There has been a seismic change in attitudes towards sex and consent in recent years. Behaviour which would have been deemed acceptable is now widely condemned. Yet, in pornography, many of these antiquated ideas still flourish.
Porn informs our understanding of what constitutes normal sex and, by extension, consent. Often, it encourages people to associate pleasure with acts of violence and coercion.
However, there is a new movement of realistic pornography which depicts mutually pleasurable sex, regardless of gender, with the assurance that performers are treated with respect.
Credit: Erika Lust Films
With the guidance of feminist director Erika Lust, whose series XConfessions is based on fantasies from real people, performer Hunter S. Johnson has made his directing debut. Hunter, who has a background in film and photography, has worked in the industry for eight years. VT spoke to him to gain a deeper understanding of the movement, the influence which its feminist values have had on Hunger, and what Hunter hopes he will achieve with his work in the future.
VT: What made you decide to pursue a career in ethical pornography as opposed to mainstream adult entertainment?
“I feel that pornography is incredibly influential on our culture – that our sexual views are indicative of our social views. It’s not news that so many people, including myself, only had porn as their primary sexual education, and that’s not ok. The majority of porn is created from the male perspective, a twisted male perspective. From the kind of minds that think harassment and coercion are normal in sexual interaction.”
“I remember watching a genre of ‘casting couch’ style videos when I was 16, in which unwilling women are portrayed to be tricked and coerced into pleasuring the male talent, with his face blurred out so the men viewing can imagine themselves being the ones to exert power over these women. Showing the viewer that gratification comes from control, subjugation, and power. What kind of impact does that have on a developing mind?”
“The majority of porn is created from the male perspective, a twisted male perspective”
“So many of us have been brought up in the internet age with this education, our first experiences of sexuality being only from the perspective of male dominance and violence. I feel this leads to a perpetuating system of young people learning sexuality through the lens of toxic masculinity, which I hope to play a part in correcting.”
“Pornography has become a primary source of sexual education. It shouldn’t be, it should be entertainment and art, but in the gap left by our inability to have a public discourse on sexuality, pornography takes the lead. We need to acknowledge the power pornography has on our society and use that power ethically and meaningfully, to depict mutually satisfying consensual sex.”
“Pornography has become a primary source of sexual education. It shouldn’t be, it should be entertainment and art”
“[This] is why I chose to work in ethical porn. I understand, from my own experiences, how powerful porn can be. I want to do whatever I can to help bring this industry to a fair and ethical standpoint. To help show a different viewpoint from the one provided by the mainstream, and to challenge the status quo.”
VT: How has your experience in front of the camera influenced your directorial debut behind it?
“I think that if you’re going to be directing performers, you should have experience being a performer first. It’s hard to understand exactly how demanding and difficult performing sexually under pressure is, without having done it first.”
“Being in front of the camera means you know exactly how difficult it can be to perform sexually while dividing focus. I was asking a lot of my performers by putting them in roles where they would be delivering lines and having sex simultaneously, which is an incredibly difficult feat.”
“Knowing what I would have expected to receive in terms of care and safety, and having had positive experiences with directors like Erika [pictured above], Theo Meow, and many others gave me the knowledge to do my best in providing a safe and caring workplace for Lucy and Parker [the performers in Hunger].”
VT: Was there something about Hunger which inspired you to take it on as your first directorial project, or was it simply the first opportunity you had to work behind the camera?
“I have been working on Hunger with the writer, Ben Bousada, for over three years now. It was developed and intended to be a statement on what I’d like to see in porn. Primarily, sex and cinema. A fully-developed and nuanced plot that hints at deeper values, while still being enjoyable and sexy to watch.”
Credit: Erika Lust Films
“Porn in which the plot isn’t just a brief setup for ‘the main act,’ but where dialogue and sexual content are interwoven, supporting each other.”
“It was developed and intended to be a statement on what I’d like to see in porn. Primarily, sex and cinema”
“I also wanted to really delve into this power structure I had observed in mainstream porn, to make the viewer think about how interconnected power and sex are, and the influence that can have on other areas of life. Hunger was very much chosen to be my directorial debut and is an indicator of the sort of work I’d like to continue with in the future.”
VT: The power dynamic in Hunger is the opposite of what’s traditionally portrayed in mainstream pornography. As a man, did you give Lucy Huxley more creative control in deciding how she was going to portray her character and allow your perspective to influence Parker Marx more?
“Lucy was with me for every stage of the development process and was an integral part of creating the character. In the earlier stages, she was a producer as well and helped to bring shape to the film.”
Credit: Twitter / @huntersjohnsonx
“In a sense, the character was written specifically for her. We wanted a powerful, yet ultimately flawed, character to toy with Parker’s character, to poke at his fragile male ego and give him chances to correct his way of thinking. Lucy developed her character into all that and more.”
“I didn’t assert much influence over either of them, as I wanted to see complex characters with strengths and weaknesses. To allow the performers to build their own versions of the characters.”
“We wanted a powerful, yet ultimately flawed, character to toy with Parker’s character, to poke at his fragile male ego and give him chances to correct his way of thinking”
VT: Has your experience working with Erika Lust in what’s traditionally a male-dominated industry influenced your perception of pornography? If you hadn’t met her or came to directing earlier in your career, would you have done things differently?
“Erika Lust’s work influenced my life far before I became a director, back when I was camming and making clips five to six years ago. I read her guide Let’s Make A Porno which is just an incredibly wonderful guide on creating ethical pornography.”
Credit: Twitter / @huntersjohnsonx
“I started following Erika and other ethical producers like Ashley Vex and Pandora Blake on Tumblr and other social media. This introduced me to feminist theory, and I began learning about what ethical porn stands for. This introduction helped me reflect on my own values and think about what I stand for, and the mark I want to make on the industry.”
“One of my biggest goals has been to learn more about, expose, and reduce toxic masculinity in the industry. Pornography and toxic masculinity have been so tightly interwoven, they’re almost synonymous. Seeing the work of these artists, both in activism and in their film work, gave me the chance to explore a perspective that I may not have been afforded without them.”
VT: What lasting message would you like Hunger to leave with viewers?
“That pornography is cinema, and as an art form, it can be a tool to upset the status quo.”
VT: It’s been over a year since the #MeToo movement took the world by storm. How has it influenced the adult entertainment industry and, in particular, ethical pornography?
“I don’t feel that my voice should add anything to the conversation around #MeToo. There are many other more pertinent voices already having a discussion about this.”
“Pornography is cinema, and as an art form, it can be a tool to upset the status quo”
VT: You wrote that not all mainstream porn is unethical on Twitter. Can you explain your belief?
“It’s the performer’s right to consciously choose to work on a ‘non-ethical’ set. For a variety of reasons, an ‘ethical’ performer may choose to take work on a mainstream shoot. Does that make the performer non-ethical?”
“No, a lot of people don’t have the luxury to pick and choose where they get their paycheck. I feel that performers should have agency to consciously choose to work with whomever they want. That’s what I meant by saying not all mainstream porn is unethical. I don’t want to make a distinction that would seemingly rob performers of their agency.”
VT: On that note, do you think that the well-publicised deaths of sex workers in late 2017/early 2018 could have been prevented if the entire industry operated ethically? Or do you think that, at least in August Ames’ case, it could have been prevented if society as a whole recognised sex work as work and respected the agency performers have over their own bodies?
“I can’t speak to all the deaths of sex workers during that period, as I don’t know enough about them to have an educated opinion. I think that the world, in general, would be a better place if the entire industry operated by ethical values and society recognised sex work as work.”
“Ames’ death was fueled by numerous factors that affect the industry negatively. For backstory: Ames killed herself after a Twitter-storm broke out from her post that she would not be working with a ‘crossover’ male performer, i.e. a performer who also does gay porn. She was publicly called out on social media and told to kill herself for being homophobic, as it was seen by many that she didn’t want to work with a gay performer for fear that she’d be at a greater risk of STI infection.”
“Firstly, the entire issue of not working with crossover performers is very problematic in that it stems from an understanding of gay sex as riskier, which is incredibly false. A taboo of this sort can only exist because porn is not seen to be real work. Misinformation exists in ignorance, and ignorance exists in the industry because it’s not seen as ‘real’ work.”
“The entire issue of not working with crossover performers is very problematic in that it stems from an understanding of gay sex as riskier, which is incredibly false”
“The reality is that porn performers have an incredibly low risk of infection from work. At least in the ethical porn realm, performers are required to have STI checkups before each shoot and have their choice of protection material on set: condoms, gloves, dental dams, anything they request. If this was understood and adopted by the entire industry and explained properly to society, there would be no place for this fear of crossover performers being at a higher risk of infection.”
“Secondly, and more importantly to Ames’ case, it needs to be understood that performers have absolute agency over their bodies and choices. Regardless of the reason for Ames’ decisions in who she wanted to shoot with, it was her body. It was her choice. The circumstances surrounding her suicide were varied, and I suggest listening to the podcast series The Last Days of August for a deeper understanding.”
VT: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to watch ethical pornography but doesn’t have the means to pay for it?
“All fair work should be fairly paid for. I think everyone should strive to bring that ideal into their lives. There are many different ways to support ethical pornography. Follow your favourite ethical performer or director on social media, attend ethical porn film festivals in your area, even just starting a discussion with friends about the topic helps to bring it more into the public realm.”
“If performers can’t express agency over their bodies, for any reason, how can we express to the viewers that they have agency over their own?”
“The more we talk about it, the more we ask ourselves questions about our own consumption and behaviours, the more we can reduce exploitation through our purchasing choices.”
Credit: Twitter / @huntersjohnsonx
Hunter’s words are a reflection of the fact that the positive societal change occurring elsewhere in society is making its way into an industry that the majority have come to associate with problematic, patriarchal norms.
The ethical pornography movement has demonstrated that adult films have the potential to be a lot more than what’s depicted by mainstream “tube” sites. They can be an artistically valid form of cinema that promotes healthy attitudes towards sex and consent.
Hunger is available for purchase on XConfessions; where there is a plethora of additional information about the ethical pornography movement. You can also keep up-to-date with Hunter’s work on Twitter and Erika’s on her website.