Two porn actors have recently tested positive for HIV. There is lots of talk about mandatory condom use on set. Most porn actors who have spoken to the media are against it.

The only other legal sex-for-money system in the US are the Nevada brothels. Like porn, they regularly test for STIs, though the brothel I worked for did not test for herpes and Hepatitis C. Porn does not test for herpes and Hep C. Porn is ramping up to a 2-week testing cycle, brothel testing is weekly. Brothels have mandatory condom use. Porn’s condom usage is all over the place. Condoms are a regular sight in gay porn but not mandatory. In heterosexual porn, some companies require condom usage, some leave it to the discretion of the performer and some seem not to give the performer a choice. Unlike porn, where the actors go home after work, about half of NV’s brothels are lockdown.

Why are legal prostitutes regulated to the nth degree but legal porn actors are not?

condoms hurt

One argument made against condom usage is how the friction tears up one’s delicate bits. Porn actors feel they’re the only people in the world who have prolonged, athletic sex and that condoms fall apart from this. Nor are porn actors the only ones who have a variety of partners in a day. Brothel workers have to deal with multiple men a day yet porn actors can’t handle it with condoms, even if they admittedly only shoot a couple times a month. Gay porn actors often wear condoms and somehow deal with the issues of friction in an area of the body that wasn’t actually designed for sex. Yet they manage (my guess would be lube).

I completely agree that natural sex feels better but it’s not absolute protection against friction. Lube is. If you have sex for hours and don’t stay lubed — you feel it. Friction is friction regardless of the cause. Condoms simply require more vigilance and awareness, something prostitutes learn very quickly in order to take care of themselves. (Polyurethane condoms have less drag than latex, FYI.) This begs the question of whether or not porn actors need condom lessons from prostitutes.

Condoms are something sex workers around the world desperately want because condoms work at preventing disease and sex workers don’t see disease as part of the job description. Sex workers are willing to fight for the right for condom access, often risking jail and imperiling their livliehoods. Condoms are that important to women who have lots of sex with lots of different people.

So why is the sex prostitutes have so very different from the sex porn actors have? Are the condoms different? Are the vaginas different? Natural sex feels better but doesn’t seem like a strong argument.

Often the porn actors who are against mandatory condom usage rant about the Aids Healthcare Foundation, which also owns an unnamed condom company. It’s a conflict of interest, but not completely. After all, who wants more Aids in the world? The AHF also offers free STI testing to the general public at locations around the country — which I discovered while looking at links for this post. The free testing wasn’t mentioned in any rant directed at the AHF.

who has sex with whom

There is one fairly strong argument porn actors have: they don’t have sex with the general public (except for those porn actors who do escort tours or have sex with fans). This is the whole basis for their testing: to ensure they only have sex with other people who have been tested for the same diseases by a verifiable testing facility. That works very well in theory but the reality is porn actors are people (just like any sex worker) and in their off-hours they’ll have sex with civilians who may or may not be tested. Will the actors use condoms because they’re paranoid about disease? Or will they think (like a lot of people), that because they’re tested, they’re safe? Or, if this civilian is their partner, will they not use condoms because of the relationship? If the partner is another porn actor, will they feel safe and not use condoms, maybe without knowing all of the partner’s sexual history? Disease-testing in porn can create a false sense of security. Not every single person in porn is going to be educated about risks, safer sex measures, and the biology of infection.

If porn actors were on a lockdown set and tested regularly to spot any infections that may surface during the shooting, then mandatory condom usage would not be an issue. Since it’s easy to imagine the outcry from porn actors being treated like legal prostitutes, this is never going to happen (not that I’m in favor of lockdown-anything in regards to sex work). Whenever an STI is discovered, it’s always said to be brought in from the “outside.” (This is probably true as very few people manage to auto-infect.) However, due to the lack of condom usage, one infected person can spread a lot of infection before the infection is discovered. That’s a problem.

STIs

Several porn actors have talked about the STIs in porn. These actors aren’t thrilled at the risk and I can’t blame them. STIs in the industry are seen as routine, something that probably shocks my escort readers.

Sex workers don’t see disease as part of the job description. A little-known fact is that brothel workers themselves asked for mandatory condom usage in the NV brothels. Condoms work. Many, many sex workers have worked for years without getting an STI. Outside of the NV brothels, sex workers don’t get tested very often, anywhere from annually to a few times per year. Most can’t afford constant testing, nor do they wish to out themselves to their doctors. Given the volume of clients and disease statistics, career sex workers have risked infection with every disease out there and they still test clean. If I had to guess, I’d say this is because of strict condom usage. It’s certainly not because clients make sure they have clean test results before seeing a sex worker.

legalities

Porn is legal sex work, more akin to legal prostitution than any other form of legal sex work. Legal means government regulation. The regulations seem to be passed by random voters or government officials without any input from porn actors (also like legal prostitution). The Free Speech Coalition is supposed to function as a voice for porn actors, though I’m not sure if everyone equally participates in communicating with the FSC.

I admit to a bit of sour grapes. Many, many sex workers voluntarily take safer sex precautions that porn actors are quite happy to do without. Porn is legal, which means regulation and since it has a lot to do with women and sex — that means lots of regulation (Whore Stigma in action). I’m wondering if porn wishes for decriminalization, though I’m guessing it’s not an option. Apparently, porn is getting a taste of what it’s like to be criminal:

The result of this is already obvious. We used to pull permits from L.A. County so we could get production insurance and shoot legally in a state where doing so is not prohibited. We used to tweet from sets talking up the projects we were working on.

Now we’re back to shooting in secret without permits and asked to keep our cell phones off because we know that the gang from AHF is monitoring some of our feeds and using that information to try and organize set inspections.

Nina Hartley

final thoughts

I can’t possibly dictate what porn actors should do. I’m not in porn, never will be, and have a very outsider perspective on it. I do have an interest is seeing that fellow sex workers are kept safe. Getting STIs through work isn’t “safe,” though the system is promoted as being “safe.” This is like the NV brothel system being promoted as “safe” and I found out it had a lot of cracks in that “safety.”

While I understand the anger of having your very personal workplace defined by a corporation (like AHF) or government laws, I’m also not comfortable that workers are supposed to shut up if they get an STI because that’s part of the job. Some of the porn arguments against condoms reads like literature right out of abstinence programs (wear condoms and get Aids anyway! condoms don’t protect against anything except perhaps pregnancy!). I really prefer to err on the side of letting the individual make their own decisions, but that’s something that can only be done in solo situations. Shooting a porn movie requires interactions between everyone involved, just like working in a brothel. Is the best way to ensure safety for the porn actor is to move to solo production? That already defines in the indie-cam industry and many sex workers like it for the complete control they have over their work situation.

I know I haven’t touched on 2257, that’s a whole other regulation issue, particularly how quasi-legal escorts have to abide by it. Nor have I talked about how the disease-testing and 2257 databases have allowed for the porn wikileaks site — a major breach in worker safety. Mostly I just wanted to look at two forms of legal sex work that, to me, have more similarities than differences.

15 thoughts on “porn vs brothels

  1. ” … about half of NV’s brothels are lockdown.”

    I don’t understand. Does that mean that someone who works in a brothel is physically imprisoned? She can’t leave? That doesn’t even seem possible, but … what the hell do I know? So I thought I’d ask.

  2. Jim — Yes, it means exactly what it says.

    If you look on my Archives page, you ‘ll see a category called Bella’s (Brothel). Click on that and read about my experiences in a lockdown brothel. Bella’s was actually progressive: I was allowed to eat breakfast outside and go for morning walks. The Chicken Ranch and Sheri’s Ranch are complete lockdown — no one off the premises. Lockdown brothels are common to the southern half of NV, shift brothels are northern.

  3. Wow. That (the “Bella’s” series) was actually pretty difficult to read, despite your gifts as a writer. I’m happy to be an escort client. Brothels sound like pretty sorry places.

  4. Jim — I’m glad you read them all.

    I don’t know about brothels in other countries but here in the US, there’s just a downscale air about them no matter what. Freedom to choose your own work environment, clients and structure your work as you please is something they cannot replicate and it shows.

    You, like most men, seem to enjoy a freely-consenting partner. Why some people have such a difficult time with this concept is beyond me.

  5. Amanda, since discovering “After Hours” a little while back, I’m having to put myself on a time budget with this site — there’s other things I need to get done at the computer. You have an extensive archive full of really good stuff here, and I’m going to be a while catching up with it. Considering both what your time is worth and how well you write, you should probably find some way to put your site on a subscription basis. I kind of hope you don’t, though. Thanks!

  6. Thanks for the link … I’ve done the “regular” email subscription because my e-reader’s a Nook. Or at least it is for now — who knows how long Barnes & Noble’s going to be around?

  7. Lewis — Ick! No matter how annoyed I might get at men, I will always, ALWAYS prefer a human over anything else.

    But clearly, some men just aren’t into putting forth even minimal effort — like finding a happy-ending massage or plain old DIY. Sheesh.

  8. LoL… yeah me too. But you know how the Japanese are about their electronics & gadgetry. When I saw this I was reminded of the movie: “Bladerunner” where the femme fatale was a replicant named Rachel.
    Perhaps science fiction becoming reality isn’t too far off in the future?

  9. Lewis — The articles keep coming about prostitution-ending sex robots. I’m sure some people will go that route, most probably won’t.

    Jeremy — I’ve been in a near-total lockdown brothel. It sucks. Being confined to a relatively small space, with lots of strangers (some of whom you may not like), having half your income taken and dealing with a whole lot of other ridiculous house rules is just as oppressive as it sounds.

    Jayla’s post has nothing to do with actually working in a brothel. She also makes the common brothel-propaganda mistake of believing that non-state-regulated prostitution leads to disease. Unsafe sex practices can lead to disease. That she can only safely work in a strictly-regulated environment makes me wonder just how solid her boundaries are outside of it.

  10. Hi there,
    First of all, nice post.
    Like you I’ve never done porn and I will never do porn.
    It’s not that don’t have respect for the people in it, but it’s totally not something for me.
    As an escort for whom the use of condoms is self-evident, it’s indeed shocking to read that STI’s in porn are seen as a routine. I’ve been tested for HIV, herpes, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, chlamidia and gonorrhea. And even though I guessed I would be safe, there was still a huge relief when I heared I had tested negative and was totally healthy.
    And I’m sorry for the language, but the argument that condoms might hurt is bullsh¨t. Today’s porn is so agressive. All these weird foreign objects that porn starts are forcing ‘in there’, I can’t imagine it feels good, together with the numerous double penetrations and the anal-to-vaginal swapping happening. So that argument is completely invalid, at least for today’s porn.
    Not using condoms is only good for the financial part of the job, but bad for everything else.

    1. Aphrodite — Thank you for the insight. I wasn’t even thinking about the extreme aspects of porn. Yeah, compared to that, condoms are barely even an irritant (then again, use lube). You just destroyed their anti-condoms arguments!

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