Porn, Condoms, Feminism, and other internal conflicts

Many people who know me, know that I love (some) porn. And not just to get off. I’m the kind of girl who will curl up with a bag of popcorn and watch porn with friends. But that doesn’t negate the fact that like many feminists, I have some issues. There is a discourse to be had around the kind of public sex people have; and as always, a critical analysis is always key.

It is not a secret that many feminists have pointed out the “woman problem” within the porn industry. The images depicted in mainstream porn have become more and more hostile towards women. When you examine the role of women of color in the porn industry, it gets worse with some of the most problematic racial stereotypes being marketed front and center. These are legitimate concerns. (Although not reflective of the entire porn industry. Queer porn anyone?) As is the less complex argument that porn is bad for women because it exists to satisfy a male gaze, I guess.

But I’m a firm believer that discourse can’t happen without considering and prioritizing the lived experiences of people within the industry. So I can not ignore the fact that some people choose porn as their job and feel great about it. I can’t overlook the bills that porn performers need to pay each month and the families they need to feed. I can’t push the woman who feels more beautiful at the end of each shoot to the side. And what about viewers? Are we all monsters, just itching for the next overdone bukkake scene? How accountable are we to our sexual fantasies? That’s another can of worms for sure.

The new battle in California over the porn industry condom mandate has presented us with yet another opportunity to talk about porn. This week a fourth porn actor has come out as HIV positive adding fuel to it’s fire. Both viewers and porn industry insiders are forced to question it’s boundaries. The question posed: should the porn industry have condom laws?

As a sex positive feminist and lover of all kinds of consensual, safe sex work, I can’t say that I’m completely sold on the idea of a condom mandate. Sure, it seems like a simple equation: Condoms = no HIV transmission. But porn does not exist in a vacuum. People in the porn industry have sexual lives outside of their work and they remain at risk of STD’s if they choose not to use condoms off camera as well.  Legal mandate aside, I’m more concerned with whether or not actors have the ability to make a conscious decision to wear a condom if they want. Are performers able to make decisions that are in the best interest of their health or tied to the economic pressure of having a scene that will sell?

The porn industry self-polices a lot, of course. As Kayden Kross told NPR, “We’re the most tested population in the world.” And I trust porn performers to make decisions that are in their best interest when they have the resources and support to do so.

Bu another lingering question for me is: what does it mean that viewers don’t want condoms in their sexual fantasy images? What does this say about us as a society when condoms are a hindrance to us getting off? Does not wanting to see condoms translate into not wearing them in our own sex lives? Maybe, but if we are going to point fingers about condom usage in the real world, let’s start with abstinence only sex education programs and inadequate access to healthcare services.

and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

6 Comments

  1. Posted September 11, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Love this post. You made some really good points :)

  2. Posted September 11, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Not sure what you mean about queer porn because it’s often just as problematic IMO.

    As for the condom mandate, I don’t think it’s all about consumer preferences, though surely money has a lot to do with it. The porn industry has helped male ejaculation become a big seller in the past few decades, yes. But there are other arguments against a condom mandate (that might be more compelling to a lot of feminists than porn industry profits.) Actresses complain of vaginal soreness, dryness, and tearing that comes with filming repeated takes using a condom. If it is physically painful to the woman it probably isn’t something that I want to require.

  3. Posted September 12, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    This is a workplace safety issue.

    Physicians, nurses, firefighters, and paramedics go through a lot to curb disease transmission. Some of it is through safe workplace practices–wearing gloves, training the staff on how to put in an IV line properly, safe bodily fluid cleanup protocols, biological sample control protocols, etc. Some of it is through physical interventions–the syringes with flip-down lids to prevent accidental needlesticks didn’t exist before HIV, for one. Wearing gloves and gowns and masks, antiseptic and handwashing stations–all of that exists, among other things, to protect the care providers. They get tested for dread disease at least once a year, more often in some cases. Is it inconvenient? Yes. Are there cases in which people need specific changes to the standard? Yes, absolutely. Latex allergies come to mind immediately. But given that we want people to have safe working environments, we find a way, and figure out the best practices to do so.

    In my STEM-related business, we go through hours of safety training each year, as well as having many, many physical interventions to help us keep from losing lives and livelihoods to injury (a bigger concern than illness). I have my own hard hat, steel toes, and blaze orange safety jumpsuit, that is my minimum level of protective gear. For more specialized jobs I get more specialized equipment that is provided to me on the job site, from fall protection harnesses and chemical aprons to making sure there’s adequate water and cooling tents on hot days. And it pays off….I’ve worked with old-timers in this business, mostly men in the late 40s-early 50s, who are missing eyes, fingers, thumbs, toes, hands, legs. I’ve worked with people who are one bad day away from permanent disability due to workplace injuries. Since the big push towards workplace safety in my industry that started in the 1990s? There are still people who get injured, but nothing like the parade of missing body parts that are the old-timers. That’s a good thing. People in my industry who get injured that badly generally lose their livelihoods, and losing one’s livelihood when such could be prevented is a very, very bad thing.

    So, why should workers in the porn industry be exempt from the same kind of workplace protections as the rest of private industry? Prevention of dread disease at the workplace is a big deal. Contracting HIV is likely a loss of livelihood to a porn actor or actress, and that’s a big deal. “But it will cost too much money” is not good enough in any other industry, and it shouldn’t fly here.

    The point about needing to take care with using the condoms (adequate lube, adequate prep for the person about to be penetrated) is real and valid. It does not negate the fact that condoms are THE best personal protective equipment (to use industry terms) for preventing the transmission of dread disease in the workplace. There are enough smart people around to figure out a way to get things done that works, if they stop and think about it.

    • Posted September 12, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      By the way, nothing in the above should be taken as a slam on the physically disabled, or that disabled or sick people should not be treated decently and with adequate care. But at the same time, doing what we can to prevent, say, traumatic amputation (in my field) or contracting an incurable disease which will require lifelong medication, lifelong changes in behaviour, and even with the best treatment will shorten your life by decades? Worth doing.

  4. Posted September 12, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Given Rebecca’s comment above, and Sesali’s points about self-policing in the porn industry and about supporting conscious decisions to wear condoms or not, perhaps instead of a legal requirement to wear condoms, a better law would require producers to support performers choices to use condoms. Then, any film made in California could have in its end-credits a line like, “Every actor and actress was given the choice to use a condom in this film.” I think making that industry-standard could also go a long way towards ensuring the talent is (more) respected by production.

  5. Posted September 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    As a porn journalist who’s covered the mandatory condom issue extensively, let me congratulate you on a generally well-written and insightful article… but there’s some of it I disagree with.

    While there are some companies—and performers know exactly who they are—whose “images depicted in mainstream porn have become more and more hostile towards women,” the fact is, at least as far as adult movies are concerned (I can’t speak generally about internet-only fare), the hostility you’ve seen has been decreasing for years, while gender/sex-positive productions created by women like Jessica Drake, Stormy Daniels, Nina Hartley, Tasha Reign, Jacky St. James, Kay Brandt, Tammy Sands, Jiz Lee, Joanna Angel, Wendy Crawford, Nica Noelle, Dana Vespoli, Tristan Taormino and others are on the increase. Sadly, there are still some directors who get off on pseudo- if not outright violence in their movies, but performers know what they’re getting into in working for them—and in fact, some performers (including women) are turned on by “rough treatment,” much of which is faked for the camera.

    Regarding “mandatory condoms” and recent HIV cases, several important points have been overlooked: 1) The laws passed (Measure B in Los Angeles County) and AB 640 which is pending in the California legislature, do not just mandate condoms. Each of these bills incorporates the idea that adult productions must follow California Health Code Title 8 Sec. 5193, which mandates not only condoms but dental dams for cunnilingus, latex gloves for digital penetration, goggles for fellatio and face shields for ejaculations on or near the face. In fact, a literal reading of Sec. 5193 requires that there be no skin-to-skin contact between sexual partners if there’s any chance that one of them is infected with an STD—and despite the industry’s excellent testing program, which has prevented ANY on-set HIV transmission on porn’s “straight side” since 2004, the “infected person” could be ANYONE, so only having sex in rubber surfer wear or hazmat suits is permissible under Sec. 5193.

    2) Sadly, only one production company, Wicked Pictures, mandates condom use for all of its productions—and for that reason, they have had some trouble selling their product. After several companies went “condom only” after the 2004 outbreak, all except Wicked abandoned the practice after sales fell precipitously, and at least one, Video Team, was actually forced out of business. Companies know that—and of course, you’re correct that the reason for the lack of sales is likely poor sex-ed at the high school and junior high level (if in fact the kids got ANY sex ed at all!)—which is why they generally avoid performers who insist on using condoms. However, a non-scientific survey our editors have conducted reveals that most actresses prefer not to use condoms, and as Nina Hartley has so eloquently pointed out, the use of condoms during the shooting of a sex scene that may easily last two hours causes vaginal tearing that can make the woman more susceptible to STD infection, no matter how much lubrication she uses.

    3) Although AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the prime mover behind ALL of the “mandatory condom” legislation proposed or enacted in California, has claimed that a fourth HIV+ performer has been identified to them, there is no evidence to suggest that such a person exists—and it is noteworthy that of the three HIV+ performers identified through the industry’s testing program that have come forward over the last month, none contracted the infection on a hetero porn set. (The gay adult industry has different standards than the straight side. Most gay performers and producers assume that performers are HIV+ and therefore use condoms for their productions—though over the past few years, there has been a troubling rise in “bareback” companies.)

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

178 queries. 0.666 seconds