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Politics, Porn And Prop 60: California's 'Condoms In Porn' Bill Has A Couple Of Critical Flaws

18/10/2016 13:09

It's not just the fate of the free world that will be decided in November; the entire porn industry could very well hang in the balance too. In California, voters will be asked to decide "yes" or "no" on Proposition 60, aka the "condoms in porn" bill.

The bill will mandate the use of condoms in all penetrative intercourse on film, in addition to requiring studios to register health licenses and cover the costs of performer testing and vaccinations. This new bill also entitles pretty much anyone to bring a civil lawsuit against a studio if they believe that the rules are not being followed to a tee, exposing performers, producers, agents and distributors to all kinds of legal liability.

Prop 60 is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). Michael Weinstein, the organisation's CEO, is positioning it as a bill motivated entirely by concern for the health of workers. However, a large number of performers have voiced concerns that their autonomy and freedom of expression will be threatened by Prop 60, adding that the bill completely fails to even address alternative HIV prevention methods such as PrEP.

There is certainly an argument to be made that portraying the use of condoms in porn might help normalise and even promote safer sex among viewers -- especially teenagers, for whom porn is often a de facto sex education tool due to its omnipresence online. It follows a certain line of logic that, as well as inadvertently giving boys some rather skewed ideas, porn can be utilised to convey a responsible message.

But is it practical?

Condom use in porn is already legally required in the state of California, although it is not enforced, and many performers actually prefer to avoid them. The friction caused by prolonged condom use can lead to "condom rash"; abrasions and breaks in the skin, which in turn make the performer more vulnerable to the transmission of diseases. Condom rash is a problem for female performers in particular, as it can result in yeast infections.

"In the 'real world,' people may have intercourse for maybe ten minutes. An adult film performer could be having intercourse for hours -- and, for some, using a condom can be extremely painful," says adult performer Chanel Preston. "Condoms aren't necessarily the best way to keep performers sage, just because they work for people in the general public. We know that, and that's why we want that choice."

If the bill were to pass in November, actors who choose not to use condoms will be faced with an impossible choice; stay put and run the risk of a lawsuit, or be driven out of California and try to find work elsewhere, away from the community and support network of the San Fernando-centric industry.

Here's the thing. Any legislation which fails to take into account the concerns and perspectives of people working within the affected population, in this case the porn business, is flawed by default. Michael Weinstein has presumed to speak for an entire industry with this bill, without the consent or support of its lifeblood -- the performers.

This isn't the first time Weinstein and the AHF have caused controversy; both have drawn pretty consistent criticism from HIV+ activists. The foundation has a history of running campaigns which seem more interested in drumming up panic around HIV than in battling stigma, and Weinstein himself has labelled PrEP a "party drug" which will encourage gay men to take greater sexual risks, leading to sensationalist headlines which spread misinformation, fuel prejudice, and ultimately help nobody.

This year, the EU Referendum was hijacked by xenophobic bluster which dragged media attention away from economic and social issues. The presidential election is enduring the same misdirection tactics from Trump's camp. Who's to say Prop 60 won't be similarly co-opted and used as precedent by ultra-conservative hand-wringers who disapprove of all pornography, and who hope to launch an incremental onslaught of anti-porn bills under the camouflage of an imagined health crisis?

We might like to think that voters are immune to such transparent moralistic pandering, but even in 2016, the popular perception of the porn industry remains that of Sodom and Gomorrah with cameras, populated by drug-addicted, diseased degenerates. Which is ridiculous, when the evidence points to the absolute opposite. The average performer is tested for seven different STIs every two weeks. After all, when fucking is your livelihood, it is simple common sense to look after yourself -- and studios feel the same way.

"As a gay man who lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic in this country, I take accurate portrayals of transmission very seriously," says writer and documentary-maker Mike Stabile. But he simply isn't convinced that there are sufficient grounds to justify a bill like Prop 60: "There are probably 1,500 working performers at any given time. We're talking about spending millions of dollars on patrol of 1,500 people. It's hard for me to say that yes, this is a public health measure."

The disproportionate nature of the bill is baffling. Taking current studio practices into account, porn performers are a low-risk group, whereas the general population suffers from a severe lack of education and funding around HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. In fact, sexual health and wellbeing continues to be an under-resourced sector globally.

But why address such a large and complex issue when you can home in on an easy target, and claim a quick win in the name of doing the right thing? Because to pearl-clutching conservatives, liberals who decry the sex industry as exploitative, and the tunnel-visioned AHF, these people's livelihoods are mere collateral.

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