Stop AB1576: Compulsory Condom Use Won’t Make Porn Performers Safer

by Cyd Nova on May 20, 2014 · 42 comments

in Labor Law, Porn

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(Photo pf Chanel Preston by Mickey Mod)

Tomorrow the California Assembly’s Appropriations Committee will vote on AB 1576 , a bill that would mandate condoms for all penetrative sex acts in porn. It also requires porn companies to indefinitely carry medical records for each contractor they shoot, and the vague language of the bill leaves room for Cal-OSHA to also mandate barriers, including protective eyewear and gloves, as well as disposable plastic covering for sets, so that performers can enjoy fucking on a Saran Wrap-covered couch.

This legislation presents itself as advocacy for sex workers’ healthcare, despite a majority of adult entertainment workers opposing it loudly and clearly. The bill’s sponsor, representative (and former minister) Isadore Hall and major supporters the AIDS Healthcare Foundation have refused to take the voices of the community into account, instead collaborating with such organizations as Pink Cross, a Christian ex-porn performer nonprofit.

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(Photo of Ella Nova by Mickey Mod)

I first became aware of AHF’s campaign to regulate condom use when Measure B was pushed forward in L.A. after a performer tested HIV positive. Despite the fact that he was not infected on set and, thanks to the self-enforced standards of the industry, learned his status before the infection was transmitted to any other performers, his story was used to create a sense of panic about industry health standards. As an AIDS activist, an HIV test counselor, and porn performer, I was struck by the falsified narrative being spun by AIDS Healthcare Foundation in order to create a deeply unnecessary moral panic.

In the last ten years, there have been over 350,000 sex scenes shot in the adult industry without condoms with zero infections occurring due to sex on film in that period. Within the above ground porn industry, performers who are shooting condomless sex are tested every 14 days for HIV/STI’s through a system that allows performers to choose who can see their results. If an HIV or syphilis result comes back positive, the entire adult industry within this system immediately stops shooting and all performers are tested in order to ensure that no other infections have occurred. Apart from the testing requirements of the job, porn performers are educated and self-aware about disease transmission. We know that becoming infected with an STI will affect our job as well as our sex partners’ jobs, and most people act accordingly. AHF has used the 24 people who have tested HIV positive through the testing agencies performers use as a way to drum up evidence of a failing system, but these positives were performers who had not been exposed on set, but in their personal lives, or those who were testing in order to start in the industry, who found out their status before ever shooting.

It is deeply upsetting that energy is being misspent in this direction. There are sex workers who need and deserve access to condoms who aren’t getting it—that is, every person engaged in prostitution in California aside from San Francisco, who can have condoms in their possession used as evidence for arrest. Sex workers engaged in prostitution do not have other risk reduction methods available to them, and those most targeted for police harassment—trans women and people of color—are especially at risk of being infected with HIV. Last year Tom Ammiano brought forward an assembly bill, AB 336 , which sought to abolish the use of condoms as evidence. AHF co-sponsored it but failed to live up to the responsibilities of supporting this fight by even sending out an email blast to their supporters or asking for them to call legislators. Why? Because they were focusing their energy on mandatory condoms in porn. AB 336 has been stuck in committee since June of last year due to lack of support, while AHF uses their minute of interest on the issue to trump up their concern for the sex worker community.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation—does he look like he knows what's best for porn actors?

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation—does he look like he knows what’s best for porn actors? (Photo via WeHome News)

As a longtime sex worker,seeing one more “save-a-ho” measure that will do more harm than good is extremely disheartening. Anyone in the porn industry understands that this bill passing will have the following effect: The larger porn companies will move, most likely to Las Vegas, while the law-abiding smaller porn companies that can’t move or cover the expenses that this new bill will bring in will fold. I am concerned that what will emerge is an underground porn industry that will provide less access to safer sex tools to workers, along with all the other issues that pop up once increased criminalization occurs in a sector of the sex industry.

As a health care provider, I am appalled by the idea that Joe the Porn Guy is supposed to be in charge of maintaining performers’ confidential medical files. Under AB 1576, all companies are to keep medical records of all performers indefinitely, in case Cal-OSHA decides they want to audit them without the performers’ knowledge or permission. This violates rights long fought for by the gay community for each individual to maintain confidentiality around their HIV status. Leakage of this information could be incredibly harmful to a person’s life, and the idea of untrained staff holding protected health information (including HIV status) sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen.

The frustrating thing about all this is that improvements should be made in the industry. Although it is already common practice, I want companies to be legally responsible for covering the cost of testing for performers. Performers should have a formal right to choose to use a condom at any time, without fear of reprisal. However, when workers are scrambling to defend their work places because of the harm this bill would cause, it doesn’t give them much room to criticize existing practices. If AHF truly cared about sex workers’ health care, they would take a back seat and provide support for performers to collaboratively organize for change. Bringing in the government to play Big Brother, especially in light of recent information that performers are having their bank accounts shut down due to a mandate through the Department of Justice, is not the way to do this.

All consenting adults deserve to have a choice in how they have sex and take care of themselves without governmental control. A one-size-fits-all approach to how people have sex on camera would only make sense to people with a limited imagination of the types of relationships, bodies, and sex that porn performers have. We don’t need to be rescued from ourselves. We are experts on our lives and should be listened to as such. The industry should work towards best practices by providing free testing to performers and supporting sex worker-driven health care clinics and organizations. Rather than supporting any of this, AB 1576 is being used by opportunistic politicians and a nonprofit that generates over $750 million a year in revenue as a way to drum up votes and fundraising.

Californians can head to http://www.ab1576.org to contact your representatives about this issue. The vote is tomorrow. The video for the Stop AB1576 campaign is below:

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

sexgenderbody May 20, 2014 at 1:43 pm

linked this on the sgb tumblr and facebook too!

thanks for doing this.

xo, sgb

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mindy May 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm

I’m support efforts to stop this bill, but wonder where all the folks working on this will be when the efforts to decriminalize HIV transmission come up in Sacramento? (California Statute Number Ann.Cal.Health & Safety Code § 1621.5)? Arguments about privacy and sexual freedom become rather meaningless when any HIV positive person can be charged with a felony (regardless of whether transmission occurred) and prostitution charges become a felony when the sex worker is HIV+.
Alternately, Rep. Barbara Lee has sponsored federal legislation: H.R. 1843, REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act.

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Cyd Nova May 22, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Mindy, I totally hear the frustration about opposition to this proposition being backed by the power of the porn industry, when so many other things that effect our community, such as HIV criminalization, do not. I’m so thrilled to hear another HIV decrim bill is coming up! You know I’ll be there!

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BP May 20, 2014 at 9:32 pm

It’s really important to communicate about this because, as someone who supports labor rights in general, I always assume whatever side OSHA is on is the pro-worker side – and I am sure many other leftists/social justice types would too, simply because they ARE almost always the good guys (vs. corporations who prioritize profits above health and safety).

It seems like this is one of those times when the sex industry isn’t just like all other industries.

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Mae May 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm

What is your take on the idea that we make certain protective equipment (I.e hard hats, shoes, etc) mandatory for other workers? I want to be sympathetic to your position but I don’t see the bill seeking to regulate your personal lives, just your working conditions. I am also curious to know whether you work for a big studio or a smaller one and whether that makes any different. Bits and pieces I have heard suggest some studios have really broken systems and performers can often fall through the cracks. This is anecdotal to be sure, but as a lefty who once (not in video tho) a sex worker, I am unsure how good a free market system is for sex workers and their health and safety. It’s hard to organize in an industry where workers are such precarious labourers and owners have so much power. Not trying to start an argument, just trying to find common ground here.

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Evie May 22, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I don’t think the comparison to protective construction gear is fair. There is no way to protect your head from a falling 2×4 other than wearing a hard hat, but it sounds like the industry already has safeguards in place for preventing transmission of STIs that have been effective. It would be like saying all contractors must wear a hardhat and carry an umbrella to protect from falling debris.

There is, however, a huge difference between mandating clothing and mandating how people can and cannot have sex, even if said sex is transactional.

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Cyd Nova May 22, 2014 at 12:51 pm

That is a really good point Mae about porn workers being precarious workers in the system as, being generally independent contractors. However, the thing is this is being framed as the government stepping on on behalf of workers to advocate on behalf of them, but from the numerous independent conversations, meetings, and watching social media what other performers say -what I hear is that this is not a rule that they want independently of ability to organize.

Comparisons to safety measures in other industry aren’t just, because the sex industry isn’t LIKE any other industry. A construction worker wearing a hardhat doesn’t change the final product at all, a porn performer wearing a condom does. And I would say that the testing that is routine in the industry is more than analogous to a hardhat, it is not a foolproof measure but to stay with the comparison there were over 4000 deaths in the US in 2012 alone of construction workers. I would like the question why that is considered a workplace of acceptable risk, and why despite no transmissions of HIV on set, having sex with either condoms or testing, but not both, is not?

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Robin D Robin D May 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Construction worker deaths are preventable, are a tragedy, and are a result of business favoring its bottom line over workers. That is an area where we absolutely need greater enforcement by OSHA, no question. There is also sometimes trafficking in the construction industry. None of that is what I would consider an acceptable risk.

And, OSHA regulations don’t change the final product there, but they do change the bottom line. So do fair wages and so on. And that’s the real issue when it comes to the “final product,” isn’t it, that porn with condoms doesn’t sell as well. But, it’s something that consumers can get used to.

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Maxine Doogan May 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm

The problem with your analogy is that it was construction workers who called for hard hats and then the government mandated it into regulation that the employer had to provide it. The construction workers weren’t subjected to systematic discriminatory treatment in gaining access to housing, education, employment, child custody and access to financial institutions like adult film performers were. There is a problem when the aids healthcare foundation is the push for this mandatory HIV testing scheme, barrier anal/vaginal penetration and not oral when several of the workers opposing it. And how are you applying the ‘free market’?

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm

I’m not a porn performer but I think that as per even basic leftist thinking, workers should be the ones behind decisions re: how to improve an industry and create safeguards for it.

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Maxine Doogan May 22, 2014 at 8:03 pm

mmm not that’s not an exclusive leftist idea.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 22, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Definitely not, but I was just invoking leftist ideology since Mae identified herself as a lefty.

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Robin D Robin D May 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm

I have a minority opinion here – I do favor mandatory condoms. While I’m aware that tons of performers disagree, surely it should give us pause that Kink.com, as a company, is involved in this campaign? Businesses and workers are generally on opposite sides of occupational health and safety issues, and, you know, MOST labor issues. However of course I oppose government-mandated testing and record-keeping. That said, the industry itself is already pretty “good” at mistreating workers in exactly the same way – they get outed as HIV-positive in the press, written about endlessly on probably-libelous gossip blogs, and will not only no longer be able to work as porn actors, but as a result of all of this, will probably have quite a bit of difficulty finding other employment (etc.), whether elsewhere in the sex industry or not. I don’t see how the practices of the industry as a matter of course differ much from this legislation in this way.

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BP May 21, 2014 at 11:05 pm

“Businesses and workers are generally on opposite sides of occupational health and safety issues, and, you know, MOST labor issues. However of course I oppose government-mandated testing and record-keeping.”

I strongly agree with this.

It’s been difficult to parse how much of the anti-condom campaign comes from performers themselves vs. producers, or performers operating under the various pressures of the industry.

For instance, Nina Hartley makes some excellent points about condoms actually being harmful to the vagina (in terms of pain, friction, tears, etc) during multiple hour shoots. However, the most obvious solution, then, would be NOT to make performers work for 4+ hours at a time, and/or NOT to require the type of rough, rapid penetration that makes condom use less effective and more uncomfortable. Since we know that, for non-porn sex, condoms are an overall good choice for STI/AIDS prevention.

I would like to hear from more performers about this.

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Robin D Robin D May 22, 2014 at 2:07 pm

That’s what lube is for. Nina Hartley also doesn’t seem to realize (or pretends she doesn’t) that polyurethane condoms exist.

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Ms. Pris June 15, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Lube is for a lot of things, but it really doesn’t, in my experience, stop all condom-related friction. Hartley, though, is sounding more and more clueless every day.

I don’t care about the “final product”, and when an anti-condom advocate mentions the final product, I hear the voice of the production companies, not the voice of the worker. For the workers, I have concerns about safety, comfort, and bodily autonomy. The argument that the customer won’t like the final product holds zero water with me.

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Ms. Pris June 15, 2014 at 7:18 pm

“the most obvious solution, then, would be NOT to make performers work for 4+ hours at a time, and/or NOT to require the type of rough, rapid penetration that makes condom use less effective and more uncomfortable.”

Yes! And wouldn’t *that* be pro-worker? But it isn’t the direction the porn companies are choosing, because they aren’t pro-worker.

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Lori Adorable Lori Adorable May 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I have to disagree with you. I’ve shot for Kink, and I did not have a good experience with them. I don’t trust the state anymore than I trust Kink. I do, however, trust other performers, and I agree with Cyd’s assessment that the large companies will move and the small ones will shut down. I say this as someone who has been trying to do more pro/am porn recently to make ends meet and the difficulty of finding producers that will let me use condoms is incredibly frustrating. I really need condom use to be an actual option on porn sets, and it’s not. But this bill isn’t going to fix that. Legislation isn’t going to fix this, only dedicated activism will.

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Robin D Robin D May 22, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I’m not sure where you are disagreeing with me, actually. I said that it should “give us pause” that Kink is involved as a company, and you seem to agree with that. You also seem to agree that the industry makes condoms not an option. And, I’m not sure what you think activism is, but it generally has a target, and that includes legislation. OSHA is absolutely a result of legislation and of labor activism. There can be other targets sure, and often are, but that’s one of them. I think you may think that I’m in favor of this specific bill but I’m not sure why, since I said I wasn’t, particularly government oversight and record-keeping on testing (though again, the industry already mistreats workers in basically the same way). I do favor mandatory condoms because otherwise companies will not use them. I do think, you know, this doesn’t seem like a very important target for activism (in opposition) considering there are hugely more important and harmful laws out there. It really does smell like Kink.com looking out for their bottom line.

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Lori Adorable Lori Adorable May 22, 2014 at 10:08 pm

I disagree that condoms should be mandatory and that this is an issue that can or should be legislated, and I was referring to sex worker-led activism. Workers’ jobs and health are on the line here, so it’s unfair to say this “doesn’t seem like a very important target for activism.” It’s also wildly unfair to paint the opposition as being in the pockets of Kink when we both know that performers are perfectly capable of advocating for themselves.

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Robin D Robin D May 23, 2014 at 1:34 pm

If condoms are not mandatory they will not be used. It must either be legislated and companies fined or the policy of an all-encompassing union, meaning all performers must join the union to shoot. That’s because the industry will never institute it voluntarily as a norm, and those are really the only options to force them into it. Sex worker led activism does not differ from other activism in terms of generally having a target. Health is no more on the line than before – the industry does not respect the privacy of HIV-positive performers either. And if Kink moves to Vegas like the slimy bastards they are, performers will go there to shoot. Compared to things like actively funding prostitution enforcement and so on, it just doesn’t compare. And finally, Kink put their own fucking name on their campaign. They produced the video. Etc. I never said they paid off the performers who appear in their video. But the fact that they are involved as a company is no secret.

Ms. Pris June 15, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Performers ARE capable of advocating for themselves, but when the voice concern for “the final product”, they aren’t advocating for themselves, but for the production companies.

Lorelei Lee Lorelei Lee May 22, 2014 at 11:39 am

If you want to hear from performers, you should know that over 500 performers have signed a petition opposing this bill and that performers are absolutely behind the efforts to oppose this bill. We aren’t opposed to condom use and believe that performers should have the right to choose, considering that we know our bodies better than anyone and that our jobs are not at all uniform. Some of us work at big companies, shoot daily for long durations, shoot with different partners every day, and others shoot only with their spouses, shoot in their bedrooms, shoot only for independent queer companies – and yet all of us would be made less safe by this law.

Even if this bill did not include the terrible language around testing, it is essential to realize the actual effect condom mandates have. After the passage of Measure B in LA County, there was a 95% reduction in applications for adult film permits. When these kinds of laws pass, companies move out of its jurisdiction, fold, or shoot illegally. They DO NOT start shooting porn with condoms. This leaves performers at even greater risk. And all of it to address, as Cyd has already stated: a problem that doesn’t exist. We have had zero on set transmissions of HIV in ten years nationwide. In LA County alone, 5 people test positive for HIV daily. Statistics on other STIs that we’re used in the writing of this bill were shown to be extremely flawed after analysis by a doctor at Johns Hopkins.

There is legislation that could be written to make us more safe. We are not uncritical of the industry we work in, and if a legislator wanted to work with us to write it, that would be great. This bill is absolutely not that.

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BP May 22, 2014 at 1:17 pm

So the bill would also affect homemade amateur porn created by couples in their bedrooms? I was under the impression it only applied to the studios, but could be wrong!

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Robin D Robin D May 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm

If a company shoots illegally, they should be fined. I’m sure Nevada is perfectly capable and willing to impose regulations too.

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Maxine Doogan May 22, 2014 at 8:09 pm

An unintended consequence of codifying mandatory protected vaginal/anal penetration and not oral sex sends the wrong message to customers of prostitutes, who are already under economic pressure to provide unprotected oral sex.
Another unintended consequence of AB 1575 is that it seems to “require an employer engaged in the production of an adult film to adopt prescribed practices and procedures to protect employees from exposure to, and infection by… medical monitoring,” certainly will lead to accidental confidential information disclosure which would be committing ‘new crime’. AB 1576 is a set up to fail to protect the workers’ privacy and criminalize employers by holding them responsible for elements that may be out of their skill set.
AB 1576’s fatal flaw is that it risks creating incentives for more unprotected works paces and underground production which will decrease worker centered safety conditions and put public health risk than the current system.

I would like to point out that HIV/STI testing has long been dismissed by the bill’s sponsors; the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Cal OSHA, (Cal OSHA public hearings 2010/11) citing that HIV/STI testing wasn’t a replacement for barrier sex which leads me to question the motives of the sponsors to include mandatory testing of adult film performers as public policy.

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Lorelei Lee Lorelei Lee May 22, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I’d like to add that performers are not the only workers opposed to this bill. Editors, videographers, craft services, makeup artists, production assistants, set designers, janitorial staff – all would be affected if this bill were to pass, and many of these workers traveled to Sacramento to speak their opposition at the last two committee hearings.

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Miss Margo May 22, 2014 at 1:54 pm

My opinion on this issue is irrelevant, but FWIW, I used to favor mandatory condom use in porn because I wanted to protect the workers. I was well-intentioned. I’d also read a lot of stories about porn performers getting STIs and having to take STI-breaks, and that didn’t seem “fair” to me. I was just concerned.

After a few years in the sex biz (fetish worker), and a few years paying attention to sex worker advocacy, I changed my tune, because I absorbed the idea that it was crucial to listen to sex workers about what they/we say is best for us.

If the performers don’t want condoms…well, it’s their prerogative, and they know their business better than I do.

The porn industry and a lot of porn makes me uncomfortable, which is probably rank hypocrisy on my part. My discomfort does not give me the right to meddle in the sexual choices of consenting adults.

Finally, I just think that mandatory condoms legislation is plain old whorephobia. It’s the norms getting skeeved out by porn and saying “You’re a poxy whore! Diseased!”

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Robin D Robin D May 22, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I’m not exactly a porn performer but I’ve been in porn shoots. Condom-related pressure is a big reason I hadn’t done more of them. If you think this is well-intentioned ignorance, you are dead wrong. Most of us have done more than one kind of sex work, you know.

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Lori Adorable Lori Adorable May 22, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Good lord, all of this: “The frustrating thing about all this is that improvements should be made in the industry. Although it is already common practice, I want companies to be legally responsible for covering the cost of testing for performers. Performers should have a formal right to choose to use a condom at any time, without fear of reprisal. However, when workers are scrambling to defend their work places because of the harm this bill would cause, it doesn’t give them much room to criticize existing practices. If AHF truly cared about sex workers’ health care, they would take a back seat and provide support for performers to collaboratively organize for change. ”
Yes yes yes. Thank you for writing this.

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Lorelei Lee Lorelei Lee May 22, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Yes, this isn’t a question of whether we get to use condoms or not, this is about supporting workers so they have the safest working conditions possible. Some performers want to use condoms and some don’t. This law will not support performers who want to use condoms, it will only destroy the protections we already have in place. It is absolutely true that all performers should have the choice to use condoms if they want to, and legislation could be made that would enable that, but this law isn’t it.

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BP May 22, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Ok, so the bill sucks, I think we all agree. The question is, how to most effectively make sure that performers who want to use condoms (like Lori) have that choice WITHOUT taking a pay cut or losing work. Because it sounds like studios will NOT voluntarily shoot with condoms.

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Lori Adorable Lori Adorable May 22, 2014 at 10:12 pm

I really wish I knew what the answer was. The reason why companies refuse to shoot with condoms is because porn featuring condoms usually sells less. There are some exceptions (Wicked), but smaller-scale companies often can’t afford to gamble on lower sales. It may have to start with consumer activism, although given the current struggles in getting people to pay for porn at all… yeah, I don’t know.

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Maxine Doogan May 22, 2014 at 10:23 pm

That’s called unionization.

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Lori Adorable LoriAdorable May 23, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I’d love to see that happen with performers. I’m not sure of the practical details of how that would function given how many of us are freelance and how transient the work is (there are a ton of ‘one-and-done’s). Maybe I need to shift my thinking from stripper organizing to looking at something like Actors’ Equity.

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BP May 23, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Ideally, it seems performers should get residual payments for every sale of their work, like unionized actors do. This is what I’ve always found exploitative about porn – performers just get the one sum for a shoot, but their image continues to make money for the producers long afterwards. Whereas if you are an actor shooting a commercial, for example, you also earn something each time it airs.

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Nina Hartley May 30, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Well said! Thank you for writing this. I couldn’t have said it better, myself.
I started in adult video in 1984 and shot a scene just last week. I’ve witnessed the entire arc of emerging safety awareness/harm reduction practices in my business, from then to now. Our current system of frequent testing, combined with external ejaculation, has resulted in NO TRANSMISSION of HIV on set in TEN years. In that same time, approximately 35,000 new cases of HIV were reported in the Los Angles area.

This is pure political theater and it puts our health (condom “rash” is a real thing) and medical privacy at great risk. We have a well-tested system that reduces risk to acceptable levels.

All jobs have risk, and non-lethal STIs are a risk of being sexual, either in private or on a commercial porn set. I accept that risk and the patronization of male politicians about my body and choices is enraging. There is no way to reduce risk of STIs to zero, though we’ve done a darn good job of it.

If I wanted zero risk of contracting an STI, I’d choose to be celibate.

We’re adults and would like to be treated as such, as opposed to mindless femme-bots who don’t know what it is we truly want.

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Ms. Pris June 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm

“Apart from the testing requirements of the job, porn performers are educated and self-aware about disease transmission.”

This is the part that I find very questionable. I am sure that many porn performers ARE educated and self-aware, and that many are not. I was really, really shocked to see Nina Hartley claim that Gardasil will keep all porn performers HPV negative, when that simply isn’t true. If Hartley doesn’t know her stuff, she can’t be the only one.

http://00goddess.net/2013/09/nina-hartley-you-let-me-down/

I think performers get to be the authority on their experience and how they want to work, but I’m not buying that working in porn makes you an expert in STI health.

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