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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Great Porn Debate

By Alex Garner

If the FAIR (For Adult Industry Responsibility) Initiative qualifies for the June ballot and passes, it will essentially mandate condoms for all porn made in Los Angeles. The main proponent of this initiative is AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is collaborating with some ex-porn performers to champion the cause of condoms in porn.

There has been considerable pushback from the porn industry, which is worried that it will lose money if they are forced to make porn sanctioned by voters. To most people in this debate, however, the issue isn’t about money—it’s about public health versus freedom of choice.

AHF has launched a campaign to make people aware of the FAIR initiative, and they’ve also hired professional signature gatherers. 41,138 signatures of registered city voters are needed by Dec. 23 for the initiative to qualify for the June ballot. 

If this initiative passes, it would mean that porn producers would have to use condoms in their films in order to obtain permits from the city of Los Angeles. They would also have to submit to inspections by city officials to make sure they are following the new law.

All of this political activity has put AHF and it’s executive director, Michael Weinstein, at odds with most in the porn industry. But Mr. Weinstien insists, “We have no problem with people making adult films. A little piece of latex has the ability to save lives.”

AHF sees this as a public health issue and doesn’t trust in the integrity of those regulating the porn industry. Right now there are regulations in place that involve education and testing, but testing has its limitations as it’s only a snapshot of one’s health and doesn’t accurately represent the health of the performer when they are about to engage in sexual activity on camera.

The executive director of The Free Speech Coalition, Diane Duke, distrusts AHF, saying, “Clearly their efforts and financial resources would be much better served in the prevention and treatment of HIV rather than continuing its witch hunt of the adult entertainment industry.” The Free Speech Coalition is a trade association for the adult entertainment industry and a leading proponent for the choice to make porn without condoms.

Many people in the industry see this as a matter of choice. They believe in the right to do what they choose with their bodies and health and that voters should not be able to weigh in on this. This sort of debate about body autonomy and privacy has come up before around sodomy laws and reproductive rights. In fact, many women who support the right to make condomless porn have adopted the familiar pro-choice phrase, “Keep your laws off my body.”

Some in the debate argue that since porn is protected speech under the first amendment, if one chooses to express themselves without condoms that too should be protected. They fear this could set a dangerous precedent, as other types of actions in porn could also be labeled as dangerous and come under attack—such as fisting, bondage and S&M.

Condom use in gay porn has carried with it an emotional debate since the 1980s. It was at that time that porn producers decided to self-regulate and make porn exclusively with condoms. Many porn films began opening with public service announcements and porn makers worked to make condom use appear sexy. Porn directors, like Chi Chi LaRue, wanted porn to set an example for gay men, in hopes they would embrace the message of prevention.

When the bareback phenomenon swept through the gay community in the late-’90s, it also meant the creation of what was, at the time, a new niche in gay porn—bareback films. In the last 12 years there has been an explosion of bareback gay porn, often made on the cheap by smaller, independent producers. There has also been a proliferation of amateur porn online, which means anyone with a camera can make whatever kind of porn they want and post it for the world to see. A large portion of that online amateur porn is condomless.
Mandating condom use in porn would not put an end to the debate, as people around the country and the world would still be able to make condomless porn. Also, the internet is currently overflowing with such porn, and no one is proposing a way to purge the web of condomless videos. 

The debate in the gay community about porn without condoms can be a complicated and heated discussion and is often prone to sensationalism and hyperbole. In fact, Dan Savage has compared bareback porn to child pornography.  

But some gay porn actors have made an effort to speak out in favor of the option to make porn without condoms. Adult film performer Conner Habib has said, “I don’t make bareback porn myself, but I think the issue is pretty complex. It brings in questions of health, ethics, community identity and media literacy. The bottom line for me is that the freedom of the individual is the highest and purest value I can think of. That means I don’t think my choices should be a standard which dictates the behavior of other people.”

The one thing that all parties can agree on is that porn performers should be well-educated when it comes to their health and regularly tested for HIV and STDs. Where the sides part ways is over who can decide whether a performer can choose to have condomless sex on film. One side believes the state has the power to decide, and the other believes it’s purely the right of the individual. If the initiative makes it onto the ballot in June of 2012, it will be the voters who decide.

2 comments:

  1. You write, "The one thing that all parties can agree on is that porn performers should be well-educated when it comes to their health and regularly tested for HIV and STDs." Actually, that is not the position of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. AHF could care less about testing. To Michael Weinstein -- one of the biggest drug dealers on the planet -- testing is only good for one thing: to identify potential customers for HIV/AIDS drugs at AHF pharmacies.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9MOWF94_II

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