News Sexual Health

Lights, Camera, Condoms: Activists Try for Another Ballot Initiative Requiring Porn Stars to Use Condoms

Martha Kempner

The battle in Los Angeles over whether porn stars should be required to use condoms is heating up again as an AIDS activist group started collecting signatures last week for a new ballot initiative.  If it gets on the ballot, the voters of Los Angeles County may get to decide how much latex we see in adult films. 

Last week, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) began collecting signatures on a petition to get a measure on the county-wide ballot mandating that porn stars wear condoms.  This is the latest move in a battle between an industry that claims it is willing and able to police itself and an activist community that argues producers are not doing enough to protect their performers. 

In case you’ve forgotten, when we last left our friends in the porn industry in September, production had just resumed after one star’s HIV test caused both a panic and a voluntarily shut down of all sets. Though the test turned out to be a false positive, the incident drew attention to the safe-guards (or lack of safe-guards) designed to protect performers from sexuality transmitted diseases (STDs). 

Both California and federal workplace safety rules require porn stars to use condoms if they are exchanging body fluid through sex, but some activists, including AHF say these rules are toothless and largely ignored. AHF has long been working to get the city of Los Angeles to pass an ordinance which would mandate condom use on set and heavily fine those productions that fail to comply.

In February 2011, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance which would mandate condom use in adult films and enforce the rule by linking the requirement to the issuing of film permits. Oddly enough, in May the council voted unanimously not to pass such an ordinance.  So AHF took its campaign to the voters in the city of Los Angeles and began circulating petitions.  It managed to get a ballot measure qualified for the city’s June 2012 vote, however, that measure faces some legal challenges

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In the meantime, AHF is focusing at least some of its energy on a similar county-wide measure.  The group’s president argues that it is the county’s responsibility to protect the health of its residents. “After all,” he told the LA Times, “fire departments are responsible for overseeing pyrotechnics on film sets, and municipalities have banned smoking in restaurants to protect patron and employee health.”

County officials, however, disagree.  At least one county supervisor believes that it is not a city issue or a county issue but a state issue:  “it is the state of California, not the county, that needs to act to protect adult film performers.”  He argues that if the state empowers law enforcement to conduct sting operations “all you’ve got to do is make one or two arrests and the rest of the … industry will understand pretty quickly that there’s a risk.”

AHF disagrees and is hoping that the voters of Los Angeles County will go for its ballot measure which it likens to the health permit requirements for tattoo shops, massage parlors, and bathhouse.  The measure, would “require producers of adult films to obtain a public health permit from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and pay a permit fee.” It would also authorize the county “to revoke permits of film producers violating the ordinance.”  Violations of the ordinance, could result in civil fines or misdemeanor charges. The measure needs 200,000 signatures in order to find its way on to the November 2012 ballot. 

Some warn, however, that if such a measure were to pass, the porn industry, would take its billions of dollars and start making movies far away from Hollywood, where no latex is required.    

Commentary Politics

No, Republicans, Porn Is Still Not a Public Health Crisis

Martha Kempner

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography.

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, the Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography. Without much debate, a subcommittee of Republican delegates agreed to add to a draft of the party’s 2016 platform an amendment declaring pornography is endangering our children and destroying lives. As Rewire argued when Utah passed a resolution with similar language, pornography is neither dangerous nor a public health crisis.

According to CNN, the amendment to the platform reads:

The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life [sic] of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which [is] closely linked to human trafficking.

Mary Frances Forrester, a delegate from North Carolina, told Yahoo News in an interview that she had worked with conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America (CWA) on the amendment’s language. On its website, CWA explains that its mission is “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens—first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society—thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

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The amendment does not elaborate on the ways in which this internet monster is supposedly harmful to children. Forrester, however, told Yahoo News that she worries that pornography is addictive: “It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children. It seems … [young people] do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.”

“Biological” porn addiction was one of the 18 “points of fact” that were included in a Utah Senate resolution that was ultimately signed by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in April. As Rewire explained when the resolution first passed out of committee in February, none of these “facts” are supported by scientific research.

The myth of porn addiction typically suggests that young people who view pornography and enjoy it will be hard-wired to need more and more pornography, in much the same way that a drug addict needs their next fix. The myth goes on to allege that porn addicts will not just need more porn but will need more explicit or violent porn in order to get off. This will prevent them from having healthy sexual relationships in real life, and might even lead them to become sexually violent as well.

This is a scary story, for sure, but it is not supported by research. Yes, porn does activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated by, for example, cocaine or heroin. But as Nicole Prause, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Rewire back in February, so does looking at pictures of “chocolate, cheese, or puppies playing.” Prause went on to explain: “Sex film viewing does not lead to loss of control, erectile dysfunction, enhanced cue (sex image) reactivity, or withdrawal.” Without these symptoms, she said, we can assume “sex films are not addicting.”

Though the GOP’s draft platform amendment is far less explicit about why porn is harmful than Utah’s resolution, the Republicans on the subcommittee clearly want to evoke fears of child pornography, sexual predators, and trafficking. It is as though they want us to believe that pornography on the internet is the exclusive domain of those wishing to molest or exploit our children.

Child pornography is certainly an issue, as are sexual predators and human trafficking. But conflating all those problems and treating all porn as if it worsens them across the board does nothing to solve them, and diverts attention from actual potential solutions.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist, told Rewire in a recent email that the majority of porn on the internet depicts adults. Equating all internet porn with child pornography and molestation is dangerous, Ley wrote, not just because it vilifies a perfectly healthy sexual behavior but because it takes focus away from the real dangers to children: “The modern dialogue about child porn is just a version of the stranger danger stories of men in trenchcoats in alleys—it tells kids to fear the unknown, the stranger, when in fact, 90 percent of sexual abuse of children occurs at hands of people known to the victim—relatives, wrestling coaches, teachers, pastors, and priests.” He added: “By blaming porn, they put the problem external, when in fact, it is something internal which we need to address.”

The Republican platform amendment, by using words like “public health crisis,” “public menace” “predators” and “destroying the life,” seems designed to make us afraid, but it does nothing to actually make us safer.

If Republicans were truly interested in making us safer and healthier, they could focus on real public health crises like the rise of STIs; the imminent threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; the looming risk of the Zika virus; and, of course, the ever-present hazards of gun violence. But the GOP does not seem interested in solving real problems—it spearheaded the prohibition against research into gun violence that continues today, it has cut funding for the public health infrastructure to prevent and treat STIs, and it is working to cut Title X contraception funding despite the emergence of Zika, which can be sexually transmitted and causes birth defects that can only be prevented by preventing pregnancy.

This amendment is not about public health; it is about imposing conservative values on our sexual behavior, relationships, and gender expression. This is evident in other elements of the draft platform, which uphold that marriage is between a man and a women; ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its ruling affirming the right to same-sex marriage; declare dangerous the Obama administration’s rule that schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their gender identity; and support conversion therapy, a highly criticized practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and has been deemed ineffective and harmful by the American Psychological Association.

Americans like porn. Happy, well-adjusted adults like porn. Republicans like porn. In 2015, there were 21.2 billion visits to the popular website PornHub. The site’s analytics suggest that visitors around the world spent a total of 4,392,486,580 hours watching the site’s adult entertainment. Remember, this is only one way that web users access internet porn—so it doesn’t capture all of the visits or hours spent on what may have trumped baseball as America’s favorite pastime.

As Rewire covered in February, porn is not a perfect art form for many reasons; it is not, however, an epidemic. And Concerned Women for America, Mary Frances Forrester, and the Republican subcommittee may not like how often Americans turn on their laptops and stick their hands down their pants, but that doesn’t make it a public health crisis.

Party platforms are often eclipsed by the rest of what happens at the convention, which will take place next week. Given the spectacle that a convention headlined by presumptive nominee (and seasoned reality television star) Donald Trump is bound to be, this amendment may not be discussed after next week. But that doesn’t mean that it is unimportant or will not have an effect on Republican lawmakers. Attempts to codify strict sexual mores are a dangerous part of our history—Anthony Comstock’s crusade against pornography ultimately extended to laws that made contraception illegal—that we cannot afford to repeat.

Roundups Sexuality

This Week in Sex: Condoms in Porn, Sex on Vacation, and What Millennials Are Doing in Bed

Martha Kempner

This week, a survey gives us insight into the sex lives of millennials, a study finds women engage in riskier sex on vacation, and advocates try another tactic for mandating condoms in porn.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Survey Says: Millennials Are Using Condoms, Lubes, and Toys, and They’re Having Orgasms

A new survey by condom manufacturer Ansell targeted over 5,000 men and women ages 18 to 34 and asked them 69 questions (yep, not 70, and probably not a coincidence) about sexuality and relationships.

It found that 43 percent of millennials are using lubricants and over a quarter are using vibrators. This could explain why so many of the women are climaxing—89 percent of women respondents said they typically have an orgasm during sex.

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And as for that sex, the most common position is doggy style, followed by missionary and cowgirl. Men reportedly said they prefer doggy style, while the women in the survey said they liked missionary better. The most common day for sex: a birthday.

The survey also found that the more academic degrees millennials have, the more likely they are to use condoms, though there is no way of knowing whether they are actually getting a formal sex education in schools. What the findings do show is that 65 percent of individuals with a professional degree reported using condoms, compared to 44 percent of respondents with a high school diploma. And, 58 percent of millennials currently enrolled at a university reported using condoms.

When they’re not actually having sex, respondents appear to be using their phones to talk about sex. Over half (57 percent) of millennials reported sexting, with 7 percent saying they sext daily and 11 percent saying they do it several times per week. And some of those sexts include art: 49 percent of millennials have sent naked pictures on their mobile phones, and 25 percent sent such pictures via Snapchat.

But don’t expect them to stop using their mobile phones—at least not the 37 percent of respondents who said they would rather give up sex than the Internet for a year.

Women Have Riskier Sex When on Vacation

Vacation sex is not a new concept, but researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Florida wanted to know if individuals engaged in riskier behavior while on holiday than they do at home.

They surveyed more than 850 women ages 18 to 50 online and asked about their own behavior as well as their perceptions about which tourist activities and destinations were most conducive to sexual risk-taking.

The results suggest that tourist experiences in tropical destinations or European countries are seen as the ultimate settings for sex with a steady or at least known sexual partner, and a group tour is best for casual sex with an acquaintance.

What is it about vacation that leads to sex? Well, there are many factors—lack of schedule and responsibility, a disconnect from everyday life, and anonymity were all brought up by respondents. One major facilitator of vacation sex: heavy drinking. Some women, however, just saw risk itself as part of the vacation experience.

Women were also asked to rank 23 sexual practices—such as going to a sex club, having unprotected sex with a stranger, or having sex in a restroom—in order of perceived risk. Not surprisingly, those women who reported having engaged in risky sex while a tourist perceived these activities as less risky than their peers did.

Though sex on the beach may not seem like a serious subject for academic study, the researchers point out that there are public health ramifications. As one of the researchers said in a press release: “The fact that women have tendencies to underestimate the risks involved in non-penetrative sexual activities, overestimate the protection of condoms, and attribute sexual risk-taking to alcohol consumption are factors that sexual health information campaigns might want to address.”

Measure Requiring Porn Actors to Wear Condoms May Be on the 2016 Ballot in California

Advocates announced last week that they have gathered enough signatures to put a measure requiring condoms in all adult films shot in California on the 2016 ballot.

As Rewire has been reporting, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has been working on various measures over the last few years to mandate condoms in porn films with mixed success. Attempts to get the LA City Council to agree to the mandate failed a number of times, but in 2012 voters in that city approved “Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act,” known as Measure B, despite producers’ threats that they would simply film elsewhere. Enforcement of the rule has been difficult, and last year AHF took its fight to the state legislature, where efforts to pass a new policy failed.

Now, AHF is turning once again to the voters with a statewide ballot initiative that would require all production companies to certify, under the penalty of perjury, that condoms were used in all acts of vaginal and anal sex. Violators would face fines of up to $70,000. Production companies would also have to post a sign on set notifying actors that condoms are required.

The adult film industry is opposed to any such requirements, arguing that it is capable of keeping its performers safe. Many others in the state oppose the measure as well because of the financial implications. Since Measure B passed in Los Angeles, the number of permits given to adult films has dropped by 90 percent. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, a non-partisan fiscal advisor, says that if passed, the ballot initiative will not only cost the state millions of dollars to enforce each year, the state will simultaneously lose tens of millions of dollars each year in tax revenue.

Still, AHF President Michael Weinstein believes that voters will go for the measure. He told the Los Angeles Times, “unlike most politicians, voters were not squeamish about this issue, seeing it as a means to protect the health and safety of performers working in the industry.”

The secretary of state confirmed last week that the initiative had received enough signatures—365,880—to be placed on the ballot. The signatures still have to be validated by state officials.