Tracy Clark-Flory interviews porn performer and producer Madison Young about condoms in porn. Young argues that individual performers should be allowed to decide whether to use condoms on set:
CLARK-FLORY: What do you think of the push to mandate condom use in the industry?
YOUNG: I think it could be a mistake. Making condoms mandatory for all adult films is just as confining and dis-empowering as eliminating condoms as an option for performers. There needs to be an element of choice, and the choice shouldn't be that if you want work you don't use condoms and if you want to use condoms then you don't work.
Clark-Flory's question is based on a false premise. Condoms are already mandatory on all porn sets in California. Porn producers are subject to the same bloodborne pathogens standard as every other employer in the state. Porn doesn't have some special license to to endanger just because it's porn.
In practice, it's difficult to enforce the condom rule because the Cal-OSHA process is complaint-driven. Complaints are rare because performers are afraid of repercussions if they stand up for their rights and players who are scrupulous about safer sex are less likely to be hired in the first place.
Many actresses won't even ask to use condoms for fear of losing work.
Younger told Clark-Flory, "I use condoms when they are made available to me in a scene." That sums up the problem right there. Even a big name like Madison Young doesn't feel like she has the clout to demand condoms on every shoot. She thinks they're a good idea, and she uses them when her employer offers, but she doesn't insist.
I don't blame Young. She wants to keep working. Everyone knows that insisting on condoms can get an actress blacklisted. The founder of the Adult Industry Medical Health Foundation, Sharon Mitchell has said in interviews that she always used condoms during her 2000+ film career because she was a big enough star to demand them, but that these days, most women in the industry don't have that kind of clout.
"Queen of Porn" Jenna Jameson said it's "sad and disgusting" how much pressure women face to go without condoms in the industry.
This is a great example of why occupational health and safety laws aren't up for case-by-case negotiation, not on construction sites, and not on porn sets.
The government has to set standards and enforce them consistently. Without an impartial regulator to level the playing field, unscrupulous employers will take advantage of desperate employees to gain a competitive advantage over more ethical competitors. Without regulation, you get a race to the bottom.
The "empowered personal choice" to bareback negates the "empowered personal choice" to demand condoms because the barebackers get all the work. It's hardly surprising that there are plenty of performers in the industry who are comfortable working without condoms. The widespread bias against condom players ensures that relatively few people can make a living in the industry while practicing safer sex. So, the whole discourse is skewed by the employers' power to hire and fire.
Employers must not be allowed to subject their employees to entirely preventable risks of injury or death, even if they can find workers who will comply in order to keep getting paid. Also keep in mind, we're talking about communicable diseases, here. One person's "empowered personal choice" to refuse a condom can be another person's death sentence.
It's a cruel joke to say that it's the "employee's choice" to use safety equipment when it's the boss's choice to fire the employee. These are not two equal adults negotiating safer sex in the bedroom. This is strictly business.
Porn is a legal industry in California and performers deserve the same protection as any other workers.
We don't empower workers by saying: "You get to decide whether to be safe and unemployed, or unsafe and employed. Good luck!" We empower workers by setting safety standards and enforcing them.
[Photo Credit: Rick Lawrence, Creative Commons.]