Back in March, writer Bobby Box asked me some questions about why “free porn sites” are bad for the adult entertainment industry.

I minced no words when offering some much needed clarification regarding his well-meaning, yet off mark questions — I’m always happy to try to engage every teaching moment though, so I tried my best to explain.

Yesterday, Box tweeted the following to couch a very surprising piece (also, published yesterday in Playboy).

Read “The Best Free Adult Content Sites on the Internet” (June 6, 2018) right here. You can read my correspondence with Box below too — it informs much of the piece, almost verbatim.

Bobby Box: Can you explain why — meaning, the deeper politics of the issue aside from the obvious “It’s free, and porn stars aren’t being paid for their work” — free porn websites are bad for the industry?

DrCT: There is no such thing as a “free porn site.” Tube sites that tout “free porn” are actually based in stolen, pirated content. The obvious problem here is that producers are not getting paid for their content, which impacts their bottom line, which in turn impacts performers hired for scene work. Obviously, some performers produce their own content too, so they are impacted in an even further, multi-dimensional way here.

But the idea that even in sympathetic coverage we refer to stolen, pirated content as “free porn” speaks to a deeper issue – which is, adult content is something that we as a society have convinced ourselves has no use value, meaning it’s not a meaningful good worth paying for. Regardless of one’s erotic tastes, the fact remains that all professional adult content creation is labor – and to deny the people performing said labor the right to compensation and authentication via the acknowledgement of their labor is exploitative and dehumanizing.

Further, porn is not for age inappropriate viewers, but piracy-based tube sites do not even pretend to make an effort to age verify their traffic. This ties in with society’s misappropriated use of adult content for sex ed. Porn is NOT, nor does it ever pretend to be, educational material; but our culture’s truly terrible approach to sex ed across all age groups and young people’s open access to depictions of sex (which, in desperation, may look “educational” to a young person seeking answers about a topic for which they have limited resources) has somehow led people to that conclusion. As such, open access piracy-based tube sites have played a big part in the mis-education of young people regarding sex. Age verified adult content, especially that’s behind a paywall, is at least making an effort to keep content away from age-inappropriate viewers.

BB: Are there any free porn sites that are better than others?

DrCT: No, not really. Some market themselves in different ways that may make us feel like we are seeing something positive or different, but we’re not.

Consider, for example, Bellesa.co, which marketed itself as a porn site for women but was really just a curation of stolen content available on every other tube site around. Their marketing was so effective that Bustle.com and writer Suzannah Weiss (among others) lauded the site for its absence of “pesky” (an adjective since redacted) paywalls – more on that here – and touted it as some sort of feminist enterprise. Point being, by feeding off unfamiliarity and lazy “journalism,” some piracy-based tube sites may appear “better” than others, but they are all basically the same.

Some producers have been effectively cornered into rev share and affiliate relationships with piracy-based tube sites – like the channels you see across the top of some major tube sites. Some people make jokes about how the major piracy-based tube sites are basically just the internet’s best affiliates now (meaning, for instance, users go to a tube site, potentially click through and then producers and the tube site get a cut of any sale made), but to me that seems like people trying to rationalize business relationships.

The fact remains that the culture regards adult content in a particular way in 2018, and this includes the way it’s accessed. Piracy-based tube sites control the lion’s share of porn traffic on the internet – but we must not disregard how that came about, nor should we dismiss the significant problems that have emerged as a consequence.

BB: How has the emergence of free porn websites changed the industry? I know a lot of porn stars are taking matters into their own hands and are promoting themselves more explicitly on social media to garner a fanbase, but is there anything else?

DrCT: Though social media changed a lot about the industry absent piracy-based tube sites (for instance, performers no longer needed producers to promote them internally; social media also allows performers to come to the table with more bargaining power as their cache/marketability could be “measured” by their social media reach, etc), social media has given performers the opportunity to speak up and out about the impacts of piracy and promote their content more directly.

(see above about entering into fairly cornered business relationships, for one)

For better or for worse, one could also say that tube sites really trimmed a lot of the glut content that once populated the adult content space. It’s way more difficult to make porn these days. (10 – 15 years ago it was much easier to be successful, at least financially successful, in porn) Today’s market requires interesting combinations of cleverness, savvy, and good quality content. Piracy-based tube sites may indirectly be partially responsible for this.

BB: What are subscribers doing for the industry when they pay for porn? Where do these profits go?

DrCT: When people pay for porn – via a subscription to a website, by purchasing a clip directly from a performer, or when buying content from an authorized retailer like AdultDVDEmpire.com (among many other ways) – the money goes back to the content owner.

This money then impacts the content owner’s/producer’s bottom line, helping them recoup production costs and maybe even make a profit on their work. This then enables them to create more content in a safe, professional, and community-sanctioned environment. More performers — as well as workers in every part of the production and distribution process — get to work and earn a living, and most importantly people are afforded the intangible dividend that comes with tactic acknowledgement of their work’s value.

It’s not about liking all porn, or any porn for that matter. It’s about not exploiting other humans by dismissing the value of the work they do if one chooses to consume it.

(pictured: some internet dude, via Playboy)

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Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

Get Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon and CT.com.

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