Hylas and the Nymphs by Waterhouse, Manchester Art Gallery 1896

Ethical Pornography?

Jason Stone


Could ethical pornography play a legitimate role in secular, human rights respecting societies? Sexual impulses are reoccurring, similar to the need to eat, sleep and find shelter. Most people experience substantial portions of their lives where they do not have access to a healthy, safe sexual partner they find acceptable.

Traditional cultures tend to produce adultery, violence, and prostitution. One pornographic performance may replace thousands of individual acts of prostitution, without risk of STDs, unplanned pregnancy, adultery, or violence.

How could pornography be made more ethical? Perhaps there could be an Ethical Pornography Association (the EPA?), made up of voluntary participants in the industry, that sets there own standards for membership and certification. The standards could be formed through a direct democratic process that includes the performers of the participating production companies. They could monitor how pornography participants are selected, treated, and compensated. In return for voluntarily following regulations, pornographers could be rewarded with improved business opportunities and social acceptance. The activities the organization engages in could include suggesting voluntary regulations and producing an academic journal.

Suggested EPA Activities:

1. Calculating the total cost to an individual psychologically, physically, socially and professionally when they participate in pornography.

2. Ensuring that participants are being fairly compensated and prepared for life after pornography (e.g. guaranteed minimum wage, health-care benefits and tuition reimbursement).

3. Establishing rules for how pornography is distributed so that individuals, and those they are custodians of, are not exposed to it against their wills.

4. Establishing a waiting period during which a performer has the right to recall any footage they appear in, with only reasonable pre-stated penalties. Perhaps a 2–4 week waiting period during which payment and/or a deposit are withheld. Pornographers could adjust by filming scenes in ways that make them publishable even if some of the participants decline to have their footage published.

5. A work guarantee where every performer is guaranteed that they will be paid a living wage if they accept job offers for a given duration (e.g. 28k/1 year).

6. They could conduct studies of the long term impact of pornography on sex related crime and the physical and psychological wellbeing of participants and consumers.

7. Participants who are members of the association could be subjected to periodic inspections to make sure they are in compliance.

8. Psychologist, sociologist, sexologist and representatives from religious communities could publish a journal about the therapeutic role of ethical pornography and its potential perils (Dr. Drew?).

These conventions could go a long way towards improving pornography as it currently is, but what about the future of pornography?

Most civilizations have included pornographic images in their artwork, including religious art and art displayed on public institutions. Perhaps civilizations have traditionally tolerated these works of art for several reasons:

1. Literature, paintings, freezes and sculptures do not require people to participate directly in a sex act when constructing them.

2. Models that are used when constructing the art are somewhat anonymized.

3. The art plays some important cultural, spiritual, or mythological role in the society [1].

In the near future it may be possible to easily create “Synthetic Pornography” that combines live action footage with computer generated images. This approach could anonymize participants and create opportunities for artists who have avoided pornography to create high quality art with less fear of contributing to an unethical production. Established artists could work under pseudonyms, if they desired, when creating subtle art that includes pornographic elements in ways that correspond with ancient art traditions or that take on completely novel forms.

[1] http://goo.gl/HVqzaL
[2] http://goo.gl/LaqXq

— UPDATE: I think reform is the solution not prohibition. Recent studies state that 70% of men “watch porn” [1]. Since it is easy to create porn and distribute it via the internet, attempting to prohibit it will almost certainly result in underground pornography that is even less ethical than the legal pornography we have today. Prohibiting pornography may even fund underground crime syndicates by creating a vast illegal market opportunity ($10 billion a year in the US alone [1]) similar to how the mafia gained a substantial revenue source during alcohol prohibition.

[1] http://goo.gl/SfaO

— UPDATE: There have been some recent breakthroughs in simulating human skin. Computer augmented pornography, that anonymizes the participates, is almost certainly right around the corner. Can it play a legitimate role in an ethical secular culture?


“The team of researcher has come up with a new way to capture the tiny details on the surface of various skin patches on an actor’s face at a resolution of 10 microns as they’re being stretched and deformed by a specially-designed rig. At that resolution the exact deformations of even individual skin pores is captured, and using custom software, the captured data can be mapped to the artificial skin of a CG character, making the emotions of the face so realistic you can’t tell human from computer human.”