Porn as Propaganda

AHF President, Michael Weinstein, and anti-porn activist Shelley Lubben

 

On Tuesday 17 January, the LA City Council voted to adopt the AIDS Health Care Foundation (AHF) ‘City of Los Angeles Safer Sex In The Adult Film Industry Act’, a ballot initiative that enforces condom use in all porn scenes filmed with permits from the LA City Council.

AHF President, Michael Weinstein, said the organisation would now push to have the mandate placed on countywide ballots for the November election.

This initiative is the latest in a long-running campaign by the AHF to force the porn industry to “raise awareness about safer sex” and cease “glamorizing risky sex”. The campaign, it claims, has “the backing of most major medical and public health associations”, as well as a variety of anti-porn lobby groups.

The porn industry is vehemently opposed to the measure, declaring it a gross infringement on the rights of its workers. One performer says,

I’ve not met a single performer who is actually in favour of the mandate … This is the biggest issue for performers, because their opinions are not being heard.

The AHF attempts to frame the conflict between itself and the industry as essentially one between vulnerable (female) workers and a brutal (male) industry, claiming the industry’s resistance to the mandating of condom use is merely a response to (male) viewers’ preference for bareback porn.

Many mainstream ‘liberal’ and feminist commentators accept this argument, backing the measures in the interests of protecting both female workers in the industry, and the girls and women in society struggling to manage men’s allegedly porn-inspired demands for unprotected sex.

But many female porn performers say that mandating condom use would not only infringe upon their rights, but also leave them more vulnerable to infection and injury. Ernest Greene, a director, explains:

I allow two and a half hours to shoot a typical boy-girl sex scene. That’s over two hours of intercourse in various positions … and the degree of latex abrasion on the internal membranes of female performers’ vaginas lead to micro-abrasions that make them more vulnerable to all kinds of STIs. Most condom-only female performers eventually abandon condom use, not under pressure from producers, but rather because of the constant rawness and end-on-end bacterial infections produced by countless hours of latex drag.

Or as performer Nina Hartley put it: “For the women, there are just four words: rubber rash/friction burn”.

Since the 80s, mainstream ‘gay’ porn has featured condoms as standard, as part of a strategy to promote safer sex among gay men. Chris Ashford described the situation as such:

Ever since the 1980s and the outbreak of the so-called ‘gay plague’, HIV/AIDS has dramatically affected the social, legal and political context in which gay men conduct their lives … The pursuit of gay liberation was shoved in a drawer whilst gay campaigners began to argue for equality and the pursuit of the married ‘straight’ family ideal. Porn’s performers followed suit and rubbered up for our new ‘civilised’ age.

Mainstream ‘straight’ porn, on the other hand, has until now favoured a combination of unprotected sex, external ejaculation and regular STI testing. The industry is self-regulated with regard to disease prevention — an evidently successful system, given that rates of STI transmission in male-female porn remain low and there hasn’t been a single case of ‘on the job’ HIV transmission in m-f porn in the last five years.

In the ‘civilian’ world, however, HIV infection rates remain high, and the influence of state-sponsored PSAs on behaviour is declining. At the same time, the belief that porn viewers struggle to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and can potentially be led astray by the material, is increasingly popular.

Once one accepts that porn viewers are passively absorbing as fact the assumptions of porn fantasy, it seems logical that producers have a responsibility to provide educational messages to their slack-jawed consumers. To this end, the ‘condom mandate’ is an attempt to force the porn industry to act as a mouthpiece for messages about safer sexual practice.

As Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition (the porn industry’s trade association) points out: this new regulation will “take the government into dangerous new territory”.

Unsurprisingly, the state has indicated it welcomes this opportunity to intrude.

Dr. Peter Kerndt of the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal-OSHA) is a vocal and long-time supporter of the AHF. In 2007, he claimed that, “In the same way that images of smoking in films romanticize tobacco use, viewers of these adult films may idealize unprotected sex”. Since, in his opinion, featuring condoms in porn would “influence viewers to see them as normative or even sexually appealing”, this ‘influence’ should be legally enforced in the interests of protecting public health.

Gail Dines claims porn treats men as “amoral life support systems for an erect penis”. And this ‘safe sex campaign’ is merely an attempt to mould men into better behaved vehicles for their erections.

The AHF ‘condom mandate’ is an egregious attack on the rights of porn performers to make decisions about their own bodies, but it also reflects the deeply contemptuous view of human sexuality that is becoming all too common in wider society. Ancient ideas about protecting women (against their will, if necessary) from bestial male sexuality are already being used in attempts to censor newspapers and magazines, and educate girl children in the policing of their male peers; and now they are fuelling attempts to harm sex workers.

Regardless of one’s opinion of sex work or bareback porn, anyone with a belief in the right to free thought should take this attempt at a legally enforced ‘re-education campaign’ very seriously.

 

UPDATE: Porn industry mulls leaving LA if condoms required (Yahoo News, 18 January 2012)

 

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Katherine Sansom

About Katherine Sansom

Katherine is the editor of FIPA. She works as a freelance writer and business manager of a publishing house.