Sex & Gender

Determining ethical sex work consumption in digital space

October 31, 2022

Life is predicated by sex, but sex doesn’t always beget life; instead, sex begets pleasure. Whether or not someone’s personal beliefs support it, sex work is work. However, in stigmatizing and criminalizing sex work, our societies have pigeonholed sex workers of various disciplines into a precarious existence where ethical behavior has no bearing. Seeing as sex work isn’t going anywhere, it’s time we begin determining what ethical sexual content consumption looks like, particularly in a digital world. 

What makes a sex worker?

Many of us will recall the CW series, Girlfriends, more specifically Lynn and Mya’s stints as erotica authors. Currently, there’s debate over whether the authors of erotica should be considered sex workers. While Cricket says, “I BELIEVE THAT SEX WORK is when you have a job that stimulates sexual thoughts in a person mentally or physically. Some sex work is mental like dancing at a strip club, posing for Playboy, or writing dirty stories,” others don’t share her opinion. However, at minimum, writers are sexual content producers. 

More recently, many will recall Dro, played by Sarunas J. Jackson, from Issa Rae’s HBO series, Insecure. What you may not know is that Sarunas Jackson voice acted and produced an audio erotica series with Dipsea titled, “Off The Record”. This makes Sarunas both a sex worker and sexual content producer. A similar platform to Dipsea is Quinn, with both focusing on the auditory and literary points of sexual pleasure. 

Insecure' Star Sarunas J. Jackson Launches Erotic Audio Series - Essence

With this type of sexual content, the concerns over exploitation are exponentially diminished. Consumers know they’re not accidentally consuming content that wasn’t legally obtained. There are assurances, there is greater respect for the creators because the editorial process is rooted in redefining conventional and/or popular sexual content formats. 

Bands will make her dance…online?

When COVID-19 lockdowns forced us to isolate, people turned to the internet to stay connected. Employees turned to work-from-home models, even exotic dancers. In 2020, Justin LaBoy coined “Demon Time”, ushering in the advent of Instagram Live strip clubs during times when clubs were closed. The term gained more traction when Beyoncé rapped, “Hips Tik Tok when I dance, on that demon time, she might start an OnlyFans”. Then again when virtual strip clubs in the hit series P-Valley were integral to a character’s storyline.

Alexandra Levine reported, “Livestreams on [TikTok] are a popular place for men to lurk and for young girls — enticed by money and gifts — to perform sexually suggestive acts.” These young girls are not sex workers, rather they’re children being exploited online. All of which highlights the need for ethical sexual content consumption. 

“Let’s make a movie”

Exotic dancing is one of the more socially normalized forms of sex work, one with regulations at least. Another form is the pornography industry. Adult entertainers engage in sexual acts on camera for money. While the industry has regulations, with people producing their own sexual content, grey areas broaden. For example, a couple filming themselves having sex doesn’t mean both parties have consented to the publishing or distribution of that act. 

Regarding platforms like PornHub and XVideos, *A. Smith, an OnlyFans creator shared, “They are stealing videos, posting them against sex workers’ wills, they’re not paying these women.” Granted, while each organization depends on users to publish to them, investigations found they are slow to remove unauthorized content, making the consumption thereof unethical. The issue becomes how one tells the difference between authorized and unauthorized content. Essentially, the best practice is to engage the sex worker involved directly. Many have links to their content across different platforms that they endorse. To avoid watching unauthorized sexual content, going directly to the adult entertainer makes all the difference. 

*T. Smith, a former sex worker in their own words

Q: With sex work being so stigmatized, what would you describe as ethical sex work content consumption?  What makes a good sexual content consumer?

A: “Sex workers are not a homogenous group. This means that our means of consuming sex work will be varied, however, there might be some similarities in principle across the board when we look at the issue of ethics. I will speak primarily from the context of digital sex work, but this may apply to most, if not all forms of sex work. One would first have to interrogate what it means to be an ethical consumer of anything really, under the capitalist system. We often find that it is nearly impossible to be an absolutely “ethical” or “good” consumer of goods and services that are produced within the capitalist system, given that it goes hand in hand with exploitation, particularly of marginalized people. 

So I would say that we can only attempt to forge more ethical spaces to produce adult content, as well as become more ethical consumers of this content. Ethical adult content produced in the digital space has the following qualities: Consent, fair pay, respect, inclusivity and diversity. It prioritizes the pleasure of all and does not centre the man’s gaze. A harrowing example of a breach of ethics in digital sex work is when paid content is pirated through screen recording apps and is then dispersed across other social media platforms.

Q: What’s the most common misconception you’ve found when people interact with your discipline of sex work?

A: As a former digital sex worker, I found that people could not grapple with the multi-faceted nature of sex workers. The misconception was that we are individuals with a single story. To a certain extent, I do not blame them because they are only exposed to what they have been shown, which is often a fantasy. This makes it difficult for the audience to remember that you as the sex worker, are a real person with hopes and dreams and a lived experience; Possibly an education and other professional prospects and interests outside of sex work. 

Q: With so many people talking about a “right to sex”, what do you wish was considered about your right to work as you see fit?

I wish the following was considered: the decriminalization and destigmatization of sex work. This would result in safer working conditions for sex workers that would significantly reduce instances such as secondary victimization of sex workers at service delivery points. I also wish that there was an acute understanding of the agency and autonomy of adults who choose to participate in sex work 


*names changed to protect the identity of sources