Unsafe at Any Deed: Porn, Condoms, & HIV

In the days since an unnamed porn performer was reported to have tested positive for HIV, there’s been a great deal of discussion about the state of America’s porn industry — and, more specifically, about the state of safer sex within that industry. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation released a press statement calling for mandatory condom use in porn. CAL-OSHA threatened to cite Porn Valley for endangering the health of employees. Companies released statements about their testing policies, porn stars posted personal statements about the issue, bloggers blogged about condoms and porn — and, of course, the mainstream media had a field day. But in all the discussion, no one really touched on the biggest question of all: why the majority of heterosexual porn studios do not require their performers to use condoms.

It’s not because they’re a reckless industry hellbent on imperiling their performers’ lives — whatever opinions you may hold about the ethics of porn, it’s hard to deny that needlessly risking the health and lives of performers is, fundamentally, bad for business. An infected performer is a nonworking performer, which benefits no one. Nor is it because condoms create production problems; though longtime porn director Ernest Greene blogged about the issues that condoms pose when shooting a sex scene that might last upwards of two and half hours — with erections coming and going — condom-only production houses like Wicked (and, of course, the bulk of the gay porn industry) have proven that these obstacles can be overcome.

The reason for condom scarcity in straight porn, ultimately, is you: the consumer. Porn companies make porn without condoms because that is the kind of porn that patrons want to see. And porn companies want to give you what you want — it’s how they make a living.

Consider the fact that, after Darren James and four other porn performers were infected with HIV in 2004, many prominent players in Porn Valley — including Vivid Entertainment — went condom-only. Consider the fact that today, condoms are, once again, rarely used on camera. There’s no real question why; even Wicked Pictures, Porn Valley’s lone condom-only production house, admits that their choices have cost them sales. In a comment to AVN, Wicked’s president Steve Orenstein acknowledged, “When we made the change, sales were definitely affected, especially in Europe. Today, I ‘m sure it still does have an effect, just not as much.”

The porn business is, fundamentally, a business — one that pursues whatever policies will maximize profit. And at no time is this more true than today, when rampant piracy threatens to rip the adult industry apart. Porn companies are already scared for their lives, and they’re even more scared that if they’re forced to go condom-only, what paying customers they have will migrate to the porn out there that doesn’t require condoms: international porn, online porn, or, yes, the glut of free, pirated porn already diluting their customer base.

But surely, you say, people don’t care that much about something so minor as condoms. After all, the gay porn industry is predominantly condom-only, and gays still buy porn.

Fair point, but condom-only porn has thrived in the gay community largely because condoms have long been a charged political issue, and because the community has banded together to promote and support condom-only porn. Activists have spoken out against bareback sex, while publications and reviewing bodies have refused to acknowledge its existence. Yet, even within such a system, the bareback porn that’s gotten made has, in fact, been profitable. And what’s more, the historical resistance to condom-free gay porn has been wearing away. JakeCruise.com, which promotes its condom-free product as “ethical barebacking” (translation: the same system that straight porn uses) is a far cry from the shady, skeezy bareback porn of yesteryear. While it’s certainly caused controversy, it’s also gained acceptance in certain circles — perhaps a sign that, even within the gay community, condom-free porn is beginning to make headway.

And why does Jake Cruise provide condom-free porn on his website? The same reason straight porn companies have been providing it for years: it’s what people want. “There is a growing demand for scenes without condoms because for many consumers bringing a condom into a scene ruins the fantasy,” Cruise told us.

Some argue that more prevalent use of condoms in porn could help sex up the image of safer sex. Then again, there are those who feel that porn’s job is to entertain and satisfy fantasies, rather than educate — and if I’m a responsible, tax-paying, condom-wearing citizen, don’t I have a right to enjoy a little condom-free porn in my private time? Regardless, unprotected sex in porn will always exist, as long as there’s a demand for it. Porn does not create culture; it merely responds to it, fulfilling our dreams and giving us what we want, in all its fluid-bonded glistening glory.

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