The decision by the Los Angeles City Council last week to require performers to wear condoms in all adult films shot in the area has, unsurprisingly, caused quite a stir in the adult industry. From accusations of unnecessary and intrusive state intervention into a “private situation” to a lack of consultation with performers themselves, not to mention claims that the consumers themselves simply don’t want to see condoms in their porn, the decision has been widely panned from within the industry.
I am an independent porn producer. In my films all performers use condoms for penetrative sex unless they are in a committed relationship and have agreed to not use condoms with each other. My performers are tested for STD’s a couple of weeks before a shoot but because there is a small risk of infection that remains between the test results and shoot, I choose to be provide condoms for added safety. None of my performers to date would have wanted to have unprotected “bareback sex” on set. They all got an active sex life and presumed that as they protect themselves for other casual encounters, they would do so on set as well.
I shoot with condoms because I feel a responsibility towards my performers to keep them as safe as possible during the shoot. Another reason is that as a filmmaker I do believe we have a responsibility for the messages our films convey. That goes for porn as well as any other film. There is no such thing as innocent entertainment. We live in a visual day and age and many people get their information from what they see and weather we like it or not, many (young) people get their sex ad from porn. As commercial porn has become so streamlined whatever it shows seems the norm. If we never see condoms being used in porn then it will feel “weird” if the odd alternative porn shows rubbers in action. I do not believe that a porn film can persuade someone who uses condoms in real life for casual encounters to stop using them. I do however believe that women and men who fell insecure about using condoms as it is seen as “uncool” or “unsexy” might be even less inclined to insist on using a condom after having watched a lot of porn where safer sex often just is not shown.
There are many more elements of mainstream porn that define what is considered the norm and might influence our perceptions of beauty, sexuality and gender roles. Porn is political. In commercial porn most women have hairless vaginas with small labias. Research into women having labiaplasty shows that many considered their vagina “abnormal” and “ugly” based on what they have seen in porn. I had an email from a viewer complaining about the vagina of my performers, calling it “freaky” and “deformed” just because her outer lips are bigger than the inner lips and he had never seen that before. Mainstream porn cements role stereotypes whereas alt porn excels in gender-bending, keeping sexual possibilities wide open for women and men. Porn often shows anal sex without the necessary preparation or use of lube or features anal to vaginal and oral – both a highly risky technique that can lead to sever bacterial infections. The argument is that “porn is fantasy” and can therefore do what it likes. The problem is that many viewers lack other sources of information about how to have hot sex safely. I have dealt with casual lovers in the past who were indeed surprised that they could not just shove their cock into my anus without any foreplay or expected to be given a deep throat blow job before anything else.
I do believe that it is possible to integrate the use of condoms into a shoot and make the putting on of a condom sexy and exciting rather than anti-climatic. To me it is hot to see a very turned on woman ripping a condom package open and applying it with her mouth or a guy putting on a masturbation show for his lover and applying a condom slowly and sensually whilst keeping eye contact. Personally I like seeing the use of condoms in films. It gives me the feeling that the performers were well looked after during the shoot. Any time I watch a film that shows bare-backing, oral cum shots, anus to mouth or vagina it distracts me from the sex and gets me worried about working conditions during a shoot, just as much as when I feel a performer flinch and obviously being in discomfort or even pain. I love watching people living out their fantasies, enjoying themselves and looking after each other at the same time. Condoms, gloves, lubes and toys are just part of it, the tools of the “trade”.
I remember how impressed I was when I went out to a fetish party with Emilia, a 22 year old student who has performed in my films and has become a good friend: She had her little goodie bag on her, filled with condoms of various sizes and textures, all kind of lube, some toys and disinfecting wipes so that toys could be shared. There was me with an old condom, the package a little frayed around the edges in my purse (just in case) and there was her out to play with all the bells and whistles to make the sex as good and safe as possible. To me that is very grown up and sexy as well because she knows what she wants and stands up for herself. I am aware that many people enjoy living on the edge and taking health risks but this is not something I would like to promote in my films. My message is: live out your fantasies, experiment and enjoy yourself but protect yourself from STD’s as for some of them you and some of your lovers might have to deal with consequences for the rest of your lives.
When I was casting for my most recent film, The Female Voyeur, I was interviewing two guys. They were bi and had done a bit of gay and straight porn before. I was shocked when they told me that they were both HIV positive (from a straight porn shoot where tests had been done but no condoms were used) and assumed that as long as we used condoms during sex, I would cast them for the film, no questions asked. Condoms are only 85% safe and I did not want to expose my other performers to the risk of being infected. I checked with the other performers and they supported my decision and said “no way”. The guys were surprised I would not cast them because as they told me “it would be hard to find a gay or bi male porn performer in Berlin who is not infected”. They made it sound as if the risk of an STD infection is part and parcel of a sexually liberated life-style and certainly for people who work in the adult industry. Since 2004 in the States the adult industry got shut down twice because performers who previously tested negative had now tested positive which shows that a test every 30 days does simply not offer enough security. There need to be more frequent tests and at least the option to use condoms on set.
I think porn can be sexually educational without being in your face about it. Porn should feature at least occasionally the use of condoms and lube. I have found a sponsor, who adds sample sachets of lube to all my DVD’s and hope to one day find a condom manufacturer so each of my films will provide a condom as well as lube sample. Sadly the condom manufacturers I approached want nothing to do with porn, just as much as porn is shying away from condoms. Who decided that condoms were not sexy and that viewers don’t want to see them in porn?
Hats off to the many independent porn producers who show condoms being used in their films and to Wicked for being one of the very few large commercial studios to have a “condom mandatory” policy.
I do believe that the responsibility to facilitate safer sex for the performers and to set a positive example of sexy safer sex lies with the production companies. There should not be a need for the state to interfere by having enforce a law by fines. The problem is that many producers will now decide to shoot elsewhere or shoot underground without permit to continue their condom-free porn flicks.
To me it is all about choice. Give the performers the genuine choice to use a condom. The “law of porn” has been so far that condoms are not sexy, so they are not being used und most sets. This means that if a performer does not want to rely on the tests alone and insists on using a condom his or her choices of work will be very limited. I do believe that many performers would welcome to shoot with condoms. It is their health and the health of the lovers they are concerned about. The industry is driven by making a profit. As long as they think they will make less money with films that feature condom use, they will simply refuse to change their policy. It is down to the performers and viewers to take a stand pro safer sex and to put pressure on the industry to facilitate safer sex and show variety of sex in their films. A lot would be gained if we saw at least occasionally condoms being used in mainstream porn rather than the industry censoring any notion of safer sex.