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Another Argument for Porn Performers Unionizing

Thierry Schaffauser [pictured] writes on www.guardian.co.uk –

I have been working in the British gay porn industry for almost two years now. On average, we earn £300 for a scene, which may seem a lot based on other jobs’ hourly rates, but given that you’re not shooting films often, you can’t really make porn your main occupation. Unless they are famous and popular, most porn actors have to do other jobs within or outside the sex industry.

The money you earn is actually half what it used to be. Productions still make a lot of money, but producers use the democratisation of porn on the internet as an excuse to decrease rates. You are paid in cash and the papers you sign give productions the legal authorisation to use your image. You have to prove you are over 18, but there is no proper contract providing labour rights. Our images may be used over months or years, but we don’t receive royalties as those working in the “conventional” cinema industry do.

The majority of the gay porn industry continues to use condoms. Before the arrival of anti-retrovirals in the mid 1990s, the whole industry demanded condoms because so many gay men were dying of Aids. But since then, there has been a significant increase in the bareback business, creating pressure to have unprotected sex. Some productions are ready to pay more for unsafe sex, even shooting films in poorer countries where actors are more likely to accept the risk of HIV infection – the same countries where there is little or no access to anti-retrovirals. Even in safe films, no effort is made to eroticise condom use. The condom appears as if by magic just before penetration, as if showing how to put it on couldn’t be sexy.

The gay community does not do much to protect its sex workers. You can find both prevention messages from HIV organisations and adverts for bareback movies in the same gay magazine. It’s complete hypocrisy. The gay press is actually dependent on the bareback business, receiving money from porn companies, sex clubs organising bareback parties and gay stores selling bareback products.

This issue doesn’t concern only porn actors, but the whole gay community. My generation is lucky to have started its sex life after the worst stages of the HIV outbreak, but nowadays there is not the same mobilisation and solidarity. It’s every man for himself, and so what if something happens? Ron Stall of the University of Pittsburgh has estimated that 41% of American gay men will be HIV positive by the age of 40 if current infection rates continue, with the incidence even higher among black men. The consequences of the bareback business and its normalisation are already with us.

In the straight porn industry, unsafe sex is the norm. Companies impose HIV and STD testings to protect themselves from legal action while actors continue to take risks, as a negative test doesn’t necessarily mean you are HIV negative. It means that you were free of the infection three months before, due to the seroconversion window period. The only way to protect yourself is to use a condom.

I would like to see the means of production shift to the workers. I wish us porn actors were able to organise ourselves collectively and produce our own films. We could not only film each other, but have control over our own images and improve the quality of our work, because we could spend more and better time doing it. We would be more interested in creating a beautiful and arousing film, rather than just earning money. The workers could share the revenues between ourselves and perhaps porn could be recognised at last as what it should be – an art.

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