When one scrolls through Pornhub nowadays, the majority of thumbnails they see are not images of toned, tan, blonde actresses with fake double D’s and a perfectly applied layer of heavy makeup. In recent years, porn sites have increasingly featured clips of young, natural-looking women in unassuming bedrooms who look like they could easily be the hot girl you pass in the street on the way to work or sit next to in your next class. In our digital age, agents, production companies and networking are no longer necessary for an aspiring porn star to make it big. In order to star in your own erotic film, the process is now as simple as film, edit and upload. This emerging category of low-budget, low-production films starring inexperienced actresses is known to audiences as “amateur porn.” Its natural and spontaneous feel holds an alluring appeal to viewers, making them feel as if they are watching real people having real sex rather than a scripted, airbrushed encounter.

I’m going to come right out and say that I used to be one of these people with whom amateur porn struck a particularly appealing chord. As a curious girl searching for material that would actually satisfy my needs, the exaggerated screams and forced expressions of delight in professional porn videos just did not pique my interest to the level I desired. With every loud, dramatic scene I saw, I was left feeling even more disappointed. I was simply unable to suspend my disbelief enough to feel immersed in these scenes and actually enjoy myself rather than giggling at how ridiculous it all was.

Art by Sierra Deak / Daily Nexus

Art by Ashlea Vedder / Daily Nexus

I was never able to find anything that clicked with me until I discovered the amateur section: pages and pages of videos featuring young actresses who looked and acted like they could actually exist outside the glossy pages of Playboy, situated in plain bedrooms and filmed with a handheld camera or fixed tripod setup. Compared to the perfectly sculpted moaning sex goddesses and spacious mansion sets I was used to, it felt authentic, candid and natural; it was just what I needed.

However, I’m not writing this article to inform you about the wonders of amateur porn or direct you to open up an incognito tab right now. I’m here to inform you about the dark side of this rapidly expanding trend and the reasons why I now refuse to watch amateur porn.

After taking a close look at amateur porn and its creation process, the regrettable conclusion I have reached is this: unlike professional porn — a large industry network composed of producers, agents and performers who all must abide by certain regulations or risk a bad reputation within the industry or even losing their job — the low budget, minimally produced nature of amateur porn opens the door for the manipulation and abuse of female performers who are fully unprepared for what they’re getting into.

So how exactly does this manipulation occur? One of the answers lies in the digital era we live in today. Ten or 20 years ago, most pornography was made by professional companies who produced the films and released them on DVD. Therefore, the only people who made them were employed in the industry and were incentivized to go about filming and producing in a way that was fair to the actors in order to maintain their status and reputation as professionals. These types of established companies still exist today, but they now share the stage with small independent producers who make amateur films at a low budget and release them straight to the internet.

Now, one does not need to be a professional or work for any sort of company in order to produce and distribute porn; to start filming, the only steps necessary are recruiting some performers, setting up a camera and pressing “record.” This gives independent producers enormous discretion on how they wish to go about hiring and treating their performers.

Large, established companies have a reputation to uphold and many employees working to make sure that reputation, and their own reputations, are pristine. However, independent producers with no institutional ties must only ensure the quality of their content, not the fairness of its production. The process of filming a video and publishing it straight to the internet removes the sense of accountability that would be present in a professional shoot.

I also think it’s necessary to look at the girls who are performing in these videos. One of the most alluring aspects of amateur porn is that the performers starring in it are, well, amateurs: young, inexperienced girls just past the age of 18 who have little to no prior experience with the industry and are simply trying to earn some cash. They don’t have connections to people who have been in the industry and know how it works, nor do they have the financial or professional status to provide leverage for their own needs. This creates an alarming power dynamic between the performers and the producers hiring them; a young, naive girl starting out in amateur porn does not have the resources, knowledge or professional experience to know when she is being treated unfairly or what to do about it.

If she is being flown out to a location to film the scene, she may not feel comfortable objecting to scenes she does not desire to perform for fear of upsetting the people who have so graciously paid for her flight and will ultimately be signing her paycheck at the end of the day. Unfortunately, this is a perfect opportunity for producers to take advantage of the way girls have been conditioned to behave in our society: be kind, be likeable, appear sexy and confident, but do what you’re told and don’t be a bitch or a diva by complaining when you feel a situation has crossed the line.

the decision [to get into porn] makes a whole lot of sense once you understand the limited options these young women face.

In porn, “crossing the line” can translate to a girl being forced to perform in scenes which include acts such as forced oral sex, verbal and/or physical aggression, or anal sex. Since these more intense scenes mean bigger paychecks for all involved, producers have a monetary incentive to push performers to their limits with little regard for their willingness to perform these acts. Though many people are habituated to seeing these kind of scenes in mainstream porn, an amateur actress may have never performed these acts on her own, let alone on camera, and may reasonably be afraid or uncomfortable to proceed but feel that she has no choice. Without a formal contract or her own agent to consult, the performer doesn’t know if she can object and may feel that her only option is to perform the scene and get it over with.

For anyone who justifies unfair treatment of these girls on the basis that they willingly signed up to be in porn, consider the potential for coercion due to their socioeconomic status and lack of other options available. For example, a girl growing up in a poor Midwestern town faces the choice of remaining in her local vicinity and becoming a wife and mother, going off to college and then pursuing her own career or finding some other means of income if she wishes to become independent and leave her hometown.

If she chooses to settle down, she will be financially controlled by a man and unable to break free should the relationship become abusive. If she chooses college, the question of how to pay looms over her head. Therefore, it makes sense that she would jump at the opportunity to earn a few thousand or maybe even a few hundred dollars despite the possibility of harm. A person who is financially well situated with attainable goals and a supportive network of family and friends may shake their head in perplexity at girls who throw themselves into porn in the hopes of making it big, but the decision makes a whole lot of sense once you understand the limited options these young women face.

Another factor to consider is the lack of legal regulations placed on pornographic content. The few laws that do exist mostly consist of ineffective attempts to prevent the spread of STDs, and do not address consent or fair treatment of the performers at all. For example, a 2012 law called Measure B requires the use of condoms in all anal and vaginal porn scenes in California, but this requirement can be easily bypassed by filming the scenes in other states. Another regulation requires performers to be tested for STDs every 14 days and present documentation of their clean status, but many STDs have incubation periods of several months, allowing the possibility of an undetected infection to be passed from one performer to another despite clean test results. These shaky mandates are a few of the only laws in place regulating the process of making pornography, and they are grossly ineffective in practice.

Whether or not they choose to take advantage of it, independent producers of amateur porn have the ability to profit from the abuse and coercion of female performers with few ramifications.

The legal system for preventing STDs in porn may be flawed, but in terms of consent and abuse of power, there is essentially no system at all. It seems that the law only has STDs in mind as harms that could potentially occur on the set of a porn shoot. Suing in civil court for assault or rape could technically be an option for girls who feel they have been forced to perform a scene, but considering the condescending attitude our society has toward sex workers, I highly doubt that a judge or jury would have any sympathy for a young girl who elected to partake in porn. No matter how legitimate her claims may be, the stigma against girls who openly engage in sexual activity is just too deeply ingrained.

If high school and college-aged girls are shamed and not taken seriously in the wake of an assault, imagine the fate of a porn star attempting to make these allegations. Without an effective legal system in place to report harmful incidents, amateur performers have no means of seeking justice or accountability.

The combination of factors including the digital process of creating and distributing amateur porn, the imbalance of power between female performers and independent producers and the lax laws regulating pornography sets up many opportunities for producers to violate or abuse their performers in the process of creating pornographic scenes. Before you rush to call me extreme or radical for raising these issues, keep in mind that I am not claiming that the harms I have listed occur on every single amateur porn shoot or that producers are inherently unethical. I simply wish to draw attention to the monetary incentive for abusing performers and the ease with which producers can get away with this behavior.

Whether or not they choose to take advantage of it, independent producers of amateur porn have the ability to profit from the abuse and coercion of female performers with few ramifications. Some of these instances have gone public (type “GirlsDoPorn controversy” into your search browser and you will find several allegations regarding the popular amateur porn network GirlsDoPorn.com and its abuse of female performers), but these incidents are certainly not the only ones that have occurred. It is simply too easy for producers to take advantage of the young girls who depend on them for a source of income.

Many people watch these scenes every day, blissfully unaware as I once was of the abuse and unethical treatment that can occur behind the scenes. I’m not advocating for anyone to stop watching porn altogether — that would be an extreme and, let’s face it, entirely unrealistic proposition to an audience of sexually frustrated college students.

All I’m asking is that the next time your mouse hovers over a promising thumbnail of a young, innocent looking girl posed demurely on a bed gazing seductively at the camera, consider the ordeal that this girl may have had to endure in order to create this scene for your viewing pleasure. Think about the potential abuse and coercion that you are implicitly endorsing when you press play. In this situation, awareness is key. If viewers start demanding fair treatment and accountability, then maybe one day amateur porn stars will truly be as authentically and naturally in their element as they appear to be today.

Laurel Rinehart wants you to think about what might be happening in amateur porn that you don’t see on camera.

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