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Why we need ethical kink porn marketing

PornmarketingPorn is here to stay, so we would do well to make it better, rather than waste time trying to make it disappear. This is true of both the content – and, importantly – the marketing of porn, writes Lori Adorable.

15 May 2011

Sexual preference is the one exception to the foundational progressive belief that everyone should be treated equally. There is, after all, a reason why we call it a preference and not a prejudice.

Consider: if you're a man who doesn't want to be friends with/ hire/ serve coffee to/ read about someone because she's a woman, you're a sexist asshole; if you're a man who doesn't want to fuck someone because she's a woman, you're gay.

One could (and has, and will) argue that being gay isn’t a preference— it’s an orientation. To which I respond, what's the difference? Surely it isn’t that preference is always flexible and fluid while orientation is always static and fixed.

I, for example, find myself attracted to younger men (a ‘preference’) as often as I find myself attracted to women (an ‘orientation’): around 1 out of 10,000,000 times. Others recognize that their orientations have evolved over time, despite what Lady Gaga stridently proclaims. So, really, the main difference between an orientation and a preference is that the former has to do with the gender of the person one is attracted to and the latter has to do with ... anything else.

What makes gender so special an attribute that it deserves to be in its own category? It's certainly not a static attribute, because it's performative, it's socially constructed. The only thing special about gender is that it's The Big Thing. Besides age, it serves as the most important dividing line between people, the line that a person has to fall to one side of or else zie can't even use the bathroom. Orientation is its own special category because gender divisions have made it precisely that fucking important.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that gender is the only important thing. Race and ability and body size and so many other attributes are not even slightly less important— they just haven’t been granted the exact same status that gender has. Ableism, for example, is still as a big a problem as sexism, but in different ways.

I’ll tell you want else the above paragraph doesn’t mean: that ‘sexual orientation’ as a term for gender preference is in any way illegitimate. Gender preference is the Big Thing in terms of sexual preferences, and discrimination based on having the 'wrong' orientation is incredibly real.

So homophobia? Still as big a problem as sexism, just in different ways, and as long as that continues to be the case, I, as a straight woman, do not want to touch the language around homo-, bi-, or pansexuality.

The only thing I mean to assert here is that sexual orientation is no more of an immutable preference than only being attracted to fat women or white men or what have you, even if its origin doesn't lie in the inequalities of our society like the latter two do (attraction to fat women alone is rare due to fatphobia, and attraction to white men alone is all too common due to racism).

But the knowledge of the problematic origins of these desires doesn't change the preferences. The only thing that such knowledge can do is remind us that we need to work to destroy sizeism and racism so that each successive generation finds more and more people equally sexually appealing.

Porn: When sex is removed from the private sphere

I'm going to make the big leap now: the same is true of kink. One's preferences for what zie does sexually are no more or less PC than one's preferences for the gender, race, or size of who zie does them with. I am no more ethically obligated to have 'equalist' sex with a black man than I'm obligated to have sex with him because he's black than I'm obligated to have sex with him because he's a man (I am not in fact obligated to have sex with anyone at all).

This is because sexual preference is different. It is an exception. However— and this is a pretty major however— sex is not a separate sphere from the rest of life.

Consensually treating a woman like shit in the bedroom because it gets you both off is fine in the bedroom only, but it's hard for these things to stay in the bedroom only. I'm not saying that you're going to accidentally tell your secretary, “Go get me lunch, slut” because of what you and your gal pal did in the privacy of your home last night. Nope, I'm talking about porn.

Porn! Porn is where this all leaks out of the bedroom. Being a porn performer is a job just like being a secretary, a porno set is a workplace just like any office, and the resulting porn film is a piece of media just like The Office.

Sex is always part of the larger world, and when it becomes public as it does in porn, it becomes a very visible, important part of the world. It forces us to address another kind of line, the one that has to be drawn between the ethics of sexual fantasies and the ethics of the rest of the world. How do we know where to draw it?

A lot of radical feminists argue that we have to draw that line on the other side of pornography, excluding it altogether. What one does in the bedroom has to stay there, they argue, lest it contribute to rape culture.

Well, ‘equalist’ sex wouldn’t contribute to that, would it? And if we allow the production of porn featuring that kind of sex, it seems unfair to exclude kinky sex on abstract principle, especially since (as I will soon argue) it can be contextualized to combat rape culture.

Even if we still disagree about whether or not we should have porn of all sorts, though, the fact is that we do. We have to be pragmatic: the massive amount of porn that’s out there is not going away, because people's desire to watch others have so many different kinds of sex is not going away, and most people don't care about the theory that porn is harming the world.  Porn is here for good, and so we have to make it better, not waste time trying to make it disappear.

So now that we agree that porn is a real thing in the world, where do we draw the line between it and reality?

We have to take into consideration the conflicting needs for inequality in some porn fantasies and for eliminating inequality in general. Doing so leads us to determine that the broadest line that can be drawn is around the porn scene itself: a porn actress is only treated like she's submissive until the director yells cut.

Her stance in the workplace is as an equal, and her stance everywhere else is as an equal. But, as I said, that's a really broad line. Contained within it is where the porn scene encounters the porn viewer. How do we decide when to pull the viewer into the scene and when and how do we stop that fantasy to show the viewer exactly how equal the porn performer is?

Drawing the line: The need for ethical marketing in porn

Marketing.  The major problem with pornography is that the marketing for it is lazy as fuck and ingrained that way. “Cum see these stupid sluts being violated!” is the lure that's consistently thrown out, and goddamn if the viewing public doesn't respond.

And why not? Saying something like that in scene is totally hot and totally ethical. But banner ads/ review sites/ DVD case blurbs are not in scene.

My proposal for a better lure is really simple, and it should be equally effective. No, I'm not going to argue that erotic copywriters should start saying, “Please take a look at these women, who are your equals, pretending to do degrading things that are actually not degrading within this context.”

My suggestion is this: “Cum see these hot women act out filthy, slutty sex scenes.” That's it. Still hot, still straight to the point, but accurate in drawing that line.

Now that porn has mostly moved to the internet, we can take this exercise in line-drawing even further. When I click on a porn site, I still don't want to see bullshit about “sluts being violated,” because I am still outside that scene. I want to see a shot of a woman smiling or laughing while taking it from behind, and then when I mouse over it you can show me her cringing with the caption to indicate it's a “violation.”

The roll-over and the click-through are almost literal virtual lines, and they're web design components we've been using for years. I use the click-through method on my own photos, even though they're not that explicitly degrading. I do it because it works from a design point of view, and because it can't hurt ethically, drawing that virtual line.

It's easy, really. But this marketing fix will not excuse lazy, stereotypical porn. It won't amend the sexism inherent in having a kinky porn empire without any submissive men or a huge video company that features performers of color only in fetishized niches.

It's no defense against not contextualizing most porn with a before or after interview, or for using only close-up pictures of tits on all of the promotional material. To make truly progressive porn is a huge undertaking, and a lot of companies are taking some of those aforementioned steps. Those are the companies I choose to work with as a performer.

Nearly all of those companies, however, are still ignoring what should be the very first step: updating their marketing to draw the hard line between a reality where we work towards equality and a fantasy where we fetishize inequality.

This is my main criticism of the two video production companies I’ve worked for so far, Slow Exposure and Kink.com. Since so few companies are marketing their porn progressively, I still chose to work with these particular sites.

Why them and not others? I’ll tell you where I draw my personal ethical line (yes, another metaphorical line): at companies that feature idealized, plasticized women and that don’t do some minimum work to dismantle stereotypes and fight objectification.

SE and Kink both feature ‘real’-looking women: women with flaws, women with large hips or small breasts or a weird tooth or a couple of scars. They can both certainly do better— Kink, especially, should recruit some models who aren’t 20, skinny and white— but neither of them is Vivid Entertainment.

Kink also goes out of its way to show the performers enjoying themselves, and the higher-ups make sure some of that enjoyment makes its way into the marketing. Slow Exposure doesn’t do as good a job of this (in fact, it’s one of their weakest points), but they do an excellent job of making sure the women aren’t objectified within the contexts of the videos, something that Kink needs to improve upon.

I’m going to stop biting the hands that feed (or have fed) now, and leave it to you to analyze those sites and all of their competitors from a progressive viewpoint.

You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that most porn companies leave a lot to be desired; they have a lot of work to do, and we shouldn’t let up on that.

We should also actively seek out the more progressive porn and reward companies who produce stuff that’s better than bad. Whatever ‘bad porn’ means is up to you, but draw that line somewhere, and make sure the producers you support are drawing a line too.

Lori Adorable, an early-20s New Yorker, is a committed cynic with a heart of fool’s gold. More specifically and less cryptically, she is a radically-minded intersectional feminist who is coming to terms with her kyriarchy-reinforcing sexuality. In the perhaps naive belief that she can make being a straight, cisgendered exhibitionist/schoolgirl-roleplayer/bondage-lover a creative and subversive feminist enterprise, she started her blog Tales of a Kinky RadFem in December of 2010 and will be using it to help her through her journey.

Demographic descriptors that Lori claims, which they shape her experiences, views, and writing.include: woman, cissexual, heterosexual, American citizen and resident, New Yorker, native monolingual English-speaker, white, middle-class, official-dependent-with-a-different-permanent-address, 20-something, never-married, non-parent, sort-of-but-not-really college student, sometimes sex worker, somewhat-invisibly disabled, abuse survivor, kinkster, mostly-conventionally attractive, not-hip-enough-to-be (or deny being) a hipster, vegetarian, atheist, and cultural Christian.

Lori’s ultimate goals include producing, directing, and occasionally performing in a whole new kind of porn for a whole new kind of audience; creating elaborate, political burlesque routines based on her own kinks (and an adaptation of Hole’s Live Through This); doing a public speaking tour to discuss the same kinds of issues as she does on her blog; and becoming the next great experimental American playwright.

Comments   

0 #2 LoriA 2011-05-21 14:41
@Maxine

I agree with you that there are certainly more problems in porn than I discussed in this article.

I'm interested in your proposition that porn performers unionize. As someone who only does alternative and indie porn, I don't know much about the inner workings of the mainstream industry, but I'd imagine that contract stars do have some negotiating power. As for freelancers like myself, I'm not sure we *can* unionize; a lot of us are more 'hobbyists' than full-time performers, and unionization is a huge undertaking. It's still a good point though.
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0 #1 Maxine Doogan 2011-05-18 18:19
I like some of the statements you've made about equality and ethics for sure.

However here are a few more thoughts to consider.


1) equality on the job,even for porn actors has to include having the right to negotiate for labor and word conditions on a collective basis of which producers, distributors and actors have not embraced. By negotiating everyone on an 'individual' basis keeps up the every person for her/himself of which Kink.com specifically has a long history of exploiting to the actresses and support staffs position remains on the loosing end of the stick with the 'higher ups' on the capitalizing end.
2) Porn producers and distributors have long been the target of federal prosecutions for obscenity laws-so there are questions of their ability to gain access to their freedom of speech-commercially.

So it seems that contextualizing equality and ethics in porn might have even more and newer avenues to explore...
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