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Stoya: Making porn actors wear condoms is not the best way to protect us

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Stoya writes at www.guardian.co.uk – The word pornography has a widely splayed set of definitions. To borrow Judge Potter Stewart’s words, we know it when we see it. But the thing is, we all see it with different sets of eyeballs, informed by different sets of experiences and beliefs.

The term “porn industry” is used to cover a broad range of media, but here I want to talk about the capitalism-driven, heterosexual-oriented adult industry. The porn industry that produces movies such as Pirates XXX and features performers such as Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey, and produces websites named bigbuttslikeitbig.

It is the porn industry targeted by Measure B, a law requiring the use of condoms in adult movies in Los Angeles County, California, which was approved by 55.9% of voters earlier this month.

We haven’t had a case of performer-to-performer HIV transmission in eight years. The fact that any sexually active community that hasn’t had a single case of HIV transmission in so long even exists was interesting enough for the New York Times to send science reporter Donald G McNeil Jr to cover our self-imposed health and safety precautions.

Every 14-28 days performers are tested for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia, mostly through specialist testing agencies. We use the most sensitive tests possible. Because so many performers use these companies’ services, we are able to get our results back within 48 hours, usually less. Including the remote draw fee, I pay around $180 for each test.

Compare this with the almost $400 I paid to be tested for the same four diseases the last time I went to my gynaecologist, and the week I waited for results.

The pornographic film production company Vivid saw a 10 to 20% drop in revenues when it was using condoms in all of its productions. Profits have already dropped across the industry due to pirating. When video clips and movies make less money, budgets decrease and fewer productions are made.

This means less work and lower rates of pay for the work that is available. If income for performers continues to drop, voluntarily spending more than $4,500 a year on testing becomes less financially sustainable.

There is no law requiring adult performers to get tested for STIs, much less requiring us to get tested as frequently as we do. My concern is that further shrinking of performer incomes due to mandatory condom use will cause performers to test less frequently. Fewer tests being processed would likely result in raised testing costs. More expensive tests could cause even less frequent testing, until performers are relying solely on condom use to protect against transmission of STIs.

But here’s the thing: sex on a porn set differs from recreational or procreational sex. It can be more vigorous and in order to get the necessary footage, penetrative sex goes on for much longer than the average penetrative act.

To put it bluntly, we have abnormally large penises banging away at vaginas and rectums for an abnormal amount of time. Even with extra lubricant, condoms tend to cause abrasions in the delicate tissue of a vagina or anus.

These tears can be painful, but more importantly they are open wounds in an orifice. As long as the condoms do not fail, this is just painful and inconvenient. But if a condom does fail in an orifice with fresh wounds, this seems likely to increase the risk for transmission of an STI if one is present.

Additionally, condoms are not entirely effective even under normal conditions, and there are a number of STIs that can be transmitted even with proper condom use. Condom use is a very good thing in most circumstances, but I believe it is dangerous to hold condoms up as a foolproof talisman against all STIs.

In the last year, the porn industry has encouraged more frequent testing for performers. When a more sensitive syphilis test was made available to us in early September, we immediately adopted it. Suggestions from qualified professionals on how to further improve our testing system and exposure protocols would have been far more welcome than Measure B, which claims to fix a problem that didn’t exist. If protecting the health and safety of the people who perform in pornographic videos is really the aim, there are more effective ways to improve it.

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