"Performative sex is utterly different from private sex": A porn star takes on the California State Capitol

Adult performer Lorelei Lee is desperately lobbying ahead of tomorrow's vote on a bill mandating condoms in porn

Published June 24, 2014 10:59PM (EDT)

Lorelei Lee     (Reuters/Morris Macmatzen)
Lorelei Lee (Reuters/Morris Macmatzen)

Adult star Lorelei Lee is used to playing different roles -- naughty nurse clad in latex, sexy teacher wielding a ruler -- but today she's playing a part rarely fetishized in porn: a lobbyist in the California State Capitol. That's because tomorrow AB 1576, a bill that will mandate condoms in the adult industry in California, will go to vote. She, along with more than 500 performers who have come out against the bill, says it will hurt the industry it is ostensibly meant to protect.

If the bill passes tomorrow, Lee says it will mean a mass exodus of the adult industry from California. "The actual situation that will be created if this bill becomes law has already been demonstrated in L.A. County after the passage of Measure B," she said, referring to the condom mandate passed in 2012. "Since that time there has been a 95 percent reduction in adult film permit applications." Indeed, Peter Acworth, the CEO of Kink.com, which is headquartered in a former armory in San Francisco, has threatened to decamp to Las Vegas if the bill is put into law.

Big production companies might be able to move out of state, but others will just shoot illegally, she argues, and that makes performers less safe. "When our jobs are illegal, they not only become more dangerous, they also become more stigmatized," she says. "In a time when porn performers already face the abrupt closing of our bank accounts, discrimination in hiring and in housing applications, and a risk of firing from other non-sex-work jobs we might obtain, the question of our livelihood moving underground becomes one of survival."

The bill, which mandates testing, also raises privacy concerns. "This law would mandate that we 'consent' to the sharing of 'information' with the Department of Industrial Relations as a precondition to being hired," Lee says. As the Erotic Service Providers Union of California put it in a blog post, "This is a slippery slope upon which there are no privacy provisions in place to protect this class of workers from being exposed to discrimination and negative stigma for working in adult films. "

There are other arguments as well about the discomfort of wearing condoms. As Lee puts it, "Condoms are not created as industrial protection." She also points out that "the machinations of performative sex are utterly different from that of private sex." Porn sex doesn't last for a couple minutes or happen with an average-size penis; as porn performer Nina Hartley explains, it means "45 to 90 minutes with a very large gentleman." This can result in what she refers to as "condom burn."

Hartley adds that there are risks that come with every job and workers should be able to choose which risks they are comfortable with. "I don't personally do construction because I don't want to fall off a 10-story building," she says.

Then there's the fact that the bill mandates testing procedures that are less strict than those currently in place. As the Stop AB 1576 website puts it, the bill "requires only the less-accurate 'rapid HIV antibody' test (with a window period of approximately 8-12 weeks between infection and detectability), whereas all major producers now use the gold standard 'HIV viral load' method (with a window of 7-10 days)."

Lee, who was desperately trying to promote resistance to the bill, says AB 1576 only appears to be concerned with the health of performers. "[It] was written not only without the input of the workers it will impact, but also without any knowledge whatsoever of the kind of work we actually do," she says. "There is no other industry a legislator would attempt to regulate with this same utter dismissiveness and ignorance."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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Ab 1576 California Condoms Hiv Lorelei Lee Love And Sex Nina Hartley Peter Acworth Porn Industry Pornography Sex