of free porn, sites that treat their performers respectfully need your cash more than ever.
And if you pay for that sweet sweet porn, you’ll support the making of even more sweet sweet porn! That you can trust! And feel even better about it than you normally would watching porn (which is to say, SO GOOD!).
If you insist on pirating porn that was made positively, you’re stealing the hard work of people that have spent their time, money, and energy to make something really amazing and intimate. And they won’t be able to afford to make more, so it’s back to the status quo. And that would suck.
Plenty of mainstream porn is also made ethically, and they could use your cash too. Just pay for your porn, ok? It’s work.
5. When all else fails, here’s a list!
Ms. Naughty maintains a pretty good list of directors.
Pink Label sells amazing smut from tons of production companies/directors.
Lust Cinema is fantastic.
Ciné Sinclaire and Cherrystems are pretty lovely. (that’s me!)
Another great Canadian, Jessie Anderson, that makes accessible, free queer porn.
Indie Porn Revolution has featured so many amazing people (I’m on there too!)
Spit – some pals from Toronto
And so much more.
Happy jerking off time!
**plenty of folks make porn for sites and companies that might host a lot of questionable stuff, but their work can still be awesome. There are exceptions to the rules. I’ve made sure to attach some free porn to the suggestion list because shit ain’t revolutionary if it isn’t accessible to all**
**If I’ve misrepresented anyone or anything, please do comment so that I can learn and be accountable.