One might think that when a person makes their living having sex with strangers, as porn industry performers do, using condoms would be a no-brainer. Yet despite the prevalence of STDs in the industry, the ill-conceived notion that condoms and porn don’t mix seems to have trumped common sense.
Apparently, the sight of a condom clad penis is a buzz kill for end users, and performers don’t want to wear them anyway. Or, at least, that’s what the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the trade association for the adult entertainment industry, would like us to believe as it continues its fight against mandatory condom use. With another performer testing positive for HIV and the Los Angeles-based industry facing another moratorium in production, the time may have come for both the profiteers of porn and those who get their kicks from watching it to get over their condom phobia.
Last Friday, the FSC announced that one of their LA-based performers had tested positive for HIV, and that all filming would be suspendedwhile they try to determine if anyone else in their talent pool had been exposed to the virus. This is the third time in the past four months that the industry has had to shut down production after performers tested positive. Despite these repeated blows to the industry’s bottom line, never mind the pain and suffering of the infected performers who have been hit with the double whammy of contracting a life-long disease and losing their livelihood, the opposition to mandatory condom use persists. At the same time, the industry’s justification for its opposition – that performers just don’t like condoms and that they prefer to rely on testing systems – is getting harder to swallow.
The arguments put forth by the industry against mandatory condom use are as creative as they are varied, ranging from violation of performers’ first amendment rights (the industry’s trade association is not called the “Free Speech” Coalition for nothing) to the risk of condom-induced vaginal irritation known as “floor burn“. Porn sex, as aficionados will attest, is not the same as civilian sex – put simply, performers go at it for hours on end, while for most of us mere mortals the penetrative part of the act can be over in a matter of minutes. Some female performers say that in shoots that last several hours, condoms can be irritating and can lead to internal abrasions. The industry claims that these abrasions could make it easier to transmit infection, and that this is the reason that many performers prefer to not use condoms at all.
While floor burn is a legitimate concern recognized by doctors, the second part of this argument (that using condoms ultimately makes it easier to transmit infection) makes little sense. If performers consistently use condoms, which have been proven to provide protection against disease, then the risk of transmitting infections can only be reduced. Yet this rather lame argument against condom use, that has been embraced by an industry that claims to care so deeply about its performers’ wellbeing, kind of leaves a lot of them (the female ones in particular) stuck between a rock and a hard place. Basically female performers are left with a rather dismal choice – use condoms and risk being afflicted with the painful but treatable condition of floor burn, or don’t use condoms and risk contracting chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and even HIV.
For now the only recourse most performers have to protect themselves against HIV and other STDs is to be constantly tested and hope that their fellow performers do the same. To the industry’s credit, it has a fairly rigorous testing system in place. Prior to the three cases of HIV being detected in September, performers were being tested monthly.Now the industry requires performers to be tested every 14 days (at their own expense) before they can be cleared for participation in a shoot. While testing has its place, it doesn’t quite hold up as a preventative measure, however. As Ged Kenslea, spokesperson for the Aids Healthcare Foundation put it:
Relying on testing to prevent the transmission of HIV is a bit like using a pregnancy test as a form of birth control.
As the industry continues to push testing as the best form of prevention, it seems to have forgotten that using condoms is a legal requirement not an option, at least in Los Angeles where the majority of all porn films produced in the US are made. Last year voters in Los Angeles Countypassed Measure B, which mandates the use of condoms in the adult entertainment industry. Even before this measure passed, condom use was already technically required under the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) laws but was difficult to enforce.
Measure B was supposed to change that, but according to Kenslea, who has reviewed a representative sample of straight porn films, over 90% are still condom free. (This is in stark contrast to the gay porn industry which has voluntarily complied with condom laws and is still managing to thrive.) So despite laws being in place to protect all performers, the industry continues to mostly defy them, all the time claiming to be acting according to the performers’ wishes and in their best interest.
Could it be that the industry has a more self-serving reason to favor testing over mandatory condom use that has little to do with the wellbeing or otherwise of performers and a lot to do with profits? According to CNN, when the industry experimented with condom use over a decade ago after another HIV outbreak, revenues declined by 30%. It may well be that the concern that “Debbie does Condoms” will not be a big seller among porn users is what’s driving the industry to move out of Los Angeles to cities like Las Vegas where condoms are not (yet) required, rather than any real concerns that condoms are injurious to performers’ health.
I hope before any more performers learn through the industry’s mandatory testing that they have contracted HIV, which could have been easily prevented by observing mandatory condom laws, they will at least question their employer’s motives.