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Apr. 9 2010 - 7:48 pm | 6,632 views | 0 recommendations | 14 comments

Make condoms mandatory in the porn industry? Good luck

Kent Sepkowitz has written an interesting piece for Slate on the current state of affairs regarding whether or not condom usage should be mandatory in the adult movie industry.

But what over-educated liberals (including myself) think on the matter isn’t really the problem. The issue is what will happen in reality.

The subject has come to the fore because California state regulators are debating whether or not to require condom usage in the San Fernando Valley’s adult movie industry. At a hearing last month, folks on both sides spoke for and against the proposition. Among them was Darren James, an African-American male performer who contracted HIV in 2004, leading to an outbreak in the industry. Meanwhile, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is encouraging regulators to better police unsafe sex practices in the porn industry as a matter of occupational safety.

For the most part, members of the adult business are against the idea. Porn is fantasy, and adult producers and directors, who call the shots, know that condoms in porn are a major buzzkill. Considering that the adult industry is currently fighting for its life–thanks to the recession, online content pirating, and a series of federal obscenity indictments–the last thing the porn business wants is one more problematic factor entered into the mix as they attempt to go about figuring out how to sell porn in a market saturated with free, easily downloadable hardcore content.

As Sepkowitz points out rightly, nobody cares about porn stars.

The crux of the issue, though, is this: Are porn stars humans? We go to great and absurd lengths to “humanize” our traditional movie stars. Since Hollywood began, we have had interest in Greta and Marilyn, in Marlon and Clark, in Tom and Katie. An industry has evolved to show us their “true” selves—fan mags and talk shows and the like. But we are completely unwilling to humanize or even pseudo-humanize porn stars. We impute to them the same inner life as their soul mates in manufacture, Barbie and Ken—room-temperature mannequins without thought, motivation, introspection, or sore feet. Their resolute unhumanness extends, of course, to their nonprimate anatomic parts, their endurance and passionless gymnastics, their over-lit human faces. We don’t want to know anything about them—not about their children or their girlfriends or their budding interest in Scientology, much less whether they drive a Prius.

But humanize them we must for their sake and for ours.

Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen. Porn may be everywhere, but people are still completely weird about sex. If you want to see how weird about sex–and porn–Americans remain, click over to “The Social Costs of Pornography,” where a series of well-respected people in bad outfits posit that porn–or, worse yet, porn and the internet–is a plague upon mankind that must be stopped. How that will happen by gathering academic-types in a room under the banner of the Witherspoon Institute so they can drone on at one another about how porn will rot our minds, destroy our marriages, and pollute the future, I am unclear. (Be warned: There is mind-numbingly dull video.)

Interestingly, I never would have known about the Witherspoon Institute were it not for “Getting Serious About Pornography,” a National Review story by one “Anonymous,” who is supposedly a psychologist in Virginia. Anonymous explains in her story that porn broke up her marriage. Her husband watched a lot of porn, started hanging out with a woman who looked like a porn star, and, before she knew it, he was gone. Poof. While her husband explained to her that he was no longer in love with her, Anonymous prefers to believe it was porn that did in their union, “a drug so powerful it can destroy a family simply by distorting a man’s perception of his wife.” As Rick James would say, that’s a helluva drug.

As Dr. Helen Smith points out in her savvy, astute response to the problem of Anonymous, it would behoove us to remember that since porn transformed the cultural landscape like an X-rated tsunami, the rape rate has slowly and systematically dropped. (Certainly, correlation is not causation, but there may be more at work here than mere coincidence.) We may not like to admit it, but it’s at least possible that, as far as its viewers are concerned, porn may do more good than harm.

Sadly, that theory doesn’t hold true when it comes to the real lives of porn performers. Many adult producers require adult performers to show up on set with current (within 30 days) proof of an HIV-negative test. I’ve been on adult movie sets where HIV tests were checked religiously, and I’ve been on adult movie sets where people acted as if they didn’t exist. If you factor in the window for contracting it and testing positive, you’ve got a significant group of people in Porn Valley playing an uncontrolled, unpatrolled game of Russian roulette.

The bottom line, though, is that it’s hard to imagine a condom-mandatory policy being enforced in the porn business. As I’ve written here previously, the porn business isn’t just another business. It’s an outlaw racket. In the jizz biz, part of the game is making a fantasy seem real, part of moving product is getting people to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise, and part of the pact porn makes with its audience is that safe sex doesn’t exist. In porn’s utopia, the only deaths are petites morts.

If the state of California thinks it can mandate condoms in the adult business, it has another thing coming. Besides, those regulators have their hands full already. Soon enough, policy makers will go back to doing the same thing people who watch porn do. Turn a blind eye.


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  1. collapse expand

    I couldn’t possibly see how enforcing mandatory condom use in porn would be difficult at all: you have video evidence!

  2. collapse expand

    There are lots of problems with this, here I’ll enumerate them:

    1. If we can regulate the kind of sexual performance people in porn do, why not just regulate porn out of existence? Seriously, almost none of the people who want to force condom use in porn want porn to continue to exist, why not just wipe it out all together? My guess is that the same laws that allow porn to exist will prevent this kind of interference.

    2. Sure, California has a big porn industry. If it were wiped out tomorrow, the Russians and Eastern Europeans could step in without breaking a sweat (well, except the performers, obviously). It’s unskilled labor, and it’s easier to outsource than, say, computer programming.

    3. People won’t watch porn if it bores them. If you consider wiping porn out a good thing, you might consider forcing porn to be boring to be great, but there’s too much money in porn to wipe it out completely. People will illegally produce porn to sate the appetites of the viewing public as they have since photography was invented.

    You want to eliminate porn, or at least the exploitation of women and men by the porn industry? Cool.

    Three little words for you, “Basic Guaranteed Income.” In other words, socialism comes to America and means that no woman or man has to consider doing gang-bangs for dollars in order to make ends meet. Otherwise, it’s frankly a safer profession than modern coal mining (black lung has made a comeback, did you know that?).

    Oh, and good luck convincing a pretty woman with a felony conviction to not make a living with her body, since our society cuts off all other ways to make a living than that or crime. (Marry for money counts as making a living with your body, admittedly it’s probably preferable to porn. Unless you married Hans Reiser and there is a shallow grave in your future.)

    Capitalism means exploitation, whether working in porn, as a tomato picker (we have enslaved tomato pickers in this country), in a slaughter house or in a coal mine. If you don’t like exploitation, welcome to the club, glad to have you. If, on the other hand, you just have some sexual hangups which means people losing limbs in an unsafe slaughterhouses is fine, but doing porn is “wicked” well, I suggest finding the number of a good psychologist.

  3. collapse expand

    Ms. Breslin,

    This is no different from any other occupational safety issue. It is common requirement for workers in different industries to be required to wear “personal protective equipment” with different types of PPE for different jobs and situations. They are part of a broader set of occupational safety standards. These are enforced in a great many industries, from farm labor, to mines, to railroads, &c. There is no reason that the pornography industry should be impervious to such standards.

  4. collapse expand

    Lets do it, then we can pay even more money for porn without condoms! I think its a mute point, with the availability of downloads and the rise of unregulated amateur sites, its a brave new world. How about mandatory wage increases for porn stars, did you know girls in porn can make more money on a stripper pole in a night than they get paid for a film?

  5. collapse expand

    Ms. Breslin,

    Might I add that in Nevada, where prostitution is legal, not only are condoms required (since 1986), but so is testing of licensed prostitutes (NAC 441A.800). Further, the owner, owners agent, and / or operator of brothel can be sued in civil court by a customer if that customer is infected with HIV (NRS 41.1397). Nevada has more and effective regulations for prostitution than California does for pornography. The HIV infection rates are lower among prostitutes in Nevada than in the porn industry in California.

  6. collapse expand

    In terms of movie content (meaning what sort of sex acts are shown in porn films), the porn industry is a 100% free market economy industry.

    The industry makes films depicting every flavor of sex act known, because there are people who want to see – and are more than willing to pay to see – every flavor of sex act known. The industry is meeting demand, pure and simple.

    And there is MASSIVE demand for condom-less sex. Which means that the industry will produce films that show condom-less sex.

    It’s that simple.

    Ironically, those “free market uber alles” conservatives hate the porn industry, despite the fact that it is one of this nation’s most accomplished, healthy, and profitable purely free market industries. But this ain’t suprising: conservatives only like the free market when it produces things that conform to their moral standards.

    Must be a real mind fuck for them to have to admit that, given free choice and free markets, Americans crave porn and will spend a kajillion bucks a year to get it.

  7. collapse expand

    “If you want to see how weird about sex–and porn–Americans remain,” …as opposed to whom? The Japanese? Germans? Mexicans?

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    I'm a freelance journalist, blogger, photographer, and creator of TheWarProject.com. I've written for Newsweek, Details, Harper's Bazaar, The Daily Beast, Radar Online, Variety, Salon, Slate, Wired News, The New York Post, The LA Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Vancouver Sun, The San Francisco Examiner Magazine, Playboy.com, and many other publications. I've appeared on CNN, Fox News, "Politically Incorrect," and NPR. Currently, I'm working on a novel. My email is susannahbreslin at earthlink dot net.

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