This OP/ED was written by Aurora Snow and posted a couple weeks ago on The Daily Beast
I would prefer to have both condoms and testing in porn. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; it makes sense to have both. This is not what a girl in the industry is supposed to say, but it is what a lot of us think when quietly eyeing Los Angeles County’s ballot initiative—known as Measure B—mandating condoms in adult films.
Safety isn’t sexy. Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle makes me feel like a dork, but I do it because I know what’s at risk if I don’t. No one feels or looks sexy wearing a safety hat or knee pads. That’s what the condom is for the porn industry, it’s our safety hat.
No one wants to wear the safety hat, it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t look pretty and it may make the day longer. Condoms are known to rip. Who knows how many condoms one scene will take. If it’s a three guys-on-one-girl scene and the condoms keep ripping it could go from a two-hour scene to a four-hour scene. Only one porn company that I know of is and always has been all condoms: Wicked. They have been doing what other companies fear: selling safe sex.
I have done the majority of my six-hundred scenes without condoms, but I predominately use condoms in my personal life. In real life, I ask that my partners both wear condoms and get tested. Yet when I go to work I follow the standard procedure of working without a condom and taking my fellow actor’s most recent test at face value.
Every month when I get tested, I wonder if I’ll have to come home to my guy and say, “Please don’t be mad at me, but we have to go see a doctor because you might have been exposed.” Because even though I primarily use condoms in my personal life, like most people I know, I don’t use them with oral sex. While it’s not as easy to catch something through oral, the possibility remains, and due to the nature of my work the risk is high. Luckily, most STDs that float around the world of porn—most often referred to as the “industry flu”—can be cured with a single shot of antibiotics. Because these STDs are so easy to get rid of, most performers have a certain level of comfort with them. It’s almost common. There are other not-so-easily cured STDs that aren’t tested for in the adult business. We test monthly for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and the big one, HIV. There are zero requirements to be tested for anything else, but there are other risk factors, such as herpes, HPV, and syphilis. Thanks in part to the recent syphilis outbreak, there may now be a standard monthly syphilis test.
When I heard about the syphilis outbreak, my first feeling was one of relief. For the first time ever, I was so removed from the Los Angeles porn scene that I didn’t have to check my calendar and start calling every partner I’d had in the last two weeks to see whether I was at risk. There have been several HIV scares when I had to make those phone calls and figure out for myself how close I was to patient zero. There are no groups within porn protecting performers; it’s always been up to performers to keep track of their scene partners, to check tests for themselves, and to make those phone calls no one wants to make.
It isn’t safe to rely on someone else to keep me safe on set. I showed up one day with a fresh test, still a newbie to porn and very trusting. What happened? The other girl in our scene couldn’t seem to “find” her test. She was a big star at that time, and she was an exclusive performer for this company. The director did his best to persuade me and the male performer to work with this prized performer despite her lack of a test. When we both refused, he yelled at us, but didn’t fire us. That could have happened. Instead, we shot the scene without the untested girl. That was the first time I understood porn directors aren’t looking out for me, so I have to.
While that situation doesn’t happen often, it does happen. Here is another example. I arrived on time for work. I sat through an hour and a half of hair and makeup, went through wardrobe options with the director, and then shot glamour photos for the box cover. Before any bodily fluids are exchanged, performers share their test results. I showed the male performer my test results and waited patiently for his. Somehow he never produced them and got ready for the scene anyway. I persisted in asking for his test. His answer, “Baby girl, you know me. We work together all the time, you know I get tested baby.” That answer didn’t go over well with me. I sought out the director and asked for the test results. No one could produce a test and the scene was canceled. I didn’t get a kill fee, neither did the male performer, the director lost out shooting a scene that day, not to mention the location fees he paid. Will they hire me again? I don’t know. That’s a risk I take when I speak up for my own safety concerns. Unfortunately, the idea of losing money is sometimes enough to make a performer overlook little things like double-checking a scene partner’s test. And, of course, the money at stake sometimes has made other performers fake, doctor, or bluff their tests.
Knowing that a person I am working with is tested doesn’t always mean they are STD free. Not everyone that works in porn has sex within the industry, nor do they always use condoms in their private lives, which increases the STD transmission risk from performer to performer between tests. Some of the industry men I know often date three or four girls at a time: there is the main squeeze, the distant girlfriend, the mistress, and the random one-night stand. I have been one of those girls, and not known I was one of a crowd. With the high sexual activity of performers both in and outside of the business, when an STD scare happens it can be lengthy due to reinfection rates from partners that have been treated still having sex with those that haven’t. Even though telling someone you gave them an STD is the right thing to do so they can be treated for it, it is a talk most people would rather avoid. This is a part of being in the adult business; it’s the less glamorous side.
Bringing something like condoms into porn may contribute to ruining the fantasy, because in fantasy land no one has to think about safety. But if I were your girlfriend, your sister, your mother, or your daughter, what would you want the law to be?