Every time I go to get STI tested I have a certain mental ritual I go through that I can’t seem to shake, no matter how many times I go in. Going into the test I know that I have made good sexual decisions, using protection and having open communication with full disclosure with all my partners. After the test, for whatever reason, I always end up paranoid that I have the Super AIDs and Gonorr-Chlamydi-Syphilis. Thankfully, to this day I have always tested negative. Regular testing, full disclosure, and condom use are three of the best things you can do to maintain a safe sexual practice in your personal life.
I learned these safe-sex habits through living a sex positive lifestyle and actively seeking out educational resources whenever I can; I did not learn them in a sex ed class. In fact, the first time I ever saw sex was in porn, before I ever tried it myself. I would wager that this is true for many people, that they see porn before they have sex themselves. This gives porn a special place in society, serving as many individuals introduction to sexuality.
That being said, porn is not a good introduction to proper sexual habits on camera; condom use is scarce and no porno shows performers going in for their regular tests. Clearly, showing an STI test in a porn would not only be a major buzzkill; it also wouldn’t be very pornographic, unless you have a serious medical play fetish. What about requiring condom use? Does the government have a valid reason to require mandatory condom use from the industry?
In the wake of an actor being diagnosed with HIV in fall of 2010, there has been much renewed discussion over whether or not the porn industry should be subjected to mandatory condom use and STI testing. This culminated in the January 18th Los Angeles city council vote to require condom use for all porn shot within in city limits. Reading into the topic more I found out that both state and federal workplace safety laws already mandate barrier protection in porn, under a section of law regarding transfer of blood-borne pathogens in the workplace. While this is primarily concerned with medical safety, it can clearly be read to include condom use in porn.
Though the law already requires the use of condoms in porn it is often not enforced. When it is, it is usually against large studios like Hustler, which just absorb the fines as a business cost, no different than paying a tax. Underground shoots, which are already common, exist outside of government control. This new condom requirement will not have any positive impacts on renegade shoots. If anything, the new requirement may increase the black market for bareback porn shoots, driving porn outside of city limits or into the underground market, taking its tax revenue with it. This is a brilliant political move when our state has roughly a $14 billion deficit; coincidentally porn is a $14 billion a year industry in CA.
Gay porn and straight porn have very different standards in terms of STI testing and condom use. For straight porn, recent STI testing is required but condom use is not. In gay porn the reverse is true: recent STI testing is not required yet condoms are. According to the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation, Patient Zero, 24 year old Derrick Burts, contracted his case of HIV from an actor he worked with in a gay porn in Florida, which did not use a condom for oral sex.
Let us now consider Derrick’s plight in context. He was acting in a porn that required condom use for sex, but not for oral sex, a gap in the regulation. Furthermore, he contracted HIV from the least likely way one can. According to the US Centers for Disease Control website, “While no one knows exactly what the degree of risk is, evidence suggests that the risk is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex.” Clearly mandatory condom use is not enough in itself. Derrick, and anyone else, being infected with an incurable disease is regrettable, and my heart goes out to him. The 2004 situation did have a silver lining: according to AIM, no one else was infected.
Derrick is not alone: he is joined by five other actors from the past decade. There was an outbreak back in 2004 that infected four people and one woman was infected in 2009. Every one of these individuals with HIV is a tragedy, but at the end of the day it is a risk of the business. Every industry has risks, some jobs more than others, and those that are more hazardous tend to give hazard pay for it. Porn doesn’t pay you well because you’re a good actor, it pays you well because of the inherent risk of contracting STIs.
Wicked Pictures and Vivid Entertainment stopped production as a precaution when the diagnosis was revealed. Wicked Pictures, the only porn studio that mandates condom use, still stopped shoots after the case was announced. Wicked Studio’s precautionary shut down is pretty clear evidence that mandatory condom use is not enough to prevent temporary shut downs, at least not until every studio uses condoms for everything. In that case, there would still be problems; condoms break and there are cases like Derrick’s where even though condoms were used they weren’t used for everything. Ernest Greene, a pornographer and activist involved with AIM, had this to say on his blog:
“As a director, I allow two and a half hours to shoot a typical boy-girl sex scene. That’s over two hours of intercourse in various positions with constant stops and starts during which male performer’s erections rise and fall, condoms frequently tear or unravel and the degree of latex abrasion on the internal membranes of female performers’ vaginas lead to micro-abrasions that make them more vulnerable to all kinds of STIs. Most condom-only female performers eventually abandon condom use, not under pressure from producers, but rather because of the constant rawness and end-on-end bacterial infections produced by countless hours of latex drag.”
He also went into extensive detail on the 2004 HIV outbreak and the one case in 2009, if you are interested to read more on those.
In regards to the new proposed standards, performers and producers from the industry had many valid concerns and felt unfairly discriminated against. California has a lively mixed martial arts (MMA) community, where blood is as regularly exchanged as handshakes after matches; there is no discussion of how the blood-borne pathogens language will affect MMA. Some performers took a rather outlandish and humorous approach to the matter, such as this man. I know what feels much better than bareback sex, not having an STI.
Many actresses felt that the requirement was a reproductive rights issue; whereas instead of government telling women they couldn’t use birth control they are being forced to use it. Married performers were greatly concerned that, under the current understanding of the law, they couldn’t even consensually have sex with people they were married to on camera. There is a clear issue of consent being violated here, which the government has a right to do only if there is a valid reason and they can prove the policy actually accomplishes the goal, in this case preventing the spread of disease. Based off what Ernest Greene had to say it sounds like mandatory condom use may actually increase the risk of STI transmission, in which case this government policy would actually cause more harm than good. As of November 2010, the porn industry said they were in favor of mandatory STI testing. Perhaps a formal requirement of regular STI testing, rather than an informal requirement, would be sufficient.
Ultimately, this issue comes down to consumer preference. While I personally prefer porn that uses condoms, as I personally prefer the use of condoms in general, that is my personal preference, and I am in the minority. The majority of consumers want bareback porn; this is evident in the drop in sales Wicked Pictures experienced after they went condom-only. Until this demand changes we won’t see a major voluntary change happen in porn due to lost revenue. Another avenue of change would be for enough actors to band together and demand safer workplace conditions, either by unionizing or without a union; I feel this to be highly unlikely to happen anytime soon.
It is likely that these consumer choices reflect the reality of sex in the world today, that is to say most people aren’t using condoms, except unlike porn most people are not getting tested regularly either. As a guy I have heard all manner of complaints about using condoms, price, convenience, sizing, etc. It’s all excuses. My advice to the sex positive folks is to make yourself a “to-go” kit to bring around with you. I have a small black leather bag in my backpack at all times, just big enough to hold four condoms, a dental dam, a glove, a moist toilette, and my most recent test results; it’s smaller than my wallet. If price is your concern go to your local Planned Parenthood. They will give you four free condoms every day, with or without an appointment; if you plan to be a regular customer, and you qualify, you can get into a program to get up to 48 condoms for free (and yes, they have magnums too). They also offer STI testing. Though they do offer free and discount services, if you can, please pay, Planned Parenthood was recently defunded by various donor organizations and they really need our support.
If fit is your problem try a different brand or size. I have noticed that within “normal” sized condoms brands will fit differently; this is also true from my experience with magnums. From trying out different condoms you may learn, as many guys I know have, that they need larger than a normal sized condom. One guy I know who used to be very anti-condom realized fit was his problem, one of his partners encouraged him to try out a bunch of different condoms as a game. You can try this out for yourself with your partner, comparing how it feels for the two of you (or more of you).
Some of my guy friends are pretty anti-condom in a way that chills my spine. They try to talk up the pull out method to me, coitus interruptus, which they laud as being 73% effective at preventing pregnancy. Compared to condom’s 86-98% efficacy, depending on whose statistics you use; I remember in sex ed class they said condoms were close to 80% than 98%. Despite the higher rate of pregnancy prevention, and the fact that condoms actually protect against STIs (unlike the pull out method…womp womp), condoms are not a panacea and you can still be infected with STIs.
No matter where you stand on the issue of condom use in porn, its highly advisable to use condoms or some other protection in your personal sex life.