NOTE: This advice is intended for people over 18. Children cannot legally access porn but they should hear about it from their parents and guardians. For information on that go here.

For some people, porn is inherently immoral. They may object to the way it's made or how it affects the way we see each other. They may fear its adverse impacts on users, relationships, or the culture at large. Some even draw a link between porn use and real world violence and may call for the eradication of porn entirely.

Research shows that the reality is much more complex.

Simply viewing porn isn't going to make anybody a misogynist or rapist; these things exist without any help from erotica. And media doesn't affect everyone the same way. For instance, if you understand the techniques of filmmakers and can separate fantasy and reality, you can watch a car chase scene in an action movie without thinking it's an instructional driving video. Without any education, context or self-reflection, though, media consumption can shape your idea of normal, often for the worse. Same goes for porn.

Censorship, though, is not an effective way of fixing a social problem. Instead, what we need is a more nuanced approach to adult content and a goal of being informed, thoughtful consumers.

So what can we do to make sure we're participating in the best (or just least harmful) way?

Pay for it

This the biggest and most important step in being an ethical consumer: paying for the product. Sure, you can find an endless supply of free pics and videos and it can be tempting to go that route for a lot of reasons. But consuming someone's work for free (when they have asked you to pay for it), is stealing, plain and simple.

Value pleasure

Look for indications in the content that all the performers are having fun, that everyone appears to be on the same page and mutual pleasure is a central feature. Be able to identify feigned enjoyment and when someone is genuinely having a great time. There is plenty of kinky, domination-filled content that is entirely consensual and plenty of vanilla scenes that are super exploitative: know the difference.

Look for ethical production

Some producers consider their talent's wishes and wellbeing, while others are out to exploit. It's hard to know, from your couch, which directors made sure to give their stars adequate water breaks and had an open negotiation about what acts would be performed. The best solution is to learn about the production companies, directors and performers. If you're looking for mainstream porn, head for the biggest, most established studios.

There is an education group for adult performers and an Ethical Porn organization, but very few groups rate the best companies and there's no Consumer Reports for erotica. The Feminist Porn Awards are a good place to look for curated content that has been ethically produced and there's a conference held in Toronto where you can learn even more about the people who are in this industry for the right reasons.

Go to the performers

Find someone you really dig and subscribe to their stuff directly, purchasing content through their website. Read interviews with them. Most adult stars have social media: ask them what they suggest for production teams to trust.

Porn trends have veered more towards amateur production and webcams. Not only does this mean that personalized content is available, but it also means fewer middle men, giving more agency to the workers. While there are exceptions, cam models are usually in control of their hours and what they do. The hosting site takes a chunk of their income, so fans can show their appreciation by tipping outside the system, through their Amazon wishlists, for instance.

In everyday life
  • Be a person who thinks critically about sexuality: dissect images in media and think about the way men and women are portrayed. Learn more about sexuality, understanding that how it's depicted in porn is largely about fantasy, and is not always a realistic or ideal portrayal.

  • Be respectful to those who are in the industry and ditch the awful double standard that stigmatizes the performer and not the consumer. Stay away from dead hooker jokes, stop using "whore" as an insult, and advocate that others change their behavior as well.

  • If you recognize someone you know in a video or at a strip club, respect their privacy and keep the information to yourself- it might endanger their safety or livelihood.

  • Share what you know about the ethics of porn. Not everybody knows it's possible to be a thoughtful, informed consumer.  YET.

Dr. Timaree Schmit earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from Widener University, where she now trains future sexologists and clinicians. Her passion is bringing rational, empirically-based, sex-positive information to the world, empowering others to celebrate their bodies, build intimacy and experience pleasure. 

She has an award-winning podcast, "Sex with Timaree", and hosts a BYOB sex ed, comedy/game show "DTF: Darryl and Timaree Fun Hour" which can be seen every second Friday at the Franky Bradley's (1320 Chancellor St.)