Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Practical Argument Against Los Angeles' Measure B

Don't live in Los Angeles? Don't know what Measure B is? Check out the Smart Voter Guide. Don't feel like clicking on a link? Well, here's the question at hand:

"Shall an ordinance be adopted requiring producers of adult films to obtain a County public health permit, to require adult film performers to use condoms while engaged in sex acts, to provide proof of blood borne pathogen training course, to post permit and notices to performers, and making violations of the ordinance subject to civil fines and criminal charges?"

Voting "yes" on Measure B will legally require all of the above. Voting "no" will allow things to continue on as usual.

I've written a number of blog posts/articles regarding my stance on condoms in porn. Certain details and events have shifted my perspective, but I've always remained against the idea of mandated condom use in porn (my industry).

When writing such blog/posts articles, I've explored a number of issues: safety, testing standards, the possible consequences of such a law being passed, etc... With this blog entry, I'm going to try to get past all that. There is so much information out there at this point - so many arguments for and against condoms - that anyone who is willing to spend a short deal of time should be able to come to a fairly quick conclusion on where they stand.

My current opinion is that it doesn't really matter how things should be or what's safer. I mean, let's be honest. Having sex with barrier protection - in a vacuum - is safer than having sex without it.

But let's be honest once again. Pornography is a visual medium. A model's looks matter. The sexual performance matters. What's happening in the scene matters. The shot matters.

If I could sell anything and still make a profit, I would film myself cuddling with my girlfriend and charge people $1000 to watch it. It would be absolutely safe and comfortable, and it would make me rich.  However - in the real world - it doesn't sound like a profitable idea. In fact, there's an enormous likelihood that it would be a complete waste of time.

There have been a number of adult industry professionals (primarily ex-performers) who have come out in favor of Measure B. For example, Aurora Snow was recently interviewed on the subject for The Daily Beast. Amidst the article, she states (in regards to the most recent syphilis outbreak), "When I heard about the syphilis outbreak, my first feeling was one of relief. For the first time ever, I was so removed from the Los Angeles porn scene that I didn’t have to check my calendar and start calling every partner I’d had in the last two weeks to see whether I was at risk."

Similarly, Satine Phoenix speaks up in favor of condoms in a video argument with performer, James Deen. You can watch the clip HERE.

Both Snow and Phoenix have spent their time in the pornographic trenches, so of course their opinions matter. But they both share another commonality, which is that they no longer rely on the industry for their income. From where I stand, it seems a lot easier to demand change of an industry of which you are no longer a participant. Because if those changes start costing people their livelihood, "Oh well." It no longer effects you.

The same goes for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the primary organization behind the Measure B initiative. They have claimed, time and again, that condoms in porn will have no effect on sales. Lucky for them, they won't suffer a bit if they happen to be wrong. Their experiment will just effect people like me.

Of course, such organizations say they're looking out for me. After all, construction workers wear helmets, medical professionals use barrier protection, and even dog groomers have to wear gloves. In the interest of my own safety, I should demand barrier protection, right?

Well, that's really beside the point. Construction workers are not a product. A patient just wants to be treated. And a dog groomer's client doesn't care about anything other than their dog. No one's paying to watch a groomer do his or her job. When someone purchases porn, they're paying to watch me (or maybe just my partner).

Porn performers have much more in common with athletes, UFC fighters, stunt men, and in some cases, actors. We are all taking risks to get the shot, to perform the act that elicits the greatest amount of entertainment for whoever happens to be watching. Aside from the occasional educational film, there is no purpose other than to entertain and make money.

So wouldn't it be great if all performers had the choice whether or not to use condoms in their scenes? Of course. But if it doesn't sell, then what is the point of shooting that kind of porn? Why should that performer get paid at all?

It would be great if stunt men were at zero risk of dying, and if UFC fighters never had to worry about breaking bones. The reality is that those risks are inherent to such careers. Just like the risk of contracting STDs is inherent to sex work. The adult industry's testing practices are designed to minimize the risk. But no matter what, there will always be a risk. Even if condoms were to be implemented in every single scene.

The thing is that most porn producers (in heterosexual porn) claim that condom products do not sell very well. This claim is either based on real evidence (which I have every reason to believe), or it's a really weird lie constructed to benefit no one. If it weren't true, the adult industry has put in a great deal of effort for no reason. Regardless, most companies are taking it seriously enough to do everything in their power not to shoot with condoms.

Of course there are companies that shoot scenes with barrier protection. They mostly exist in the alternative and queer markets. But there's a reason they're not employing a substantial performer base. For one, they're not making the kind of profits that would allow for such a thing. Two, their aesthetic is such that most performers wouldn't fit the look and dynamic such companies are trying to achieve.

So when we're discussing an all-encompassing, new policy, we can't just look to minority examples and say, "Well, what about them?" The bigger companies are going to employ the most performers, because the bigger companies shoot the most content and make the most money.

At this juncture, my liberal brain goes, "Wait! Big oil makes a ton of money and employs a ton of people. So does Monsanto. And I think citizens should have every right to vote on their policies." I still think my liberal brain is right. Because the mega-corporations I just mentioned pollute our environment on a catastrophic scale, poison our food, and pay their lower-level employees poverty wages. Citizens should have a right to vote because citizens are highly effected by the policies of mega-corporations.

Porn, on the other hand, has little physical effect on the surrounding community. If anything, our influence is cultural. And for those concerned about wages... Well, there may not be as much work these days. But a female performer can still make a thousand-dollar day rate. I wouldn't say anyone's getting rich. However, those of us who are actually working aren't likely to be sitting beneath the poverty line.

Part of the reason I believe performers are paid fairly well is that we take on certain risks. In a perfect world, we would get paid more and undergo less risk. Adding condoms to the mix is not going to drastically reduce our risk. However, it may drastically reduce the benefits.

Aside from financial loss, performers are going to have to face the choice of whether or not to work for companies who decide to break the law. Plenty of performers do this already when they decide to engage in prostitution. Forcing more sex workers to have to choose between not paying their bills and engaging in illegal activity is not helpful. It just puts more stress on an already marginalized group of people.

I would like to end this piece by pointing out that those who want condoms in porn should not give up and concede to the status quo. I mean, part of the reason I keep supporting the new website, MakeLoveNotPorn.TV, is that it addresses the influence of mainstream porn without completely bashing it. And it provides an alternative that can also help sex workers make more money. It doesn't just remove the means they have already.

Subverting the status quo is always a noble challenge. Forcing everyone else out of their old-world jobs is not.

Please vote No on Measure B. 


  1. Bravo, Danny.

    I would add one more point, regarding your (correct) statement, that AHF has "claimed, time and again, that condoms in porn will have no effect on sales."

    True, it's what Weinstein et al claim publicly, but leaked internal AHF documents show they are well aware of market realities regarding all-condom porn.

    For instance, prior to the last Cal/OSHA Standards Board meeting last summer (which we both remember so well), the Board released proposed draft rules that would require condoms for all sex acts, with a possible exception for oral sex ONLY IF a few little conditions were met:

    the performers get hepatitis B, HBV and HPV vaccine shots;
    have a clean PCR-DNA test;
    have had his/her urine and swabs from his/her throat, anus and/or vagina tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea and found to be clean;
    and are physically examined for "signs of STIs"

    — as long as a "Physician or other Licensed Health Care Professional" signs off on it.

    Weinstein's response to reading this "draft" rule -- which states clearly that condoms are required for everything unless extraordinary measures are taken?

    "This sucks. The provisions on oral sex will confirm the worst fears of the industry and certainly would kill the market for porn."

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