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December 9, 2013

Dear Porn Industry: Show the Love & Require Condoms. {Adult}

One Friday, the California porn industry shut down after an unnamed male performer tested positive for HIV.

While details are scant, it is said that the man was not a big name and worked on the “straight side of the biz”.

As the LA Times, points out, this is the third time this year that a shutdown has occurred. The most recent before this happened was in September when four adult film stars tested positive. While two of those stars, Cameron Bay and Rod Daily, came forward saying they had tested HIV positive the others have chosen to remain anonymous.

Read some of the comments that followed that an article about this most recent crisis in the porn industry, and  it’s easy to see why: when it comes to sex workers, porn performers are often viewed as the lowest of the low. One comment in particular that best seemed to sum up this overall attitude put it succinctly:

“If you play with fire you’re likely to get burned.”

In other words, these people knew the risks. They got infected. I wash my hands of them.

There is an amazing amount of hypocrisy in statements like this. If there wasn’t an audience for pornography, then the industry would not exist. To say that pornography is a big business is an understatement. Pornography is a huge business. In the United States alone, it generates an estimated $13.6 to $14 billion a year. Nearly everyone has viewed pornography at some point in their lives. Many view it on a regular basis.

Despite this, though, most of us deny this or don’t want to think of the people in front of the cameras as actual human beings who lead real lives off camera.

Perhaps it makes it easier to focus on the action at hand, but the truth is, the majority of these performers are young and putting their lives in potential danger when they chose to have sex without condoms before the cameras.

Although most production companies require that performers test negative for HIV and other STDs, these recent cases show that this is not enough.

There is a period of time when the HIV positive—especially those newly infected—may test negative and unknowingly transmit the disease to others. (Indeed, the aforementioned Bay and Daily claim that this is exactly what happened to them.)

Despite the fact that California passed a law that required porn stars wear condoms, this is not universal. Indeed, as I found in doing research for this piece, it only affects those who film in Los Angeles County. Those who shoot in the city or elsewhere are not required to use them at all.

While several healthcare groups like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and several past and present performers are in favor of mandatory condom use for all, many are against it, including adult film legend/registered nurse/sex educator, Nina Hartley.

Hartley, arguably one of the most articulate and seemingly well-adjusted people working in the industry and who has earned the title porn veteran, explains that the sort of sex that goes into pornography films is very different than normal sex.

It lasts for hours, and “[c]ondoms, no matter how lubricated and how designed, create more internal friction on a woman’s intimate anatomy than human skin, with which it’s evolved to tolerate contact… If your insides are compromised by friction burns and low-grade bugs of whatever sort, you’re that much more vulnerable to whatever might be turned loose, should a condom fail.”

She also points out that other industries such as the logging industry have far more casualties each year than the porn industry.

Fair enough. She has a point.

However, I would argue that despite the overall low transmission of HIV in the porn industry, five this year alone is five too many.

Given that most of these performances are “contract workers,” essentially freelancers, I would be surprised if they had health coverage of the sort required to cover a costly, chronic condition like HIV.

While it is true that people with HIV are living longer than ever thanks to advances in research and so-called drug cocktails designed to prevent HIV from turning into full-blown AIDS, both the financial and psychological cost of battling such an ailment is enormous.

Perhaps, instead of accepting it’s par for the course to shoot sex scenes for hours, porn stars should be entitled to the sort of breaks and on-site healthcare treatment that actors in legitimate movies enjoy. (In some cases, performers aren’t even fed on the sets of most movies, even when shooting for eight hours or more.)

In other words, perhaps it’s time both the industry and the public who buys the product starts to treat these (mostly) young men and women for what they are: human beings with rights, feelings and needs including the need to be reasonably protected from harm while on the job.

As I wrote in a recent piece documenting the recent woes of porn star Jenna Jameson, I will probably always have ambivalent feelings about the pornography industry.

Despite being a pro-sex feminist who is largely a libertarian when it comes to what people chose to do with their own bodies, I still cannot help but feel that the porn industry as a whole preys on vulnerable men and women and overwhelming exploits them.

Performers who seem well-adjusted and in control such as the above-quoted Nina Hartley tend to be the exceptions and not the rule. Plus, even those who fall into that category are largely looked down on by people in “polite” society despite the fact that many of them enjoy their work.

I am not naive enough to think that banning pornography would ever work or, even if it did, would stop pornography from being made.

Likewise, I don’t think the porn industry is going to start having mental health screenings for its workers and suggest some of them find other avenues to work, especially if they are making a lot of money for the industry.

However, one thing they can do is, at the least, better protect the health of their workers by mandating condom use on top of mandatory STD screenings.

If the porn industry really is about “love”—love of sex, love of fun, etc.—then it can show a little of that love to its own workers.

While it may not help solve these young people’s problems such as the way most of them chose to make a living appearing in porn films in the first place, at least keeping them HIV and STD-free won’t add to them.

 

 

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 Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Flickr.}

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