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UCLA: Push-Polling the Porn Proles

UCLA: Push-Polling the Porn Proles

Back in October, AVN was contacted by UCLA's Reproductive Health Interest Group (RHIG) to take part in an "Adult Film Industry (AFI) Think Tank" consisting of about 50 attendees, including adult performers, other industry professionals (including AIM's Dr. Sharon Mitchell), attorneys, some community activists, health department representatives and several staffers of state and local politicians. Media participants were asked not to write about the think tank, which took up the better part of one day at UCLA, and covered topics like a "timeline of key events" in the adult industry, the industry's "current situation," attempts to regulate the industry, and "where do we go from here?" plus a short panel of adult performers.

The "think tank" was relatively frustrating, since few of the attendees, including some of the industry's own "professionals," had much of an idea of either what goes on in the industry or what could be done to remedy whatever problems the industry has without driving it underground from where it had so recently emerged. (Many may not realize, as was the case with many conference attendees, that adult filming in Los Angeles County has only been legal since the early '90s.)

All in all, it was a disappointing experience ... but within the past day or so, think tank attendees and others were sent a survey whose purpose, according to "Natasha," one of the UCLA graduate students connected with RHIG, was "to gauge consumers' and industry people's knowledge and awareness about health issues in the adult film industry, to determine if seeing condoms on screen would make a difference to them, and to assess the extent to which they might be willing to pay for greater performer safety."

For those who wish to take the survey, it can be found here, but this attendee had some problems with several of the questions, and sent the following letter to one of the AFI Think Tank coordinators:

Dear Ms. [Coordinator],

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the AFI Think Tank survey, but I must take issue with its poor construction, and protest its attempts at push-polling.

Take, for instance, Q5: "Do you think performers are at risk of getting HIV when making a adult film?" For what purpose would the think tank ask this question of either the general public or of the think tank participants? There is no question that performers are at risk of getting HIV when making an adult film, even if they are tested (which they are) and even if they use condoms (which many do), so what does it matter what anyone's opinion is on the subject? If they answer "No" or "Don't know," they are simply displaying their ignorance. Is the think tank interested in knowing how many of its participants, or how many responders from the general public, are ignorant of this fact? Will the think tank staff be following up with responders to inform them of their correct or incorrect answers?

I raise similar objections to Qs 6 ("Are performers now required to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before making a adult film?") (the correct answer, sadly, is "No."); 7 ("Does taking an STD/HIV test beforehand protect performers from getting an STD/HIV while making a adult film?") (the only correct answer is "Yes, somewhat"); and 11 ("Do you think a female performer could get an STD if a man cums on her face?") (the only correct answer is "Yes.") These are pointless to ask in a survey when factually correct answers are readily ascertainable. And as to Q12 â€" "Do you think adult film producers are doing what they can to protect performers from STDs?" â€" how would most of the respondents even know the answer to this? Most of them are not intimately familiar with the day-to-day activities on a porn set.

More troubling, however, is Q9: "If it were stated in the credits that condoms were used in a adult film, but you could not tell by watching, would this reduce your enjoyment of the film?" If condoms are used in an adult production, they will be seen. With the current state of technology, any attempt to "erase" the appearance of condoms from a 90-minute or longer adult production would be prohibitively expensive; easily several times the initial budget of such a film. 

Therefore, coupled with the later question, Q16 ("Would you be willing to pay a bit more for a adult film if you knew that the performers were using condoms?"), this amounts to a prescription for a shutdown of a large segment of the adult industry, unless the answer to Q8 â€" "Would seeing condoms used in a adult film be a turn-off for you?" â€" is by a very large margin "No," or to Q10 â€" "Which would you prefer to watch: a film where you could see condoms used OR a film where you could not see condoms used?" â€" is almost universally "Could see condoms" or "Doesn't matter." The more realistic question to ask would be, "Would you be willing to pay as much as 10 times more for a[n] adult film if you knew that the performers were using condoms?" 

The use of "a bit more" amounts to push-polling, which is defined as a situation where a pollster phrases a question in such a way as to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting an objective survey. The awkwardly-phrased Q15 â€" "Do you think other people would be more likely to pay for a adult film if they knew performers were using condoms?" â€" is nearly as suggestive.

As you may be aware, after the 1998 HIV outbreak, where six cases of HIV in the industry were traced to infection from one (untested) performer, several producers chose to become "condom-only" in their productions. Now, roughly nine years later, just one company is condom-only. Why did the others change? They saw their sales drop precipitously with their all-condom productions, and were forced to go condom-optional in order to survive. Even some of the biggest companies in the industry were not immune from this reality. It is unlikely that the AFI's survey will reach the majority of the porn-buying/renting public, but producers and distributors constantly have their fingers on the pulse of the porn-watching community; it's their job to do so.

I'm puzzled by the inclusion of Qs 4 ("Do you think every sex act in a adult film is real (not simulated)?") and 14 ("How important is it to you that all sex acts in a adult film are real (not simulated)?"). While not all sex acts in an adult film are in fact "real," the overwhelming majority clearly are, and the market for films featuring simulated sex is miniscule compared to the market for hardcore. Were someone to suggest (much less mandate through law) that, in order to avoid STD transmission, all "adult" films use simulated rather than real sex acts, that person would be laughed out of the industry. 

Hardcore films were a sizeable market even when they were generally illegal in the early to mid-20th century (though of course hardly as large as is the legal market today) but if such films were required to be all-simulated and/or condom-only, as suggested by Q17 â€" "Do you think legislation should be passed requiring that performers in the adult industry use condoms?" â€" a large market in "illegal" non-condom hardcore movies would quickly spring up and would again be quite profitable. This should not be taken as a threat but rather as a well-founded prediction.

Q13 ("Whom do you feel should be mainly responsible for protecting adult film performers from getting STDs?"), however, is an important one, and in this era of the "nanny state," one that bears substantial discussion. Inevitably, no matter what legislation is passed, it will be the performer her/himself who will be "mainly responsible" for protecting her/himself from STDs, since no one else involved in the film/video's production will get the STD if one is transmitted. With that reality in mind, if legislation is called for, it should be legislation that guarantees the performer a free choice in whether or not to use a condom or other protection. Of course, nothing is ever that easy, since we are aware that when a performer is known to always or frequently use condoms, companies that prefer that their performers not use condoms will be less likely to hire that performer.

However, considering the exceptionally low incidence of HIV transmission within the (heterosexual) porn industry, two courses of action suggest themselves, both of which have the advantage of being subtly effective while not impelling the industry to go "underground":

1) Require all schools, both public and private, religious and secular, to provide mandatory courses in sex education, with a focus on the adverse and possibly deadly consequences of getting an STD. Ideally, one classroom session should include a visit to a hospice where patients with advanced AIDS or other STDs are being cared for, possibly with one or more of the patients speaking directly to the students. Another classroom session should also include a question-and-answer session with a knowledgeable, articulate porn star or prostitute who could answer questions about dealing with STD considerations "in the field." We know that many students age 12 or higher are sexually active already, so this part of the discussion would include methods for students to deal with pressure from fellow students to have intercourse before they're ready, which often happens on field trips, at parties, etc. The porn star could also give lessons on how the students can satisfy themselves sexually without engaging in intercourse, as was recommended by former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders.

2) Create a series of "public service announcements" to appear at the beginning of all hardcore DVDs, with messages such as a "regular" adult viewer saying, "Listen, I know you say you like to watch scenes without condoms, and that seeing a condom in a sex scene is a big turn-off to you, but did you ever consider the fact that as the performers are providing you with all this enjoyment, they may in reality at the same time be giving each other a deadly disease that may kill them, or disable them from ever performing again, or leading a normal life outside of porn? Think about it!"

I hope these comments will be useful to the think tank as it goes about its duties, and I would be happy to engage in dialog with any members who have questions about the above.

Best regards,

Mark Kernes, Sr. Ed., Adult Video News

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