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      Mandating Condom Use in Porn Is Wrongheaded and Stupid

      Mandating Condom Use in Porn Is Wrongheaded and Stupid Mandating Condom Use in Porn Is Wrongheaded and Stupid Mandating Condom Use in Porn Is Wrongheaded and Stupid
      Photo by Corey Balazowich

      Opinion & Analysis

      Mandating Condom Use in Porn Is Wrongheaded and Stupid

      By Natasha Lennard

      I’m not concerned about the continued existence of porn. So long as there is an internet, so long as there are cameras, so long as there are tits, asses, cocks, pussies, and toys, we will be able to watch smutty content with varying degrees of engagement. Amen.

      I am, however, concerned about concerns about porn, which can change laws and affect the lives and well-being of the people on either side of the camera.

      For example, theLos Angeles Times reported this week that porn production rates in the area have plummeted since the introduction of a law requiring that adult performers use condoms when filming in Los Angeles County. Its article noted that “the number of permits issued for X-rated productions plummeted about 90% to just 40 permits last year compared with 2012,” the year that the county condom law — Measure B — was carried through on a referendum ballot with 56.96 percent of the vote. The point of the measure, proponents said, was to protect workers in the industry and limit the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

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      This is no death knell for the industry. Shoots without permits proliferate in the area, unabated and unregulated, while major production companies are shooting instead in laxer states like Florida and Nevada, or even abroad. My concern, however, lies with the individuals directly affected by Measure B — those who work in the LA-based industry — an overwhelming number of whom argued against the condom mandate.

      While I have no special love for the LA economy, the troubling manner of Measure B’s passage and impact is something I hope to not see repeated. The public’s misguided concerns about safety won the day, while the performers’ own expressed concerns were ignored.

      Stoya, the celebrated adult performer and writer (and, disclosure, a personal friend), told me on Thursday that while she believes her fellow workers will “just adapt as individuals and as an industry,” the shift away from LA-based productions risks atomizing the industry to detrimental effect. “In the loosest sense of the word, I would estimate there are 1,000 to 1,200 active performers in professional adult films,” she said. “That number doesn’t seem very large compared to other industries, and the more spread out and disconnected from our community we are, the harder organizing and self-educating is.”

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      Stoya was at the forefront of the campaign against Measure B, as was her friend and colleague James Deen, the prolific adult star. As she wrote last year in a piece for VICE about the mandated use of condoms, “For the love of everything that is even slightly rational and logical in the world, remember that no harm reduction can work without the trust and support of the people at risk.”

      Her point was that the bodies of those currently working in the industry are effectively being regulated in a way that precludes their own agency and freedom. The California State Assembly is currently considering AB1576, a statewide version of Measure B. As Stoya recently noted in a piece written for the website Dazed, she never found one fellow active performer during all her advocacy work who “agrees with AB1576, much less one willing to discuss it on public record.” She added in an accompanying interview that individuals throughout the porn industry were united against the condom mandate. AB1576 presented “the first time that I know of where straight and gay porn performers were working with each other to deal with an issue – and that’s incredible,” Stoya said.

      To be clear, an argument against the compulsory use of condoms in porn is not an argument entirely against the use of condoms in porn. Feminist filmmaker Tristan Taormino decided last year that she would require performers in her films to use condoms for vaginal and anal intercourse, while other companies have given performers the choice to wear condoms or not. Arguments about rights, liberties, and risks are often misconstrued — supporting abortion rights does not equate to necessarily thinking abortions are awesome. But even as Taormino shifted her position on the use of condoms — in part to fight a trend in which performers have felt pressured not to use condoms on set — she noted, “I still believe that the current fight is all about politics, not workers’ safety and rights.”

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      No one can deny the importance of safer sex practices and condoms, but no good argument can be made for requiring porn to set a good example for safer sex practices on-screen. To condemn porn actors for choosing not to use condoms would be akin to condemning Vin Diesel for not putting on a seat belt during car chase scenes in The Fast and the Furious. Porn is essentially a space for fantasy.

      Many adult actors who regularly use condoms in recreational sex do not choose to do so when shooting scenes. Performers such as the legendary actress and sex educator Nina Hartley have attested to the serious discomfort that result from persistent intercourse with latex over the course of long hours required for filming. But, with due respect to Taormino, if the public’s concern were really about sex workers in porn and the risks they take, then the general consensus against Measure B in the working porn community would have been listened to by legislators, voters, and the activists who spoke brazenly on their behalf (read: in their stead).

      In response to three adult stars testing positive for HIV last year, the Free Speech Coalition — the adult trade organization responsible for keeping records of which performers have current and valid STI tests — decided that tests would be required every 14 days instead of the usual 28 days. As Stoya has noted, this is an industry-imposed standard, not a legal mandate. The fact that legislation has focused on condoms instead of testing reflects the disregard for those within the adult film industry who regard testing as a paramount harm reduction practice.

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      Which brings us back to the economics at play here (this is, after all, a business we’re talking about). Testing costs money — upwards of $4,000 a year, according to Stoya. If condom mandates threaten the financial sustainability of the industry, then the ability of workers to pay for these tests is threatened too.

      In my view, the most important element in this discussion is an individual’s right to make decisions about his or her own body, as well as the risks they face. I don’t believe in safe spaces, whether on or off the porn set. There are, however, ways to create safer spaces and better navigate risks.

      The individuals whose industry and whose so-called “at-risk bodies” are directly affected by this condom mandate debate should be enabled and empowered to maintain their own safer spaces. Efforts and arguments on this question that disregard their voices is not the correct approach. Along with Stoya and many others, I decry this ill-informed view of safety and risk as not only pernicious, but downright stupid.

      Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard

      Image via Flickr

      Topics: porn, condoms, sex, natasha lennard, stoya, risk, sti, hiv, california, measure b, opinion & analysis, americas, pornography, stds, ab1576

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