My latest at Jezebel looks at a local issue with national implications: Los Angeles County Measure B, an initiative on the November 6 ballot that will mandate the use of condoms in porn. Even here in the global capital of mainstream adult film production, the measure is widely misunderstood.
For the piece, I interviewed sexual health experts like Charlie Glickman and Chauntelle Tibbals; I also spoke with porn legends James Deen (a Pasadena City College alumnus) and Nina Hartley. Steven Hirsch, the founder of Vivid Video (one of the largest porn production companies in the world) also shared his thoughts.
As it turns out, it’s not that simple. For starters, as Deen and sexual health experts familiar with the industry agree, what makes for safer sex in private doesn’t translate well to an adult film set. In an email interview, porn legend Nina Hartley explained that in her business, “condom burn is a real issue. The friction from the latex, even with lubrication, is painful and breaches the integrity of my mucosal membranes, putting me at greater risk for disease transmission.” Pointing out that the average length of sexual intercourse in “civilian life” is only a few minutes, Hartley noted, while the shortest porn scenes require an absolute minimum of “half an hour of hard thrusting by a well-endowed young man. It’s hard enough to deal with w/o condoms. Add latex to the mix and I’m down to being able to work with a man once a week at best, to say nothing of the damage it would do to my private life and intimacy with my husband.” Veteran sex educator Charlie Glickman agrees, pointing out that “what you do in your home kitchen never has the same protocols as you have in a catering business.” Adding to Hartley’s concerns about the damage rubbers can do to women’s mucosal membranes, Glickman notes that condoms themselves degrade rapidly over the course of scenes that can last upwards of two hours to film, making them less effective as barriers to infection.
What does work, according to Hartley, Deen, and other performers, is testing. Porn actors are tested for HIV and other STIs at least once every 28 days (Deen notes he’s tested twice as often) at a variety of private testing sites overseen by Adult Production Health and Safety Services, a service administered by the industry’s trade group, the Free Speech Coalition. The track record of these testing protocols has been extraordinary, with even critics of the industry willing to admit that porn performers test positive for STIs at a rate well below that of the sexually active “civilians” who are their fellow Angelenos. (For a detailed description of how testing works –- and how negative test results are verified by onset inspections -– see this post from the porn performer Stoya.) Vivid Video CEO Steven Hirsch told me that the porn industry has produced “more than 300,000” hardcore sex scenes since 2004, with only two cases of HIV infection – both in performers who contracted the virus from untested civilian partners. That remarkable safety record is attributable to testing and what Deen describes as a “close-knit family atmosphere… where mutual trust is sacred” in the business.
My interviews with Glickman, Hirsch, and Deen were all on the phone. Nina Hartley, however, answered a number of questions in email form. Below the fold, I’m posting our entire Q&A. Continue reading