Sex Geek: The Blog

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

The Good Wife and the attempted eroticization of intimate partner violence

For the past couple of years,  The Good Wife has been one of my favourite shows on TV- it’s really timely, it has some really interesting storylines, and I’m pretty sure there’s enough material on the portrayal of Diane, Alicia, and Kalinda to create an entire gender studies thesis.

Kalinda’s always been one of the more controversial characters- she’s very intelligent, very savvy, and never afraid to use her sexual allure to get what she wants. Apparently it was a big deal when it was confirmed that her character was bisexual (or, at least had sex with both men and women- her self-definition of being “flexible” is another post entirely). But the latest season has created a troubling storyline about domestic violence that no one seems to be talking about.

So, for the one paragraph recap of the show (which isn’t really all that relevant to the story at hand). . . Alicia is a lawyer who goes back to work after her husband (Peter, the district attorney) has been caught having an affair with a prostitute and is arrested for corruption. The first season is spent fighting for his freedom, the second getting him elected at State’s Attorney, and now he’s running for governor. Kalinda is the private investigator at the firm where Alicia works and ends up one of her only friends. Prior to her work at this law firm though, she worked for Peter at the DA’s office. Now, Kalinda is always kind of mysterious, and when a rival PI joins the firm, he makes it his mission to discover her secrets. As is her way, she does a great job of getting rid of him, but not before he figures out her secret- she was actually a Canadian, and had faked her own death when she got into trouble. And as he slips off, he tells her that he’s found her husband (something we don’t hear about for another year). As it turns out, in order to cover up her former life, she slept with Peter (back when they worked together) to get him to fake the documents. (Alicia later finds out- she never wants to see Kalinda again, she leaves Peter, but both relationships are kind of built back up over season 3).

Cue the end of season 3, when Kalinda’s husband is about to enter the picture. When she realizes this, she picks up a sledgehammer from the local hardware store and ends the season with her sitting inside her apartment with a gun. In the season opening, it turns out it’s not her husband, but his friend who has come to find her. He tells her that Nick (her husband) misses her, he’s not mad, and to come home. When he claims to be taking a phone out of his pocket, she pulls her gun on him. Apparently she had good reason- it turns out to be a gun. They struggle, and eventually Kalinda has to hit his hands with the sledgehammer to get free. She picks up the friend’s ringing phone, and tells her husband quite clearly that she wants nothing to do with him and to leave her alone. Before she leaves the friend writhing in pain on her apartment floor, he warns her that it doesn’t matter what she does- wherever she goes, her husband will find her.

Later in the episode, we learn that her husband (Nick) has already infiltrated her new life; under an assumed name, he comes to the law firm where she works and pretends to be a client needing her help. They’re both perfectly civilized and pretend not to know each other. That is, until they end up in the elevator together, and beat the crap out of each other. (On its own, this is a pretty big deal. She’s been in plenty of physical altercations before, and I don’t think they’ve ever shown anyone get the better of her.) Somehow, they end up back at her place and have sex. She tells him she needs him to leave, but the whole situation is left very unsettled.

Now, one of my guilty pleasure websites is TV Line. There’s absolutely nothing on it that’s going to improve my brain, but that’s not really what guilty pleasures are for. Anyway, I came across an interesting write up for the second episode of the season, where there’s a scene that’s described as being so hot, it barely made it past the Standards and Practices board. Okay, whatever. It’s not like it would be the first time that The Good Wife pushed the envelope with their sex scenes or content. It also contained the following description.

“Allow me to set the scene: Ice cream parlor. Lovers on a date. Each enjoying a sundae. The male half of the pair reaches under the table to, ahem, melt his partner under her dress. He then takes that same hand and dips it in her sundae. And finally, the frisky female laps up a spoonful of the “tainted” dessert.” (tvline.com)

On its own, I have absolutely no problem with this. Yes, it’s not appropriate for young viewers, but it’s not like it on at 7pm. But after seeing the scene, I started to have some trouble with it. On the CBS website, it’s actually called “Ice Cream and Kinkiness”. (You can see it via youtube here – though it’s definitely NSFW! )

After the first episode, I had expected this to be some kind of weird reconciliation scene where they’re trying to revamp their relationship or something. Instead, she seems to be there against her will. He’s maybe trying to butter her up, but she’s not having any of it. And when he sticks his hand under the table, it’s not because she’s somehow indicated that she was aroused- he was trying to make a point. When she rebuffs him, the way he sticks his fingers in her ice cream is an act of aggression and anger. The best I can tell, her continuing to eat her ice cream has nothing to do with being a “frisky female” (as described above), but a symbolic “you can’t break me down” statement.

How does this storyline play out? In a rare moment of vulnerability, she asks Alicia to get rid of him as a client (again, something that’s never happened before). When she tries, he gets quite verbally aggressive with her too (and makes it clear he’s not leaving). Next thing you know, Nick’s waiting in Kalinda’s apartment with a gun pulled on her. When she tries to lock herself in the bathroom away from him, he slams his fist through a mirror. She comes out to help clean the wounds, and he asks her “why do you make me do this?” Of course, this inevitably ends with them having sex again.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything particularly subtle about this scene. In fact, it seems to describe the cycle of abusive relationships perfectly. There are several variations, but it goes something like this: (1) tension starts to build (things are getting worse and worse) until finally (2) the incident occurs (the incident might be verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, etc). But once it’s over, you slide into the phase (3) of reconciliation, where the tension has broken and the abuser apologizes, minimizes what he did, or blames the victim. And finally, they go into the “honeymoon” (4) phase, where it’s almost as if the abuse never took place, and the abuser goes out of his way to be kind and sweet. Unfortunately, since this is a cycle, you end up back at the first stage (tension building), which ultimately leads to another incident. . . you get the idea.

Anyway, you start to see the effects of the abuse playing out in other ways- there are passing comments from multiple characters about her attendance/performance at work. After he spies on her having sex with Lana, a recurring character, he becomes furious, calls Kalinda homophobic slurs, and threatens Lana (to Kalinda). He even goes as far as to meet with Lana, pretending to be a stranger so Kalinda can see how serious he is. There’s an awful confrontation in Kalinda’s kitchen where they end up pulling knives on each other. He ends up breaking into Lana’s apartment.

Let’s be clear: this guy is a homophobic, racist, abusive misogynist. And while it might have been an incredible opportunity to start the conversation about abusive relationships, the show didn’t go there. (And it’s not like it’s afraid of those issues; they’ve gone into these issues and more- in the following two episodes, they cover the rape of military women and rape jokes). And while there’s been some outcry from fans about really hating the storyline (to the point where the producers are wrapping it up much earlier than intended), the dialogue isn’t about the abuse. In explaining why fans hate the story, creator Robert King said, “You don’t give James Bond a girlfriend.” That is, people seem to see the emergence of her husband as making her boring. . . she’s supposed to be sexy, seductive Kalinda, and she doesn’t get to be that with a husband. Unfortunately, fans seem to see this as the result of Kalinda having any kind of boyfriend/commitment, not as the result of an abusive relationship.

I can see why people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea- she’s really self-sufficient, and manages to get the law firm out of all kinds of messes. She’s totally in control of her sexuality (and has no problem using it to control (entice?) others). She’s been able to hold her own in physical confrontations before. I haven’t seen her cry or really confide in someone about the abuse. She hasn’t been showing up to work covered in bruises. So it just doesn’t fit with our typical understanding that she could be the victim of domestic violence. But she CAN. It DOES happen to strong, self-sufficient individuals every day. And we need to talk about that! It doesn’t matter how physically fit someone is, or what kind of resources they might have to fight back. It can still happen. It happens regardless of gender. And like in the show, it can happen that the abuse is bi-directional. She’s been able to give as good as she gets in some fights, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t be abused. She’s repeatedly asked him to leave, tried to get away from him, and used brute force to scare him off at times. And yet he won’t leave. Whatever she does, she can’t seem to escape. It’s slowly chipping away at what made her character so kick-ass and subversive to begin with, and she’s becoming a quieter, meeker version of herself.

What I think is happening here is that The Good Wife is trying to capitalize on the popularity of series like 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight. Books that are, at their core, about abusive relationships that are somehow romanticized. (In Twilight, people seem to find it romantic that he breaks in to watch her sleep; in 50 Shades of Grey, people seem to think it’s sweet that he can’t be away from her, going as far as to fly across the country and hunt her down at a bar with her mom). In The Good Wife, the narrative probably goes something like “he loves her so much that he hurt himself (put his hand through the mirror) to deal with the intensity of his feelings”.

That’s not love. That’s not romance. That’s abuse.

By pairing these abusive scenes with depictions of passionate sex, they’re doing a real disservice to viewers everywhere. It somehow suggests that this kind of behaviour is okay if it means that they get hot sex as the outcome. Young (and for that matter, not-so-young) women are seeing this held up as the ideal of romance, with no one there to step in and say “this isn’t healthy”. We (as a society) have always counted on outside intervention for individuals in abusive relationships (since it can be easier to see the abuse when you’re not in it) to help when their friends need it. But are we going to have a generation of women (or more generally, people?) who believe that this isn’t only okay, it’s ideal?

As the story wraps up (one male character has now seen her push him away and is concerned about what’s happening), it seems to be heading towards him rescuing her. And you know, it’s entertainment. . . everyone likes a happy ending where the good guy gets the girl and bad guy gets what’s coming to him. But the issues of domestic violence and its eroticization in the media deserve some attention.

If you go to the show’s website, you can see PSAs that the stars have made about helping the survivors of Sandy, message boards dedicated to the show (I checked, and there’s nothing about this on Kalinda’s board), a blog from the show’s stylist, a store where you can buy the products from the fictional Florrick campaign, and information on a line of home furnishings inspired by the show. It’s not like they’re really lacking in ways to communicate with viewers. So why can’t they talk about this? Television is a powerful medium (in fact, after the episode about military rape came up, I saw posts on my Twitter feed about how people were going to start paying attention to the issue now that they’d seen it on TV). So why won’t we talk about it? Is it because the majority of the audience is made up of older women? Is it just not profitable to educate younger viewers about the realities of these issues?

I don’t know why. But I do know that I’ve had more than enough depictions of abuse that are supposed to be erotic. I also know there’s plenty of research to show that primetime television viewing is associated with greater acceptance of rape myths (believing things like “she deserved it if she was dressed like that”). That is, this is a part of a larger problem in our understanding of sexual and intimate partner violence that’s not going away. And that we need to start to talk about. When I can pull up at least 50 news articles published in the last week about how unhappy the viewers are with this storyline, it gives me pretty good reason to believe that there’s no lack of people who want to talk about the show. So why can’t we make some of that dialogue about domestic violence?

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It’s still about hope: What Obama’s re-election means to me

Wait! Before you read this- have you voted?! Seriously, I’ll still be here when you get back. But as a Canadian, I don’t get to vote in this election, so I’d love to see you go out and exercise your vote.

Lately, I’ve been starting to feel like this little girl about the elections. Don’t get me wrong- I love politics- but coming from Canada, I was not prepared for the sheer intensity and nastiness that comes out during elections. Every time I heard a member of the GOP open their mouth about rape (or anything having to do with women’s rights, women’s health, or any other kind of mansplaining they wanted to do), I really just felt like hitting my head against the wall. When catching up with my Rick Mercer Report on Youtube, people had purchased ads targeted specifically to Floridians. To be honest, I just stopped listening.

 

Florida- or Hillsborough, more specifically- is an interesting area to be. On the one hand, the state is stuck with a governor who I can only describe as the “Rob Ford” of American politics. And he’d done whatever he can to make voting difficult. The line-ups are hours long for advance voting. And yet, there are so many young people who are coming out to give their time and vote. Because they know it’s important.

About a year and a half ago, the NDP (the New Democratic Party, for you Americans who may be reading. The party that was founded by Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather, who also established universal healthcare (which was eventually extended to all Canadians), and the party that I’ve been involved with since before I could vote) had a historic win in our election. They became the official opposition party, something they’d never done before. Something that the leader, Jack Layton’s, own father had said would never happen. Something I didn’t think I’d be around to see. It showed us the possibility of change. That we could dare to ask for something different. And I definitely feel like seeing the rise of the “Obama Generation” and his message of hope had a huge influence on these results.

Unfortunately, just months after this victory, Jack Layton passed away from cancer. But not before leaving a beautiful, inspiring letter to all Canadians. It read “my friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic, and we’ll change the world.” And that’s a message that still resonates. A message that seemed to draw its inspiration from Obama’s message of hope.

As I felt myself growing more concerned about the future of this country where I’ve chosen to be, I couldn’t help but wonder what was missing. How could the man whose election had sparked hope around the world just disappear? Watching from an international perspective, we were just wrong? So tired of the same old rhetoric here that we were willing to see leaders anywhere?

Over the past couple of days, I’ve seen the return of this leader. The leader who inspired millions to exercise their right to vote for the first time in their lives. The leader who made us care about politics again. The fist-bump guy, the one who recorded an It Gets Better video to reach out to LGBTQ teenagers across the world, who inspired a generation with three simple words: Yes We Can. (Not to mention the guy who managed to slip in a reference of his “Not bad” meme to his Reddit AMA and put a copy of his birth certificate on his  campaign coffee mugs this year).

On my way to school today, I was listening some broadcast of him on NPR, and I heard that message again. The message about the change that we’ve made- and that we still need to make. The message about hope and the legacy that we’re going to leave behind. The message that reminds me that what’s inspiring about him isn’t the ability to outdebate or out-insult the other party, but to connect with the voters and remind them why he’s the future they want for their country.

And the beauty is, it isn’t just about putting on a show. This man hasn’t just said, he’s done. He overturned the Global Gag Rule, prioritized comprehensive sex education, called Sandra Fluke to express his support after Rush Limbaugh made particularly offensive remarks about her sexuality, repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and has repeatedly spoken out against the rape comments from the GOP and has committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose. In terms of sexual health and women’s rights, he has advocated for their rights, reversed some of the discriminatory practices of previous governments, and maintains his commitment to upholding the Affordable Care Act.

Most importantly, he still seems to love it. He made fun of his own performance in the first debate, coined “Romnesia“, tweeted a response to Clint Eastwood’s infamous “empty chair” speech, broadcast from MTV, and still manages to do little things like respond to a 10-year-old’s letter about her two gay dads, and inviting him and his family for dinner.

How can you not have hope with a leader like this?

I checked out his spotify playlist the other day, and found this fantastic Florence + The Machine song, “You’ve Got the Love”, which seems oddly appropriate as we head into voting day. “Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough/ And things go wrong no matter what I do/ Now and then it seems that life is just too much/ But you’ve got the love I need to see me through.”

I’m sorry I doubted you back there, Mr. President, and thanks for sticking with it. But you’ve reminded me of just how much you love this job and your country, and I have great hope for the things that you’re going to keep doing.

Some thoughts on mandatory condoms in pornography

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that with no paper to write for, I’d move my Sex Geek column to a blog- but that it would have to wait until next week (Because I have conferences to prepare for and exams to study for). Until I retweeted Tristan Taormino’s piece on why Measure B (mandatory condoms in pornography) wasn’t going to protect performers (If you haven’t read it, check it out, it’s excellent). And those in on the “Yes on B” campaign took it upon themselves to tell me about how there’s this other epidemic (yes, they said epidemic) that I didn’t know about. (It might as well have read “Oh, you poor dear girl, you don’t realize what this actually means. Here, let me explain it to you.”)

Now, I don’t know why they singled me out (no one else who retweeted the article seemed to have been contacted), but I do feel the need to clarify something. To the “Yes on B” campaign, I actually had read the report you sent me. In fact, I’ve read every policy statement on your website. I understand what it’s all about, which is exactly why I’m inclined to take a feminist sex educator’s position on the appropriateness of this measure. And just in case there’s anyone else that you’re afraid might not have read your site, don’t worry, I’m writing this so that they can take it all into account.

Now, Measure B is more than a little wordy, and there are lots of people on both sides of the issue. The way that their official website defines it, the question is “Shall an ordinance be adopted requiring producers of adult films to obtain a County public health permit, to require adult film performers to use condoms while engaged in sex acts, to provide proof of blood borne pathogen training course, to post permit and notices to performers, and making violations of the ordinance subject to civil fines and criminal charges?” Most people refer to it as the “mandatory condoms in porn” debate. This would only apply to LA, but about 90% of the legally distributed (professional, I assume) porn in the US is made there. Meaning that this would be something that affects the majority of the business. Okay, with me so far?

Before we go any further, I want to establish some fundamental beliefs that I have.

Condoms are an effective way to reduce the risk of spreading STIs, HIV, and unwanted pregnancy. This goes for male and female condoms (used correctly, of course!), and regardless of whether it’s latex, nitrile, polyurethane, or polyisoprene. (Not lambskin condoms though- they don’t fit quite as well, so there’s an increased chance of slipping, and they’re less effective at protecting against STIs).

-There are performers in pornography who are they because they have to be (or at least had to at one point).But there are also performers who are there because they want to be, not because they have no other choice.

-There are conditions under which pornography is made that are not safe (not just for sexual risk, but in terms of being clean, or having toilet paper, etc.)

-Performers in pornography (as with anyone who engages in sexual activity) should be able to make the choice on if/what kind of contraception they use together.

Back to measure B. Now, there are a whole bunch of reasons that they cite for this. Among them:

  • Performers in pornographic films do things that put them at risk for contracting STIs and HIV. (I say: Yes, it’s true! And it’s true whether you’re using condoms or not, there’s still risk. It doesn’t matter if it’s in porn or real life!)
  • They are much more likely to have gonorrhea and Chlamydia- as much as seven times more likely than the given sexually active adult who lives in LA. (I say: okay, I’m happy to go with those rates. And yes, being 7x more likely to contract an STI is a huge risk. I’m a little hesitant because I’m not sure if they’ve controlled for the number of partners there, but I’m happy to stipulate those rates for the purpose of this post).
  • Right now, the Adult Film Industry requires testing for a variety of STIs and HIV every 30 days, but testing isn’t a form of prevention (Well. . . sort of. It’s not a form of primary prevention (keeping from contracting it in the first place). It’s true, getting tested is not going to keep you from spreading whatever you may be infected with to any other partners you have before you’re diagnosed. But knowing that you’re diagnosed, getting the proper treatment, and informing your sexual partners (so they can inform any other sexual partners) will cut WAY down on the spread compared to not knowing. Plus, then you can get treated which can cut back on some of the more dangerous long-term complications, like infertility).
  • Not all STIs are tested for (Absolutely true: and it’s something that’s not limited to performers. Check out what your doctor actually tests for, and where. These guidelines are a little outdated, especially for HPV, but it’s a good start.)
  • The majority of STIs happen among women (I say: Well, okay. Even though I could only find rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea reported on the site as being higher for women (check out table 1). Let’s go with that. But let’s also recognize that for heterosexual intercourse, young females tend to be at greater risk for contracting an STI anyway).
  • 97% of films are produced without using condoms (Well, in 97% of the heterosexual films screened in this study, the raters observed the use of condoms)
  • It would be pretty cheap to provide condoms for any kind of sex, especially when you compare it to the cost of treating one HIV infection. (Yes, I agree. There are tons of money arguments flying around this debate, and frankly I’m not interested in getting in to them)
  • By (California) law, apparently performers are required to use condoms, but it’s not really enforced (I say apparently because I’m not sure if this is law, or just the statement of the health and safety board).

Given all this information, I can see why it’s easy to call this a “no brainer”.

There’s a reason that this article coming from Tristan Taormino was so important. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to see her and another porn producer speak. And I was really quite surprised to hear about the way that performers are sometimes treated. Things that I never thought of as issues before, like keeping the set very uncomfortably cold (particularly a problem when you’re naked), not providing the performers with meals or proper breaks, or giving them little (if any) say about who they’re having sex with in the scene or the activities in which they’re engaging. She told us about the “No” list; that is, performers have a list of performers that they’re not willing to work with. I can’t remember what it takes for someone to get on that list, but I can imagine. Ever since then, I have been interested in articles that come out about pornography, how it’s made, how sex is depicted, etc. (If you’ve never heard about it before, read this review of “Rough Sex”. Some of the ads that come up at the side of the page are NSFW).

Anyway, I started to hear rumblings about this measure, and actively started following the issue when Hugo Schwyzer wrote about it in his column on Jezebel. He made a pretty good argument for it, and I was fully prepared to take a stand against it, when I figured I should probably look at what the other side was saying.

On their website, YesonB has laid it out pretty well- a twitter feed of their issue, videos of people in support, and the issues in nice big letters so there’s no way you can miss it. They also have links to all their resources listed. And I took a look at the names of the sites that were listed and thought “I’m studying public health. Is it even okay for me to disagree with all these authorities?”

Turns out, I didn’t have as much to fear as I thought. The first link, from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC, or the gold standard for all things public health) was a link that talked exclusively about the effectiveness of latex condoms in protecting against STI/HIV transmission, as well as protecting against unwanted pregnancies. Sure, I completely agree- using latex condoms does help protect against STI and HIV transmission.

But there was nothing in that link about adult videos.

So I went onto the next one, which is from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which was talking about the requirements that porn producers are supposed to abide by during filming. This was released after there had been transmission of HIV among performers a couple of years ago, and was all about how workers could advocate for their rights and where they could go if their rights weren’t being protected. Okay, it was a good read, and probably a really good thing for performers to know. But it didn’t really seem like a “this is what we’re recommending you do in order to keep this from happening ever again” kind of document. More of a “if you’re not being respected at work and want to do something about it, check out your options” kind of document. (And don’t get me wrong- I think it’s incredibly important for performers to have this kind of place to go and report unethical, dangerous, illegal, exploitative, etc. work). And certainly no endorsement of Measure B. Again, there are links at the bottom to support their information. Among them, one is to a publication on sex workers and HIV (I tried, the link’s broken), and one is “CDC publication on post-exposure treatment for occupational exposure to HIV, HBV, HCV.”

I want to be very clear here- the recommendations that the CDC makes are very important, but they are specifically for occupational exposure among Health Care Personnel. Yes, performers are at risk of being exposed to blood borne pathogens, but it may be through very different means (a needle stick vs. a gangbang). Not entirely sure why that was referenced. (FYI- there is a similar CDC document for “nonoccupational” exposures (like IV drug use and unprotected sex) but nothing that deals with the occupational hazards in the adult film industry. There may be some updated links on the CDC website that they’ve put out since then, but absolutely nothing in the link they provided.

Finally, on the last link, we get there! The County of Los Angeles Department of County Health. There’s a lot there, and I’m not going to break down every article, but here are some of the relevant pieces.

So the American Medical Association, recognized that there are risks that performers face (like multiple or consecutive partners, high-risk sex acts), a high number of STIs that have been diagnosed among performers (in addition to some- though numbers aren’t included- transmissions of HIV), and that there are laws that exist that aren’t currently being followed, and that performers should have the right to a safe workplace. They believe condoms should be used in porn. The American Public Health Association is also in favour of condom use to reduce the spread of HIV among performers. So is the American Social Health Association, the California Conference of Local Aids Directors, the California STD Controllers Association, the National Coalition on STD Directors, and County of San Francisco Public Health.

Great. So why am I still talking?

It seems like an intuitively simple solution to the problem, doesn’t it?

We know: Condoms prevent the spread of STIs and HIV.

We know: performers contract STIs while performing.

Therefore: If we make performers use condoms while having sex, then we’ll reduce the spread of these diseases, right?

Then I have to ask myself- why are there performers who are openly rallying against this initiative?

Now, normally I believe that celebrity wisdom or activism on health issues can be disastrous. For instance, people stopped taking antidepressants after Tom Cruise jumped the couch, Jenny McCarthy has been responsible for much of the progress that the anti-vaccine movement has had (I’m using “progress” very selectively here. They’re raised a lot of awareness, but that awareness flies in the face of more than a decade of studies aimed at disproving one extremely flawed sample of 12 people, which has since been retracted by the publishing journal). However, in this case, it’s an issue where they have some personal experience. Who knows better what it’s like to be in porn that the performers themselves? Some of the notable name (AKA: names that came up as celebrities when I looked through the news)  that have come out against Measure B include James Deen, Ron Jeremy, Tera Patrick, Jayden James, Amber Lynn, Tatiyana Foxx, Nina Hartley, and Kylie Ireland. And there are a variety of reasons. (It should be noted that there are also performers in favour of it, such as Aurora Snow, Derrick Burts (who actually became infected with HIV while working in the industry), and Darren James (who also became infected while working in the industry). The Measure B site also make it appear that Jenna Jameson has endorsed the measure, but the best I can tell, it’s referring to a statement she made 2 years ago about the need for safer sex in the industry. (BTW, all those links are to news sites).

So why the hostility towards it? Well, James Deen says “The idea of restricting our ability to make choices of our own is insulting. It is frankly unconstitutional.” He also ads that right now, performers have the choice to use condoms, and if that’s what they want, they’ll use condoms. Yes, James Deen has an extremely privileged position (he’s been likened to the Ryan Gosling of porn), is in high demand, and has the luxury of being financially stable enough to turn down jobs if they don’t respect his wishes. But he does raise a good point. . . is it the job of the government to be regulating what happens in pornography?

Beyond that though, there are occupational hazards that may come from the use of condoms. According to Nina Hartley, “condom burn is a real issue. The friction from the latex, even with lubrication, is painful and breaches the integrity of my mucosal membranes, putting me at greater risk for disease transmission.” Now keep in mind, though Nina Harley is known as a porn performer, she’s also been an active sex educator, considers herself a feminist, and is also a registered nurse. So, as it turns out, there are health issues associated with the use of condoms too!

Or maybe, the simplest explanation, which comes from (NSFW) Jayden James, may be the simplest of all: “It’s my vagina and I’m going to do with it what I wish to do.” (As should be her right, provided that she and her partner (in the scene) are both okay with their decision).

(Aurora Snow really did a beautiful job discussing why she is in favour of the measure- I’d suggest checking it out too).

Okay, so we’re kind of equally balanced here. . . on the one hand, people want to protect performers who seem to have a higher risk of getting an STI than the general public (there are some debates about the way this has been calculated, but I’m just going to assume, for the sake of argument, that their risk is higher). But on the other hand, you have the people who will be affected by the law speaking out against it. What tipped the scales?

On their website, YesonB lists six supporters of the “Yes on B” initiative: Los Angeles County Medical Association, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists District IX California, Jeffrey D. Klausner, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine, The California STD Controllers Executive Board, and an editorial from the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases entitled Occupational Health and the Adult Film Industry: Time for a Happy Ending.

Then they go and list a ton of well-respected organizations who support the use of condoms in pornography including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Social Health Association, (along with 10 other organizations). But. . . endorsing the use of condoms in porn doesn’t mean that they’re endorsing what’s been put forward. In fact, many of their statements are shorter than the actual proposed measure).

In fact, one of the most interesting issues associated with this campaign is the lack of endorsement. Neither political party has taken a stand, which is kind of telling given just how interested they’ve (well, mainly the republicans) been in talking about what women can and can’t do sexually. La Opinión, a well known Spanish paper in LA has endorsed it, while the Free Speech Coalition, the LA Times, and the Daily Breeze (another LA newspaper) have all endorsed voting “no” on the measure.

So what’s actually going on?!

The way I understand it, Measure B, quite simply, is a mess. If we were to take it at face value as the YesonB site explained, that might make some sense. But the actual measure is actually FIVE pages long. It calls for a lot of things, like requiring those on the set to the a blood-borne pathogens training course, having signs up on set about condoms being required for safety, and says “an “adult film” is defined as any film, video, multimedia or other representation of sexual intercourse in which performers actually engage in oral, vaginal, or anal penetration, including, but not limited to, penetration by a penis, finger, or inanimate object; oral contact with the anus or genitals of another performer; and/or any other sexual activity that may result in the transmission of blood and/or any other potentially infectious materials.”

What does that actually mean in practical terms? I’m not really sure. But it sounds like this includes using protection for any kind of penetration, whether its fingers (gloves would be required?), oral (dental dams), or genital (condoms). What does it mean for, for example, two women engaged in sexual activity on screen? I’m not entirely sure. Or a transgender performer? Or basically anything that falls away from the “penetrator”/”penetratee” script? If you use a sex toy, does that mean that it immediately has to be thrown away? And what if the performer isn’t using it on him or her self, but on another performer? Does that require gloves?

But it gets even trickier from there. For instance, it says “ “Filmed” and “filming” means the recording or real-time broadcast of any adult film, regardless of the medium used.” There are tons of people who make money by having sex live (just google “cam girls” if you don’t believe me). Do they have to use protection? Even if it’s with their spouse? Even if they’re totally monogamous?

Okay, right now, the Adult Film Industry is self-regulated (Sorry, I didn’t have a reference for this one, but it is discussed by James Deen and others, above), requiring performers show their results every 30 days. And while performers may claim that its working (and admittedly, they have done pretty well), it does have its issues. Just earlier this year, there was allegedly a Syphilis outbreak that resulted from one actor having his records falsified. Problem? Absolutely. But again, I come back to the question, would mandating condom use actually have prevented his outbreak?

See, porn actors are people too. And sometimes that means that they’ll have sex- whether it’s with their spouse or a casual partner (partners), or whoever. Had this actor been required to use condoms, would that have actually stopped the spread? If it wasn’t mandated, would performers continue to be diligent in regular testing? Would they care? According to the CDC’s own “Get Yourself Tested” campaign’s fact sheet, there are more than 19 million new infections of STIs in the US every year! And at that, only half of those individuals in the US who should be getting tested regularly are. The majority of these infections are among young adults.

Another issue is that even though there’s been this legislation in California for years now, it hasn’t really worked. Is that about the performers, or the people who are in charge of regulating? (Honestly, I keep imagining someone coming in during the middle of a scene, asking one partner to dismount the other, and make sure that the performer is, indeed, using a condom). And that’s not to criticize those who’ll be required to do that job, just to say it sounds pretty hard to regulate. How is this going to be any different?

There are some performers and critics who say that is going to drive performers away from LA. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, I really don’t know. But I do know that when you prohibit something- especially something like unprotected sex which is a turn on for some people- there are always going to be those who exploit the situation. And while Yes on B wants to talk about protecting the “vulnerable populations”, this isn’t going to protect them. This is going to create a demand for performers who can’t (yet?) make it in mainstream porn and get by on whatever underground work they can get. It’s basic supply and demand.

On top of that. . . we’re lacking any proof that condoms are as effective in preventing the transmission of STIs in performers as in “regular” use. Remember, porn is a production, and while you may get a kind-of reasonable length scene out of it, there could be multiple takes. And lots of moving around. And with all of that going on, maybe not necessarily feeling all that aroused? (I’m thinking specifically of how in women, not being sufficiently lubricated can increase the chances of chaffing or tearing, but there are certainly consequences for men too). So the claims that condom use is going to be as effective in performers as it is in the regular population sounds premature. Maybe it turns out that they are effective, there are just different ways they need to be used. But for now, we don’t actually know. From what we know, it makes sense to strongly urge individuals to use condoms. . . but nothing that shows proof that mandating it would help.

This measure totally fails to take into consideration the changing landscape of pornography. While at one time, it may have been all big business, there are increasing numbers of user-made videos being posted online. You know how there are all those teens who make videos of themselves singing on YouTube? Yeah, kind of like that. (I’ll refer you to Wikipedia to learn more about this. And just in case you don’t think it’s a real thing, check out the “Make Love, Not Porn” project). What does that mean? Who is that protecting? (And what are we going to do when these real couples are getting money from selling their videos on this site?)

One of my biggest concerns is that this gives people the impression that we’ve (as society) done something to protect the performers, so we can pat ourselves on the back and forget the whole issue. But that doesn’t necessarily make making pornography safe. What about these cases with women being insufficiently aroused and getting hurt from it? What about performers feeling like they can’t say no to a given request (demand?). What about even bothering to check if the performer is sober enough to legally consent to sex? What about those who don’t consent to what ends up happening on the shoot? Just like in any other workplace, there are dangers, and these need to be talked about. Unfortunately, Measure B makes it sound like we’ve done whatever was needed.

Or, what about the often repeated issue from the Yes side that performers don’t get any health benefits (therefore they REALLY need to be protected)? What about advocating for health benefits for them? Or just generally treating performers as human beings? In this discussion from the Yes side, they’ve become “others”, “vulnerable populations” that we have to be here to protect. This entire measure was introduced without consulting them. To me, this points to a much larger societal issue, one that we’ve been witnessing for months about the need for legislators to make rules about women’s bodies- as if somehow they aren’t capable of making such a decision themselves. Women (and their partners) couldn’t possibly make the decision to terminate a pregnancy, so we (the politicians) need to protect them. It’s just a matter of extending this logic to all performers. I can’t help but feel like this is a theme that involves making decision for those who you can prove engaged in sex.

Like James Deen said, it’s insulting. Why do legislators expect that they couldn’t possibly make the choice to use condoms for themselves (even though they’re able to make that decision to engage in acting in pornography). How is it that they’re suddenly insufficient? And what about this false sense of “either/or” that’s being presented? Much like when talking about pro-life vs. pro-choice, it sounds like you either have to be with Yes on B (“absolutely use condoms, no exception”) or against (“No, it’s never okay to use condoms in porn”). But it’s not. There is a middle ground- allowing performers to make the choice to use protection, for the acts that they want to use it for. When it comes down to it, isn’t pornography the place to let individuals decide what they do with their bodies? I fail to see how legislating sexual activity is going to do anything to advance the understanding that people have the right to do what they want with their bodies.

So please, Yes on B, you don’t need to keep tweeting me. I’ve read what you have to say. I’m offended that you think that I wouldn’t have considered different aspects of the argument than what was presented to me in one article. And that reductionist attitude that it’s that simple makes me think that you haven’t really thought about the outcomes of this measure. While I absolutely want to see choice, safety, and autonomy in pornography, I still don’t think it’s up to you.

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