A Day Without Porn: or, a very long article by Lynsey G.

Day Without Porn image via Raw Story Lynsey G

Image via RawStory.com

A week ago, on February 18, 2016, was “a day without porn.” At the behest of The Free Speech Coalition (FSC), an adult industry trade association, most of the porn industry took the day off, and over 100 adult industry workers (directors, producers, performers, even academics, critics, and more) went to Oakland instead of to work for the day.

The FSC had asked them to descend on Oakland, California in order testify in defense of their industry at a Cal-OSHA hearing at which Cal-OSHA board members voted on whether to approve heightened regulations on barrier protection in adult films, which had been initiated by Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) six years previous.

After hours of testimony from those in favor (who, by the way, were all paid to be there) and from those opposed (who, by the way, were taking an unpaid day off work to be there, often after hours of travel at their own expense), the members voted 3-2 against the regulations. There was much jubilation in the industry as an important battle was won… but the war continues.

A Day Without Porn APAC Tweet Lynsey G

A tweet from adult industry trade organization APAC, live from the courtroom in Oakland.

The proposed regulations would have required performers (and in some cases crew members, as well), to use barrier protection on set in all cases in which bodily fluids might be exchanged or might even come into possible contact with vulnerable areas–like eyes. Had these regulations passed, they would have required condoms, dental dams, gloves, and “eye protection” (read: goggles) in most sex scenes taking place on all licensed erotic film sets in the state of California, to the tune of up to $25,000 in fines for violations.

The media had fun with the novelty aspect of porn stars in goggles and gloves and Hazmat suits, using some wink-wink-nod-nod jokes to suggest that medical fetishists would enjoy the new porn if the regulations were approved. The public also seemed to get a kick out of the idea. And I don’t blame them–it is an interesting prospect, sure.

But what many in the press and elsewhere were largely missing was the point. That point being that the inappropriately named AIDS Healthcare Foundation, led by the bizarrely obsessed Michael Weinstein, was behind the new regulations. That the AHF has been behind every attempt to regulate the adult industry for nearly a decade. That the AHF has spent millions on every one of its multiple, ongoing, single-minded attempts to regulate the industry into oblivion–or at the very least out of California.

For reasons that nobody could begin to understand, Weinstein and his crew of dubiously concerned “healthcare” activists have been hounding pornographers for years, trying to force legislation that would mandate condoms in porn–first at the county (Los Angeles), then the state (California) level. Four years ago they put Measure B on the voter ballot in California, and now all licensed porn shoots in Los Angeles are required to use condoms–but those regulations are largely unenforceable and have mostly amounted–thus far–to zilch.

Let’s be clear: California is one of only two states in the U.S. in which filming pornography is strictly legal, due to legal precedent set by its Supreme Court in the late 1980s. (The other state is New Hampshire, and there are a few porn companies operating up there, but the industry isn’t ready to flock to New England just yet.) The porn industry has, understandably, settled in the Los Angeles area in the decades since and has enjoyed the friendly legal climate while turning itself into a legitimate, self-regulated industry.

“Self-regulation” is an important phrase when it comes to porn. Pornographers take the health of their workforce seriously, and as sexually transmitted infections have made their way through the talent pool over the years, the industry has made valiant efforts to keep workers safe. Most of those efforts have been remarkably effective, and have most recently culminated in a stringent testing regimen that all active performers are required to follow in order to work. Because most of the people who work in adult entertainment are independent contractors rather than employees, the onus of following the rules falls largely upon individuals, rather than companies who provide resources for their employees, with the outcome being a large group of people for whom sexual health is almost an obsession: Performers can only work in porn if they have test results for a panel of STIs that puts most of our “civilian” STI tests to shame–using the most up-to-date, foolproof, and fastest methods available to check for a wide array of infections ranging from chlamydia to HIV. These tests must be kept current, with a fourteen-day limit for filming. For active performers, this means getting a test once every two weeks. And paying for them out of pocket.

A Day Without Porn Talent Testing Services Panel Price Lynsey G

A screenshot from Talent Testing Services’ website.

The testing procedures aren’t fool-proof, of course, but for the most part they keep performers safe because they know, or can easily find out, their scene partners’ most up-to-date tests results. While some performers also use condoms on set, the many who do not are protected by transparency around their sexual health and that of those around them. And it works. For over a decade, there have been zero confirmed cases of on-set transmission of HIV (though AHF would have the public believe that the HIV outbreak a few years ago was due to on-set transmission, but it’s pretty well understood among the adult community that the performers in question did not get the virus during a shoot).

But the AHF is convinced, or at least acts convinced, that the adult industry is teeming with disease and that the only way to make it safer is to force barrier protection on every single set. But, as those who arrived in Oakland last week to testify told the Cal-OSHA board members in attendance, safer sex on set is not the best way to keep workers safe. In many cases, it could be more dangerous to performers, whose hours-long bouts of sex on camera can easily lead to “latex burn” from condoms, which makes performers more susceptible to the transmission of infections. Furthermore, if the regulations requiring barrier protection were to be enforced, the testing protocols that those regulations would enforce would be far less rigorous than those currently in place, so that if a condom or dental dam or what-have-you were to break on set, the chances that someone on set might have and transmit an infection could be much higher.

In short, the regulations would have in many cases left performers more vulnerable to STIs than they are now.

If these regulations had passed, filmmakers who don’t want their performers to be subjected to these regulations might have felt the need to leave California or to shoot in less-safe locations in order to get around the new rules. Anytime sex work takes place off the books, we should all know by now, that opens up everyone involved to all manner of dark forces; one need only look at the current state of prostitution in America to understand that not-legal sex industries are extremely vulnerable to corruption, coercion, exploitation, blackmail, violence… It’s not a path that the currently legal porn industry in California wants to follow. But in order to keep their workers safe and to keep their sales up (I don’t agree that people would refuse to buy porn with condoms in it, as many claim, but I do think that goggles and gloves absolutely would leave consumers less than satisfied), porn-makers might have been hard pressed not to go underground to avoid Cal-OSHA’s overreach.

And all of this atop the very thorny issue of personal choice and bodily autonomy. Porn performers work with their bodies every day–they know what is best for those bodies. For some, that might mean using barrier protection on set, but for others it may not mean that. Government enforcement of really anything that forces human beings to do specific things with their bodies or be punished… That’s Big Brother in a whole new way. Particularly when there are massive fines being threatened for noncompliance. (The proposed regulations would have gone up to $25,000 per violation, which could have easily put many smaller studios out of business at the whim of a government regulator.) Particularly when the population being forced into compliance is made up of rational adults and is already maintaining itself well because it wants to, at its own expense.

Not to mention, either, that porn is not sex education. The regulations–and other ballot measures and initiatives that AHF has tried to force through over the years, with varying degrees of success–feel an awful lot like an attempt to make pornography provide young people with the template that they can base their sex lives on. This is a role that has already been foisted upon the porn industry by America’s general unwillingness to have open, honest conversations about sex with its youth. Sure, it’s embarrassing to talk about, but in a climate in which schools are unable to provide accurate sexual health education to students due to ridiculous legislation, many kids are left having no idea what they’re doing, and they do look to porn to find out. But the truth is that it’s not porn’s fault that kids do this. It’s the fault of the education system and their parents and guardians.

Pornography is a for-profit industry that makes its profits on the manufacture of fantasy sex scenarios for adults. Fantasy scenarios can include condoms and gloves and all manner of other accouterments, but forcing the people who make those scenarios into using things that might in some cases detract from the fantasy at hand isn’t an acceptable option, especially when the reasoning behind it is because we don’t want to have “the sex talk” with our kids. Those kids could go online and find pirated porn on a tube site for free–a situation which means that the people who produced the content are already being stolen from. Their profits are being siphoned off to the tube site in the form of click-throughs and advertising. So on top of asking the porn industry to provide sex education to kids not just for free but actually at a cost to itself that it cannot afford to sustain, the regulations would also be mandating that the porn must promote a positive message to the people who are stealing from it. And face massive fines if they don’t. The industry would essentially be nickle-and-dimed into oblivion.

It would be like asking book publishers to allow every book to be put online for free and to somehow manage to continue to pay all of its workers, oh and also by the way to only print uplifting books that espouse upstanding  morality so that young people don’t end up criminals.

It’s just too much. No entertainment industry should be made responsible for the behavior of its consumers.

And here’s the kicker: the AHF and Michael Weinstein still aren’t done.

A Day Without Porn Michael Weinstein Lynsey G

THIS GUY. He has a pretty spot-on cartoon villain look, no?

Later this year, the industry will be galvanizing again to oppose “The California Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act,” which will be up for a statewide vote. The ballot initiative would enforce the same regulations that were just shot down, as well as allowing private citizens to sue adult performers if they do not see a condom in use at any moment during an adult film. Guess who’s pushing this one through?

Ballot initiatives are particularly dangerous for the adult industry because most voters don’t know enough about the issue at hand to make informed decisions. If the case is presented simply–“Do you want adult performers to be protected by condoms in their films?”–a knee-jerk reaction–“Sure! That sounds nice!”–could lead a voter to make a decision that could have a massively detrimental effect on pornographers.

That’s why I wrote this ridiculously long article. I want people to know what’s at stake here. It’s not just a laugh-inducing headline about goggle fetishes. It’s about safety, autonomy, and government overreach. It’s important.

And one battle has been won, but the war rages on.

1 Comment on A Day Without Porn: or, a very long article by Lynsey G.

  1. If regulators are so darn concerned about the safety of porn actors/actresses, then the same concern should be targeting the major film industry stunt personnel. You cannot tell me that doing a wheelie on a cafe racer at 80mph is safe. Or walking around in a “fireproof” suit…on fire. How many accidents, broken bones and fatalies do stunt people sustain compared to porn workers contracting a disease or fatal illness? Just sayin’. CA regulation boards are always looking for a lucrative fine.

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