Ethically Erotic

By Amy Stewart, LMFT

One of my favorite things a client has ever said was:

“We care so much about buying fair-trade everything else, why wouldn’t we feel the same way about porn?”

In my dream world, that would be a totally normal part of the conversation and not notable in any way whatsoever.  In reality however, my mind was blown. because NO ONE had ever voiced that in my therapy room.

In honor of National Masturbation Month it seems relevant to touch base on what many folks use as stimulus for stimulation.  (Important to note here: not everyone, not all the time, not all the things.) But for those who do partake, there can be a bit of a value gap between where they are finding arousal, how it’s made and how its used. This discrepancy can sometimes be hard to sit with.

“So I’m supposed to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ on my own, like a pervert?”

“So I’m supposed to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ on my own, like a pervert?”

The general consumption of intentionally erotic content is such a discordant swirl of free and on-demand punctuated by shame and secrecy, that for most folks, the idea of paying invokes an entirely different sentiment altogether. How avoidable can your porn use be if every month a veiled charge pops up on your credit card, reminding you of your basest desires? For many, paying feels like a slippery slope to sex addiction, easily averted with a casual pop-in to your usual free site.  

Dismantling the multi-systemic shaming of sexuality would be a fantastic way to avert most of these issues, but given that’s likely not happening anytime soon…. what would it mean to be a bit more ethical about the whole shebang? Taking into consideration production and use are a good start.

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With the potential exception of payment, ethical production simply mimics ethical sexual relationships in real life.  Performers are paid fairly, treated respectfully and with dignity. They are not pressured or expected to consent to certain acts with which they are uncomfortable. You can see that they are enjoying themselves and engaging out of choice. Sexuality is treated and presented as diverse, with variation in desire, bodies and gender representation.


Folks engaging with erotic content can also be ethical or mindful in their use of pornography. This includes exploring its role and meaning in their lives and relationships and identifying whether that’s in line with their own value system. If they find it’s not, they can look for ways to be more thoughtful around whatever part of the process feels out of alignment. For many, this equates to recognizing they’re toting their fair-trade philosophy with one hand, while pulling up their tried and true tube sites and clicking until content with the other.


A quick google search for ethical porn will pull up multiple options to peruse and questions to consider. If you’re looking for something pre-curated,  The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health offers a database of options that are sex-positive, feminist-friendly and ethically produced.

Contact us at info@sparkchicagotherapy.com to learn more about how we can get curious with you about your own values and ethics around sexuality and exploration!