We spoke to a porn performer, a sexuality coach and an academic about how to watch porn ethically.

Finn’s minimalist bedroom sets the scene for hours of erotic content. Finn (who uses they/them pronouns) is petite with long black hair and sips on a cup of tea with one leg hugged into their chest as they chat about what working from home looks like for them.

“The internet loves my butt,” they laugh. 

Finn live streams three days a week for about five hours a day on porn streaming site My Free Cams. They also market themselves daily on social media, and spend every Monday creating custom content for paying customers and pay-per-view videos on Onlyfans. 

It’s a lot of work. But many people who watch porn now expect it to be free. 

“Ethical porn to me is when the performers and everything around them is ethical, like above board, there's no dodgy business going on. And everyone is being paid a fair share,” says Finn.

News organisations and Twitter users have recently been scrutinising the ethics of mainstream tube sites where porn can be accessed for no cost. One woman alleges her rape was left on a porn site for six months after she repeatedly asked for it to be taken down. Others have won a court case after explicit videos of them were unlawfully posted to a tube site.  

It’s sparked a conversation over what ethical porn really is. For some, ethical porn means paying for tube sites rather than accessing them for free. Others argue even paid tube sites aren’t ethical because they frequently rip content from other performers and take a large cut of the fees.

We spoke to porn performer Finn, sexuality and relationships coach Michelle Kasey, and porn academic Kris Taylor about how to watch porn ethically.

The Sexuality, Love and Relationships Coach

Michelle Kasey’s life’s work is to bring people into a space where it’s safe to talk about sex. With her soothing demeanour and alluring gaze, it’s no surprise people are compelled to share their most intimate thoughts with her.

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Michelle Kasey says tube sites often steal content from performers. Photo: Whenua Film

She facilitates workshops, takes one-on-one sessions, is a social media influencer and co-hosts the podcast A Couple of Sluts.

She says paid tube sites are unethical because the money doesn’t go directly to the performers, and often the content is ripped. 

“If you're buying from tube sites, most of the time that content has actually been stolen from performers. You really want to be mindful of what you're supporting with your clicks and with your attendance,” she says.

People ask Michelle where they can find ethical porn. She tells them to purchase directly from performers.

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@_michellekasey_ / Instagram

“I think people are interested in being conscious consumers in a lot of different aspects of their lives. I think that people do go on to tube sites and they sense that there's something not that ethical about the way that they're consuming that product.”

Her advice is to think of ethical porn like a “farmers’ market” – a reference she is passing on from American sex educator, writer and podcast host Tina Horn. Basically, at a farmers’ market you buy directly from a range of people who make their own products, rather than going to a chain supermarket. 

“There's definitely a whole bunch of independent performers who are creating their own content on Onlyfans and Clips for Sale. So that farmers’ market really does exist,” says Michelle.

That farmers’ market could mean purchasing custom content from people like Finn or seeking out independently-made porn from smaller production houses.

But as well as being conscious of where you’re getting porn, Michelle also points out it’s important to consider the ethics of what you’re watching.

“Ethical porn also means that what's on camera should be inclusive. So it celebrates sexual diversity and queer, trans, and fat bodies are represented.” 

Michelle says feminist porn has become a real marketing term in the last couple of years. Though conversations about what feminist porn actually is are ongoing, Michelle describes it as something with lots of layers.

“Feminist pornographers have been wanting to produce porn that reflects real women’s pleasure and is not degrading to women.”

But she says people shouldn’t be kink-shamed for enjoying forceful or male-dominant porn either.

“The best thing to do is find porn performers that specialise in power play and BDSM and kink and buy directly from them because you know what you're supporting and that they're engaging in that from a place of empowerment.”

Paying for porn is Michelle’s main message. She understands not everyone will be turned on by that, but urges them to at least consider it.

“You're going to get better quality porn when you pay for it and you won't be getting any shitty pop-ups or any other crap stuff that normally surrounds the video and changes the experience.”

She says the majority of people who watch porn can afford to pay for it.

“It really doesn't make a lot of sense to me that we can expect that labour for free.”

The Academic 

Auckland University PhD candidate Kris Taylor has spent more than three years studying porn for his thesis, which looks to redefine the way we talk about porn addiction. 

In his research, he interviewed and surveyed men about how they watch porn and asked them a range of questions related to ethical porn. 

“The majority of them didn't pay for pornography, the majority of them hadn't heard of anything like ethical pornography, feminist pornography or things like that,” says Kris.

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Academic Kris Taylor says many people view porn as a bit of a joke and so don’t think about the need to pay for it. Picture: supplied.

He breaks ethical porn down into two categories.

“It can be divided into what the content is and whether people think that is ethical. Then there is the question as to how it’s distributed, how it's viewed. And that ties into things like piracy, money, and so on.”

Kris has observed a marked shift where viewers are now seeking out a more direct line with performers. He says this is arguably more ethical because there is less interference in that transaction. 

“On the other hand,” says Kris, “the questions about piracy remain because you can still rip videos very easily and put them up on a mainstream porn site and no one will pay for them.”

But he warns that even when you think you’re not paying for porn – you are.

“A lot of people probably don't realise that a lot of the so-called ‘free pornography’ is actually paid for by their data being harvested or them being advertised to. Very, very little free online content is really free,” he says.

Paying for pornography seemed a bit of joke to the men Kris interviewed. They would say, “why would I bother?” But they would trip up morally around the types of things they were watching and how it made them feel. 

“Men who had recently become fathers and had reassessed places pornography had in their lives. Some men felt they were watching it too frequently, some men didn't like the content they were watching, some men just didn't like the way the porn made them feel, some men felt like it was a replacement and getting in the way of ability to form relationships,” says Kris.

Kris realised that people who have these struggles tend to be classified as having porn addiction or problems with porn when really, these are more complex conversations that currently don’t have a place in society.

“On one hand we've talked about pornography as being like, a bit of a joke. It's kind of fun. It's a bit of a rite of passage for young men at least. Then on the other hand, we have this narrative that it's very dangerous for young people and it's addictive and whatever… We have so few of us to talk about it in terms of ethics and morals or how it fits into somebody's life.”

This is the point where Finn, Michelle and Kris arrive at the same conclusion. Paying for porn is likely the most ethical way to get it. But if people are truly going to be ethical in the way they think about porn, it starts with educating wider society and making it okay for regular uninhibited conversations about porn to happen.

The Performer

For Finn, tube sites that take a cut from performers aren’t the main concern. In fact, they explain part of the cut some websites take goes towards paying for security measures to protect content.

Instead, the real threat is people on Instagram using their photos to con people into credit card scams.

“Randomly it’s catfishing. I have members in Chicago screenshotting me pictures being like, ‘Hey, so I know you don't live in Chicago, but I've literally seen three people use your photos’.

Finn says for porn to be truly ethical, society needs to see it as a legitimate job. But many people don’t think of what they do as “real work”.

“Most people think I take nudes and put them on the internet and assume it’s really easy work,” says Finn.

But the marketing strategy, managing clients’ needs and performing is a constant emotional labour. Finn loves doing it but can find it hard to disconnect.

“Online you're literally meeting like 10-20 people every hour. Finding out about them and asking questions about them and being entertaining enough so you're talking about shit and then getting your countdown done so you can do your show and go to bed.”

Finn also sells their Snapchat which essentially means they can be reached 24/7.

“They want that friendship, they want that connection, they want someone to listen

and my Snapchat is constantly full of messages from members being like, ‘Hey, how's your day going?’ They just want to chat. That's very emotionally labour inducing, especially on these sorts of platforms.”

For Finn, changing the perception that the work is easy is a key step towards making porn ethical.

“At the moment, I feel like we're in the stage of education... educating the mainstream media and the public about what sex work can include,” they say.

What needs to change?

Michelle says porn needs to always be viewed as entertainment, not education - that role should be fulfilled by caregivers and to some extent sex education in schools.

“When I think of how porn is blamed for sex education,” she says, “I think about how porn and erotic media are not the problem. It's the silence and the shame around sexuality. That's the problem.”

A recent study by the Office of Film and Literature Classification called Growing Up With Porn suggested young people are keen to talk about porn but are not afforded the opportunity. It included direct quotes from affected young people.

“There’s like a big taboo around it… I think that the things that are associated with porn are just so negative. That’s why a lot of people don’t want to talk about it with the adults because it just feels like we’ll get majorly judged for it, if that makes sense.” – Male, 15, European

“The negative feelings were not towards the content itself. I always enjoyed the content, it was the ramifications of it. I had to hide this from my parents and from my friends at school and from everyone at Church.” – Female, 16, Pacific & Asian

When sex work can be recognised as real work, when diverse needs are validated on screen and when young people and adults can have open conversations about porn - that is how we can watch ethical porn. 

For now these things are stilted by the giggly hide-it-under-your-bed mentality and the enduring taboo it holds. What is clear though, is we need to look past porn as a good or bad binary.

“It’s very tempting to have a nice tidy package through which to speak about something,” says Kris, “but it's just not realistic”.