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On Covering the Landscape in Latex

On Covering the Landscape in Latex
Cyd Nova

I am finding my ideals located in awkward places during this odd, Saturn’s Return-esque moment of my life. Specifically, I’m finding myself doing activism around or advocating ideas that directly counter what I would have done in my early 20’s.

This came up for me while reading Sadie’s very smart piece Un-Money Shots: The Top 5 Porn Moments You Don’t See. She wrote about those pesky mundanities of porn life that the viewer is shielded from, one of which is the condom application scene.

Talking about the ‘moral responsibilities of the porn industry’ comes dangerously close to another issue currently tearing up the porno landscape — the banning of condomless porn production in California.

Now, I totally agree that in porn where protected sex is displayed, the inclusion of a ‘putting on the condom’ scene would be fantastic. The ‘I Dream of Jeanie’ esque eyelid blink appearance of a condom is childish. Sex workers, with our glamour and grace, do have the skills to eroticize acts previously thought unappealing — from a dick check to double penetration. Putting on a condom should be one of those acts. However, talking about the ‘moral responsibilities of the porn industry’ comes dangerously close to another issue currently tearing up the porno landscape — the banning of condomless porn production in California.

I’m an HIV educator and an AIDS activist, as well as being a sex worker who has done porn as both a cis-woman and a trans man. I am not unaware that my preaching against condom usage seems suspect, considering my background. But bear with me while I tell you the sordid tale of AIDS Healthcare Foundation VS The LA Porn industry and why it is this side of the fence that I stand on.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the largest AIDS Inc. within the USA. They provide some very valuable services to people and, also, they mouth off a lot.   Sometimes their campaigns have valuable targets, but often it has seemed like their motivation is publicity and funding. They have, for a few years, been putting pressure on Cal-OSHA to enforce blood porn pathogen rules for adult industry workplaces — i.e. no exposure to potentially hazardous body fluids. After many meetings the proposed guidelines lay somewhere in the field of condoms for blowjobs and intercourse, but no longer eye protection for any potential splash factor.

The long time standard for risk reduction in porn settings has been testing and facial cum shots. There was a clinic called Adult Industry Medical — which was started by porn performer Sharon Mitchell in 2004 and closed this year– through which porn performers would get tested for Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and a RNA test for HIV. This would clear them for work in porn studios for 1 month. AHF attacked AIM after a performer, inappropriately dubbed ‘Patient Zero’, tested positive and the clinic refused to release their identity to the DPH, claiming public health hazard, although all studios and sex workers that had contact with the performer were quarantined. For a while it was neck and neck. AHF found out the identity of the porn star who tested positive and dragged him onstage to cry during press conferences. They also teamed up with Pink Cross — a group of reborn unto the lord ex-porn stars that came to realize the sins of their ways post getting herpes by way of a 50 person gang bang. However AIM had support of most of the community and the porn industry advocacy group Free Speech Coalition, they also had the fact their HIV positivity rate is very low (9 in 5 years) — without confirmation of if they were infected on set. Patient Zero himself traces his exposure to a blowjob scene on a gay shoot he did, but considering the farfetchedness of transmission through oral, his escort ad seems suspect.

However the dam broke when porn wikileaks released the information of 15,000 porn performers whose details could only have been sourced from the AIM database. There is nothing to make you change your mind about supporting an organization like their connection to a site connecting your legal name with a statement claiming you “turned into a whore and went by the (Porn name) doing porn degrading the whole family name being a pornographic whore.” The clinic closed down, testing structures shifted over to the company ‘Talent Testing’, and report backs from Cal-OSHA meetings say the fight is done. That there will be some form of oversight by the government in the occupational health and safety practices of porn companies.

“Hurray!” You might be saying — “that is great! Even one HIV infection is too many.” I want to discuss why the math of mandatory condoms + porn doesn’t necessarily = better working conditions. And why I think this is a bad idea in regard to both individual sex workers and on a widespread cultural level.

First, on an individual level. As it currently stands most gay and straight, cis and trans companies either require testing or condoms on shoots. You don’t have to do condomless porn, although it is generally true that there are more companies that shoot without. However in some worlds — like the gay male porn circuit — that isn’t true, and in fact shooting with bareback companies can put performers in a position where they then may have trouble getting work anywhere else, once the taint of cum-dumpsterdom has besmirched their reputation.

Possible reasons performers may prefer to work without condoms:

  1. Makes a long porn shoot go even longer. As Sadie talked about, maintaining an erection as well as attaining a proper pop shot through a porn shoot can be a monumental task. Condoms do tend to exacerbate this issue, especially with pre/non op trans women who may especially have difficulty staying hard.
  2. Have you ever had a condom break? Was it during something more demure than a 3 hour long double penetration, multi partner scene? Most condoms are, unfortunately, not designed for the type of sex that usually happens on porn sets.   Sex where people are stopping and starting, loosing erections and then getting hard again, fucking multiple holes at different times. Which is not to say that it cannot work, porn with condoms definitely gets made. There is just a margin for error that needs to be acknowledged and the fallibility of condoms breaking or coming off might not make the sex any ‘safer’ than routine testing.
  3. Many performers getting fucked get anal or vaginal irritation from the friction of the condoms, and it makes doing long or multiple scenes unsustainable on their bodies.
  4. For some performers doing barebacking porn is their only option. After Treasure Island was fined and ceased shooting in CA, I talked to a friend of mine who has been a long time model for them. He has been subsidizing his SSDI payments with occasional porn shoots, but now he would have to travel to Nevada, and the cost of that would balance the fee he gets for the shoot. He is a guy in his 40’s who is visibly HIV+. He’s not going to get work with condom companies. He should be able to have that option for employment.
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  1. Have you ever seen a condom?

    I’m opposed to everything that some outside organization would try to enforce in a group of people who aren’t asking for their help. I hate when people try to talk about what fat people should or shouldn’t do and I hate when people try to talk about what sex workers should or shouldn’t do. “As long as you’re healthy” is probably something that gets slung at both of those groups, actually, and I say: fuck you, dude, if I’m not healthy that’s none of your business. I spit at your concept of subjective health standards.

    • Cyd

      That’s a very apt connection that I hadn’t made for myself – the ‘health intervention’ that is more based on a social discomfort than a concern for the individual – the river running through both sex worker and fat politics

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  2. cc

    “Carrying condoms is used as evidence of prostitution in DC, NYC and SF — amongst other cities.”
    This is VERY irresponsible of any police that use it as “proof.” Jeez. It’s only proof of being somewhat aware of realities of sex.

    Also, you’re so right about how much wear condoms are going to go through in “regular” sex, let alone porn shoots. They aren’t steel; they’re GOING to break sometimes. Irrespective of whether they’re the industry law or not, they aren’t going to ensure safety all alone.

  3. jtell

    Cyd Nova, you are so very.

  4. Abbie Cohen

    Interesting article, Cyd. So that’s what happened to the facial cum shot. While I am squeamish about prostitution, I am, perhaps hypocritcally, a consumer of pornography. By the way, can you tell me what the target audience is for the mother & daughter (older-woman/younger-woman) genre of porn? I can’t get the image out of my head of Amanda Seyfried seducing Julianne Moore in the film Chloe.

    • Cyd

      The target audience for any porn is – whomever they can get.

      The facial cum shot was a GREAT risk reduction strategy! So smart, and although thought of as distinctly anti-feminist, probably responsible for a huge drop in infection

  5. Morgan M. Page

    Cyd, this is so amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! While I have always supported the rights of sex workers to choose to do whatever they want to, I have previously been very worried about the effects of barebacking porn on HIV infection rates, and you’ve really framed it in a way that’s given me a lot to think about as an HIV activist and educator. Absolutely brilliant piece.

    I really couldn’t agree more with everything you have to say here.


  6. Great and well thought out article, Cyd. There is a lot of important points to consider presented here that have expanded the way I think about this issue.

    I do think that condom use in porn (especially ones which might inspire fantasies involving creative or sexy application of condoms) is positive and awesome from the point of view of influencing a culture of safer sex, but don’t really think regulations would stop it from happening and is not the best or most effective way to make working conditions better for performers and I think anything that takes away worker control over the porn industry (or any industry really) is generally a bad thing.

  7. Bear

    The “sex education moments” idea reminds me about Tristan Taormino’s “lube visibility project”, as she’s referred to it – on her sets, she consistently works on making sure the lube bottle is visible (as opposed to other porn shoots, where it is usually whisked out of sight) and that performers are seen making use of it at appropriate intervals.

    This is a great article. Like Morgan above, I learned a lot.

  8. I don’t know how I missed this when you first published it, but it’s great!

    Just to clarify, I never meant to imply that all porn performers should be required to wear condoms. I was just pointing out that it’s weird how, even when we *do* wear condoms on film, the company always edits out the scene where the condom is placed on… even if it is (or could be) a very sexy scene. Even though I don’t think all porn should have to feature this kind of scene, the fact that it basically doesn’t appear *ever* is what contributes to the idea that condoms just magically appear and can’t ever be sexy.

    You hit the nail on the head right here: “porn performers should be the ones to make the choice about the risk they take in their lives.” Right. On. I’m opposed to any forced intervention, and I’m with you 100% that coercive measures aimed at “protecting” sex workers are totally fuuuuucked.

    Anyway, yay! Good piece.

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