I’ve written countless times about the push to mandate condoms in the porn industry and yet, when news broke last week of another HIV outbreak, I was reminded that I’m still not sure where I stand on the issue. As a feminist, I’m inclined to listen to what sex workers want, and what makes them feel safe and empowered — but porn actors aren’t a monolithic group. Some say that requiring condoms is the only way to go; others argue that a mandate would not only hurt their performance but also put them at greater risk of infection (see more on that here).
In my ongoing quest for something resembling clarity on the issue, I went to feminist porn star and director — yes, those mythical creatures do exist — Madison Young. The fiery-haired 30-year-old describes herself as a “sexual revolutionary” (indeed, she started San Francisco’s Femina Potens Art Gallery, which targets those “living outside the female-male gender binary”) and “one of the world’s kinkiest feminists.” I talked to her by e-mail about responsible pornography, condoms as a fantasy-killer and whether it’s safe to have crossover between the gay and straight sides of the industry .
What’s your personal policy on condom use while performing and why?
I use condoms when they are made available to me in a scene. With every scene there is a chance of exposure to STI’s and although testing is incredibly important and crucial in our industry, with the current 30-day valid testing period, there is still a risk of contracting an infection and condoms help to decrease that risk. I also feel that it’s important to show on film that safer sex practices can be sexy.
Many directors make the excuse of audiences wanting to watch “fantasy sex” when enjoying pornography. But audiences are expanding and the types of porn that exist on the market now are also expanding. Sex-positive porn, feminist pornography, erotica targeted toward women and couples, educational sex videos, BDSM and queer porn, and documentary pornography are all more accepting of safer sex practices.
As a director, I feel that creating a condom-optional policy for my talent works best. I shoot a lot of real-life couples that don’t use condoms in their personal life so they choose not to use them. Also sometimes women who have latex allergies or experience discomfort from using condoms opt not to use them in their scene. But they always have that choice.
What do you think of the push to mandate condom use in the industry?
I think it could be a mistake. Making condoms mandatory for all adult films is just as confining and dis-empowering as eliminating condoms as an option for performers. There needs to be an element of choice, and the choice shouldn’t be that if you want work you don’t use condoms and if you want to use condoms then you don’t work.
Why is condomless porn so in-demand?
I think a couple factors come into play here, the largest one being that companies feel that they will make more money with films that show condomless sex. This is going back to the idea that audiences want to see some fantasy of sex that doesn’t involve safer sex practices. I don’t know that this is true. There are some very successful companies such as Kink.com and Wicked that use condoms in their productions and their audiences still love their films. If you create a quality film that makes safer sex seem natural and erotic, it can have a really positive impact on our audience’s ideas of safer sex and condom usage.
What do you make of reports that the actor who tested positive was a gay-to-straight porn actor? Do you think it’s problematic to have crossover stars when the gay and straight sides of the business have different testing policies?
I think it might simplify things if the gay and straight adult industries unified testing policies. I don’t think that it is a problem to have crossover performers from the gay to straight industry, though. Sexuality and gender are fluid and there is no reason why performers of any gender identity shouldn’t be able to express the vastness of their desires and their authentic sexual selves on screen within multiple facets of the adult industry. Both genres are taking precautions around STIs and have reasons to be invested in the health of their performers.
I think that the greater problem is homophobia, transphobia, and bi-phobia in the straight adult industry. This is really disheartening and ignorant. We are all working and living on the sexual fringe and need to be unified in education and not ostracizing groups within our industry. That isn’t how we move forward and gain strength. We do that by working together. Also, something to remember is that performers have sex outside of the industry. There are always risks and unknowns around whether your screen partner is having unsafe sex with persons of any gender before your scene.