In an incisive piece on Salon, adult performer Lorelei Lee writes about her concerns with the condom ordinance that the city of Los Angeles recently passed. Like many in the adult industry, Lee questions the motivation of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which set into motion the events that would culminate in this ordinance.
The ordinance comes in response to a campaign spearheaded by Michael Weinstein, head of the San Francisco-based nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation. In the last few years, Weinstein, alongside similarly agenda-driven Shelley Lubben of the Pink Cross Foundation, has aggressively campaigned to mandate the use of condoms in heterosexual adult films, enlisting half a dozen adult performers, boycotting the Marriott Hotel chain for carrying condom-less porn, suing the L.A. Department of Public Health, and staging protests throughout Los Angeles at industry events and at AIM headquarters. Weinstein called AIM a “fig leaf” over the adult industry and backed the lawsuit that led to the organization’s financial insolvency and shutdown last year, which left a vacuum in health and safety protections in the industry. Weinstein seemed to hope that leaving performers without any kind of health protection would force legislators to mandate condom use. If the city of Los Angeles had not passed the ordinance this week Weinstein had a backup plan: Using AHF funds, he had collected 70,889 signatures to put the condom-mandate question to Los Angeles voters in June, a move that would have cost L.A. $4.4 million.
We’ve written about Shelley Lubben before. She was part of the opposition at the Cambridge debate discussing whether pornography provides a good public service (for those curious, porn won that debate by 44 votes). Other sex bloggers have had occasion to mention Lubben, most notably because of her affiliation with Gail Dines, another tireless sex-negative, anti-porn crusader:
Gail Dines and her colleagues insist that when men view porn, it leads them to child molestation, and when women view porn, it gets them gang-raped. However, the actual data tells a different story. So insidiously effective is this tactic of fomenting moral panic [...] that Gail Dines even headlines in left-wing women’s media.
Look under the hood and you can see Gail Dines’ campaign is promulgated by Christian groups and companies with explicit anti-gay histories, that her most visible sidekick is faith-based Pink Cross “charity” founder Shelley Lubben, or that among her most vocal supporters is former Bush-era Obscenity Task Force Prosecutor Patrick Trueman (whose own “Porn Harms” group crows with obvious delight at censorship of sex-positive discussions). Here too, the fear-inducing messages—and the thinly-veiled threat—is the same: “good girls don’t; men are predators.”
Lubben is no stranger to anyone writing about the issues facing freedom and sexual expression in a sex-negative culture. Her agenda is not limited to pornography, either. Lubben doesn’t see a difference between the abusers who create porn, the monsters who watch it, and homosexuals. The following is a clip from a site created by the adult industry and dedicated to questioning Shelley Lubben’s motives:
In her critique of the condom ordinance, Lee continues:
Among performers I know, there is a mix of opinions as to whether they mind actually using condoms on set themselves — a different question than the one of a legislated condom mandate. Some, like Nina Hartley, who is also a sex educator and has training as a nurse, are strongly opposed to using condoms at work, believing that they may actually increase likelihood of STI transmission. Personally, I’m not opposed to using condoms during my shoots — in fact, I already do. I became a condom-only performer in 2010, after eight years of working non-condom. But during my time as a non-condom performer, I never once contracted an STI on set that condoms would have prevented, and truthfully, I’m not sure that condoms actually keep me safer than testing alone. Further, I would never want to work on a set that required condoms in lieu of STI testing.
[ ... ] What performers like Hartley and I are equally opposed to is being condescended to by hypocritical zealots like Weinstein and Lubben who are obviously motivated by a concern for something other than our health and safety. Who have, in fact, shown a “blatant disregard” for the health and safety of industry workers by making it more difficult for us to use the protections we already have in place when their actions led to the closure of AIM. We’re also opposed to the squandering of AHF resources – resources that could be effectively used to help prevent and treat HIV and AIDS – on a political campaign against an industry whose health and safety regulations are already working. In the decade since AIM began the program of mandatory testing, six performers have tested positive for HIV, and only three of those have shown to be from on-set transmissions. That’s three transmissions during the course of filming tens (or perhaps hundreds) of thousands of scenes. There are no real statistics as to how this compares to transmission rates in the general population. Rather than concrete evidence, Weinstein has used references to AIDS as a scare tactic, leading those who have been affected by the disease, like City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, to believe that a condom mandate would actually have some effect on HIV transmission rates. Condoms, even when used “consistently and correctly,” do not have a 100 percent success rate. Although numbers vary, one study showed condoms to be only 80 percent effective against HIV transmission in couples of different sero-statuses (in which one partner is HIV positive and the other negative). I have a hard time believing that condom mandate, if it is even possible to enforce, is likely to have a higher success rate than testing.
We covered the some of the various attempts the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) launched against the porn industry’s Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), which eventually succeeded in May of last year, leaving performers exposed, as Lee writes.
The most unfortunate part of this conversation is that porn carries with it a lot of baggage. Even this, a conversation about workplace safety and employees, is easily derailed by questions about what porn does to men, whether porn exploits women, and what porn teaches children (children? Yes, children! We’re not kidding, this is a question that’s been raised time and time again in the context of this discussion). As a result of these emotionally-charged tangents, the discussion about what would really benefit performers never happens.
Weinstein has remarked that the L.A. attorney’s office is trying to “thwart” voters’ will, but what stake do Los Angeles voters have in this matter? I’ve heard too many times the claim that the adult industry is acting irresponsibly by portraying barrier-free sex when – as the argument goes – people of all ages are getting their information about sex from pornography. But the overwhelming majority of porn is fiction, and the world it portrays is one of fantasy. I have to believe that most people who encounter porn know this. We don’t generally expect other forms of entertainment to be responsible for disseminating health and safety information. If pornography is in some capacity replacing sex education for people in this country, then mandating condom use is a ludicrously indirect way of addressing that problem.
Image of Lorelei Lee via Twitter.