Home > Uncategorized > Guest Post: Porn, Consent, and Obamneycare for Sex

Guest Post: Porn, Consent, and Obamneycare for Sex

February 21, 2015

This is guest post by Michael Carey. In his own words: I am a decidedly “alternative” math nerd, working in an environment where I’m on the wrong end of power and status relationships with a handful of conservatives.  (Like, “willing to say nasty things about the gays in public” conservatives.)  I have been an occasional pseudonymous contributor to the LGBT blog at Slate, Outward, on topics ranging from the poly closet to queer culture.

A sticky problem: Schrödinger’s Victim.
Amanda Marcotte concisely stated the issue: “Some folks really can’t handle the possibility that some women in porn might not be fully consenting.  Once you allow that possibility, then you have to allow the possibility that you have watched and gained pleasure from an act of rape.”
A handful of studios have tried to deal with this by including interviews in which performers describe what they enjoy about their work.  Unfortunately, the studio known for popularizing this practice has had its share of scandal.  The only thing you can confidently take away from an interview is that the participant wants to earn another paycheck.  It is part of the performance.  Appearing authentic and enthusiastic is part of the job.  As one activist performer once told me: “Horror films can be produced ethically and consensually: most are. Still, they contain performative non-consent and murder. As a consumer, it’s more important to be aware of production standards rather than performance standards when it comes to consent concerns.”

There is porn that (at least currently) carries a positive reputation: “alternative” professional fare like The Crash Pad and Pink Label TV, the jubilant amateur performances found in Dan Savage’s Hump!festival, the “Make Love, Not Porn” project.  But these generally cost more money and effort than the ubiquitously-available free clips that flood the web.  If we’re demanding that consumers think rationally about these choices, right at the moment when they’re feeling horny and impatient, we’re not making any progress.

We need to make ethical porn cheaper and more convenient than its alternatives.

An absurd solution: Obamneycare for Sex.
First impose a strict regulatory regime — frequent surprise visits by inspectors, mandatory STI tests, etc.  This parallels “community rating” and other regulations that force insurers to compete on service and admin costs, rather than finding innovative ways to charge premia without paying for care.
Second, give workers a union to negotiate pay and safety, and have producers form a trade organization with a common user base and payment system, with assurance that by participating, they’ll get a monopoly on the legitimate market.  This parallels the formation of exchanges, where customers can shop for services that meet reasonable minimum standards.

Lastly, because ethical production costs more — even compared to the best-behaved of today’s studios in the San Fernando Valley, let alone free stuff from Bulgaria or Thailand — you need a subsidy scheme that allows at least infrequent users to get their content for free.  Citizens would be entitled to a modest annual allotment of voucher codes, cashed in through the exchange.

Producers would compete to sell what the public wants to buy, and would face continuous scrutiny from regulators.  Consumers could rest assured that their objects of lust are safe, healthy, and fairly compensated.

Why reasonable people should take crazy ideas seriously.
This “solution” has at least two huge problems.  First, people will have to register for accounts using some kind of real-world ID.  Otherwise mass downloaders will be able to charge excessive bills to the taxpayer, for material they may never even get around to watching, to the taxpayer; and additionally we will have considerably difficulty verifying that sites aren’t faking sales.  As long as we treat porn use as shameful, this raises privacy concerns.  If people are hesitant to claim the subsidies, the system fails — a regulated market is a three-legged stool.  Second, if sex workers remain broadly stigmatized, officials charged with protecting them may be inclined to ignore complaints, or even engage in blackmail and abuse.  Consider the long and sordid history of cops re-victimizing women who have been struck by crime, because they perceive the women as “asking for it”.

It’s still worth thinking about the problem of how we keep sexual entertainment widely available, while ensuring that casual, occasional consumers don’t have to worry about risking “gain[ing] pleasure from an act of rape.”  That risk is something that ought to bother you.

Some people respond to abusive porn production by simply decreeing that Porn is Bad; those who enjoy it must be shamed and stigmatized.  Those of us who think that performative sex can be joyous, beautiful, and valuable, face a real moral burden in formulating a response to this problem that rejects sex-negativity and shame.  I suspect that unfortunately most anti-porn types, whether of the conservative religious or radical feminist stripe, are not interested in talking about ways to address abuse while keeping porn available, any more than “pro-life” activists want to talk about how contraception and sex ed reduce the abortion rate and improve women’s health.  I still think this is a conversation that the sex-positive community needs to have.  Especially any feminist men who useporn (i.e. all of us).

Perhaps the “exchange” idea — porno.gov! — isn’t entirely crazy.  Sexual release is one of the most basic human drives.  Perhaps we should consider at least a modicum of sexual gratification to be a basic need, like shelter, food, and clean water.  If so, government subsidy shouldn’t be out of the question.  Germany allows those with disabilities to use part of their support stipend to hire a sexual surrogate, and this practice may soon spread to other parts of Europe.  We can imagine a society where sex work — even prostitution — is viewed as a valid choice of career, employing competent professionals who are treated with at least the same level of respect accorded to a gerontological nurse, a sewer technician, or anyone else who takes a demanding, sometimes-dirty job, and does it well.

In order to make that happen, though, we need high standards for health, safety, and compensation.  I don’t think that’s impossible to achieve, and I’m fairly certain it would be better than the situation we live with now, where workers can’t count on the state to protect them from criminals, and sometimes face public crackdowns on their livelihood that simultaneously infantilize and vilify them.  To make something like that happen, we have to first agree that we want it.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. charles
    February 21, 2015 at 10:30 am

    “Some folks really can’t handle the possibility that some interns in banks might not be fully consenting. Once you allow that possibility, then you have to allow the possibility that you have read research and made a profit from an act of rape.”
    For some people, it is too hard to handle, so they switch to porn…

    http://www.businessinsider.my/lazard-intern-quits-to-pursue-porn-2015-1/#tXqtkexsdQuCJ6Cu.97

    Like

    • February 23, 2015 at 8:14 am

      In my experience with the genre, it is unlikely anyone, anywhere, has ever profited from a sell-side research report. Other than the authors’ employers, of course.

      Like

  2. JV
    February 21, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Glad to see this addressed. I am a woman and have used porn for several years (maybe decades) but have stopped because I have encountered the disgusting rape/abuse type videos. At the least, I don’t appreciate stuff that is disrespectful to women. Most of it is. Anyway, the alternative? Gay photo sites. Get to see erect penises (the best kind) which I was going for anyway.

    Like

  3. Guest2
    February 23, 2015 at 1:37 am

    For a sociological take on the evolution of porn, including this latest turn:

    http://sociological-eye.blogspot.com/2015/02/why-does-sexual-repression-exist.html

    Like

  4. Gordon
    February 24, 2015 at 11:33 am

    The increased regulation and protection of workers sounds great, but why do you need to complicate everything with vouchers and exchanges and still more government involvement? If you’re desperate to introduce more government regulation, just introduce a regime that bans porn from sources other than your approved studios from servers in your jurisdiction.

    Ultimately, the increased costs you’re talking about might or might not be worthwhile from the perspective of the end users. If they’re a net positive (“yes, willing to pay for ethically produced porn”), then great. If not (“nope, only willing to consume porn that’s free and don’t care about anything else”), then why should other people subsidize its consumption? If you apply the model to any other industry, it looks pretty weird:

    “Diamonds are a desirable consumer good. However, diamonds are often produced under working conditions that are very onerous for the miners. We should mandate higher standards to which mines should adhere. This will make diamonds cost more, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off because of the improvement in the quality of the lives of the workers concerned.”

    All great – but if I know say that, “everyone should have vouchers for diamonds, that infrequent diamond buyers should get them for free, that there should be a government exchange for them… and that otherwise, they won’t be widely available and that some people will be denied fulfillment of the natural human urge to acquire and look at shiny things…” you’d rightly think I was crazy. Just because porn is fun to have around, and it costs more to produce porn ethically than not, doesn’t lead to the kind of framework that you’re proposing.

    Like

  5. Cynicism
    February 25, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Minor complaint: Amanda Marcotte’s quote is taken out of context and the link given targets only BDSM porn, starting off,

    “I don’t buy porn from any of the big companies that make BDSM porn. It’s not that I have a problem with consenting adults making depictions of sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of arousing viewers. In concept, I’m a fan of some writers who also make porn, and I’m friends with a few people who make or have made porn. And when it’s my friends, I’ll watch as much of it as I can get, because I have some certainty about what kind of experience they had.

    But when the producer is some big company far away and I don’t know any of the people involved, how would I know if the bottom’s limits were negotiated and respected?”

    It seems a little strange however to try and make the point that the government should get involved with making BDSM porn only.

    Also, porn already seems to have a pretty substantial STI testing regime, with regular performers getting tested at least once every 4 weeks. There was in fact a bit of a scandal when the company that does the majority of testing for the California companies was hacked and a list of real names of performers was leaked: http://gawker.com/5787392/porn-star-hiv-test-database-leaked

    Like

  6. setatimmi
    March 18, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I think the suggestion of “a strict regulatory regime — frequent surprise visits by inspectors, mandatory STI tests, etc.” is pretty dangerous. In a world where there is substantial stigma against sex workers (which you acknowledge) then any increased regulation is only going to play into the structural oppression that already exists – from cops, courts etc. This is why basically every sex worker led organisation calls not for the *legalisation* of sex work, but instead the *decriminalisation* of sex work.

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