Commentary Sexual Health

Proposition 60 Ignores Unique Needs of Porn Industry, Perpetuates Falsehoods

Andre Shakti

In my opinion, the biggest issue with California's Prop 60 is that it was drafted without any input from the industry, as well as without any understanding of how the industry functions today. Porn performers are constantly working internally to improve upon the industry.

It was July 2012, and I had just ended a second successful Skype interview with my first porn studio. I’d already been working in the sex industry for six years as a burlesque performer, stripper, and fetish model, and had been methodically courting multiple porn studios for months. I’d diligently done my research, and was more than ready to make the jump to the next chapter of my career.

In the days following my interview, I received multiple emails from the studio with a host of information about preparing for my first shoot. Some of it is what a civilian would expect: travel itinerary details, information about what kind of scene I’d be shooting, who my costar would be, recommendations on what kinds of outfits to bring to set, and so on and so forth. However, they also introduced me to the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), its Adult Production Health and Safety Services (APHSS) program, and its Performer Availability Scheduling Service program, which was developed by industry stakeholders, compliance experts, doctors, and attorneys to uphold performer testing protocols and industry standards for self-regulation. This was the first formal education I’d ever received on how the porn industry took preventive action against sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission on set. Before being enlightened, I’d just assumed that porn stars had informal—yet informed—conversations about risk assessment and harm reduction with one another immediately prior to shooting.

At the time, performers were required to get tested every 30 days through an APHSS-approved testing facility. The tests are colloquially referred to as “Talent Tests,” and they screen for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, as well as hepatitis B and C. Results are available within 24 to 48 hours, and are then uploaded to a national database and shared with the performer in question, as well as with all major porn production companies. If you test “positive” on any of the results, you’re prohibited from working until you re-test “negative.” Additionally, should there be a positive result, the FSC calls a moratorium, temporarily halting all industry production and launching an internal investigation to ensure that no on-set STI transmissions occurred.

To me, this system already seemed both sophisticated and comprehensive to the extreme. But a mere few days after receiving my inaugural porn shoot instructions via email, the “Mr. Marcus” scandal broke. A seasoned porn performer, “Mr. Marcus” altered a syphilis-positive Talent Test so that he could keep performing. In the weeks after he exposed his co-stars to the disease without their knowledge or consent, close to a dozen actors testified positive for syphilis. The incident sparked an industry-wide panic and an FSC-imposed ten-day moratorium while performers were all tested and treated for syphilis.

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

DONATE NOW

The moratorium lifted just in time for me to fly across the country and shoot my first porn scene. Before the shoot, I had to undergo three separate rounds of testing in a two-week period, as well as receive two incredibly painful penicillin injections in my ass as an additional precaution even though I was entirely new to the industry. I often tell people that the porn industry is so safe, I had to work harder to get into porn than I ever have trying to take someone to bed!

The following year, in 2013, the FSC changed testing protocols from “every 30 days” to “every 14 days” to decrease the likelihood of another outbreak. The FSC also improved the security of the testing database that ensures performer privacy and protects producer liability, and increased protocols for performer support in the event of a positive HIV-test result, including funding for testing of first- and second-generation partners.

Now, three years later, the porn industry is battling Michael Weinstein’s Proposition 60, which perpetuates the offensive, condescending, and factually inaccurate ideas: (1) that porn performers can’t be trusted to make their own health and safety decisions; and (2) that the producers and directors they work with universally don’t care about performers, and are actively trying to coerce and manipulate them into engaging in risky behavior on camera for their own personal gain.

In an earlier piece at Rewire, s.e. smith summed up Prop 60:

The measure will require performers in California—one of the two states where it’s explicitly legal to shoot porn—to use condoms on set in situations that may facilitate the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including anal and vaginal sex, with condom-safe and appropriate lubricants as necessary. In addition, producers will be required to pay for any STI prevention, screening, and treatment costs incurred by performers. The requirements for film permits and notices would also be tougher under Prop 60, including mandated liaisons with the health department.

In addition, the measure “allows adult performers to bring suit against producers who break the law, and it permits any California resident to file a complaint with a state if the resident believes condoms were not used in a production.”

In my opinion, the biggest issue with Prop 60 is that it was drafted without any input from the industry, as well as without any understanding of how the industry functions today. Porn performers are constantly working internally to improve upon the industry. We have no problem prioritizing our own physical wellness, security, and sustainable success; just look at “OSHSB Petition 560.”

On May 9, 2016, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) received a submission on behalf of the FSC, designated OSHSB Petition 560. This petition aims to “promulgate a safety and health standard to address the unique health and safety needs and issues faced by the adult film industry.”

So while the entire industry throws untold hours of emotional, physical, and financial labor opposing and educating people about Prop 60, advocates and the industry are engaging Cal/OSHA to determine a baseline agreement of protection that we can all support. We want to design proactive regulations that enable performers to make use of any and all preventive options that are out there now, as well as those that might be available in the future. These could include, but are no way limited to, vaccinations, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), testing protocols as they stand today (taking future advancements into consideration), latex or nitrile gloves, condoms, and dental dams.

These regulations will be different from those in Proposition 60 because they will be shaped with the industry’s direct participation and input, and will encompass a variety of protective methods, instead of creating a “condom or bust” environment.

This petition is just one of many examples proving the industry has been proactive in the fight against STI transmission. And, for the record, we are not “against” condoms in any way; the industry is pro-choice, and always has been. I myself am a condoms-only performer, although I believe that porn performers should be directly involved in creating and shaping regulations that affect both their income streams and their bodies.

The porn industry is a very unique industry, especially in the sense that the work that we do is inherently physically and emotionally intimate. By default, we have a strong, organic desire to stay safe to sustain our professional careers, as well as our bodies. Porn performers are, quite literally, sexual professionals, and the many methods we utilize to keep ourselves safe aren’t always visible.

When civilians view a porn scene without a visible condom, they’re likely to make assumptions based on an ignorance around all the invisible safety precautions we’re taking. This includes our consistent and effective testing regimens. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, only 45 percent of all general population adults have ever had a single HIV test, while active porn performers get tested an average of 26 times per year. Other preventive measures include off-camera negotiations about each individual performer’s safer sex preferences and the consumption of PrEP, otherwise known as Truvada.

Some proponents of the Prop 60 have argued that porn is an educational tool, in some ways, for youth, and therefore should only showcase “responsible,” visible protective protocols. This argument is ludicrous. Condomless sex does not inherently equal unprotected sex, and this argument diverts the conversation away from the necessity to test, as well as the need for comprehensive, pleasure-based sexual health education programs in our schools. We don’t expect our kids to learn how to drive from watching The Fast and the Furious, just like we don’t expect a gun safety public service announcement to scroll across the screen before enjoying the movie Die Hard. So why are we holding pornographic media to an entirely separate standard?

The first advisory committee addressing Petition 560 is scheduled to meet on January 31. But if Prop 60 passes, it will make all the work performers have done with Cal/OSHA moot.

Load More