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Wah!

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, January 15, 2012 18:53 EDT
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So, L.A. is once again looking at the question of whether or not to require condom use in porn filmed in the city. This was a question I was initially agnostic on, figuring that it was probably a complex argument and I should give both sides a listen before deciding. In taking that approach, I have discovered that the anti-condom arguments are some of the most piss-poor, illogical arguments I’ve ever seen. I was forced by the badness of these arguments to agree that mandating condom use is clearly the path, since it’s the only side that actually bothered to make an argument that wasn’t smoke and mirrors. Let’s take a look at each argument from the anti-condom side and see why they’re just so terrible:

1) It’ll cut into porn profits. This is really the only argument that the porn industry—like any industry fighting against labor protections—cares about. Everything else is hand-waving (though I will address it, because the hand-waving has sucked in many liberals, mostly men, for reasons that should be as obvious as they are embarrassing). This is a value judgment argument. The question is whether you value the health and safety of the porn actors more than the ability to move units of the producers. I tend to side with people over profits, and have yet to hear a conservative make a compelling argument for why they value profits over people. 

2) The customers want this. This is the male entitlement argument. (Yes, I know women watch porn, but the porn industry that we’re talking about has a male customer in mind.) I know this will get me lambasted as some sort of man-hater, but I do think that men really aren’t entitled to any form of gratification they want, regardless of who they hurt. No one is. The law already recognizes this when it comes to porn. There’s a lot of customer demand for stuff that’s illegal or at least should be: high school girls, little kids, actual rapes instead of fake ones, serious injuries or even death inflicted on women, pictures where the subject explicitly did not give consent. There probably are some customers who will be sorely disappointed to see visible evidence of safety precautions on screen, but I’m honestly skeptical that they’re going to be so angry they just decide to boycott jerking off to porn. I remain strongly unconvinced that seeing a little latex in a porn is a greater tragedy than contracting HIV on a porn set

3) They’re just going to take porn shoots elsewhere. Really, liberals? This is the best you can do? This is actually a standard argument business always makes against labor protections. This threat has various degrees of seriousness to it, but even in serious cases, it’s an empty argument. It basically deprives the government of the right to protect people within their jurisdiction because they don’t have the right to do so in other jurisdictions. Governments should have a right to say, “This behavior is so wrong that while we can’t ban it everywhere, we can ban it here.” Often, once one jurisdiction does it, others soon folllow, especially with regards to safety regulations. Plus, I’m a little skeptical of the notion that the entire porn industry in L.A. will decamp to another location. They aren’t in L.A. just by accident, you know. The one thing the porn industry needs—more than latex-free dicks, even—is a steady supply of young people who don’t have a lot of money but put a lot of effort into their looks. The steady stream of people who come to L.A. to make it and then don’t is a gold mine for the porn industry. You’re not going to find that in Minneapolis. It helps if they can be convinced that doing porn could be the entryway into a career they want. The porn industry grasps this, which is why they take any porn actress who has a bit part in any Hollywood movie and trumpets the hell out of it, to keep the crossover dream alive. You’re just not going to have that in any other city. Look, the porn industry isn’t fighting this tooth and nail because they have a lot of options. They know that L.A. has them over a barrel on this, which is why they’re fighting so hard.

4) Freedom of speech. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t really think that freedom of speech covers the right to avoid safety precautions for workers. Regular Hollywood has to follow labor laws with regards to their actors, and they have to deal with unions, to boot. The porn industry is exploiting the fact that the world doesn’t care very much about the people that work for them, and I’m glad that L.A. is stepping in and saying porn actors deserve the same kind of labor protections that we extend to other professions.

5) It’s supposed to be a fantasy! Amanda Hess got a pretty standard version of this in her recent piece on the controversy:

“We’re selling a fantasy,” says Lisa Ann, 39, who enjoyed her own mainstream moment when she was cast as a Sarah Palin-type in Hustler’s spoof of the 2008 elections. “It would be great to teach young people to put a condom on during sex,” she says, but she’s not sure how much the porn industry should be responsible for educating teenagers.

This is a bad argument for two reasons. The most important is that it’s a strawman. The regulations aren’t being written in order to “teach” condom  use to teenagers. They’re protection for the actors on-set, to keep them from contracting STDs and especially HIV. But it’s also bullshit by its own measure. Porn producers are trying to have it both ways. Their main marketing strategy is that they aren’t fantasy, but are real. The sex is real, and they have frequent close-ups and particular emphasis on ejaculation being caught onscreen in order to make it clear that this is real and not a fantasy. Comparing this to explosions and car chases in real Hollywood movies is missing the point; everyone knows that the car chases and explosions are special effects. The whole point of porn is to say, “This is not a special effect, but actual people having actual sex.” The reason people choose porn videos over drawings or fictional sex scenes is the realness of it. 

The sense that porn is real means that it does have an impact on the viewers. Anal sex, Brazilian waxing, and facials have all become more common in real sex because of porn. I’m not judging that—to the extent that porn encourages people to experiment and have more fun in bed, I’m all for it, though some of the practices that have taken off have questionable value as pleasurable—but it is inarguable that porn has a normative effect in a way that stuff that doesn’t present itself as real doesn’t. Whether that should be used for good is up for grabs, but again, while this is all an interesting conversation, it’s also completely moot. The regulations aren’t about directing the message, but about protecting the workers.

6) Condoms are uncomfortable. The argument is that since the actors are having a lot of sex, condoms “chafe” in a way that they miraculously don’t for us ordinary people. I think this is grasping at straws, personally, because a lot of ordinary people do in fact have bouts of condom-use sex that are intense and long-lasting and don’t seem to have this problem, at least if they use lube. But I also have to point out that the porn industry standardly asks women to cram multiple cocks into them, to have anal sex whether they’re up for it or not (and to make sure they’re up for it with fasting and heavy duty enemas—the kind of stuff that you don’t have to do when having ordinary people anal sex), or to have sex with machines. If keeping the actresses physically comfortable was important to them, porn would look completely different and probably be far less profitable. Which is why #1 is really the only argument in play here, and one that liberals who think you’re killing a puppy if you venture even the slightest criticism of the stuff they jerk off to should stop being so defensive and really think this through. No one is telling you that you’re a bad person for looking at porn. We’re just saying that  the industry should be forced to take more precautions when it comes to the health of its workers. The utter indifference to the health of porn workers suggests that a lot of people think of them as second class citizens who can be used for sexual gratification and then disposed of. And if you do believe that, then yeah, I think you’re a bad person. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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