Sunday, May 29, 2011
The Condom Debate (As I See It)
The Condom Debate (As I See It)
The most important part of this post comes first.
If you are a member of the adult industry and located within the vicinity of Los Angeles, California, I believe it is in your best interest to show up to this:
Medical Meeting with the Cal-OSHA (California Division of Occupational Safety and Health) Board of Directors Addressing Adult Industry Regulation
June 7th, 2011
100 S. Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Now I will attempt to explain why it's important to attend this meeting.
Most adult industry professionals have by now heard about the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's (AHF) increasing efforts to mandate condom use in all US-based pornographic productions. Given that the majority of US-based porn is produced in California, efforts have consisted of filing complaints with Cal-OSHA against production companies for failing to adhere to the “same section of state workplace safety law that requires nurses to wear protective gear to spare them exposure to blood-borne and fluid-borne illnesses.” “One of the complaints filed by AHF in September has resulted in Hustler/LFP being fined more than $14,000 for violating condom regulations, and Forsaken Productions cited for more than $12,000 in violations.”
The (heterosexual) industry's defense of it's predominantly condom-less sex practices is this:
“Vivid Entertainment founder Steven Hirsch has said that such moves could force filming to leave California, causing a blow to the multi-billion porn industry that has many operations in the San Fernando Valley.
Hustler Video head Larry Flynt has said audiences don't want to see actors using condoms because it interrupts porn viewer fantasies with a reminder of disease prevention and birth control.”
But are these concerns – stated by Hirsch and Flynt - valid?
I wrote a blog entry in October, 2010, titled, “Protection.” In my post, I stated (in regards to the fear that condoms might hurt sales), “It's a little difficult to confirm this speculation given that few productions have tested the waters.”
Well, it turns out my statement was false. Production companies have tested the waters. It just happened prior to my involvement in the industry.
During my interview with former AVN editor and current adult producer/director/cameraman, Eli Cross, he told me that shortly after the 2004 HIV outbreak, “All the companies went condom only. Well, the only one that has survived shooting condom-only is Wicked, and Wicked only survived shooting condom-only because Wicked's not really in the business of shooting porn. Wicked is in the business of making these big budget movies that they can sell as R-rated, straight-to-video features in Europe, and in India, or wherever. And that's how Wicked survives. Nobody buys Wicked movies here. You know why? People don't want to see condoms in their porn. In straight porn, they don't want to see condoms.
Everybody tried it, and nobody bought the movies. And the problem is, it's not like we can just say, 'All porn is going to be condom only.' Guess what? Europe is never going to shoot with condoms. It's not going to happen. Suddenly now, miraculously, European porn was outselling American porn, three, four, five to one. Nobody went back to shooting without condoms because they wanted to. They went back to shooting without condoms because they had to.”
I've since heard this claim repeated by several other industry professionals who out-rank me in industry experience. And while there are no financial public records available for adult industry production companies, I have no reason to distrust these people. If anything is at stake, it's their jobs. I have a hard time believing that, beyond financial incentive, producers have some malicious intent to prevent performers from using condoms.
Okay, so here's an argument. Maybe in 2004, porn consumers didn't want to see condoms. But it's been about seven years. In terms of market demographic, it's possible a lot has changed.
Maybe the modern consumer doesn't mind condoms in their porn. Okay. Say this is true. As a business owner, would you be willing to take that chance?
Bear with me on this completely unrealistic scenario. Because I think the point is still valid.
Say you own a restaurant in which spaghetti with marinara sauce is your number one selling dish. And say this special brand of marinara sauce can – under very unlikely circumstances – blow up in the kitchen and severely injure one of your cooks.
Okay, so seven years ago, your kitchen had an accident, and a few of your employees were injured by explosive marinara. You – the responsible business owner - decided to no longer serve spaghetti with marinara. Instead, you served it with pesto. Because the pesto was a much more stable sauce, and much less likely to explode.
Well, no one bought the spaghetti with pesto sauce and your business almost folded. So you went back to using marinara sauce and kind of hoped for the best.
During the course of seven years, only two more cooks were injured (most likely outside of your kitchen). But now the local government wants to ban marinara sauce. And they say, “It's fine, because you can just serve spaghetti with pesto sauce.”
Over that seven year period, the economy has begun to slump. And customers aren't coming out in the droves they used to. So you're already making less money than you're used to. And now the government's telling you to try something that nearly ruined your business in the past.
Maybe things have changed in the past seven years. But are you really going to take that chance? Or are you going to move your business to some place else where marinara sauce is still legal? Because everywhere else in the world, people still buy spaghetti with marinara sauce, and everywhere else in the world, there are cooks willing to make it.
My point is that even if consumers have changed their minds about condoms, the fact that producers are so scared about it makes the change irrelevant. No one wants to run a failing business. And let's keep in mind: this is a business. You can make the argument that porn has positive and/or negative effects on the world, but no one can say it's a charitable operation. We're not doing this out of the goodness of our hearts. We're here to make money.
Okay. But there are plenty of business operations around the world that are completely unethical, dangerous, and/or illegal: sex traffickers, arms dealers, corporations that use sweatshop labor, etc... Is this at all relevant to the adult entertainment industry operating out of the San Fernando Valley? I would argue, “No.”
My experience suggests that the vast majority of performers working in this industry are doing so of their own free will. And when they are working, they are earning livable wages. Further, they are arguably causing harm to no one.
Moreover, there are industry-regulated, monthly testing practices already in place to help curb the spread of STIs. If any performer honestly feels that he/she is risking his/her life on every shoot, I've yet to hear it. And if he/she feels this way, there is always the option not to participate.
Now consider this:
For the past ten-plus years, an organization called AIM (Adult Industry Medical) provided testing and health services to adult industry performers. Both AHF and Cal-OSHA have had a hand in shutting down that organization permanently. There is no longer any industry-specific clinic that provides medical services.
But the adult industry is still following testing protocol through a facility called Talent Testing Service. It is also in the process of setting up a new testing protocol with help from The Free Speech Coalition.
Basically, AHF and Cal-OSHA are shutting down our medical facilities, and The Free Speech Coalition is attempting to help facilitate our testing practices.
So while AHF claims to not have an anti-porn stance, I along with many other industry professionals, question their motives.
The Free Speech Coalition may also have ulterior/financial motives, but at least they're willing to work with us in a way that does not jeopardize our livelihood.
Now, a case has been made for why condoms may not be financially viable. But how about the more practical reasons?
Veteran performer, Nina Hartley, explains on her blog why many performers prefer not to use condoms:
“In a nutshell, performers as a rule don't care for condoms for several reasons. For most of the men (with few exceptions), condoms make for a very-much-more difficult scene; just one more huge distraction to add to the host of other ones on the set: uncomfortable set, no chemistry with the female player, asshole director, late/early hours, too hot/cold, bad food, personal issues, etc.
For the women, there are just four words: rubber rash/friction burn. Not only do I have to work harder for him to feel anything, the scene takes much longer to get through, with the changing out of condoms, needing to give the guy a break and suck him again, and the total passion-killer that is on-set condom use. It's hard enough to create a real connection, so the scene doesn't feel to the viewer like we faxed it in, on a set as it is. If all of our energy is focused on our working parts, there is none left over to actually connect and show a spark, which is what the people at home want to see...
...I know it sounds harsh, but it's not porn's job to set a good example to the viewing public. It's an entertainment medium like anything else out of Hollywood, and mainstream entertainment is not held up as needing somehow to set a good example. It's a shame that our country does such a piss-poor job of educating its young people so that they're driven to view porn to try to get a clue about sex. Except when a movie is expressly done as education-the Guides, Tristan Taormino's movies, etc., their job is to arouse and entertain, period...
...Porn is pretty safe. If a player says "no" to the most egregiously stupid acts (cream pies, whether anal or vaginal), then he or she is unlikely to get a deadly disease at work. People do get the non-lethal ones, but they get treated, as do their partners, and they get to work again when their new test comes back clean.”
Moving on, let's forget the grievances mentioned above. At least for a minute.
There has been a common argument that even with mandatory condom use, consumers won't have to see them in the films. Because if consumers really hate condoms in their product, the financial incentive will force producers to pay FX gurus to digitally remove them from every scene.
This seems great in theory, but the argument obviously comes from someone with no film production or FX background.
I don't claim to be an FX specialist, but I do have a degree in cinematic arts from one of the most prestigious film institutions in the United States (The University of Southern California). From my production experience, the best way to do something like digital condom removal requires a process called rotoscoping. In a frame that is not locked-off, which consists of a moving object that continually changes size and shape (a penis with condom in the midst of penetration), this is literally a frame-by-frame process. In most video, each second consists of 24-to-30 frames. The amount of work that would go into removing something for an average of twenty-to-thirty minutes per scene is astronomical - as would be the cost of doing so.
For example, I shot a spec commercial last year that required a similar process. I paid an FX guy $500 to do this for several seconds of footage. He was straight out of film school and interning at an FX house. So I was even getting a good deal.
This is not cost effective in the least. And it is a completely ridiculous suggestion.
My friend told me that at the last Cal-OSHA meeting, someone stood up to support this notion with an argument like this: “Look at what they did with that Avatar movie.”
Avatar is a major motion picture with a budget of over $200 million. The average pornographic feature film costs less than $25 thousand. Suggesting that we have the budgets to do extensive FX work is unrealistic to the adult industry business model and, in my opinion, completely ludicrous.
Further, even for those who believe that the performers will cope with the added annoyance of condoms, and consumers will get over their appearance in movies, Cal-OSHA's mandate of condoms means more than just slapping on a rubber.
According to the Huffington Post, “Cal/OSHA officials provided the Associated Press with a 17-page draft proposal that contained sometimes graphic details of the bodily fluids, waste matter and other materials that porn actors must protect themselves against to avoid infection...
...The draft says porn producers must provide and require 'use of condoms or other barrier protection to prevent genital and oral contact with the blood or (any other bodily fluids) of another person.'”
This means condoms during oral sex, the strong possibility of dental dams, and exclusion of “cum shots” from US-based pornography.
Obviously, such practices would facilitate a safer environment. But let's take off our political hats for a moment and really answer these question: Have you ever used a condom during a blowjob in real life? And when is the last time you broke out a dental dam?
To me, this is not sexy. And I don't think I'm speaking out of turn to say that for most people, barrier-protected oral sex is outright inefficient and actually a turn-off. If you disagree with me, feel free to say so.
Further, if we remove any contact with semen from pornography, we are eliminating a vast amount of niche and mainstream product. Like it or not, the “cum shot” has become an integral part of porn. The Cal-OSHA condom mandate eliminates blowbangs, facials, cum eating, cum swapping, creampies, and basically the end of every straight sex scene released in the past discernible history. To say this would have no impact on sales is a very presumptuous statement.
But as a pornographic performer, why should you care? Most of these concerns are for producers. If you don't mind using condoms, and don't particularly care to be splattered with semen, then what is the big deal?
Well, I'm going to assume you've become a performer to make money – and to make the most money possible. You and I both know we're not raking in millions. Even the very top performers are not making more than $200 thousand a year (strictly from performing). In fact, plenty of contract stars don't even reach an annual six figures.
So even if some of the production companies stick it out and try this condom-mandated means of production, how many companies have to leave before you're losing out on one, two, three, four, or five thousand dollars a month? Do you think it's worth it to feel a little bit safer? Are you even concerned with the current risk involved?
We all take a risk going to work every day. In my opinion, it's a managed risk. And it's something I choose to participate in so that I can get a paycheck at the end of my day.
So when I feel that someone else who doesn't really understand our industry is coming in to take away that paycheck, I get kind of pissed about it. And I'd like to have a say in the matter.
I'm asking that regardless of your opinion on the subject, you make it to the June 7th meeting, that you post this information (with whatever you'd like to add or detract) on your blog, website, Twitter feed, Facebook, etc... And that you show that we have a voice.
Because from my perspective, the industry performers (myself included) have been predominantly oblivious to what's going on, uninformed about the previous meetings that have already taken place, and in some cases apathetic. It's not completely our fault, because I don't know that there's any real avenue for all of us to get this information. But if you help spread the word, we can all be informed and approach Cal-OSHA with an actual stance.
My stance should be clear. And I'm of the opinion that many people share it. But if I'm completely off-base, show up anyways and tell the world we want to use condoms.
Whatever the verdict, our bodies are the ones at stake and we should have a say in the matter.
I hope to see you on June 7th.