The prevailing narratives surrounding exploitation in pornography often center around the idea that actors or models—especially women—are taken advantage of by producers for personal profit.
In The Feminist Porn Book, Lorelei Lee argues that this narrative has its foundation in the idea that those who join the industry as on-camera talent are driven there as a result of dire economic need, which she calls “economic coercion.”
So why is it important we explore this topic?
Because exploitation does exist in the adult industry. In this, however, the industry is not alone: whether through failure to pay a living wage, outright discrimination, a lack of benefits, or fire-at-will policies, many industries abuse the economically disadvantaged for the profit of those in producer-equivalent positions in those fields.
It’s not my intent, however, to argue that malfeasance in other industries justifies the same in the adult industry. After all, exploitation in sex work is a real concern: as many as 800,000 people are trafficked internationally each year, up to 80% of whom are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
In pornography specifically, Lorelei Lee cites that prevailing narratives surrounding exploitation have their roots in the notion that “performers are somehow lessened or devalued by their performances in a way that is not compensable by their earnings.”
A challenge to the idea that all work in pornography is exploitative is that this notion assumes the only reason someone would participate is due to economic coercion, as Lee puts it. As we’ve seen in past posts, however, there are a number of reasons why people choose this field of work or those similar to it.
That alone, however, doesn’t mean that we can turn a blind eye to the less scrupulous individuals who do take advantage of the economically disadvantaged in order to profit at the expense of those they employ or, in some cases, traffic.
What can we do, then, to combat exploitation?
Examining and fighting the unintended effects that laws like FOSTA/SESTA have on sex workers is one place to start. These laws, though well intended, can force sex workers into situations where they lose autonomy over their own business, which compromises their ability to work independently and opens them to exploitation through a reduction in the options available to them to pursue their work.
It’s also possible to change one’s consumption as to push back against exploitative practices. Those who hire sex workers or consume pornography might consider doing their research and ensuring that their consumption empowers the workers themselves to maintain autonomy over their practice or the partners with whom they act on screen in the case of adult actors.
Lastly—but perhaps the most critical of these points—is to listen to industry workers when they describe their experiences with or opinions about exploitation in their profession. In essays like those found in The Feminist Porn Book, one can develop a more nuanced understanding of the field as a whole, as well as the relationships the essayists had or have to the industries in which they work.
How is exploitation explored in Accounting for it All?
In Accounting for it All, it felt important to portray both exploitative and anti-exploitative narratives. These are juxtaposed across the book’s two timelines, namely in the past when Robin, the book’s hero, first enters the industry, and her work years later, when she’s working for her mentor’s feminist pornography studio, Pornucopia.
When she first enters the adult industry, Robin does so as someone who is attracted to it not out of a sense of economic need, but rather a genuine curiosity and interest in the opportunities it might provide her for personal growth. Unfortunately, over time she comes to realize that the individual who has given her this opportunity, Brett, is less scrupulous than he originally appeared.
After meeting other industry workers who open her eyes to less exploitative avenues in the world of pornography, Robin is then set on a path to free herself from Brett’s unethical practices. As the book shows, however, that path to liberation is rife with obstacles, some of which the essayists in The Feminist Porn Book experienced in their own personal journeys as real life adult film-stars as well.
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