Richie Calhoun, Adult Performer
Recently, friends of mine outside the adult industry have been calling me up to ask for advice on how they should vote on Measure B this Tuesday, so I thought I’d write this and avoid another long phone conversation on the subject.
I tell them Measure B won’t cause the changes inside the adult industry its creators hope it will. But it will lose money for the county and disrupt a lot of livelihoods. I tell them that, even disregarding the free speech issue, and even if they think all performers should wear condoms and their motivation is to protect us, they should vote “No.”
That’s because Measure B will not result in performers wearing condoms. Gaps in its functionality make it easy to continue shooting porn without condoms, and that’s what the vast majority of performers, producers, and consumers want to happen anyway. This measure is misguided, ineffective, financially damaging and deserves a NO, even if you agree with it in principle.
I understand my friends’ confusion when they call. The workings of this industry are a mystery to most. And most people wouldn’t be caught dead in my particular profession. Beyond the cultural instinct for sexual shame, the nerves, the scorn from vast sectors of society, there is the health risk to be reckoned with. We were brought up to fear sex in its natural, condom-free state. We were shown gruesome photos of diseased genitalia in sex ed. class every year starting around seventh grade. And indeed, natural sex is extremely reckless in most situations.
The question is How Reckless is Porn? I think a lot of people would put the health risks of performing in condom-free porn somewhere equivalent to MMA fighter, high-wire circus performer or stunt driver — you might have a state-of-the-art harness and a fire crew standing by, but ultimately that’s you flipping the Ferrari on the freeway, and things happen.
The truth is, for all the testing and producer diligence, it ultimately falls to performers to insure our own safety. That’s why we sign a mountain of waivers before every scene. That’s why we’re independently contracted artists instead of employees. Because no employer can completely insure our safety. When you decide to take up adult performance as a career or a job, you voluntarily expose yourself to the risk of infection with curable and non-curable STI’s, hopefully in order to do something you love. This will continue to be the case whether or not Measure B passes.
The way you protect yourself as a performer is BEFORE and AFTER the scene. You check that test. You check your partner out. Then you trust your partner and you trust the system. If you have reason to suspect that your partner isn’t well, they can be sent home. If your partner appears clean and tests clean, but seems untrustworthy or cavalier about their sexual health, you can decline to work with them going forward. No director I’ve worked with would dismiss a performer’s concerns. I’ve sent myself home when I don’t feel I can guarantee my health, and I go get retested. But during the scene, real contact with my partner is the whole point. That’s the fantasy. That’s the high-wire act.
But are condoms better? Safer? In virtually all non-porn encounters, yes, they are. But that’s not the case in porn. Because of the frequency, duration and intensity of porn sex, condoms give little-to-no safety advantage, and might even have a negative effect.
I shoot with condoms on around 1 out of 10 scenes, depending on the month. During the course of the hour and a half average filming, we typically break one or more condoms, and between takes we talk about our dislike of condoms. I’ve had scenes during which four condoms broke despite ample lube. Meanwhile latex friction has an abrasive effect on her (more than my) parts, leaving her more susceptible to infection if I had something as-yet undetectable through testing. The condom roughs her up, and then the condom breaks anyway. If she’s got another scene tomorrow, she’ll be even more susceptible to infection then. It strikes me every time I shoot a condom scene that it really isn’t significantly safer.
It’s a strange job, but we’re not crazy. we don’t want to catch diseases any more than a boxer wants a concussion. We can’t afford to catch diseases. You catch something, you’re out of work. You’re financially stressed from taking unpaid sick leave. It’s not sexy. It’s not lucrative. But producers aren’t forcing us to shoot without condoms. If top notch talent wanted condoms, we’d all have to deal with it — from producers to consumers. If that was the mandate from performers, the standard would quickly permeate the biggest budget productions and spread from there. None of us want to catch anything, and yet adult performers, almost all of us, are against condoms in porn. When adult performers fantasize about a better adult industry, we think, “someday we’ll have a proper union,” or “someday we’ll get royalties on our films,” we don’t sit around wishing all our shoots were condom shoots.
And Measure B also requires condoms and dental dams during oral sex, which would be equally enforced. Have you ever seen a woman receiving oral sex through a Fruit Roll Up-looking dental dam? Of course you haven’t. I think you literally wouldn’t watch that. Measure B-compliant porn would not be worth making and no one would watch it. Thankfully, even if Measure B passes, the chances of it being enforced are low.
That’s because enforcement costs are technically to be included in permits paid by producers, but Los Angeles has no financial incentive to cripple our industry with excessive fees and enforcement. If the permit fees are high enough to fund enforcement, producers will leave the county (or at least shoot outside the county) for no-brainer financial reasons. Goodbye tax revenue. LA will have no money for enforcement and no industry to police. The only financially sane answer for the government is no enforcement.
Regardless of the county’s stance on enforcement, if you think the next scene from your favorite porn performer after Measure B’s passage is going to be a condom scene, you’re dreaming. They’ll shoot in a studio that doesn’t require permits. They’ll shoot in a secret location with a smaller crew. They’ll shoot in San Francisco. Companies already shoot in Vegas and Malibu anticipating this possible snag in LA production. They don’t need you, and if you want to act like you know better than them on the condom issue when you don’t actually know better, your favorite porn performer will shoot elsewhere.
We’re happy to be public proponents of safer sex, but that’s separate from the content of the films. Erotica is inspirational, not educational. Until sexually active adults in the general population want to get bi-weekly testing and put eyes on each other’s tests before every sex act like we do, condoms are the way to go. If you and your partner are really into each other, they’re not much of an impediment. Condoms are only an issue with frequent, vigorous sex for extended periods of time with different partners.
As it is, every active performer gets a full panel on at least a monthly basis (now 2 weeks for most), and the newly empowered Adult Performer Health and Safety Services, (APHSS) lists performers as ‘Available’ or ‘Unavailable’, which is information enough for producers seeking to hire a given performer. In the event of a positive test, health services informs the performer, helps to arrange treatment, and creates a quarantine list to clear out any secondary infections. All performers involved retest until they’re clear, at which point they can be listed Available again.
Often vilified, Producer influence on testing has been purely positive in terms of performer safety since I’ve been in the industry (two years and around 400 scenes) — requiring two-week windows (narrowed from thirty days); requiring a brand new syphilis test that drastically shortens detection delay; and establishing a monthly reimbursement fund to pay additional costs to performers to comply with these tighter safety restrictions. It’s a good system and it’s getting better.
What we’re voting on with Measure B is whether or not the voters would like to cost many hundreds of people their jobs while gaining nothing in terms of public health or performer safety, and meanwhile losing tax revenue.
If it were somehow enforced, performers and crew will be hurt financially and many will lose their jobs due to higher costs-per-scene and transportation costs. Let me tell you, porn crews are made up of good-hearted people with families to support, working their asses off on long days. Maybe porn had more slimeballs in it at some point, I don’t know, but erotica has become more socially accepted in the last two decades, and our culture has become more sexually open (in fits and starts) both in a legal sense and in the zeitgeist. You can now work in porn without feeling like an outlaw, and the people who make up the industry are just normal people in line with you at the coffee shop. We have our goofballs, but so does every industry.
As for the true purpose of this initiative, your guess is as good as mine. I’d say follow the money, but that trail runs somewhat cold. If the Aids Healthcare Foundation is successful in its bid to change the law, maybe it could acquire new funding and proceed to grander aims. Maybe a president Romney would grant them new authority for his own censorship activism against the adult industry. And don’t get me wrong, AHF does some good things. Ironically, their most positive impact to-date has been widespread free testing. They’re just barking up the wrong tree with Measure B if their aim is doing public good.
In summary, with Measure B you’re talking about giving up a ton of tax money and messing up people’s lives with no improvement in performer safety. That’s the long story I shorten when I tell my friends to Vote NO on Measure B.
For a more experienced, better-researched insider perspective on Measure B, I suggest reading Tristan Taormino’s Article in The Huffington Post.
Thanks for reading,
Richie Calhoun, Adult Performer