Condoms on table

Robert Elyov/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

New regulations indicating that porn stars will have to wear face masks and goggles during scenes have reignited the condoms in porn debate.

“We’ll leave the state before we wear face masks,” Casey Calvert tells me. 

Calvert is an adult performer and writer who’s been nominated for a multitude of industry awards. We’re discussing the new safety standards proposed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) for the adult entertainment industry in California. 

The regulations require that porn stars use barrier methods, such as condoms, to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Calvert’s adamant that if the new regulations pass, the porn industry won’t follow them. Instead, she says, the business will go underground.

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According to many people in the adult industry, the proposal would not only make condoms mandatory, but could also make it an imperative for performers to wear face masks and goggles to shoot their scenes, thanks to the vague language of the bill itself. 

In its proposal, OSHA says that such regulations are in place to protect performers from getting any kind of bodily fluids into their face or eyes. But the adult industry is concerned that this would make the videos not only unpalatable, but also unprofitable. That whole “bodily fluids all over the place” thing? That’s a big part of the fantasy that adult entertainment sells.

The whole “bodily fluids all over the place” thing is a big part of the fantasy that adult entertainment sells.

Condoms in porn has been a controversial topic for years. While actors in gay porn use condoms frequently (in fact, those who don’t are sometimes blacklisted and condemned by the rest of the industry), films featuring straight sex have largely remained condom-free. (Some directors insist on performers wearing condoms, but because bareback porn is so much more profitable, they are few and far between.)

Technically, condoms are already compulsory for anal and vaginal intercourse in porn production, thanks to the passage of Measure B in 2012. But these regulations haven’t been enforced and adult companies have largely gotten away with not using condoms on set—until now. Calvert’s sure that the new ordinances will be enforced, which will make it much harder to shoot adult films in California.

Calvert doesn’t think that OSHA is trying to hurt anyone or the adult industry in general. In fact, she says the agency is trying to do its civic duty by protecting adult performers. But she and many other adult performers like Lorelei Lee, who wrote about the condom mandate in Cosmopolitan, think OSHA’s regulations are both untenable and misguided. 

“We would love a regulation that’s in place that really does take into account our concerns and safety,” Lee wrote in Cosmo back in April. “Right now performers are the only ones who know how condoms work on set. No one who makes these laws is coming to our sets and watching what happens.”

That’s in part because a porn film set is much different than any other workplace regulated by OSHA where employees could potentially come into contact with bodily fluids, such as hospitals or restaurants. In fact, Calvert says the porn industry is like no other business at all.

“The biggest difference between us and anything else that OSHA deals with in terms of blood-borne pathogens is that we have tested people,” Calvert says. 

“We’re interacting with people who have been tested. We know what’s in their blood, and whether or not they have some sort of blood-borne disease or an STI. When you’re working in a hospital and you encounter someone who’s come in from a car crash, you don’t have that information about them, so you have to take all those extra precautions. You have to wear gloves and face masks and all of that because you don’t know. But we do know.”

Calvert’s not wrong. To be cleared to work in the porn industry, performers must be tested for STIs like HIV every 14 days. OSHA claims this isn’t sufficient, as HIV tests can produce false negatives if taken too soon after a person is exposed. (The porn industry also has a higher prevalence of treatable STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia than the civilian population.)

The frequent testing hasn’t prevented porn stars in the industry from contracting HIV. Last December, there were reports of a performer testing positive for HIV following a bareback gay porn shoot in Nevada, and in 2013 four performers also tested positive for the virus. But the industry advocacy group the Free Speech Coalition has maintained the industry’s testing system is iron-clad, and there’s no way to prove any of those transmissions took place on set. 

Furthermore, Calvert says OSHA fails to realize that the adult industry uses an extremely sophisticated HIV test that can show positive results for the virus in two to three weeks, making it much less likely that performers are unknowingly infecting others.

“They take our blood and our urine and they run a bunch of different tests. So there’s not one test that they do that shows all these things,” Calvert tells me. “They run urine for gonorrhea and they do that test. But the blood test for HIV that we use is much, much more stringent than if you went to your doctor to get an HIV test.” (They’re also significantly more expensive: Calvert says that adult performers pay nearly $200 every two weeks to ensure a clean bill of health.)

As for whether or not the new regulations will force performers to wear face masks and protective eye wear, that’s been a major concern since 2012, when several major media outlets reported that OSHA regulations would require actors to wear everything short of hazmat suits to perform. This fear was even the basis of a Funny or Die sketch starring porn stars jessica drake and James Deen.

From an outsider’s perspective, very little in the adult industry has actually changed since the passage of Measure B. While some companies did leave California for cities like Las Vegas and Miami, the vast majority are still shooting in the Los Angeles area, and you likely won’t see a pair of goggles in porn unless a scene actually called for them (which, frankly, is something I’ve yet to see). 

Calvert thinks that this time, it will be different. “I think that if this passes, the porn industry will go underground,” she says. What she means by that is that the industry will “attempt to skirt the law even more than we do,” by “being very, very secretive about when and where shoots are happening. Being paranoid about the police showing up. You know, people would probably start calling OSHA on their enemies, so to speak, to try and get productions shut down.” In short, a law that’s intended to keep performers safe would have the effect of further putting their lives at risk.

It’s worth noting that many of the concerns about “face masks” and “goggles” are overblown. As Dennis Romero of LA Weekly pointed out in 2013, the OSHA regulations say “personal protective equipment can”—not “must”—”include: condoms, dental dams, gloves, eye protection.” A spokesman for the bill’s author, state Sen. Isadore Hall, told LA Weekly: “The goggle argument is not accurate and is the same old factually incorrect argument folks in the adult film industry have been making for years.”

But Calvert thinks that the involvement of the notoriously porn-unfriendly AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) will change that. “With the AHF’s involvement, because they want us gone, OSHA gets put in this weird enforcing position of enforcing something that they don’t really care about,” she said. “But if the pressure comes from AHF that says ‘Yes, make them wear face masks, yes, make them wear goggles,’ I don’t think OSHA has a choice.”

Calvert also thinks that two other regulations—one insisting that production companies pay for performers’ testing and another mandating training and education for performers—are good ideas, but logistical nightmares. While she’d love for her testing to be paid for, she is skeptical it will ever happen and, she points out, it would lead to more people having her medical and identifying information than she’s comfortable with. Given how stigmatized sex workers are in our society, it’s understandable why she’d be hesitant to place her personal information in the hands of government administrators.

Calvert also says that the condom ordinance represents a complete ignorance of how porn industries work. “On a normal set the condom will get changed between every position,” she explains. “So every time we stop, which for those companies is between every position usually. The condom just gets changed, oh God, I don’t know, 10-20 [times] a scene.”

Sometimes, it can even be more frequent than that, because the regulations state that performers can’t use the same condoms “for different anatomical sites.” Or as Calvert puts it, “the condom has to be changed between each hole. So if you want to go from like vagina to mouth or back you have to change the condom.”

It’s even more complicated to use condoms during live streaming shows, an increasingly popular method for porn stars to make money on the Internet. Calvert told me about a scene she shot during a streaming show for a company that required condoms. We couldn’t stop and change the condom over and over and over again. By the end of this scene, all that was left of the condom was the little elastic bit around the base of his cock,” she says. “Like, it was just gone, it had disintegrated.”

The AHF did not respond to a request for comment, but Michael Weinstein, who’s received the most credit for the new proposal, told the Los Angeles Daily News he’s pleased the new ordinances are working their way through the legal system. 

“Getting to this point is a necessary part of the process, and we’re pleased that this has been completed,” he said. “The process is designed to give everybody a say. I think it was conducted fairly.”

There’s also a growing number of performers who have changed their minds about using condoms on set. Former porn stars Jessie Rogers and Jenna Haze have come out in favor of condoms in porn, as has former porn star Aurora Snow, who penned an op-ed for the Daily Beast coming out in support of Measure B in 2012.

“Bringing something like condoms into porn may contribute to ruining the fantasy,because in fantasy land no one has to think about safety,” she wrote. “But if I were your girlfriend, your sister, your mother, or your daughter, what would you want the law to be?”

But for Calvert and many of her fellow performers like Lee, Deen, and Stoya, who has been vocal about her opposition to condoms in porn, it boils down to this: While condoms, dental dams, other protective gear are great, it needs to be the performer’s choice as to whether or not they should use them.

“I can only speak for myself,” she says, “and for me, whenever I’m forced to wear a condom, because there are some companies right now that require you to, I can’t work the next day. I get really chafed and really raw, and by the end it’s really quite painful…People don’t realize how physically challenging [shooting porn] is.”

Photo via Robert Elyov/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)