The Condoms In Porn Fiasco
2/23/2012 2:32:00 PM
By Alex Garner
I started out wanting to write a news story about the mandated use of condoms in the porn industry in the city of Los Angeles. I hoped to examine the facts of the situation but soon came to realize that this entire debacle is not about science or facts; it’s about messaging and ideology. This has all been one grand case of political theater and the end result is a law that sets a dangerous precedent by telling consenting adults what they can and cannot do when having sex with each other.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), led by their zealous executive director Michael Weinstein, spent time and money leading the charge to mandate condom use in porn. AHF was able to get the issue on the ballot and the city, in order to avoid a costly election, decided to bring the matter up for a vote. The city council voted 9-1 in support of the measure and the mayor signed it.
We have very little evidence to demonstrate that this law will prevent HIV infections. It’s extremely difficult to prove that HIV transmission occurred while one was in the act of shooting porn but the city of Los Angeles estimates that between 2004 and 2010 there were 8 cases of HIV in the LA porn industry. That comes out to an average of less than 2 a year.
Meanwhile thousands of new HIV infections occur in LA each year and the majority of those infected are gay men of color. When financial resources are scarce and media interest wanes, why are a major AIDS service organization and the city of Los Angeles investing so much time and energy in the behavior of consenting adults in front of a camera? The estimated HIV rate in porn is less than 2 per year. If AHF had that same rate in their testing vans it would be hailed by most as a stunning success.
Michael Weinstein will tell you that this effort to mandate condoms in porn is not just about HIV but also about other sexually transmitted diseases (STD). STD rates are very high among porn performers; there is no discounting that. But STDs can be transmitted through oral sex too. This condom in porn mandate doesn’t pertain to oral sex even thought the LA county health department considers the STD risk for oral sex to be “high.” Weinstein called that “a compromise.” He said that using condoms during oral sex would be considered, “beyond the pale.” When did preventing infections become about compromises and half measures?
Confused yet? Wait, there’s more. This new law will only apply to porn being shot out side of a studio or “on location.” When porn is shot on a soundstage a permit is not required and therefore this condom mandate wouldn’t apply. This loophole could mean more porn shot on soundstages or that people will simply stop asking for permits.
This law makes no sense, is virtually unenforceable and is rife with gigantic loopholes. So what was accomplished? Why were we subjected to this political spectacle? Well, it made for a great show, didn’t it?
It was the perfect narrative: A well meaning AIDS service organization tries to stop HIV infections by taking on the big, bad, sleazy porn industry. The story writes itself.
It seems like AHF played their part perfectly. What a public relations bonanza this must have been for them? In addition to that, the city got to land a one-two punch of fighting HIV and taking on “smut peddlers.”
In reality, it’s all been one elaborate distraction. It reminds me of how republicans will throw red meat to their base and crow about marriage and flag burning amendments they know will never pass. While we argued about a law that may never be enforced and executive directors got their picture on the news, more young gay men of color in LA became infected with HIV. While the spotlight was firmly placed on a mandate that will have virtually no impact on HIV infections, AIDS service organizations struggled to use the limited resources available to treat HIV and prevent new infections.
This has been political theatre at its finest and thoroughly befitting of Hollywood. But when the curtain comes down and the house lights go up, I hope the people of Los Angeles will have a better understanding of what has happened. The government has overreached into the realm of the sex lives of consenting adults.
The porn industry may not have been very smart or well organized but they understood the fundamental issue at stake: government intrusion into our sex lives. The LGBT community has fought long and hard for the right of consenting adults to have sex how they choose. And currently, much of our political debate is over women’s ability to maintain autonomy over their body in regards to sexual health and reproduction.
If AHF and the city of Los Angeles are truly committed to preventing HIV infections then I would challenge them to put the same amount of time, money and media attention into the communities that are being hardest hit by the epidemic. And I would challenge the people of LA to wise up to political theater and fiercely object to such transparent shenanigans.
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