By Canese Jarboe
“Nobody takes better care of ourselves than we do,” said porn performer Ela Darling while discussing condoms in porn at a June, 2011 forum in Los Angeles. It was true then and it’s true now. Proposition 60 is on the California state ballot in November and it seeks to require adult film performers to wear condoms during sexual intercourse (even though condoms have been required in porn films shot in the state since 1992). Not only that, but Prop 60 will allow any citizen in California to file suit against anyone involved in a production if they perceive any violation. On the surface, it might sound like this ballot measure would keep sex workers safe. If that’s the case, why are so many sex workers, doctors, and public health experts against it?
The very existence of Prop 60 operates on the idea that California’s government and citizens know more about the health of porn performers than they themselves do. Porn performer Stoya explained the following for VICE:
“These sex acts are generally longer in duration and more theatrical in content than the average sex act. Recreational sex and professional sex in front of cameras both involve a certain level of risk, and those of us who engage in professional sex in front of cameras take precautions to lessen the potential for harm at work. Every time that a hole in our precautions is exposed, we look for ways to further lessen the risk. As with cars, as long as human and mechanical error exist, sex will never be completely safe.”
In fact, condoms could prove to be more dangerous on the set of porn films where the constant and prolonged rubbing of latex could cause tears and abrasions in both the vagina and rectum. Although not as visible as a condom, the industry requires adult performers to undergo HIV testing every 14 days. This method has been proven to protect adult performers. Slate has noted that the rate of HIV transmission during porn shoots has been zero:
“Despite hundreds of thousands of HIV diagnoses between 2005 and 2014 in the general population, there have been zero demonstrable on-set HIV transmissions in that period. That means the tremendous amount of money and time spent promoting this bill… is wildly out of proportion to the non-issue it proposes to address.”
In addition to being harmful to the health of the performers, Prop 60 would put them at risk by allowing Californians to sue and therefore violate their privacy by divulging their legal names and home addresses. The porn industry has even threatened to leave California if the ballot measure passes.
Michael Weinstein is the main proponent and funder of Prop 60 and has been accused of having ulterior motives. Bob Cesca for Salon writes about Weinstein’s involvement:
“Oh, and at the risk of burying the lede, the chief proponent of the initiative, Michael Weinstein, has been accused of pushing Prop 60 onto the ballot with the sole purpose of driving the porn industry out of California entirely. So, it seems the proposition might have nothing to do with worker safety or public health whatsoever.”
Despite the outcry from performers, producers, politicians, and healthcare providers, Prop 60 has the support of a majority of California voters, 50 to 31 percent, with 19 percent undecided. Maybe this is because the initiative is cloaked as a protective measure, maybe it’s the habit of outsiders perceiving porn performers as needing help. This isn’t the first time California voters have been asked to vote on issues concerning the adult film industry, either. Ela Darling states, “There is this infantilizing rescue rhetoric that they use to imply that we are these hurt, damaged souls that need to be protected from the big, bad producers.”
This isn’t to say that there aren’t issues that need work in the adult film industry, but Prop 60 is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Adult Performer Advocacy Committee or APAC has compiled a performer’s bill of rights and works to raise awareness about the industry-wide wage disparity for people of color. It’s an organization by sex workers, for sex workers. This is an industry that has proven that it can take care of its own and it’s past time that we trust performers as experts in their field.