LOS ANGELES—There was very little that today's panel on "Condoms in the Adult Film Industry," held at the UCLA Law School, could have told, say, Fox News about being "fair and balanced." After all, the lineup of speakers included most of the usual suspects: Paula Tavrow, Ph.D., of the UCLA School of Public Health; Whitney Engeran-Cordova, director of AIDS Healthcare Foundation's (AHF) Public Health Division (as well as an LA City Council appointee to the LA Commission on HIV which, conveniently for AHF, "allocates federal dollars for AIDS and advises the county on all matters regarding HIV"); former performer Shelley Lubben, head of the religiously anti-porn Pink Cross Foundation and according to the panel moderator, "one of the world's leading advocates for workers in the adult film industry"; and Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of the LA County Health Department's STD program, who took little part in the discussions because Tavrow had already been tagged as his replacement when it was unclear whether he could attend.
Also present was veteran performer Mr. Marcus, who'd never run this gauntlet before, having not attended any of the four Cal/OSHA meetings that have taken place in LA and San Francisco over the past six months or so; and Diane Duke, executive director of Free Speech Coalition, who hadn't originally been invited to appear on the panel, but who had, in her own words, "bullied" her way onto it anyway. That made the panel, originally weighted (without Dr. Kerndt) three to one in favor of mandatory condoms, into one only weighted four to two in favor.
The panel discussion was sponsored by the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, an advocacy group whose "mission" is to "eliminate workplace hazards and work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities through organizing and education [sic] workers and advocates, as well as through public policy"—and readers might be forgiven for thinking that that mission syncs up well with the mission of Cal/OSHA to require adult performers to wear condoms (and possibly dental dams and goggles) in all sex scenes.
Each of the panelists got about five minutes for his or her presentation, and though Tavrow, Engeran-Cordova and Lubben each had new PowerPoint presentations for the roughly 60 UCLA law students who attended the discussion, the content of the presentation wasn't markedly different from the presentations they've given at Cal/OSHA meetings: The same mixture of facts, opinions, misinformation and outright lies.
For instance, point #2 of the first page of Tavrow's presentation was, "Most adult film workplaces currently are dangerous to performers"—a "fact" that would surely be disputed by almost all of the adult performers in the industry, who get tested for various STDs every 28 days. (Of course, for Tavrow, "Testing or screening, you have to know, is a form of surveillance; it is not a form of protection.")
According to Tavrow, the "dangers" that adult performers face when they work in movies are "multiple partners over a short time period," ejaculation on the face; cream pies (most of which, adult performers know, are faked); unprotected anal sex, including DPs; sharing sex toys; A2M; and "prolonged intercourse."
Tavrow also projected a list of the various STDs one could get through sexual contact, not all of which does AIM currently test for (but certainly could if mandated to do so), noting that HIV, which four performers contracted on sets in 2004 and none since, can lead to AIDS, which she said is "often fatal." (Perhaps Tavrow is unfamiliar with current treatments for HIV infection, which work well for most patients.) Deceptively, Tavrow claimed that, "In California alone, we know that eight people were employed in the adult film at the time of their HIV diagnosis, and we know that at least 50 percent were infected while making an adult film." She also stated that performers get "blacklisted if they try to report on what's going on in the industry." She also once again claimed that adult performers contract more STDs than do county residents as a whole, but her statistics were from the County Health Department—figures which AIM's own records have shown to be inaccurate.
Next up was Engeran-Cordova, who said he wanted to "talk around the edges of this issue." He called mandatory condoms "an issue that's bigger than itself," in part because it implicates people's attitudes towards sex and discussions of sex, and as he rightly pointed out, society in general is "schizophrenic about sex."
"The performance of sex is no different in this context than it would be in any other employee work," he said, "and this is not consensual private sexual behavior; people are being paid to have sex on film. In the performance of their work duties, people should not be exposed to workplace hazards; that seems fairly logical." In that opinion, Engeran-Cordova echoed the statements made by his associate, Brian Chase, at the most recent Cal/OSHA Committee meeting on this subject.
But for Engeran-Cordova, having sex on camera implicates any number of social memes: "We cross issues of social justice; we cross issues of populations that can't defend themselves; we cross issues of sex; we're talking about HIV which is a deadly disease; we're talking about sexually transmitted disease and we're getting into people's very private lives, right, because it's probably the best kept secret we all have, that we like to look at porn." (He failed to mention that many, possibly most, people like to look at porn without condoms.)
Lubben, whose website hawks her new book allegedly based on her brief experiences in the industry, and who asked her supporters for their "fervent prayers" about her appearance on the panel, spoke next, and much of what she said was laced with her usual inaccuracies and outright fabrications.
"I worked in the industry in the years 1993 to 1994," she told the audience. "I was forced to have unprotected sex." (See, she chose to work in the industry, but she was forced to have unprotected sex, though she must have known that virtually no companies shot condom porn in the early '90s.)
Lubben launched into a long list of medical problems she claims stemmed from her brief porn career (as opposed to her years working as a prostitute) and also claimed she was "brutally raped on the set when I contacted herpes in a six-man gangbang." (This would have been Filmco's Roxy – A Gang Bang Fantasy, but of course, Lubben never filed rape charges against anyone connected with that movie.)
"Women on the set have no advocate on a mostly male set, and are threatened by porn producers and agents," she continued. "In order to get women to agree to these things, they're given alcohol and drugs and even sent to local doctors to get prescription medicine like Xanax and Vicodin... All this is documented proof."
To accompany her talk, Lubben also made available several handouts, one of which references notorious gossip and liar Luke Ford, who collected industry-bashing quotes from several actresses prior to his leaving the porn-gossip business several years ago. Yet another handout, titled "Backgrounder," contains lies such as that "90% [of porn employees] are child sexual abuse survivors," "66% to 99% of pornography performers are reported with Herpes, a non-curable disease," and "25 HIV cases by performers reported by Adult Industry Medical Healthcare since 2004."
Finally, Mr. Marcus was given a chance to speak, and his laid-back demeanor contrasted sharply with that of the previous speakers.
Marcus, a 17-year industry vet, traced the history of HIV in the industry, from the Marc Wallice-caused outbreak in 1998, which brought about the formation of AIM, to the recent "Patient Zeta," who contracted the disease in his/her private life.
"What I'm trying to get at is, each time this has happened, it seems this discussion gets bigger and bigger," he noted. "That's why I would like to see more performers here, but unfortunately, a lot of them—they're not all drug addicts, they're not all alcoholics; some of them are business-minded, some of them have families to support, some of them are contract stars, some of the women in the industry have even started their own companies. Sex is not going anywhere. The porn industry is not going to change overnight... I'm not against condoms; I never have been; I've worked with them, but I think condoms is one of those things that had me thinking that it's something that's kind of—it's early on in life. You're taught that pretty early on, to use condoms. They're not in your life from the beginning... and some of the girls in this industry are very young. You can tell that their background is—some are from very strict parental households; I see that at times, but then I see them break from that, and that's why they come to the adult industry. They don't want the rules; they don't want anyone telling them what to do."
The final speaker was Duke, who pointed to her activism on sexuall issues—particularly gay rights—and drew parallels between her former position as head of a branch of Planned Parenthood in Oregon, and her current work with the adult industry.
"If a woman can choose whether or not to have an abortion, if a woman has a brain, she can make choices whether or not to work in the adult entertainment industry," Duke said, in response to the strains of paternalism that underlay previous speakers' statements about performers' roles in the industry. "Sexuality is the final frontier of feminism... Women are now owning their own sexuality."
Duke tried to convey the complexities of the adult industry—an attempt which had previously largely fallen on deaf ears at Cal/OSHA meetings, but which she hoped might get through to the assembled law students... but sadly, the questions and comments from the audience that comprised the final 20 minutes of the discussion suggested that one probably would have to experience the industry first-hand in order to understand it well.
For instance, Duke admitted that she'd come across some "scumbags" in the industry, but that they were hardly the dominant form of behavior. She also took previous speakers to task for having downplayed veteran actress Nina Hartley's opposition to condoms.
Without going into detail, the "debate" which followed the panelists' presentations was at times spirited, with one attendee trying to make the distinction between the gay and straight sides of the industry, to have Dr. Kerndt reply that, "It isn't about whether you're gay or straight; it's really what activity, what behavior they engage in. Anal sex is anal sex; whether your partner in anal sex is male or female, it really doesn't matter."
Several audience members couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to use a condom while having sex—Duke noted that many male performers have difficulty mainting erections with condoms—while another tried to make a connection between porn performers and other sex workers, with Lubben responding that, "Prostitution only lasts a minute or two minutes, in all honesty, and we're [sic] on the set eight hours and being vaginally raped by men"—a lie that two audience members called her on. Other comments included a couple of the law students disagreeing on whether adult performers would be considered employees or independent contractors.
In short, the discussion was in many respects a replay of the discussions at the four Cal/OSHA meetings... and accomplished just as little.
Further thoughts on the meeting by Free Speech Coalition's membership director Joanne Cachapero can be found here.
(Photo: (l-r) Shelly Lubben, Mr. Marcus, Diane Duke)