Confidential To The Porn Industry: HIV Is Not Erotic


NOTE: Updated: see footnotes.

It's been a crazy week (and then some) for California's other film industry, as they've experienced yet another HIV outbreak among adult film actors. As is usual for this sort of thing, the latest death sentence HIV infection scandal1inflicted on multiple porn actors has led to a quarantine of potentially affected people, calls for shoot cancellations, and now a reinvigorated campaign to mandate condom usage for adult film actors. Yet, stunningly, it's not intermittent quarantines and interrupted shoots, but the call to mandate safe sex practices, that has the porn industry pitching the biggest hissy fit of all.

The industry remains firmly against mandatory condom usage. If we mandate condoms in porn, the argument inevitably goes, we risk eliminating the competative edge of American pornographers, alienating viewers and driving them into the arms of porn makers in other countries where condoms are not required. And anyway, who cares, they often add. The industry already has programs in place to prevent transmission of deadly illness, so any further regulation is unnecessary!

If those arguments sound familiar, they should, because you've heard them before. They are identical to those employed by clothing makers, auto manufactures, retailers and grocers, major corporations, and any other business that seeks to earn maximum profits via exploitation of vulnerable employees, and considers even meager laws protecting those employees to be an onerous obstruction to that worthy goal.

To be blunt, reliance on any business entity to self-regulate is absurd. Any time an industry claims that regulation is either bad, unnecessary, or more commonly, both, it is because they want to be free to do more, not less harm. While it's true that since the 80s, outbreaks have been rare and and contained quickly, despite industry claims to high standards (including mandatory HIV testing), they still happen, and it's absolutely unacceptable that we're willing to tolerate it. As Amanda Marcotte gets across in her post on the same subject ask yourself what would happen if a different industry, say auto manufacturing, claimed immunity from OSHA, citing their own policies as proof it wasn't needed, but every few years there was a scandal involving maimed or killed employees. There would be an epic public freak out2, as there should be in this instance. So why then is it that there is hardly any outrage aimed at the practices of an industry where it is the human employees themselves, and not their labor, that is being exploited?

Part of the problem is that America's vastly un-acknowledged class problem complicates everything. In America, how you act is more important than what you are. If you grew up wealthy, attended only the best schools and have been fabulously wealthy your entire life, but talk like an ignorant hick just out of the meth lab, you're "real", "authentic", a man of the people, no matter how transparently you clearly care only about the interests of wealthy, powerful elites. (This is something we're seeing right now with the way that the Tea Party "movement", the majority of whom are upper class white people who also happen to shamelessly benefit from the very government they claim to hate, is bizarrely cast as a "populist" movement.) Chances are, like many of these assholes you might actually believe you are the salt of the earth; similarly, many of Porn's executive class have themselves acted in porn, and thus, see themselves as part of the rabble, rather than participants in their abuse.

Our political culture is also to blame. 30 years of conservative rhetoric has been, in essence, a constant angry tirade against alleged "parasites" who make up the ranks of the poor, racial/sexual minorities, and struggling middle classes. The political party that ought naturally to defend these people is so dominated by false flag agents who are actually opposed to the party platform that they refuse to fight. The result is that this nonsense is allowed to become conventional wisdom - after all, if you don't argue the premise, you must agree with it, right? This makes defending programs that help people, especially people who have been villified by these belligerent jerks, increasingly difficult.

And let's not forget our insidious, exceptional prudishness and vocal minority of bitterly hateful anti sex crusaders. Sex workers are generally not even provided with legal rights. Adult film actors are afforded a better lot than prostitutes, but not by much: they're seen by the public as, at best, interesting, exotic freaks, and more commonly as degenerates barely worthy of the consideration 'decent' people give to a neglected pet, and let's face it, if you don't really care that much about animals, why bother caring about puppy mills or factory farms.

Never mind that porn consumption is actually higher in red states than in blue states, the theocrats and anti-sex police are generally opposed to a frank discussion of of the realities of sex in America, partly for ideological reasons, and partly because like most Americans, they're major hypocrites. We may watch porn, but we see porn actors not as actual people, but vessels for our fantasies to be quickly discarded and forgotten as soon as the need to masturbate has been satisfied. Who cares what happens after that, right?

Americans are increasingly divided by views on sex and sexual freedom. A lot of liberals who normally have little problem advocating for public health outcomes are reluctant to find themselves lumped in with prudes, theocrats and the anti-sex police, even if regulating safe behavior has nothing to do with free speech or sexual freedom. The result: a perfect storm of selfish apathy and liberal neurosis that guarantees little will be done.


However, even that appaling political landscape isn't as galling as the Adult Film industry's resistance to basic safety. It's bad enough to see them argue that it isn't even neccessary, but to see people suggest that a legal framework in which porn actors are protected from the worst possible outcomes will somehow ruin the biz is extremely frustrating. Forget parallels to Oil and Coal, it's as if the porn industry is deliberately reenacting the efforts by the bar/nightlife business community to prevent laws that ban smoking indoors. When California banned indoor smoking in public places, the nightlife business community opposed it vociferously, arguing, among other things, that banning smoking in public places (like restaurants and bars) causes people to go to places where smoking is still allowed, and will (ZOMG) ruin everything for everyone!

Why it didn't occur to bar and restaurant owners that people might visit places that serve booze and food for reasons other than smoking, or more to the point, why they assumed people would rather stay home and eat and drink alone rather than being slightly inconvenienced by their smoking habit is beyond me, but that's what they thought. Well, SPOILER ALERT: Their arguments are bullshit.

Maybe someone ought to point out to the Porn industry that just like Americans still enjoyed drinking in public with their friends even if they couldn't smoke, we also still really, really, really, really love jacking off. A lot. And for those of you about to chime in with "but they're just gonna watch Euro-porn!", allow me to remind you of something else: We fucking hate subtitles.

The fact is, every single man, and the majority of women, who are reading these words have "consumed" pornography at some point in their lives, and will very likely do so again in the future. Surely, we are not monsters who think human beings should be subjected to deadly illnesses so we don't lose the willing suspension of disbelief required for successful masturbation, right? Besides, if it makes skittish porn industry leaders who are genuinely terrified that protecting their employees will hurt their business model feel any better, consider my experience as a 14 year old - the only disbelief people need to masturbate successfully is in the chances you are actually going to have sex with someone, be-condomed or otherwise.

It might require some adjustment, but let's keep things in perspective. Despite the fact that our political factions, rightly, are so opposed to one another that we can barely communicate, if there's one thing Americans still have in common, it's that we are a nation of drunken masturbators. I suspect the domestic porn industry will be just fine.

For the good of the actors involved and to stifle our own filthy hypocrisy, it is well past time to force the porn industry to bag it up. Any suggestion to the contrary is, frankly, fucking stupid.


1) Fine, pedants, HIV is not a literal death sentence. My apologies for using hyperbole to make a point about the gross irresponsibility of the Porn industry via their failure to take precautions to prevent the spread of this extremely serious, infectious, life threatening, incurable, debilitating, but totally not a death sentence, disease. Jesus F. Christ people, you're missing the part where I made multiple references to masturbation.

2)or would there? People don't seem to give a shit about how offshore drilling destroys the environment, or how coal miners are basically fodder, so maybe I overestimate America's appetite for self-protection.

(Photos found on I can haz cheezburger.)