(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two part series discussing health care for adult performers. The previous part can be found in last week’s issue.)
The smut biz used to be called “the recession proof industry” because in past epochs of economic turmoil, porn has sailed through the travails of the stock market with as big a boner as ever. Hell, when Dubya was kind enough to send us all economic stimulus checks a ways back, the online porn and sex toy sites got a 30% boost in sales. What can we say? People love porn. They love it so much that even the positive HIV test by an active adult film actress in June of this year hasn’t brought things crashing down. There’s been no flurry of activity to make fucking on film any safer; no heavier government oversight, stricter STI testing rules enforced, or industry crack-down on condom use on set, where performers are exposed to each other’s bodily fluids—illegally—on camera every day. A few AIDS awareness groups have thundered for safe sex practices, and even Cal-OSHA spokespeople and political talking heads have whimpered about how the industry should be better monitored. But nobody’s really done anything to change in the way things are run at the big Porntopia studios in the San Fernando Valley. Why not?
Despite the whining of lots of big-hearted, soft-dicked critics, there are lots of reasons why not, and most of it has to do with money. Yeah, we know, we know: the poor performers are artists and are doing this out of their love for sex and a desire to change the way Americans view sexuality and should be protected and blah, blah, blah. Yeah, well, adult entertainments is called an industry for a reason, folks, and that reason is that it’s a money-making, profit-driven business selling a marketable product—not sentimental love-making—to consumers. Those consumers, their tastes and preferences and willingness to pay are what drive the market—not the safety or success of the performers they’re watching.
And here’s a bit of honesty that shouldn’t come as a shock: consumers don’t want to see condom use in their films. Most don’t care, or care to know, about the STI status of people they consider little more than jerk-off fodder. Not because they’re terrible people with antiquated views of human sexuality, but because their attraction to porn lies in its fantasy appeal. Fans of filmed fucking are fans because what they watch whores and mopes doing on their TVs and computers bears very little resemblance to any real sex they’ve ever had or will ever get. In porn land, they can get the sex they want to see without worrying about whether they’ll catch the clap from it, and they don’t want their perfect bodied lust objects to be worrying about it, either. It’s a half hour in worry-free sexual paradise, and alone with their hard-ons and a box of tissues, consumers don’t want reality in the form of shrink-wrapped dicks to come barging in.
As fucked up as that may be when you consider the fact that porn is never actually filmed in fantasy land because fantasy land doesn’t exist, and that the stars we watch sucking and fucking are actually exposing themselves to real danger via infection and injury, the industry still has to maintain that illusion of worry-free sexual overindulgence. If it doesn’t—if big studios in California succumb to the pressures of health and safety standards, force their performers to use rubbers, and eliminate facials and swallowing—they’ll stop being able to sell their product, make money, and eventually to make porn altogether. Because consumers want that fantasy, and they don’t really care where it comes from. Big-name studios with name recognition and hot pieces of whore flesh, or somebody’s basement in New Jersey with a meth-head they picked up off the streets. Sounds awful, but here’s the thing about the meth-heads: you can watch them online for free. Recession-proof industry? Not so much.
These days, with the economy further down the shitter than ever, the porn industry is seeing its first ever set of dire straits. With people less willing to spend money in general, the still-burgeoning abundance of free online porn has set some serious suction on the industry that used to get its profits from expensive DVD sales. According to an LA Times article from August, “industry insiders estimate that since 2007, revenue for most adult production and distribution companies has declined 30% to 50% and the number of new films made has fallen sharply.” And according to the Phoenix New Times, the boom days of the porn industry saw it annually making more than the NBA and NFL combined at around $12 billion, whereas by 2007, the internet drain had sucked major San Fernando Valley studios’ combined take down to a paltry $1 billion. Things aren’t looking promising for performers, who used to be able to expect a standard $2,000 for a hardcore, boy-girl scene. These days, even big name performers are being offered between $800 and $1,200 for even more hardcore scenes. That’s less money for more and more extreme, risky behavior, all because they have to compete with internet startups offering free content, which, if it’s not just pirated copies of big studio productions, is often bottom-shelf, shock-value laden, low-production quality filth.
What this amounts to is that for those making their money on standard fuck flicks, the bottom line beats out the health and welfare of the performers who make them their money. Faced with the choice between paying for high-class scenes with well-known stars or finding something dirty, disgusting, and free on the internet, most consumers these days will take the free—if filthy—option. What that boils down to is that porn performers today cannot be picky about where they work, for how much, with whom, or whether or not their partners have current HIV and STD tests. They have to be willing to do the same things the meth-heads will do for free sites, but do it better and louder and sexier, or they won’t get work at all.
Sad as a classic porn lover like myself is to say it, the industry these days isn’t driven by big-name stars and their legions of fans, but by the sure sell of ever-cheaper or free content, and by shock value. Along with the “recession proof industry” adage, another old standard that’s fallen by the wayside in recent years is the ever-popular “sex sells.” Sure it does. But shock sells better. A one-on-one, hetero, bareback scene in a few positions is a dime a dozen, but a triple penetration with a no-name girl who’s never filmed a scene before? There’s something some people haven’t seen. And if they can get it online for free instead of watching their favorite starlet tonight, why not? If that girl getting two dicks in the ass and one in the front hasn’t shown a recent, valid HIV test to the director, nobody needs to know, since it was filmed for peanuts in somebody’s attic.
Studio executives at the big porn companies can’t compete on a real level with this kind of unimpeachable capitalistic logic, and they aren’t trying to. The Free Speech Coalition is a porn lobbying and advocacy group run mostly by big studio executives seeking to keep obscenity laws out of commission and government regulation our of porn production. Its executive director, Diane Dukes, told the L.A. Times in June of this year that “Currently, we are not required to have condoms on sets..We know that government regulation does not work.” Whether they know it doesn’t work or simply don’t want to find out is up for debate, but what it means is that studios can’t afford to have government regulators coming in and shutting them down for not practicing safe sex on premises. If they started forcing condoms on all their performers, their customers would stop paying and just start pounding away to their internet competition.
What can you do? Who’s going to force better regulation into place for an industry that’s running on fumes, and those mostly coming from internet companies that make their money not on content but on traffic? Unless the porn consuming public starts caring a whole lot more about its stars, the industry starts caring more about health than profit, and the performers themselves—all of them, not just the famous ones—refuse to be filmed without protection or up-to-date test results, there’s not a pornographer’s chance in heaven that health regulation will change.
Write to your lawmakers all you want, and boycott the unprotected sex section of the video store (probably a good 99% of your options there, by the way). It won’t change a thing. Execs aren’t going to risk their profits on trying to keep their stars healthier, and they aren’t going to bother checking everybody’s STD tests when they could just find someone willing to do the scene who doesn’t care if they get chlamydia again, so long as they can pay the electric bill this month.
Looks like the typically Republican, regulation-shy porn industry’s best hope for healthy stars might be in the Democrat-led Obamacare effort. If more whores had better access to STD testing and treatment, the industry might at least be able to breathe a satisfying, if not very long-lasting, sigh of relief. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. — Miss Lagsalot