Why Porn Performers Are Worried About Election Day

Photographed by Megan Madden.
UPDATE: Prop 60 was rejected, with 53.9% of California voters voting against the proposition, which would have required porn performers to wear condoms or risk legal action by any viewer in the state.

Tina Horn
is a nonfiction writer and journalist whose work investigates sex work, queer identity, kink communities, and cultural criticism. The views expressed here are her own.

We can all agree that, as a tool for safer sex, condoms are a good thing. But imagine if you were legally required to wear one every single time you had sex. Even if you were having sex with your monogamous partner. Even if you and your partner had updated STI tests or used Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Now imagine that anyone — any person — in your state could sue you for not wearing a condom during sex. This is exactly what Proposition 60 wants to do to California adult filmmakers.

“Prop 60 claims to be a worker safety bill, but was written entirely without the input of workers and by people who apparently have no understanding of how we actually work,” Lorelei Lee, a porn performer who has worked in the industry for over a decade, told me.

If passed, Prop 60 would make condom use mandatory in all adult films, taking away each performer’s agency in making the health decision that’s right for them. But the fine print is where things start to get really dangerous for workers: Prop 60 would also permit any state resident who sees a condom-less porn scene to file a complaint with California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA), and then, after three weeks, sue the filmmakers. If the resident wins the case, they could stand to collect a quarter of the penalties.

Siouxsie Q, a porn performer and journalist who is also the director of policy and industry relations for the Free Speech Coalition, put this in perspective: “Prop 60 will also introduce new risks around personal privacy and harassment by deputizing and incentivizing every California resident to come after adult film workers and gain access our legal names and home addresses,” she told me, adding, “For a workforce that already faces disproportionate amounts of harassment, discrimination, and violence, this simply cannot stand.”

For a workforce that already faces disproportionate amounts of harassment, discrimination, and violence, this simply cannot stand.

Advertisement
The wording of this proposition, and the propaganda surrounding it, is counter-intuitive. Prop 60’s backers want you to think that voting affirmatively for it means you care about sexual health, that you want to control the spread of HIV, that you want to protect sex workers and adult entertainers. According to an overwhelming number of organizations, this is patently untrue.

Industry labor organizations, like the Free Speech Coalition and the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, oppose this bill. The editorial boards of every major state newspaper oppose this bill. The California Democratic party and the California Republican Party, as well as numerous elected officials, oppose this bill. Health and Advocacy Organizations oppose this bill.

One way the industry works now is that performers, enabled by increasingly affordable filmmaking and web distribution technology, are often producers shooting with friends and lovers. The pornographers who will be hit hardest by this bill are the indie entrepreneurs that make the feminist porn we’re all hoping to see more of.

And the thing is, porn performers care about their own sexual health as much as you care about yours. Condoms are powerful tools, and many porn stars use them. When I was making porn, I remember how empowering it felt to check the “Condom Only” box on my paperwork, and know that the producers would respect my informed choice.

However, condoms are not the right choice for every porn performer in every scene. This is less about catering to an audience that expects a fantasy than it is about being realistic about prolonged athletic porn sex. Condoms can chafe under those hot lights, making performing uncomfortable, even leading to bleeding and less safe working conditions. Because performers are currently required to be tested for STIs every 14 days, and since many are on PrEP, they often prefer to shoot without condoms.

The thing is, porn performers care about their own sexual health as much as you care about yours.

Yet, even straight performers like jessica drake, queer performers like Jiz Lee, and gay male performers like Conner Habib — all of whom do choose to wear condoms in their scenes — oppose this bill. In fact, Eric Paul Leue of the Free Speech Coalition told me that “over 1,800 (active adult film performers) are actively campaigning against Prop 60, because they know how very dangerous this law is.”

Contracting an STI might make the average person uncomfortable, but for a porn star, an outbreak means a work hiatus, which means an income hiatus. When your body is your business, you take care of your business. In fact, after getting their bi-weekly STI tests, performers often proudly post selfies to their social media followers, emphasizing the idea that “having sex like a porn star” means knowing your STI status.

So no, this isn’t about whether using condoms is a good idea, or whether porn stars deserve to take care of their sexual health. It’s actually about harassment.

“We are already frequently targeted by stalkers and people who stigmatize us because of the work we do,” said Lee, “I don't know any woman working in the industry who hasn't received threats or been followed around a public place by someone who recognized her. This initiative will only put us at greater risk of violence.”

This isn’t about whether using condoms is a good idea, or whether porn stars deserve to take care of their sexual health. It’s actually about harassment.

If workers don’t want these regulations, then who does, and why? The answer is actually quite creepy. The author of Prop 60 is Michael Weinstein, the executive director of the private interest group AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).

According to DontHarrassCA.com, paid for by the Free Speech Coalition:

Prop 60 grants the Executive Director of AHF — and every resident of California the authority to overrule Cal/OSHA and file lawsuits against everyone involved in the distribution and production of adult films, including performers. AHF keeps a percentage of any fines collected, and also have their attorney fees covered.

AHF has a long history of undermining and condescending the adult film industry, and Weinstein seems hell-bent on exploiting the stigma and misunderstanding about sex work for his own power and profit.

In an op-ed in The San Diego Union Tribune, porn performer Mia Li says, “[T]he proposition is not about condoms in adult film, but about one man’s attempt to control adult film performers.”

Imagine if your job were facing regulations that you opposed. Imagine if everyone said this reform is in your best interest, but categorically ignored your opinion on the matter. That is what porn industry workers, from performers to producers to camera crews, are dealing with right now.

They haven’t been standing idly by, either. Lee also explained to me that, for years, adult performers have been having their own damn conversations with Cal/OSHA.

“We are trying to implement a safety regulation specific to our industry that would give performers the right to access all available safer sex methods on set, including condoms,” she says. “Prop 60 would derail all of the work we've been doing.”

Many people pass judgment on the adult film industry without knowing the first thing about what really goes on behind the scenes. The reality is, the porn being produced in California right now is being made by entrepreneurs who deserve to define their own labor rights.

“We don't need anyone to write laws for us,” Lee said. “We aren't voiceless. We can speak for ourselves.”
Advertisement