Home Media The War On Pornhub Is Jeopardizing The Careers of Sex Workers

The War On Pornhub Is Jeopardizing The Careers of Sex Workers

For Trip Richards, his career as a sex worker takes up most of his time. On a typical workday, Trip is busy filming clips, editing some of his bigger scenes, planning release schedules, uploading content and devising ways for social media marketing, developing materials for advocacy and sex education, and much more. 

“If you want the adult industry to be safer, more inclusive, and better overall, use your purchasing power to support better content,” says Trip Richards.

Most of us tend to have a very narrow idea of what sex work really entails, but like any other profession, it requires plenty of hard work, planning, and effort. 

“A lot of people think that sex work is easy, or that it’s one-dimensional, but really it can be a full career,” Trip told me when I asked him about his profession.  

But even after spending more than seven years in the industry, Trip can’t help but be troubled by the stigma that remains attached to his profession. Moreover, his queer and trans identity makes him susceptible to homophobia and transphobia on a daily basis. When I asked him about the challenges he faces as a sex worker, he told me how the stigma and shame associated with sex work are perpetuated even by those who enjoy and consume adult content. They watch erotic videos and sexy pictures, and in the same breath, view sex workers negatively. 

Trip’s concern instantly reminded me of Mia Khalifa’s troubles. Her three-month stint in the adult industry brought her global recognition as well as death threats from ISIS. In a poignant cameo scene in the show Ramy, Mia said, “The men who are yelling at me are the same men who are clicking on me.” An article published in Salon in 2015– around the time when Mia was working in the industry– showed how consumption of porn was thriving in the Middle East at the time. “The hypocrisy can be exhausting to confront,” Trip admitted. 

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that society at large continues to view sex work as anything but work. We’ve failed to differentiate sex work from sex trafficking, conflating a professional choice with a crime deserving of strict punishment. When we do this, we make it harder for sex workers to practice their work in safe conditions and jeopardize their ability to seek redressal when their rights are violated in the workplace. What is unfortunate is that even advocacy efforts to end sex trafficking see all kinds of sex practices as trafficking and illegal. Their “rescue operations” inadvertently cause more harm than good.

Nick Kristof’s column in the New York Times about the presence of child pornography on Pornhub garnered significant global attention, leading to sweeping changes in the website’s business model. It even led to Visa and Mastercard suspending their services from Pornhub, a move that, unfortunately, dealt the worst blow to sex workers and not, as Kristof had hoped, to those who upload these illegal and horrific videos from unverified accounts. Trip was dismayed when he heard of the decision last December. When Visa and Mastercard stopped their services for Pornhub, they didn’t really do much to end sex trafficking and abuse on the platform. Rather, they plugged the incomes of models and creators who already operated through verified, legal accounts to begin with. 

Luckily for Trip, he had already diversified to platforms like OnlyFans and JustForFans, so he was doing okay even without his Pornhub income which continues to remain blocked. But this can’t be said for everyone. “The practical shutdown of Pornhub did not solve the problem of abusive content on the internet, and instead it created entirely new problems like impoverishing consensual adult workers and setting a precedent that disinformation campaigns can lead to credit card companies restricting the sale of legal content,” Trip explained. 

Kristof, in his article, mentioned in passing a campaign to shut down Pornhub that has garnered close to 2.2 million signatures. The TraffickingHub campaign is run by Exodus Cry, an organization that declares on its website its commitment to “abolishing sex trafficking and breaking the cycle of commercial sexual exploitation while assisting and empowering its victims”. What Kristof did not mention is that Exodus Cry is a religious right organization that has advanced anti-gay, anti-abortion, and antisemitic views. In fact, he doesn’t even mention their name. However, in the aftermath of Kristof’s explosive article, Congress introduced the Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act (SISEA) with bipartisan support, with the stated goal of putting in more protections against revenge porn, child pornography, and violation of consent. 

While SISEA was not passed in the last congressional session, it remains likely that something similar will be approved in a future session. Trip warned that a bill like this would be a massive overreach into free expression and privacy. It would fundamentally disallow all explicit material, impacting sex workers, artists, creators, educators, and anyone else who enjoys erotic content. Essentially, it would undo any progress the sex-positive movement has made. 

The fight against sex trafficking has almost always focused on pornography. This is mainly because right-wing Christian fundamentalist organizations like Exodus Cry are at the forefront of this fight. In their efforts to end sex trafficking, they see an opportunity to ban the entire adult industry as a whole. 

This battle to end the menace of sex trafficking has always been fought from a moralistic point of view, and never from a more complex, rights-based, ethical approach. “It is a decision driven by puritanical moralistic outrage against the low-hanging fruit of pornography, not by a genuine desire to actually protect vulnerable people,” Trip explained. In reality, the fight isn’t to end sex trafficking, but rather to put an end to all forms of healthy, creative, and consensual sexual expression. 

We need to change the way we look at pornography. As Trip told me several times during our conversation, “Pornography is not a monolith.” And so, the solutions to the problems with pornography cannot come from a one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed there are problems with the way mainstream pornography portrays sex, but these ethical concerns can be fixed by promoting and paying for sex-positive content from niche studios and models like Trip. 

Remember that it’s mostly the unpaid, unverified accounts whose content most consumers view because those are the easiest to access; and these are the spaces where violence and sexual abuse can easily slip in under the guise of adult content. Trip’s suggestion is, “If you want the adult industry to be safer, more inclusive, and better overall, use your purchasing power to support better content.” The best way to regulate pornography would be to recognize sex work as a profession and to treat sex workers as any other professional. The criminalization of sex workers only pushes them underground and allows sex trafficking to flourish unabated, even in the spaces that we think are safe

Sanjukta Bose
Sanjukta Bosehttps://sanjuktabose.contently.com/
Sanjukta Bose is a freelance writer interested in covering social issues, culture and gender.
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