The most vital ingredient for truly good porn? Consent.

Sex is far more than just something we do with our bodies. In porn, as in real life, the best sex is built on a foundation of consent – the mind chooses to say “Yes” and the body follows…

Recently on Twitter, Petra had this interesting discussion with someone around porn and consent, and we thought it’d be a good opportunity to talk about the vital role that consent plays in ethical porn.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Linda Lovelace, but in case you haven’t, she was the actress in the classic porn film Deep Throat, who spoke out after the film had been released to explain that she felt exploited by those who made it. That the acts in the film were not consensual. She was under pressure, and had been threatened and coerced into performing by her abusive partner Chuck Traynor.

No one should ever feel under duress to have to perform physical acts in porn. Everyone has their individual boundaries and they should always be respected. Good porn, like sex, has consent at the absolute heart of it. As Petra explained in her advice on how to make alternative porn:

“Just because someone agrees to have sex in front of your camera, does not mean that you can expect them to do whatever you fancy shooting on cue “

As a society, we have some serious problems with consent. While the majority of people would – if asked – happily explain that any sexual contact must include mutual consent, time after time we’re still confronted with stories of people who cannot understand the fundamental basics.

Bill Cosby has admitted to giving women drugs so that they’ll have sex with him, and seems to think the whole thing is a joke. Yet this powerful piece highlighting the 35 women who have accused him gives the true picture: this is a man who had no regard for their consent. It’s not the only recent example: there are plenty. Recently Donald Trump’s lawyer tried to ‘counter’ accusations of the rape of his then wife, Ivana Trump, by telling people that ‘you can’t rape someone you’re married to’ – the medieval implication being that marriage implies a state of permanent sexual consent. Shocking though it is, rape in marriage was only criminalised relatively recently, with the UK criminalising it in 1991. In the US, it took until 1993 to criminalise spousal rape in all 50 states.

Obviously we’re getting better: there are some fantastic sex educators, writers, and other people who are putting across a healthier message about consent. This cartoon illustrates perfectly how weird the world would look if we treated other kinds of consent the same way we do sexual consent. “I’m borrowing your car. Well, you said it was OK last week, so I assumed it’d always be OK.” – someone should show that bit to Donald Trump’s lawyer.

Recently, a Tumblr post explaining how gaining consent can essentially equate to dirty talk, went viral:

“Looking into your partner’s eyes and asking “may I?” in a voice breathy with desire before you kiss them is super hot.”

And yet it takes time to change people’s attitudes about sexual consent, and get the message across that not only is consent vital, it can also be sexy as hell.

Porn is one of the areas where consent, and performer comfort, can be a fantastic tool for education. In Petra’s shoot that I went to, with Harry and Bishop, one of the things which stood out most for me was just how fantastically communicative they were. Their chat about what turns them on flowed not only before the shoot but also during the scene, with each person focused on getting their sexual desires fulfilled and also satisfying the other person. Not only was it consensual, it was intensely hot, as the flow of the scene was dictated by what they genuinely wanted to do.

Petra says: “I loved this shoot because it was a prime example on how exciting communication in the bedroom can be. I am tempted in postproduction to keep most of this communication and negotiation in as it adds so much to the hotness of the scene. Both are being completely honest, free and playful rather than putting on a laboured performance for my camera without tuning into their on screen lover. I hope that one day this scene will be shown as part of sex education to young adults.”

Contrast that with some mainstream porn, which is often made purely to show more ‘extreme’ acts and focuses on (real or acted) non-consent with no way to tell what’s happened behind the scenes, you realise just how different they really are. Petra explains:

“The essence of this kind of porn is sadly often a focus on non-consenting female performers that are being humiliated and abused over and over again for the pleasure of an audience that still believes in “blurred lines” of consent and that “No” means “Yes”. Take the kind of online porn featured in the Netflix documentary ‘Hot Girls Wanted‘, for example. It features barely legal young girls being recruited as internet porn performers via Gumtree ads, promising them a glamorous, sexy and carefree life in Miami, when in reality they are expected to perform in brutal rape-style scenarios they previously did not know about or agree to shoot. Some young, inexperienced and in some cases naïve girls never learned how to negotiate boundaries and speak up for themselves, especially when they are put under pressure in front of a rolling camera. It is this kind porn that gives the genre a bad name.”

As long as ‘porn’ is lumped together in one genre, there’s a chance that we’ll miss the vital education that ethical porn can give consumers around sexual consent. That’s why it’s important not just to watch ethical porn and support those producers, like Petra, who are showing something that is mutually consensual and hot, it’s also important to talk about it.

Our society has some appalling views about consent, and they’re not just confined to porn screens or our bedrooms. They’re implicit in songs such as ‘Blurred Lines’, or media messages that hint that women who wear certain types of clothes are ‘asking for it.’ And these messages drip through, having a collective effect on the people who hear them – telling us over and over that consent is somehow difficult to comprehend, or murky, when in fact it’s simply a question of making sure that everyone’s happy with whatever situation they’re in. We can either let these messages drip through or we can start to counter them with our own: show people the films which are made by ethical producers, and which show performer consent clearly and unequivocally. Challenge people who argue that consent is ‘difficult’ or that someone was ‘asking for it,’ or that people who work in porn should expect to be exploited as a matter of course. Shout it from the rooftops: good porn, like good sex, has consent at the heart.

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