Looking at the question as if it were simply black & white the answer becomes obvious and we should all be using barriers all the time. We all know that it’s only a ‘matter of time’ until another HIV outbreak occurs in the industry so how does it make any sense to put the lives of talented people at risk? But, porn, like life, is not made of absolutes and human decision-making is way more involved then doing ‘right’ and being ‘safe’.
Reasons for mandatory barrier use often come back to two big things, though there’s a lot of possible reasons, good and bad. First is the impetus to have a safe work environment for talent. Second is to not contribute to HIV/STI risk through putting out “unrealistical portrayals” of how sex actually takes place (supposedly this is something that barrier free porn does as the question implies). While 100% barrier use, in theory, makes some sense as a response to these problems, when we think about what constitutes “well-being” for performers and what we really mean by “realistic”, things get royally fucking complicated.
When we think about the implications on the generic “performer” were mandatory barrier use to be the norm, what we’d be doing is creating a more narrow range of images that will necessarily appeal to a smaller audience leading to obvious tangible economic implications. How do we consider the impact such changes would have on the economic health and well-being of hundreds of performers? Arguably even more problematic is the creation of an underground industry to fill the niche that would still very much be there. Given the (semi) illegal nature of this hypothetical industry, performers working in those contexts could be facing way more risk (likely for less pay) than the managed, minimal risk currently taken on by those working in an industry that has done a bang-up job at self-regulation in the absence of “lawmakers” telling us how to work or be safe.
As a quick aside: Its also important to consider the motivations that lawmakers may have. I find it really unlikely that politicians have the genuine well-being of porn performers (or any ‘workers’ for that matter) in their heart of hearts when they pick up their pens and draft laws in the current climate of neo-liberalism and increasing social conservatism. Adding further restriction (re: censorship) to the industry is a slippery slope; mandatory barrier use could, arguably be a gateway to further incursions into the industry.
Next, when we consider the complexities of “real sex” we all know that 100% barrier use is so far from the truth. How many of us have had to learn through trial & error, or as we walked the ‘walk of shame’ to the STI clinic, how to negotiate barriers, how to ask partners to get tested, how to freel okay about accepting some risk (cause condoms break and don’t offer protection against some STIs – i.e. HPV or Herpes). The “reality” of sex is a lot more complex then putting on a condom and this is something the porn industry, acknowledges and addresses this messy complexity. Case in point, consider the widespread use of AIM testing, and even the existence of AIM itself. Or the shift in barrier use in gay male porn that reflected and responded the increase in HIV in gay male communities.
What we could do better as an industry is finding creative ways to show how we do this dance. That it’s not a free-for-all. While testing is not 100% (considering window periods for testing), having a label asserting to performers having been AIM tested could be one simple way to make this more visible. Having BTS with negotiation of barriers or discussions about risk/HPV could also happen. There’s so many possibilities but I think that if “realism” is gonna be forefronted in the future of porn then its not gonna be found if our choices to use/not use barriers are determined by lawmakers.
- Drew Deveaux