01.06.12

Condom Initiative by Anti-AIDS Group Threatens Porn Industry

A new initiative aimed at forcing adult-film performers to wear condoms during intercourse has the porn world up in arms—and could wipe out the U.S. industry altogether.

Ron Jeremy holds a Guinness World Record for his appearances in porn. He’s starred in 2,000 X-rated films and had sex with more women than Zeus—yet the porn legend insists he’s clean. “My friends say I’m bionic,” he tells The Daily Beast.

Jeremy rarely uses condoms but is required to get tested every 28 days for HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and other STDS, as per industry standards. Jeremy says performers arrive on set with a “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” attitude about their test results (they won’t shoot without seeing a spotless, up-to-date record). Porn stars claim routine testing is the most effective method of STD prevention, but anyone who has sat through health class knows that’s a stretch.

In early January, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation launched a new war against porn’s potentially reckless ways, proposing a strict initiative that would require male porn stars to wear condoms during vaginal and anal intercourse.

“The fact that these workers’ health and safety has been neglected is a very dangerous situation,” AHF president Michael Weinstein tells The Daily Beast. “It’s a matter of fairness. Why is this the only industry not afforded protection when they go to work?”

Immediately, the porn world was up in arms over the initiative. “Hey, dicks, it’s really quite simple,” says Jeremy. “We don’t mind wearing rubbers, but no matter how you slice it, the viewers don’t want to see them.”

Since California is one of two states in which it is legal to produce porn, (the other is, only recently, New Hampshire), could this be the end of the America's porn industry?

Who’s going to pay money to watch people go at it while looking like CDC agents?

Just as moviegoers are turned on by special effects and other fantasy elements, porn viewers want to see people have intercourse without condoms. “Porn is meant to entertain, not to educate,” argues veteran performer Nina Hartley. “The kind of sex we’re having on camera is not like sex people have at home. Condoms won’t make us any safer.” Female porn stars are engaged in the act for an average of 30 to 55 minutes during a shoot, Hartley explains. Even for the pros, that’s a long time to keep the juices flowing. When you add condoms to the mix, it’s a “friction burn in the wrong place,” as Hartley puts it, one that can cause micro-tears in the vaginal wall and leave a woman more susceptible to diseases.

But the porn industry doesn’t have a completely clean record. Shelley Lubben, a former porn actress turned adversary (her Pink Cross Foundation’s mission is to rescue girls from the industry) says she contracted herpes and HPV after performing in roughly 30 adult films. HPV led to early cervical cancer and the subsequent removal of nearly half her cervix. Her description of what goes on behind the scenes is hardcore, to say the least: “There’s blood, bodily fluids, urine, and feces all over the set!”

The biggest scandal in the industry occurred in 2004, when an HIV-positive male porn star, Darren James, unknowingly infected three female performers. Two major porn companies, Vivid Entertainment and Wicked Pictures, temporarily shut down. Wicked and dozens of other companies had required its performers to wear condoms ever since an HIV scare in 1999. Wicked is the only one of those that still survives today—proving that viewers have always preferred films in which stars go bareback, without a condom in sight.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has been fighting the adult entertainment industry ever since the 2004 HIV incident. Citing statistics from the L.A. Department of Health, AHF says porn stars are 10 times more likely to be infected with an STD than members of the population at large.

Despite these numbers, the condom initiative already has been condemned, and not just by the people having sex on camera. In December, AHF proposed it for the city of Los Angeles only, but the L.A. City Attorney blocked it from going on the ballot, claiming the foundation had no right to propose a law that was “preempted” by the state.

“Before we spend upwards of $4 million in taxpayer money to put this measure on the ballot, we need to clarify with the court that the city could even mandate it,” said Frank Matelian, spokesperson for the L.A. City Attorney’s office.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) enacted state laws requiring condom use on porn sets in 2004, but its prophylactic police haven’t been able to effectively enforce them—making city officials even more wary of spending money to pass AHF’s new initiative.

But Cal/OSHA and the AIDS Health Foundation insist the initiative—a stricter version of the state law—will be easier to enforce on a smaller scale. They need 200,000 signatures by June 5 to add the measure to the November 2012 presidential ballot in L.A. County. Weinstein is confident they’ll amass the votes, since they easily collected 70,901 signatures for the citywide measure. The initiative argues that the adult entertainment industry should have to comply with the same laws as any other private employer in California. Just as construction workers are required to wear hard hats on site, porn stars should have to wear rubbers on set. Cal/OSHA even mandates that porn bosses provide employees exposed to blood-borne pathogens (in seminal and vaginal fluids) with dental dams, gloves, and eye protection.

This all raises the question: if condoms are enough to drive viewers away, who’s going to pay money to watch people go at it while looking like CDC agents?

AHF’s initiative could be the final coffin nail for a dying industry that can’t compete with bareback European porn and free content streamed on sites like PornHub, YouPorn, and Hamster. At the very least, the measure would chase Hollywood’s porn stars out of California. “Then the state loses a lot of tax money,” says Jeremy. “Our business pays a good share of taxes.”