Adult Performers Are Adults. Let’s Try Treating Them That Way.
As expected, since I raised my objections to Tristan Taormino’s declaration via CNN that she would henceforward require performers to use condoms in all scenes she directed, I’ve been getting the usual barrage of incoming bullshit that follows any attempt to take a reason-based stand on this issue. I’ve been called all sorts of things by all sorts of people who seem united only in their rancor toward me. The ranting of Rob Black and the newly retired (how could they tell?) Gene Ross, who even AHF won’t touch with a barbecue fork, is no surprise. I’m a bit more amused by Gail Dines chiming in on CounterPunch to offer her concurrence with my view that Tristan’s new stance is politically motivated (after making sure her readers knew me as a “maker of violent pornography”). Thanks for the recognition, Gail, and since you’re so fond of primitive Anglo-Saxonisms to demonstrate that you’re not a pearl-clutching prude, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean when I suggest you take your sarcastic glee in setting one pornographer against another and stick it right up your bum. I’m not going to be drawn into rebutting your lies and nonsense any more than I would be the verbal pollution of Ross and Black, with whom you share a common contempt for the truth and an adolescent need to shock.
Now, as to those who actually think that any position I’ve taken ever in my 30 years in this industry opposes the use of condoms, get real. I was among the very first directors to speak up for condom use back in 1993, when most of this business thought of latex as an ingredient in house paint. At that time I declared that I would never work for any company or on any production that would not allow performers who wanted the right to use condoms to do so. I have never wavered a millimeter from that position and I never will. One reason I endured a decade of bureaucratic bullshit from Adam&Eve is their condom-friendly policy. I am absolutely not against performers using condoms whenever, wherever and with whomever THEY choose. I’ve got miles of footage to prove it. And BTW, I’ve recently been confronted with earlier statements in which I rejected the contention that condom porn is unsellable when, in fact, I’ve sold literally millions of dollars worth of it and still believe, as I did when I said as much to the odious Luke Ford, that condoms are nothing more than a creative challenge for good directors and not a menace to the bottom line outside of certain particularly hardcore genres. But they are a menace to some performers, particularly female performers, as Nina has explained in her own widely quoted explanation of why she, like me, favors a condom-optional policy depending on who does what to whom and how they feel most safe doing it.
Let’s be serious here. In order for that position to be ethical, it’s necessary for performers to have such a choice unconditionally. In the same way I’m opposed to AHF, Cal-OSHA and any members of the porn community attempting to make condom use mandatory under threat of either legal sanction or economic hardship, I’m unalterably opposed to any producer or director refusing to allow performers to use condoms or doing so only after a lot of whining and then scratching the condom performer from the list of potential future hires. The choice to use condoms must be meaningful for all performers. If there is to be an industry-wide position on condom use, and eventually I suspect one will emerge, it must be one of complete acceptance of performer choice regardless of all other considerations. The choice to use or not use them must not subject the performer to economic discrimination on future productions. Nothing less can be justified if we care to preserve the credibility of our oft-repeated insistence that performers do what they do with full consent. Full consent means consent to every act they’re asked to perform and to the use of barrier protections in addition to continued universal STD testing if they so desire.
In 1993, I favored mandatory condom use for all because we did not have effective, quick-response testing of the type we have now and understood that those performers who wanted to use condoms would be kicked out of the business unless condom use were made a universal standard. It’s not 1993 now. We do have amazingly accurate testing available to all and have proven over a dozen years, during which the het side of this industry has still seen exactly two documented instances of on-set HIV transmission in the shooting of tens of thousands of bareback sex scenes, that screening and partner tracing have reduced the danger of the most serious STD transmissions in the workplace to a vanishingly rare phenomenon. At this point I’m perfectly comfortable shooting tested performers with or without condoms, but I’m not the one in front of the camera and I’m not the one who should be making that call for those whose bodies are on the line. No one else should either. I don’t care who seeks to do this or toward what end. It’s an invasive, infantilizing affront to the intelligence and judgment of consenting adults, and consenting adults are who work in front of the cameras in porn, full stop. I do not presume to know better than they do what they need, but I can tell you with absolute certainty what they don’t need, which is anyone else telling them how to do their jobs safely under threat of whatever consequences said somebody can impose.
This industry needs to accept condom use and get over it. Those both inside and outside the industry must accept that condom use is the performer’s business only and get over it also.
I hope this dispels any misunderstanding of where I stand on this question and though I know it won’t silence all the lies and distortions surrounding that stand, I am nonetheless clearly on the record as having taken it, acted on it and pledged to continue to do so regardless of what anyone else says or thinks about it. Clear enough for the various low-information individuals who have attempted to misrepresent it in every way possible? I hope so but I’m not optimistic. Neither am I optimistic that the majority of production companies, who have sought to defend themselves against the threat of intrusive governmental regulation by insisting that they support performer choice as an alternative, will actually follow through on making their claim credible by their actions on the set. Nevertheless, they should and if they don’t they’ll eventually end up regretting it.
It is a medical fact that STDs exist in the population as a whole. It is a medical fact that porn performers, however thoroughly tested and closely monitored, possess no special immunity to these diseases. There have been instances of STD contagion, usually of the more minor sort, in porn production and there will be more in the future no matter what measures are taken. No protection is foolproof. Testing is not foolproof. Condoms are not foolproof. Even combining the two is not foolproof, as not all STDs are transmitted in the same way. Unless this industry cares to be subjected to the kinds of irresponsible, politically driven attacks that occur every time someone catches a cold on a set that have become commonplace, the nudge-nudge-wink-wink approach to the condom option must be replaced by meaningful performer choice, or the idea of performer choice is, in fact, just exactly the meaningless dodge porn’s critics allege. The FSC’s insistence on performer choice is only defensible where performer choice exists.
Now, that’s my position and I’m sticking to it, so those who insist that it’s something else are hereby cordially invited to sit down and STFU. I do not believe that condoms are necessary for safe porn production thanks to the testing system and I don’t believe the majority of performers want to use them for all the reasons they’ve stated. However, those who do want to use them should be able to without losing work or taking crap over it from anyone. Likewise those who choose not to should suffer no repercussions from members of any opposing camps.
And while I’m defending real performer choice, I want to make it clear that I am not backing away from my objections to directors appointing themselves in loco parentis to make decisions of the most personal nature for consenting adult sex workers. I note that director Nica Noelle has fallen in line behind Tristan Taormino in insisting that her performers use condoms whether they want to or not, also in the full knowledge that these same performers will be working bareback on some other set the next day so they are really made no safer overall by such unilateral decrees in such limited circumstances. I find these heartfelt declarations no less self-serving and hypocritical regardless of the source and still find them mendacious and cynical given that such limited policies are unlikely to protect anyone to any significant extent.
Likewise I find Axel Braun’s declaration that he will use no performers under the age of 21 in his productions to be risible. Again, seemingly operating under the assumption that performers can’t be trusted with their own futures, he declares that 18-year-olds are not in a position to weigh the long-term consequences of performing in porn, an ability they will magically acquire in the following three years. This is utter nonsense. At eighteen, anyone is free to enlist in the any branch of the U.S. military, the long-term consequences of which can include maiming and death. At eighteen anyone can work in any of the ten most dangerous trades listed by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which remain the following:
3. Aircraft piloting
4. Refuse and recyclable material collection
6. Structural iron and steel work
9. Truck driving
Workers under twenty-one have been injured or killed in every one of these occupations but no one seriously suggests that they be barred from entering them until they (presumably) have their wits about them at age 21. In porn, like it or not, economic advantages accrue to early adopters. For many performers their best earning years will 18-24. Why should they be deprived of the opportunity to make the most they can out of their time here by artificially handicapping them from pursuing their ambitions starting at the same age as someone enlisting for military service or shipping out on a fishing boat? This kind of thing may make it easier for directors to don the laurels of nobility, but it accomplishes nothing of value for performers whatsoever.
Young performers would be better served by full disclosure of the possible repercussions of their decisions going in. I doubt that Marine recruiters take 18-year-old prospects on tours of V.A. hospitals, but perhaps they should. I doubt most agents, producers and directors take new talent to a sit-down with Gauge, who retired from porn early, educated herself for three different trades and found herself excluded from those trades when her past porn activities became known. Perhaps they should. But realistically, the most serious long-term hazard porn performers face is the lasting stigma attached to them by people who regard porn as vile and that hazard can only be mitigated by broad social change. I see that change as no more likely than a reduction of the far greater dangers of military service by a universal rejection of war as an instrument of policy.
Young people facing hard choices in a time of declining economic mobility will not be able to avoid those choices no matter who presumes to “protect” them by interfering with their ability to make a living. That is a reality with which performers, producers, directors and politically-motivated outsiders must learn to cope. I wish the world were a gentler place that provided safe, well-compensated employment to all, but it never has been and will never be.
This does not acquit anyone of the decent responsibility to insist on reasonable standards of protection and realistic minimum ages for participation in fields having the potential to make life difficult later. But in the end, if there is to be this thing we call individual freedom, individuals must be free to make decisions they may later regret. The best thing we can do is provide them with the most complete knowledge at our disposal of what future costs they may incur as a result of making their own decisions and then getting the fuck out of the way and letting them make those decisions. They’re the ones who will have to live with them and the hard choices rightfully belong only to them.