Harm reduction strategies are meant to reduce the harm associated with certain activities through education, illness prevention, and treatment. The adult industry’s system of regular STI testing and exposure tracking protocol is one such method of harm reduction. I would argue that the laws and rules associated with driving are also a kind of harm reduction. In the case of roads, two-ton vehicles are rocketing around at speeds faster than the most exceptional horse could ever hope to reach. Requiring drivers to follow speed limits, stick to established traffic patterns, and communicate with each other using turn signals and brake lights reduces the likelihood of one crashing into another. However, as long as human and mechanical error exist, the roads will never be completely safe.
In the case of adult films, people are engaging in exhibitionistic sex for public viewing pleasure. These sex acts are generally longer in duration and more theatrical in content than the average sex act. Recreational sex and professional sex in front of cameras both involve a certain level of risk, and those of us who engage in professional sex in front of cameras take precautions to lessen the potential for harm at work. Every time that a hole in our precautions is exposed, we look for ways to further lessen the risk. As with cars, as long as human and mechanical error exist, sex will never be completely safe.
Between August 22nd and September 6th, three adult performers (two working in heterosexual-oriented pornography and a third working mostly in homosexual-oriented pornography and romantically linked to one of the other two) tested positive for HIV. Other performers were exposed but no other performers have tested positive for the virus. The Free Speech Coalition (FSC)—the organization currently responsible for keeping records of who has a current and valid STI test—decided that requiring everyone to test every 14 days is better than requiring them to test every 28. Many of the heterosexual-oriented companies already required tests no less than 14 days old. I don’t know every production company and director in the adult industry nor have I done any scientific survey, but I do feel comfortable saying that the majority of companies and directors care about the immediate health and safety of the talent they use. Some are motivated by genuine concern for the welfare of performers, others are motivated by a desire to lower their own potential for liability, and still more are actively performing in sex scenes themselves in addition to directorial or production work.
Tristan Taormino, a self-professed feminist adult filmmaker, recently decided to require the use of condoms on her sets, while remaining against government mandated use of condoms in all adult productions. I encourage you to read her own words on why she made this decision. Wicked Pictures, one of the industry's largest production houses, has required use of condoms in their productions since the late 1990s. Kink.com shoots with condoms in homosexual scenes and gives performers in all other scenes the option to use condoms. Burning Angel has also recently decided to leave condom use up to their performers.
In the public discussions of both Measure B (Los Angeles County’s Safer Sex in the Adult Industry Act, which would require condom use in all adult entertainment filmed in LA County) and these recent cases of HIV infection among adult performers, I’m seeing a lot of politics and worst case generalizations. Moral panic and the sensationalism that accompanies this topic seem to get in the way of balanced reporting and reading comprehension. How can a person accurately write about the issues surrounding STI prevention in pornography when they’re squicked out by the general concept of non-monogamy or sex work? How can a reader evaluate opinions when they don’t know what the commenter’s history and accompanying prejudices are? Pornography and non-traditional sex are still inherently polarizing to the point where I question the ability of any single person to currently discuss them in an unbiased manner.
So here, for the record, is my own bias: I am a pornographic performer. I have spent the majority of my career as a contract girl, which has given me a combination of visibility and financial freedom that is not necessarily had by all other performers. At most, I perform in two sex scenes per month, which is far less than standard for a female performer. I have physical, emotional, and financial stakes in the adult industry. My orifices react negatively to extended condom use, and I strongly prefer not using condoms in scenes. I believe in the right of every person to choose what goes on and into their body. I believe in my right to use my body as a tool to perform in graphic depictions of sexuality for the purposes of entertainment. I believe that pornography as entertainment serves a widespread human need as a safe place to fantasize. In addition to the fact that performing in sex scenes makes up the bulk of my income, my work in adult productions is the driving force behind any secondary income from licensing deals and writing. I am extremely invested in the adult industry continuing to function sustainably, so that I and my coworkers still have jobs in three years. Given the choice between harm reduction plans that provide small but actually viable gains in safety and plans that are unlikely to be implemented but make for a great sound bite or idealized utopia, I will always choose the effectiveness of the former.
If you’re reading or hearing something from me about the state of the adult industry, STI testing in pornography, or the great condom debate, I encourage you to take it with the above grains of salt. I also encourage you to consider the validity of anonymous “experts” or “insiders” and the motivations of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s push for Measure B and California State Assemblyman Isadore Hall’s crusade for further laws requiring condom use on adult sets instead of working with the industry being regulated to find a viable solution. Question the reasons that some anti-sex worker and anti-pornography activists attempt to frame sex workers as victims and erase or discredit our voices through infantilization… and please, for the love of everything that is even slightly rational and logical in the world, remember that no harm reduction can work without the trust and support of the people at risk.
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