This post originally appeared on Pretty Queer July 21st, 2011
See it here
I am finding my ideals located in awkward places during this odd, Saturn’s Return-esque moment of my life. Specifically, I’m finding myself doing activism around or advocating ideas that directly counter what I would have done in my early 20’s.
This came up for me while reading Sadie’s very smart piece Un-Money Shots: The Top 5 Porn Moments You Don’t See. She wrote about those pesky mundanities of porn life that the viewer is shielded from, one of which is the condom application scene.
Now, I totally agree that in porn where protected sex is displayed, the inclusion of a ‘putting on the condom’ scene would be fantastic. The ‘I Dream of Jeanie’ esque eyelid blink appearance of a condom is childish. Sex workers, with our glamour and grace, do have the skills to eroticize acts previously thought unappealing — from a dick check to double penetration. Putting on a condom should be one of those acts. However, talking about the ‘moral responsibilities of the porn industry’ comes dangerously close to another issue currently tearing up the porno landscape — the banning of condomless porn production in California.
I’m an HIV educator and an AIDS activist, as well as being a sex worker who has done porn as both a cis-woman and a trans man. I am not unaware that my preaching against condom usage seems suspect, considering my background. But bear with me while I tell you the sordid tale of AIDS Healthcare Foundation VS The LA Porn industry and why it is this side of the fence that I stand on.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the largest AIDS Inc. within the USA. They provide some very valuable services to people and, also, they mouth off a lot. Sometimes their campaigns have valuable targets, but often it has seemed like their motivation is publicity and funding. They have, for a few years, been putting pressure on Cal-OSHA to enforce blood porn pathogen rules for adult industry workplaces — i.e. no exposure to potentially hazardous body fluids. After many meetings the proposed guidelines lay somewhere in the field of condoms for blowjobs and intercourse, but no longer eye protection for any potential splash factor.
The long time standard for risk reduction in porn settings has been testing and facial cum shots. There was a clinic called Adult Industry Medical — which was started by porn performer Sharon Mitchell in 2004 and closed this year– through which porn performers would get tested for Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and a RNA test for HIV. This would clear them for work in porn studios for 1 month. AHF attacked AIM after a performer, inappropriately dubbed ‘Patient Zero’, tested positive and the clinic refused to release their identity to the DPH, claiming public health hazard, although all studios and sex workers that had contact with the performer were quarantined. For a while it was neck and neck. AHF found out the identity of the porn star who tested positive and dragged him onstage to cry during press conferences. They also teamed up with Pink Cross — a group of reborn unto the lord ex-porn stars that came to realize the sins of their ways post getting herpes by way of a 50 person gang bang. However AIM had support of most of the community and the porn industry advocacy group Free Speech Coalition, they also had the fact their HIV positivity rate is very low (9 in 5 years) — without confirmation of if they were infected on set. Patient Zero himself traces his exposure to a blowjob scene on a gay shoot he did, but considering the farfetchedness of transmission through oral, his rentboy.com escort ad seems suspect.
However the dam broke when porn wikileaks released the information of 15,000 porn performers whose details could only have been sourced from the AIM database. There is nothing to make you change your mind about supporting an organization like their connection to a site connecting your legal name with a statement claiming you “turned into a whore and went by the (Porn name) doing porn degrading the whole family name being a pornographic whore.” The clinic closed down, testing structures shifted over to the company ‘Talent Testing’, and report backs from Cal-OSHA meetings say the fight is done. That there will be some form of oversight by the government in the occupational health and safety practices of porn companies.
“Hurray!” You might be saying — “that is great! Even one HIV infection is too many.” I want to discuss why the math of mandatory condoms + porn doesn’t necessarily = better working conditions. And why I think this is a bad idea in regard to both individual sex workers and on a widespread cultural level.
First, on an individual level. As it currently stands most gay and straight, cis and trans companies either require testing or condoms on shoots. You don’t have to do condomless porn, although it is generally true that there are more companies that shoot without. However in some worlds — like the gay male porn circuit — that isn’t true, and in fact shooting with bareback companies can put performers in a position where they then may have trouble getting work anywhere else, once the taint of cum-dumpsterdom has besmirched their reputation.
Possible reasons performers may prefer to work without condoms:
- Makes a long porn shoot go even longer. As Sadie talked about, maintaining an erection as well as attaining a proper pop shot through a porn shoot can be a monumental task. Condoms do tend to exacerbate this issue, especially with pre/non op trans women who may especially have difficulty staying hard.
- Have you ever had a condom break? Was it during something more demure than a 3 hour long double penetration, multi partner scene? Most condoms are, unfortunately, not designed for the type of sex that usually happens on porn sets. Sex where people are stopping and starting, loosing erections and then getting hard again, fucking multiple holes at different times. Which is not to say that it cannot work, porn with condoms definitely gets made. There is just a margin for error that needs to be acknowledged and the fallibility of condoms breaking or coming off might not make the sex any ‘safer’ than routine testing.
- Many performers getting fucked get anal or vaginal irritation from the friction of the condoms, and it makes doing long or multiple scenes unsustainable on their bodies.
- For some performers doing barebacking porn is their only option. After Treasure Island was fined and ceased shooting in CA, I talked to a friend of mine who has been a long time model for them. He has been subsidizing his SSDI payments with occasional porn shoots, but now he would have to travel to Nevada, and the cost of that would balance the fee he gets for the shoot. He is a guy in his 40’s who is visibly HIV+. He’s not going to get work with condom companies. He should be able to have that option for employment.
Now, onto the bigger picture. On a social level I believe that bareback porn should be able to be produced. Whether through serosortingor testing, porn performers should be the ones to make the choice about the risk they take in their lives. Another person may feel differently — that porn that involves risky sex is intrinsically coercive to performers and that the spread of imagery that eroticizes unsafe sex is unconscionable. Ultimately though, both of our opinions on the matter have as much impact on reality as the cum rag one might blow a load into.There have been a lot of analogies flying about comparing use of condoms in porn to hard hats on construction sites, I fear that the concentration on sex work being work, has made people delusional. The porn industry, albeit legal, cannot be supervised like any other industry. Not since the invention of xtube anyway. A crackdown on bareback porn will not mean that less condomless porn gets made, it will just mean less gets made in California. Companies that are more visible, which now do enforced testing protocols and generally pay their performers a decent wage, will be the ones to get targeted. Unless we want to pay AHF or Cal-OSHA millions of state dollars to stand on sets around the states making sure that no one blows their load near an orifice, the feasibility of enforcing this rule is slim. If it is a fee based system, where companies get fines for not complying, then small companies will go under and larger companies will move out of the already financially desolate California economy.Now from a public health perspective let’s talk, briefly, about how problematic framing any possibility of HIV or STI transmission as unacceptable is. As an HIV educator I am constantly walking the line of trying to convince people that HIV is something they should be concerned about while (often simultaneously) trying to repair the affects that scare messages have had on their behaviors and thought process. This is difficult. The reality is that HIV is — in the United States — a different disease than it was before the current medication regiment. However, at the same time, when health professionals frame it as being ‘like diabetes’ they are full of bullshit. Having diabetes does not impact people socially in the same way HIV does. Very few people would hesitate to share a glass of water with someone who has diabetes, you don’t type “can I get diabetes from:” and have Google suggest “from swimming in a pool with black people.”Unfortunately, the fear of the stigma of HIV reproduces it. It also makes it hella sexy. For many of us, especially those of us with ‘bad sexualities’, doing or thinking about things that are taboo, dangerous, vulnerable–shall I say it–raw is very, very appealing. When has the suppression of sexual imagery ever actually made it go away? Could not the act of banning it add more fuel to the fire?For all these reasons and more, people within the industry — by the large — don’t support this attempted decree. Which is not to say that A. condoms in porn shouldn’t be celebrated and centered or that B.there are not changes that should be made in the working conditions of porn workers. However, those changes should come from the impetus of sex workers themselves.Here are some useful suggestions I have for Cal-OSHA, ways to actually support sex workers in the porn industry:
- Providing harm reduction HIV and STI education for sex workers. Honest information about the risks that come with different actions, and what ways you can reduced them. You cannot eliminate them. If someone is not emotionally prepared to get the clap, or is freaked out about the possibility of herpes blisters in their future, they should not be in porn that involves flesh dicks going into holes.
- Supporting workers compensation. Contrary to popular thought, and tax paperwork, porn workers are not independent contractors. Where they, they would be out of Cal-OSHA’s jurisdiction. They are employees and therefore should receive workers compensation if they develop an infection on set.
- Ensuring the cost of testing should never be the responsibility of the worker and the results should no longer be available in as public of a way as they have been. Talent should be cleared or not cleared for work, but whether they tested positive for HIV or gonorrhea should not be information divulged to porn producers without their permission.
- Creating incentives for companies to include ‘sex education moments’ on screen. Perhaps AHF could have taken some of the money it spent on billboards that were simply giant pictures of Elizabeth Taylor (not that I’m opposed) and given it to sex workers to illustrate the boner creating potential of a condom applied, romantically, with the mouth.
- Creating a policy where actor/esses are able to chose whether or not they want to use condoms on set. Sex workers should never be financially punished for choosing to use protection.
There is also a whole group of sex workers that DO want to be able to use condoms, but they are criminalized for carrying them. Carrying condoms is used as evidence of prostitution in DC, NYC and SF — amongst other cities. Ultimately, what would be best is if AHF turned their benevolent gaze to people who want their support instead of playing cop for an industry they don’t understand.