The XX Factor

Cap It, Larry Flynt

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation opened a new front in its long-running battle to enforce occupational health and safety laws standards on porn sets in California. On Thursday, the group filed a complaint against high-profile pornographer Larry Flynt with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. To bolster its allegations that Flynt is creating an unsafe work environment for his performers by forcing them to work without condoms, AHF dropped off some reference material: 100 hardcore Flynt DVDs, a stack nearly 5 feet high, illustrating “activities highly likely to spread bloodborne pathogens in the workplace.” According to AHF, only one scene in the entire stack shows a performer wearing a condom.

Porn performers have legal jobs producing legal products in a multibillion-dollar industry. Yet in practice, they lack basic health and safety protections that other workers take for granted. Less than 20 percent of hardcore straight porn features condoms, even though condoms or equivalent protection are required by law.

The industry is upfront about why condoms are scarce, or even banned, on straight porn sets: profit. Condom porn doesn’t sell as well as the bareback stuff. Porn is fantasy, and to many viewers, condoms represent the mundane reality they are trying to escape. “It’s been proven over and over and over. Condoms in adult movies just don’t sell well. That’s just a fact,” Steve Hirsch , CEO of Vivid Entertainment, told ABC News.

Some producers have a formal no-condom rule. Agents often push women to forgo condoms because bareback work pays more and the agent gets a cut of her earnings.  Porn performers are an especially vulnerable group of workers. They tend to be young, and in precarious financial circumstances, and sometimes far from home, recruited by traveling agents. For some, an extra $50 to work without a condom can be a big incentive. Apart from a handful of starlets with exclusive studio contracts, job security is nonexistent. In the new competitive world of online porn, every director wants to be the first to film a girl doing a particular sex act; the riskier, the more lucrative.

Unprotected sex with strangers is considered the epitome of risk-taking. By general consensus, a typical day on the job should be a lot safer than unprotected sex with one or more strangers, each of whom may have had unprotected had sex with multiple strangers since their last negative STD test. The fact that adults have the right to take risks in their private lives doesn’t imply that employers should be able to impose the same risks on workers.

Gay porn didn’t go out of business when the industry embraced condoms in response to the AIDS crisis. Eighty percent of gay porn movies use condoms. Condoms are widely accepted in Brazil’s straight porn industry, which is the largest in the world after Porn Valley. And one of the most successful studios in the business, Wicked Pictures, shoots only condom movies.

Ultimately, though, it’s not a question of sales, but rather of workers’ right to be safe on the job. Consumer preferences shouldn’t get in the way of safety. Condoms are like a safety net at the circus-the ringmaster shouldn’t be allowed to yank the net because the public thinks it’s more exciting.