I added a sticky to this post because even though it was written in 2011 for Measure B, the issue of mandating condoms in sex is still rearing its ugly head with a California Assembly Bill, AB1576, and this time it has terrifying legal consequence. My thoughts haven’t changed much on the subject, so I’ve included updates below.
Originally published June 6th, 2011
It’s late afternoon on a grey, overcast Monday in the SOMA district of San Francisco.
For the last few months and especially this weekend Ive been reading about changes happening in Los Angeles in the mainstream porn industry. Id like to think theres more difference between San Franciscos little queer porn hub and LAs porn valley, but like today’s weather, there’s a lot of grey.
Tomorrow, June 7th, at 10am, there is a Medical Meeting with the Cal-OSHA (California Division of Occupational Safety and Health) Board of Directors addressing Adult Industry Regulation. (Address: CalTrans Building, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012). Porn performer Danny Wylde has been one of the most vocal industry bloggers about the recent news; his position as a performer and his writing skills as a blogger put him on the forefront as a key player within a pool of increasingly visible sexually progressive adult stars. Click on over to read his blog post The Condom Debate, because I think he most succinctly describes the issue at hand. Additionally, Violet Blue wrote a fantastic article Real Sex and Porn Sex not too long ago, which also serves as a must-read to more fully understand safer sex issues within porn.
I decided to add my own story to the debate because my experience is somewhat isolated as a queer porn performer. And this grants me interesting and conflicting thoughts around the issue. Just earlier, I was prompted to write and share my thoughts when I saw some posts on the subject by LA Girl-Girl porn performers:
Think the condoms/porn debate doesnt effect you? A girl-girl sex scene will require dental dams & gloves & there is no testing requirement.
So those condom regs, they are a lot worse than just condoms. Gloves, dams, face shields etc. This passes and porns done in CA.
Whats wrong with barriers? I happen to be someone who adores gloves, and reading these made me feel shamed for enjoying safer sex in my personal life as well as on the screen, especially when the company is open to it. If you dont like using dental dams or gloves, thats okay but its good to note that the tests required for most mainstream porn studios, including Girl/Girl performers, are designed for heterosexual sex risks. In the queer porn that Im familiar with, using barriers and opting not to have a straight porn test is a common choice among performers, who even bring their own dental dams to set along with their preferred lube.
One of the main differences I see between mainstream porn and San Francisco-based queer pornography* is the focus on sex-positive values which includes allowing diverse models to make the choice to best protect their sexual health. (*What is queer porn? Its a term currently used to describe the work I perform in, where models span a range of queer sexual orientations and gender identities queer women and men, trans and cisgender, and genderqueers for example so its not simply defined as gay, lesbian, trans, or bisexual.)
How does giving models the choice best protect their sexual health? I believe a choice with a range of protections is better than one blanket-level standard (whether its barriers, or testing) for a number of reasons: mainly, it allows for flexibility depending on the models diverse needs. All our needs are different. Some models are real-life partners who are fluid-bonded and monogamous with their own testing precautions, or, poly/non-monogamous lovers who have specific arrangements. Some models are sex workers and have boundaries in porn that they may or may not have with their clients. For some models, they are topping in the scene and will not be exposed to any bodily fluids. For some models who work in LA or other industry porn, its a special shoot that allows them to have whatever kind of sex they want, or to perform with partners who are outside mainstream aesthetics. Models have different sexual histories, so choices in safer sex practices may vary based on our needs.
In addition, models have different sexual anatomy, regardless of gender expression, which may lend to different sexual risks. Different sex acts also pose varying sexual risks. So theres a lot of variables and the awareness of all these different situations and kinds of risks, and using the information to apply to sexual practice is called risk-based assessment.
When I perform in porn, I make decisions within each scene based on risk-based assessment. My sexual health is put at various risks based on the anatomy of my co-star and what sexual acts we will do together. Heres a chart I found which I modified to read as penis/vulva (as opposed to man/woman):
* You could be at risk if the receiver has just topped someone else.
** Very low risk.
*** Unprotected anal sex is a very high risk activity for a bottom, much more so than for a top. The risk of HIV transmission to a bottom during unprotected anal sex is 15 in 1,000 versus 3 in 10,000 from a bottom to a top.
- Kissing, mutual masturbation, and frottage or dry humping are considered safer sex activities, with little to no risk of STD transmission.
- Using latex condoms (male or female) significantly reduces the risk of contracting STDs during anal, vaginal and oral sex.
- Washing hands and the genital area thoroughly before and after oral-anal sex reduces the risk of transmission of most of the listed STDs and conditions. Condom use reduces transmission risk even further.
In queer porn scenes, my costars who are lovers and friends, the sexual acts are up to us, including what safer sex practices we use to help protect ourselves and each other. This sometimes takes the form of testing, gloves, condoms on toys, whether or not to go down on each other, whether or not to have anal sex, and a multitude of other choices.
Up until about a month ago, industry professionals in Los Angeles, and sometimes in SF such as Kink.com models, did routine testing at AIM (Adult Industry Medical Heath). It is industry standard that an AIM Panel test with negative results be current within 30-days (two days for some companies). Some people call this a clean vs a dirty test; I dislike those terms as it furthers cultural stigma around sexually transmitted diseases, the people who have them and even the industries they work in. Because of this, I often use the phrase clear or current; which implies that my test results are satisfactory and it hasn’t expired. After AIM closed, Talent Testing Services and Cutting Edge Testing took its place, which includes trichomoniasis, syphilis, and more.
I don’t recall when I did my first test for porn, though it wasn’t for a few years after I had already been in the industry working in queer porn with friends and long-term fluid-bonded partners. When I did get tested specifically at AIM for porn, I found it interesting that the same test is required in LA for both Boy/Girl and Girl/Girl shoots. (Note that while I have a vulva, I don’t identify as a girl, and many of my scenes as well as those of many trans male friends are often categorized within mainstream as G/G.) As a performer working with a cisgender female costar, I paid out-of-pocket for the $130 test which at the time covered: HIV-1 DNA, Chlamydia & Gonorrhea by PCR. These are high risk for sex that is heterosexual, penis/vagina and penis/anus sex with the female performer receiving. Ive had to have this test for a scene where I was performing strap-on sex, topping a female co-star. In this situation, my risk is very very low; Im more at risk for HPV and herpes which are not required tests. However the standard was to have this test so I complied. Naturally, Im happy to be tested regularly; its never a bad thing to have too many tests. Im just using the example to point out how the testing standards are skewed towards heterosexual sex. (UPDATE: Tests now run $240 and are good for 14 days, covering: HIV-1 NAT, HBsAg, Anti-HCV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomonas Vaginalis, Syphilis (RPR), TREP-SURE EIA Treponema pallidum Antibody, IgG by ELISA. When I showed my most recent lab result to my Kaiser doctor, she was impressed.)
Personally, I love performing safer sex practices on screen because it makes me feel safer and comfortable. I also think its great to have examples of people using gloves and demonstrating other safer sex practices because it shares with our community to those who may be new to the idea of safer sex. While no substitute for good sex education, safer sex demonstrated in queer porn can provide examples of communication and healthy sex practices. The sex education I received in school didn’t include homosexuality or bisexuality. At some point condoms were introduced as pregnancy prevention. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about STD risks, and discovered the joy of lubricant. (As a youth, I learned the hard way that suntan and massage lotions break condoms.) Theres a lot about sex ed that we aren’t taught in schools or in our culture in general. To this day, I still meet people who think its good to double-bag condoms don’t, it only makes them more likely to break or the idea that all lube will give them yeast infections (try a water-based non-glycerine or silicone lube). Theres a lot of sex information lacking in our education system, so its no surprise that many people turn to porn as a default source for sex ed. Director Chi Chi LaRue spent a good 20 years in the gay porn business fighting for visibility of condoms and the safer sex consideration of porn performers. Showing safe sex as an example of how to have good sex is particularly important.
Ultimately what it boils down to for me is my belief that all performers should be able to have sex as they feel safest. Whether that means testing, barriers, a combination, or whatever theyve consented to. I dont think safer sex barriers should be REQUIRED, nor do I agree that performers should feel pressured not to use them. Production companies can provide as much resources, safer sex supplies, or testing reimbursement as they can afford, and allow porn performers the freedom to choose what they feel most comfortable with. The top three examples of companies and directors I have worked with so far who provide additional safer sex supplies to help models feel safer are: Pink & White Productions (Directed by Shine Louise Houston), Kink.com (on set with Princess Donna), and Vivid-Ed (on numerous sets with Tristan Taormino, whose performer-conscious work was recently featured in CNN posted Prevent STDs like a Porn Star). Thanks in part to an increasing diversity of progressive pornography, our culture is becoming more and more educated and sex-positive. Lets continue to support each other in the adult industry, and also learning more as I am about how to be the safest we can be.
I followed along via Twitter as Ela Darling, Michael Fattorosi, and others shared agenda topics and reactions of those present online. This morning Im reading articles as they are published, which Im including here.
I appreciated what looks like a really thorough AVN article by Mark Kernes (Industry Expresses Its Feelings—Loudly—at Cal/OSHA Meeting) and Danny Wyldes Abbreviated Account of the June 7th Cal-OSHA Advisory Committee Meeting. Here’s his conclusion.
There are many more points to cover. But this is an abbreviated version, so Im going to end here:
As it stands, nothing has actually changed except for that fact that we are now very much aware that Cal-OSHA considers our industry practices to be illegal, and AHF is very insistent in making sure we are penalized until we change those practices.
The problem is that those practices are the basis for our livelihood and they have gone unchallenged for years.
Further, performers in attendance were in near unanimous agreement that our testing practices under AIM healthcare were sufficient and effective, and we do not want mandated barrier protection in our industry.
Read his entire post on trvewestcoastfiction
My sense is that the experiences Ive had with progressive producers who work within the industry’s current testing standards and who have been open and encouraging around performers individual sexual health needs is essentially what the rest of the adult industry wants. Im curious to see how adult entertainment is defined in terms of creating definitions for pornography (which may relate to free speech concerns). It seems like the debate is primarily concerned with heterosexual/straight sex particularly at one point when they Gay Industry was brought up, as if it were outside the conversation (perhaps because condoms are the standard in this genre). It will be interesting to see how regulations effect things, and it was exciting to see performers speak up about their rights; even from another city in San Francisco.
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Associated Press Porn Stars Oppose California Condom Plan
Lyla Katz, X-BIZ Porn Performers Unite Over Proposed Cal/OSHA Safety Regulations
Free Speech Coalition Blog Study Finds LA County Health Dept Reports on Adult Industry STI Data Flawed, ‘Without Basis in Science’
Well, it passed so in about 90 days LA production companies (at least, those who get permits) will have to use condoms for heterosexual scenes. It doesn’t really effect me much at all, though it does the people I know who work down there in those types of scenes. Here are some other updates in the meantime:
Lorelei Lee wrote a great piece about this in Salon. LA’s Porn Mistake
I was interviewed for an article in CounterPunch’s The Condom: Friend or Foe in the Adult Film Industry.
Measure B is now up to votes in LA. There’s a lot of support from pornographers for NO on Measure B. Though I don’t live in Los Angeles, I side with those voting AGAINST Measure B so that it continues to be performers choice. However Im also seeing some backlash from performers that is pretty sex-shaming about using barriers. Id like to remind people that many of us enjoy using latex and non-latex barriers in sex scenes and in off-screen sex, and while its probably not their intention to do so, making fun of gloves and dental dams can put others down, and does discourage their use. Once again, Im for performers choice, be it barriers testing, basing risks of sex acts, or any combination. Heres a new blog post on the subject: Safer Sex CAN Be Hot!
Measure B passed, but porn didnt start using condoms. Instead, Los Angeles companies stopped getting permits. Others relocated to Nevada. (And coincidentally, around the same time it became very apparent that a company called Manwin (which then changed their name to MindGeek) started buying up companies left and right. Either theres something fishy going on or Ive been watching too many government conspiracy shows.) Anyhow, the condom mandate didn’t just stop in LA. Assemblyman Isadore Hall brought a version of the bill to Sacramento for a statewide vote as AB 1576, however, it removed specific language, not even mentioning the word condom which makes the bill very dangerous because its so vague that it could potentially be used to criminalize any form of porn. Even movies by queer, feminist, safer-sex loving indie porn peeps. Pink & White Productions has posted an open letter. (Full disclosure: I now work for the San Francisco-based queer porn company, and were considering the logistics of moving to Nevada.)
Its heartbreaking to see the bill pass the CA Arts & Entertainment Committee despite producers and performers in attendance, such as Princess Donna and Lorelei Lee, who stood and advocated for their rights. As it stands, Im concerned about the future of shooting porn in the Bay Area. Re-reading this post before I made this update, I realize I had written about how it doesn’t really effect me much at all as someone who prefers barriers. But now with the vague language of the new bill, the chance is high that it could be manipulated to criminalize whoever the state chooses to make an example of. In this case, the smallest companies have the most to loose. Im beginning to see the size of this unfold, and am uncertain about what lies ahead. Until then, we do what we can and will prepare for the worst. Pink & White is a company that has grown from its silver linings, so Ill raise my half-full cup and keep my eyes open.
On Wednesday 21st there will be an Assembly Appropriations hearing in Sacramento. I will try to make the trip up there to lend my voice in opposition to AB1576. Groups opposing it include the Adult Performers Advocacy Committee, the Erotic Service Providers Union, and the Free Speech Coalition which has gathered a petition of performers names to be presented at the hearing.
In the meantime, the website ab1576.org has a form that allows people to FAX (Online! So easy.) their letters to California State Assembly Members. Lets show our strength in numbers and flood them with our feels. Though the site also has petitions, the biggest thing to do right now is to send the letters, and share the news with others to do the same. Together, we can be a loud enough voice where they’ll have no choice but to listen.
The bill passed the Assembly Floor by a very narrow margin, and so its on to the Senate Committee in a few weeks. We’ve gotten some press about the issue, including a spot on Fox News, though most of it reports false information from Hall and AFH. For example, here’s news from the LA Department of Public Health which confirms Hall provided false information. More to come (in the meantime, if you’re a performer who lives in the district of the following Senators (or if you’re a member of the press who would like to write on the subject) please contact Diane Duke of the Free Speech Coalition.)