Since [my roommate] has no way of knowing if the women in the BDSM porn enjoy the “erotic torments” they’re subjected to, I don't think it's fine to view. These women could have been forced or they could be doing it because they’re in financial distress. Not fine. Therefore, I say it is impossible to enjoy BDSM porn ethically. Do you agree?Dan Savage responds, appropriately, by noting that “it can be ethically problematic to enjoy BDSM porn of unknown provenance” but that many BDSM porn producers take great care to assure its ethical production:
But today there is tons of fetish/kink porn being produced by and for fetishists of all stripes. Many of these smaller porn producers are hyperethical about the use and abuse of their models. That's particularly the case with producers of BDSM porn, most of whom are acutely sensitive to charges of brutality because, well, their products can seem so brutal.But Savage doesn’t go far enough in exposing the bogus ethical notions buried in this reader’s letter. First, the reader implies that it’s ethically necessary for the women (not the men?) in BDSM porn to enjoy what they’re doing, not just to fake it. This is not a standard we would apply to actors in traditional porn, actors in regular movies, or workers in any other industry for that matter. Nobody has to enjoy their job; many people even hate their jobs. They do their jobs merely because the benefits exceed the costs, as measured by their own subjective scales of value. Do trash collectors enjoy the scent of rotting garbage? As long as there is valid consent, the fact that people may not actively enjoy their jobs does not, and should not, create an ethical problem for those who enjoy the services provided.
Second, the reader says some people may take part in BDSM porn out of “financial distress,” and this too constitutes an ethical problem. Again, the same thing could be said of many jobs: people take them because they need the money (or even really, really need the money). The availability of jobs in porn, however pleasant or unpleasant such jobs may be, does not make the participants worse off than they would be if those jobs were not available. As a general proposition, you don’t improve people’s lot by taking options away. If the concern is that some people are in dire financial straits and that society should give them a hand, that’s fine but irrelevant; it means that perhaps we ought to provide them with more options (through financial assistance, education, or whatever), not take options away. The story would be very different, of course, if porn actors were in financial distress because of the perfidious actions of the porn producers and consumers – but I don’t think anyone’s claiming that.
If the reader’s concern is that people may be irrational and therefore incapable of making wise decisions about sex (or BDSM specifically), that’s a much broader claim that should make him concerned about not-for-profit BDSM as well. But the reader explicitly says (read the whole letter) that he thinks BDSM is just fine for those who like it. Apparently, then, the reader is okay with bondage between consenting adults, and also (if he’s down with garbage collection) okay with capitalist acts between consenting adults – but for some reason not okay with the intersection of the two.