AdviceSan FranciscoSex and Dating

Why the New Condoms in Porn Law is Absolutely Absurd

Guest Post by Andre Shakti

People spend their summers engaging in a wide array of activities. Enjoying time off from work and school, for example. Taking that week-long tropical vacation, or using the seasonal change as an excuse to take up an exciting new hobby, like learning a foreign language. For thousands of sex workers and their allies in the state of California, however, this summer set the groundwork for an intensive, emotional, ongoing battle over Proposition 60, otherwise known as “the adult film initiative,” fueled by the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF) and its CEO, Michael Weinstein.

California is a leading producer of pornographic films, with most production occurring in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) requires condom use during sex in pornographic films. However, Cal/OSHA generally enforces this requirement in response to complaints. In November 2012, Los Angeles approved Measure B, which required pornography actors to wear condoms on set. The measure also requires producers of adult films to pay an annual fee to Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health. This initiative, much like Prop 60, was widely unsupported by those in the adult industry.

no on 60

Proposition 60 was introduced in February of this year, and would require adult film producers to provide condoms and ensure that performers use them during performances in which “performers actually engage in vaginal or anal penetration by a penis.” While condoms would not need to be visible in films distributed to consumers, producers would need to prove that condoms were used. The costs of performers’ workplace-related medical examinations, sexually-transmitted infections (STI) tests, and STI vaccines would be covered by film producers under the measure. Adult film producers would be required to be licensed by Cal/OSHA every two years. Furthermore, producers would be required to contact Cal/OSHA whenever they make an adult film.

Supporters make the following arguments in support of Proposition 60:

  • The proposition would hold pornographers accountable for work safety and health, specifically by closing loopholes and improving enforcement of existing law.
  • The proposition would only hold adult film producers, director, and agents accountable, not adult performers.
  • The proposition would reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases for adult performers and the larger community.
  • The proposition would save taxpayer money in that taxpayers would have to pay for less treatments for sexually transmitted diseases and other related diseases

According to a Globe News Wire report from two weeks ago, while Prop 60 has gained traction in some anti-sex work circles, statewide support is falling thanks to the visibility efforts of sex workers and their allies. According to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of statewide voters, only 55% percent of voters said they would support the measure, down from over 70% when the measure was introduced. Major editorial boards, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and other major papers have come out strongly against the measure.

Eric Paul Leue, Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), is an appointed HIV Commissioner for Los Angeles County, and has been a vocal public health and LGBT rights activist for over twelve years.

“AHF and Michael Weinstein are using the threat of HIV transmission as a scare tactic to incite panic,” Leue reflected, “When in fact, industry medical consultants estimate that about 360,000 sex scenes have been shot without condoms since 2004, and HIV has not been documented to have been transmitted on set a single time. Compare those numbers with the transmission rate of HIV in the general public, and the entire argument seems ludicrous.”

On the surface, making the porn industry “safer” seems like a no-brainer to the average voter, and that do-gooder attitude is what AHF is counting on come November. The measure literally starts with the premise that “all workers in the adult film industry deserve to go to work and not become ill.” But when you take into consideration the fact that no one in the industry was consulted on the measure, and that the industry itself vehemently opposes it, it should make you pause.

So why, if both statistics and support for Prop 60 are hard to come by, is AHF pushing so hard for this measure?

Sister Roma

Sister Roma and Siouxsie Q (photo by Isabel Dresler)

“If you read the thirteen pages of the document, you will see that the proponents have a vested financial interest in ensuring that Prop 60 passes,” said Siouxsie Q, a writer, adult performer for 7 years, and Director of Policy and Industry Relations at FSC. “Not only would any state resident be empowered to sue performers and producers at will and receive 25% of any settlements, but if AHF files those lawsuits – and they have a long history of doing so – they get 25% of the settlements. Additionally, Michael Weinstein would be appointed to a lifetime state-subsidized position to sit around, watch porn, and file lawsuits all day, so he has a direct financial stake in the bill’s success.”

I reached out to AHF directly for comment, yet I never received a response.

What most civilians don’t know is that the porn industry already mandates 14-day STD tests. Performers must show identification prior to testing, and while the test isn’t encompassing of every single infection that could be transmitted, it’s still impressively comprehensive. Performers are screened for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas, as well as hepatitis b and c. The results are uploaded to a secure system, and if any test results flag positive, not only will the performer be prohibited from working, but the industry reacts promptly with temporary industry shutdowns, investigations, and containment protocols. It’s a sophisticated system with mainstream acknowledgement of its effectiveness.

In fact, in 2012 the New York Times published an article lauding mandated and consistently enforced safety protocols and calling the adult industry “…an unlikely model for HIV prevention.”

“HIV is not an epidemic within the porn industry – statistically, it’s unimportant,” said Mickey Mod, a longtime adult performer and the Vice President of the Adult Performer Advocacy Coalition (APAC), “So not only is HIV now manageable for those living with it, it’s also preventable through use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or ‘PrEP’, an accessible and effective daily medication that many sex workers utilize.”

prop 60

Jack Hammer & Barbary Rose (photo by Isabel Dresler)

“When there’s no active infection – when the HIV virus is undetectable – there’s very little risk of transmission,” Leue pointed out, “Human beings are visually-oriented animals – we may watch a porn where we don’t see condoms being used and go ‘Oh no!’, but we’re not thinking about the ‘invisible’ safety protocols the performers may be using off-camera. How often they’re getting tested for STIs, whether or not they’re on PrEP, etc. Having condomless intercourse does not mean we’re having unprotected intercourse. The porn industry is not against condoms – we’re for choice.”

“Studies have consistently shown that PrEP can be more than 90% effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission when taken as prescribed,” notes San Francisco General’s Danielle Alkov, MD. “As a physician, I feel it is my responsibility to educate adults on their health-related behaviors and risks to empower them to make the decisions that are best for their lifestyles.”

“Prop 60 draws attention from the real issues inherent in the industry – issues that we could actually use assistance with – like helping us find non-discriminatory and accessible legal services and housing, to creating safer spaces for performers to report sexual assaults or other on-set consent violations,” said Mod, “Porn has always been very reactionary based on the desires of consumers. If consumers want to purchase a product because it displays a fantasy world where condoms aren’t necessary because STDs and risk of pregnancy don’t exist, that should be okay. We consume entertainment as a form of escape, and that’s commonly accepted across the board except when it comes to porn because civilians don’t understand the safety procedures already in place.”

In a January 2016 piece for The Week, Keren Landman hones in on the MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) community and gay pornographic content. According to Landman, a small number of public health professionals say that increased condom usage in porn could have a positive correlation with increased condom usage in real life.

“In particular, researchers say the growing popularity of unprotected sex in gay porn may be playing an important role in the persistence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among gay and bisexual men,” Landman writes, “So they’re hoping the reverse might be true, too: Requiring actors to wear condoms on screen could encourage porn viewers to wear them in real life.”

I asked my industry experts to comment on Landman’s findings.

 

andre-shakti

Andre Shakti, author of this article, campaign for No on Prop 60. (photo by Kenny Host)

“Since 1992, HIV transmission rates in MSM have continuously increased, but so has promotional marketing and advertising around condom use. There is nothing to say that it helps,” Leue responded, “Additionally, in 2013, Dawn Smith spoke on behalf of the Center for Disease Control about condom efficacy in real life, and that research showed only 70% effectiveness in preventing HIV. Condoms are only one option, and not automatically the best option for everyone”

“I’m a huge fan of safer sex practices in porn. People who choose to consume porn with condoms, and studios who only shoot content with condoms, are awesome. But mandating that all films have to be one kind of film is a violation of free speech and is blatantly unconstitutional,” remarked Siouxsie Q, “I’d like to redirect the current conversation around the responsibility of the adult film industry to teach its consumers.. We should instead be discussing sex education in schools, which is where it belongs.”

“As sexual science progresses, there is an increasingly wide variety of effective STD prevention methods that aren’t condoms,” Leue emphasized, “When we try and narrow things down to a single preventative option, we’re refusing to account for the wide diversification in gender identities, sexual orientations, and sexual practices that are out there. We should spend our time and money expanding sex education programs in schools. We should teach the public about the efficacy and accessibility of PreP, and not just the MSM community. We should encourage regular STD testing as we encourage increased communication around sexual health. We should empower people to make the informed health decisions that work best for them, and refrain from attempting to police those decisions, whether we’re talking about adult industry workers or civilians. ”

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