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December 7, 2012

Porn, syphilis and the politics of the money shot
I regularly saw a mix of saliva, semen, faeces and vomit on porn sets. A call for condom use highlights the plight of performers
More pornography is produced in the Greater Los Angeles area than any other part of the English-speaking world. So when a US-based porn performer recently tested positive for syphilis, the news prompted a self-imposed 10-day moratorium on porn production. Oh, the irony of it. The person held responsible for this outbreak is Mr Marcus , a well-known porn performer and producer who, in a 2007 XBIZ article, was described as “an outspoken proponent of performers’ rights” following his failed attempt to get porn performers to organise as a group with collective interests.

After a number of actors tested HIV-positive in the summer of 2004, Mr Marcus felt that the porn industry had a “moral obligation” to safeguard the health of its performers, so he convened a meeting. Not surprisingly, nothing changed. It was business as usual, with another actor testing positive in 2010, and then another in 2011. It would seem that Mr Marcus has changed his tune a bit since 2004 because, according to a recent story in XBIZ, he altered his test results so that he could continue to work.

As usual, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the porn industry’s lobbying group, has been working overtime to lend a positive spin to what is simply another example of an industry that shows nothing but contempt for the health and safety of its employees. Diane Duke, the executive director of the FSC, told MSNBC: “Clearly our industry’s priority is the health and wellbeing of our performers.” This is the same Diane Duke who has fought tooth and nail against a Los Angeles city council ordinance that would require the use of condoms to protect performers from sexually transmitted diseases.

For those unfamiliar with mainstream internet porn, let me

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explain that we are not talking about films depicting people making love. Today’s most popular porn websites have acts that include gagging with a penis; pounding anal sex; spitting into the mouth of a woman; ATM (ass-to-mouth) transitions, in which the penis goes from the anus to the mouth without washing; ejaculation onto the body and sometimes into the eye; and bukkake (wherein any number of men ejaculate on to a woman’s body, or into a cup which she then drinks). In writing my book Pornland, I watched hundreds of scenes from the most popular porn movies, and I regularly saw a mixture of saliva, semen, faeces and vomit on the set. Can you name one other multibillion-dollar-a-year industry that is this dangerous, has so little governmental regulation and interfaces with banks, credit card companies, venture capitalists, software developers, hotels and media corporations?

The now closed Adult Industry Medical Health Care Association , which was the Los Angeles-based voluntary organisation in charge of testing performers, had a list on its website of possible injuries and diseases to which porn performers were prone. These included HIV; rectal and throat gonorrhea; tearing of the throat, vagina and anus; and chlamydia of the eye. Not your everyday workplace ailments – unless, of course, you are a prostituted woman.

Sounding like a character out of Orwell’s 1984, Duke argued that the condom ordinance spearheaded by the Los Angeles-based Aids Action Committee was not about “performer health and safety”, but rather about the “government regulating what happens between consenting adults” . Such a statement renders invisible the reality of the lives of porn performers who, like most workers under capitalism, are not equal participants in the employer-employee contract. Porn performers who don’t own companies, like the rest of us, do not get to dictate the conditions of their work. Instead, they’re at the mercy of the employer, whose role is to maximise profits, no matter what the cost to the workers.

The porn industry projects an image of itself as one run by a bunch of cool and hip renegade artists who are at the cutting edge of protecting our freedoms. In reality, they abhor any government regulations that cut into profit. And there is no doubt whatsoever that requiring performers to use condoms will have a major economic impact on the porn industry. Porn consumers do not want condoms. As the veteran porn performer Ron Jeremy so eloquently put it : “Hey, dicks, it’s really quite simple … No matter how you slice it, the viewers don’t want to see them.”

Why is this? The fantasy of porn is that she is an object who exists to be penetrated, dehumanised and then disposed of. She has no bodily integrity, limits or dignity. She is not someone to worry about, care for or protect from physical harm. On the contrary, porn sex is about pushing her to her bodily limits, and then moving on to the next, and the next, and the next. Given this, it would simply make no sense for the men, during a porn shoot, to take the time or trouble to open a condom, put it on, check to make sure that it covers the penis so she won’t be infected, and then start pounding away at her as if her body is a trash can. Condoms mean that she matters, and porn is all about her not mattering.

Another big problem for the industry is that a condom would ruin the “money shot” – the term pornographers use to describe the final scene, in which the man ejaculates on to the body or into the eye of the woman. One performer told XBIZ: “Our industry depends on that shot!” The best explanation for this comes from the veteran porn actor and producer Bill Margold, who is quoted as saying: “The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that, because they get even with the women they can’t have. We try to inundate the world with orgasms in the face.”

For the time being, the outbreak of syphilis has spotlighted the dangers that porn performers face in the industry. This is a positive thing, but to reduce the debate to one of STDs or condom use obscures the larger issues that we face as a culture. The question we should be asking right now is this: what are the possible long-term consequences of living in a world where the major form of sex education for boys and men is provided by an industry that has time and again demonstrated a total disregard for the wellbeing of women?

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