More On Choice

If you’ve been following my twitter and tumblr in the past couple of weeks, you’ve hopefully seen my explanation of how pornography’s self-imposed safety regulations work. You’ve also hopefully seen Kayden Kross’s practical discussion of Measure B on and James Deen’s blunt opinion on his blog. To my knowledge, Nina Hartley has not felt the need to weigh in on the subject recently, but as a veteran performer who started working in porn in 1984, is still in the adult industry, and is a registered nurse, I believe she has the most credible and educated opinion on the subject of safer sex in the straight porn industry. I’m not linking to anything that the AHF or Yes on Measure B has to say because I have faith in your ability to google it and I kind of just don’t want to. 

Ideally, you’ve ingested the information and formed your own opinion. Likely, some of you have done this and others are blindly cheering us on or wholly swallowing the opposition’s propaganda. I frequently struggle to come to terms with it, but I can’t force people to listen, fully comprehend, or think critically.

Our point is that Measure B and other condom laws attempt to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. We do not have rampant HIV transmission in pornography. We have not had a single case of performer to performer HIV transmission since 2004. In my experience, we openly tell each other when something may not be right with our genitals. Digital Playground has replaced talent the morning of a scene because the performer called in saying their genitals felt or smelled off and they needed to re-test before exposing others to them. 

I work at the glossy, couples-oriented contract performer end of the industry. I choose not to use condoms at work. I do choose to use them in my personal life when I have partners that are not in the adult industry who I am non-monogamous with. I did four girl/girl sex scenes before signing my contract with Digital Playground. I have never worked with an agent. I cannot speak for the women and men who perform in the majority of the sex scenes produced each year. 

Wicked Pictures requires condoms. Most companies say they are condom optional. From what I hear, with some companies the option is to use a condom or not, and with others the option is to not use a condom or not work for that company. Ideally this should be an industry-wide actual choice. Requiring that all performers in a section of California, or even all of California or the USA use condoms at work does not give us that choice. It either forces us to use condoms when some of us do not want to and find it less safe than the testing system we already have in place, or strongly encourages the adult industry to move to places where condom use is not mandatory.

Here’s the thing though: Performers who are unhappy with the amount of condom-optional or condom-mandatory work don’t have to work in hardcore pornography. There are softcore and solo options. Nude photo sets for websites and magazine spreads are options. Also: webcamming, solo or masturbation scenes, and niche fetish-oriented clips involving (sometimes non-nude) acts like tickling, wriggling of toes, or consumption of phallic shaped foods. One day I’ll tell you about the time I was hired for a day of “sweater fetish” work, but that’s way off topic right now. Sure, there isn’t as much money to be made and it is more difficult to build a popular or recognizable brand, but disposable income and notoriety are not a right.

According to the US Department of Labor, 2,289,010 people in our country wait tables. I waited tables for a little over eight months when, unhappy with my working conditions at Digital Playground, I made a choice to use one of the loopholes in my contract and stop working in the adult industry. Part of using that loophole meant that I wasn’t able to write, perform on stage or appear in front of a camera as Stoya or under any other name without putting myself in a more precarious legal position. It was scary and I spent the entirety of my savings on lawyers. My boss was aware of my employment history when he hired me and, due to the size of the town, a significant portion of the patrons knew as well. It was actual work every day, it wasn’t glamorous or exciting, sometimes my hands got burned because I didn’t know how to hold a plate, and my entire life smelled like old duck sauce. This is called a job. I kept doing this job until the (now former) owners of Digital Playground and I were able to work out something acceptable to both of us. Some people make a profitable life long career of serving food. Most people in the US work jobs that aren’t glamorous or lucrative. Working two jobs or working while getting a college degree or vocational training is common.

Now that we’ve established why the problem that Measure B attempts to fix does not exist, and briefly discussed the fact that most adult performers unhappy with the work available to them are capable of finding some other type of employment, there’s another concept in this mess that really stands out to me.

It isn’t the pornography industry’s job to provide sexual education. If you look back through my archives here on tumblr though, you can see that I feel and act on a personal responsibility to try. In the US we have this intense squeamishness about sex. Practical, easily understood information can be difficult to come by even for someone who makes a career out of sex. The same line of thinking that led to anti-drug PSA’s from Pee Wee Herman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles leads me to believe that there are cases where an adult performer would be seen as a more credible source than say, Dr. Ruth (who, by the way, is AWESOME). As discussed in the post I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph, some performers and companies do try to raise awareness about and encourage safer sex practices, some of us do try to further discussions on sexuality and sex performed for entertainment vs. sex performed purely for personal enjoyment. We just aren’t as effective as we could be, and I’m not sure how to get there.

Stoya vs. the Cooties

I shot one adult film this year. I was in two hardcore scenes, and it was shot three or four weeks ago. Yesterday news appeared about another performer in the adult industry testing positive for HIV through AIM. Exposure to sexually transmitted infections is a risk that adult performers take when they go to work.

Is this an unnerving situation? Yes. Am I going to get a new round of blood tests as soon as possible? Yes. Am I refraining from having sex or exchanging body fluids with people until I get the results back? Absolutely. Should this mean Cal-OSHA immediately comes into the adult industry and enforces mandatory dental dam use? Not necessarily.

As an industry, I believe we should strive to produce the best possible product for the consumer under the best (safest) possible working conditions for the performers and crew. Currently a clean (negative for gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV) test taken within the previous thirty days is required to work as talent on a porn set. Personally, I require the performers I work with to have been tested in the previous two days (I also test within two days before a scene since hypocrisy isn’t really my thing.) There are other girls who also require tests two days before a scene, although it does take a certain level of status to get producers to work with this requirement.

Two day testing means that (I think) I know the other performer was free of chlamydia and gonorrhea ten days before they tested and free of HIV three weeks before. [DISCLAIMER: I am not a scientist. I am also not a doctor. I do the best I can with CDC materials and the internet to understand things like STI incubation periods. If you are a scientist or doctor please feel free to correct or enlighten me.] This doesn’t make unprotected sex safe. This does make unprotected sex safer.

There is no such thing as safe sex. “Safe sex” would be complete abstinence, and a porn movie with abstinent performers would be pretty boring, not to mention highly inaccurate. A lot of the more experienced performers try to cut down on STI transmission, AIM tries, the big production companies like Digital Playground, Evil Angel, Vivid and others try, but at the end of the day we have people having unprotected sex for a camera and have to find a balance between safer working conditions and a profitable product that the consumer is happy with. I don’t have the answers to this, but I don’t particularly feel like Cal-OSHA does all on their own either. The various groups with a stake in this issue (the talent, production companies, and entities who regulate and advocate for workers’ welfare) need to work together on this, because the government and porn are both here to stay.

I tryed one time a female condom.
This not look funny, there is a lot PLASTIC BAG's sound during the act.
Not very good experience

The plastic crinkling noise. I forgot all about the plastic crinkling noise. Unpleasant, yes.

The only good experience with female condoms that I’ve heard of is in the commentary on John Cameron Mitchell’s ‘ShortBus’ when Sook-Yin Lee discusses using them for the film… I’m really curious about what she did differently than the rest of us.