This November, California voters will be asked to vote in favor of or against Proposition 60, the California in Pornographic Films Initiative. It’s been described as the “safer sex in porn” and the “condoms in porn” measure— generic descriptions with a certain amount of public health appeal. But more than a few advocacy and public health organizations—not to mention adult performers themselves—have spoken out against the proposed legislation. What’s this proposition really about, and will it help protect the health of adult performers?
Proposition 60 mandates that adult film performers in California use condoms when filming sexual intercourse. It also requires producing studios to be licensed, post condom requirement rules on site, pay for performer testing and medical exams, and provide information to the state about their films. In addition, it specifies that people acting on behalf of the state, other performers, or any other state residents can bring a civil lawsuit against adult film producers they believe violate these rules. Other people with a financial interest in films that violate these mandates—including distributors, talent agents and performers—could also be held liable in the case of a civil suit. Proposition 60 is backed by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and its oftentimes controversial CEO Michael Weinstein.
Los Angeles County already requires adult film performers to use condoms during the filming of sex scenes. This was established with the passing of a ballot measure, Measure B, in November 2012.
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), an agency that protects the wellbeing and safety of California employees, also already specifies that employees must be protected from contact with blood and other bodily fluids. Cal/OSHA enforces these rules by responding to complaints, and is requiring that performers use condoms during sex that happens on adult film sets.
Enforcement may be the issue that Proposition 60 changes. Cal/OSHA only cited four adult film companies for noncompliance in the previous two years. Proposition 60 would allow anyone to sue adult film producers, or others who are involved in the creation of adult films, that produce films showing condomless sex.
“I want to make sure that performers’ voices are heard, because at the end of the day, they’re the most important people in this whole equation. They are the ones who are going to really have to live with the effects of whatever legislation passes,” said Mike Stabile, a journalist and documentary film maker who has worked in the adult film industry through Kink.com.
Condoms aren’t a perfect solution—especially when they’re used during the type of sex that happens during the production of adult films, said adult film performers who spoke with BETA.
“Something people laugh about is condom rash,” said Chanel Preston. “It’s caused by friction and using condoms for such a long period of time. And for days at a time. In the ‘real world,’ people may have intercourse for maybe ten minutes. An adult film performer could be having intercourse for hours—and, for some, using a condom can be extremely painful.”
This is extremely risky, and undesirable for a number of reasons, she said. Condom rash makes female performers vulnerable to yeast and bacterial infections, and breaks in the skin can lead a performer to be more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections in their private life. It can also can have financial implications if it prevents a performer from being able to work.
“Performers in the industry can work anywhere from three to six days a week. That’s a lot—and a lot of time using a condom,” said Preston. “Condoms aren’t necessarily the best way to keep performers safe, just because they work for people in the general public. We know that, and that’s why we want that choice.”
“Condoms aren’t 100% reliable,” said Jack Hammer XL, a performer and director who’s been in the industry for ten years. “They break, and when they do, it can just rub the person raw, which just makes it worse for the person.”
Condoms are not the “gold standard” that people may think they would be in the adult film industry, said Stabile. “They break, they come off, and then they get lost. You have to do what we call ‘fishing.’ It’s not like this is some no-fail solution.”
“A big problem with this proposed legislation is that it does not include any other prevention options,” said Eric Leue, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, campaign manager for Californians against Worker Harassment, and former director of sexual health and advocacy at Kink.com. “Regular testing is not included. Neither is PrEP, or PEP.”
Currently, adult film companies in California use a system called the Performer Availably Screening Services (PASS) to help ensure that performers complete HIV and STI testing every 14 days, have up-to-date test results on file, link performers to medical providers for treatment, and ensure that medical protocols are followed consistently.
Adult film performers should have an active choice about how to best protect themselves,” said Leue. “Just like in the general public, we must empower people to know all their options and to be able to make informed choices.” At Kink.com, and other studios, performers fill out paperwork before the filming begins specifying whether or not they’d like to use a condom. The hiring process is double-blind, explained Leue and Stabile, so that performers aren’t discriminated against if they do want to use a condom.
“I’ve been in porn for ten years,” said Hammer. “And I’ve never been on a set where condoms weren’t provided. It doesn’t matter to me, if I use condoms or not. But I do use condoms when the model I’m with wants to.”
“I request to use a condom every so often, when I have no idea who the other performer is,” said Preston. “Which actually doesn’t happen very often in this industry. I don’t want to act like anyone who wants to use a condom in the industry will automatically be able to—that’s certainly something we need to work on. I just don’t think Prop 60 is the way to do that. But I think there are ways we can have people be more comfortable requesting condoms without fear of being blacklisted or not able to work.”
There are not many well-documented cases of adult film performers transmitting HIV on set. In 2004, before the currently used 14-day HIV testing protocol, three female adult film performers contracted HIV from a male adult film performer who had unknowingly recently contracted HIV. In 2014, a male adult performer transmitted HIV to another male adult performer through condomless sex during film production.
“As a gay man who lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic in this country, I take accurate portrayals of transmission very seriously,” said Stabile. “There are probably 1,500 working performers at any given time. We’re talking about spending millions of dollars on patrol of 1,500 people. It’s hard for me to say that yes, this is a public health measure.”
Sister Roma, art director for NakedSword and Falcon Studios Group, who has been affiliated with the adult industry for over 20 years, shared a similar skepticism of Proposition 60.
“As someone who has been an activist on the front line in the war against HV and AIDS for 30 years I have to ask myself, ‘Why now?’ Now, when studios have strict testing policies in place that have worked for decades; when the majority of gay adult studios already use condoms and have for decades; when we have new treatments and a drug proven to combat the transmission of HIV—why now? We have to take a close look at who is pushing this legislation forward and the true motivation behind it. I suspect this is about the control of industry testing practices and money. The fact is that no one cares more about performer safety than the studios and the performers themselves,” she said.
“The HIV epidemic is not in the adult film industry,” said Siouxsie Q, an adult film performer, activist and writer. “Do you know how many HIV transmissions there have been in the general population in the last ten years? The answer is upwards of 500,000. How many of those have occurred on adult film sets that use the stringent PASS testing protocols? Can you imagine if the general population tested the way we test? Who’s to say what that would mean for the eradication of STIs and in particular, HIV, in this country and around the world.”
Another concern of adult film performers and other affiliated with the industry is about how the proposition would be enforced. The bill allows private citizens to file lawsuits against adult performers—and others involved in the making of adults films—if they believe condoms were not used in the making of a particular film. This process would expose real names, addresses and other contact information of adult performers.
“Industry professionals and actors fear this law would have a reverse effect on the industry overall,” said Sister Roma, “pushing productions underground, exposing content producers and the models to lawsuits and fines, and resulting in a less regulated, less safe, and unhealthy work environment.”
“There’s definitely a misconception that people in the industry don’t take care of their health,” said Preston. “A lot of times, people in the industry take more steps to protect themselves, because we are getting bombarded with sexual health information every day! We get tested two weeks. You can’t help but be self-aware as far as your body is concerned.”
There is a financial benefit, as well, said Preston. People in the industry who test positive for HIV or other STIs have to stop working. Most people work really hard to maintain their health—because they want to work and continue to make money, she said.
“It’s funny,” she said. “People outside the industry look at us and think we’re the ones that don’t take care of our sexual health. But people in the industry know that’s not true. We know—outside of the performer pool, that’s where it gets scary.”
“I read a statistic that most people in the general population get one HIV test ever, in their entire lives. One!,” said Siouxsie Q. “In the adult film industry, we test for seven different sexually transmitted infections every 14 days. Adult film performers are actually leaders in sexual health.”
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