Safer Sex in Queer Porn and the Condom Debate

by Jiz Lee on / Queer Porn

I added a sticky to this post because even though it was written in 2011 for Measure B, the issue of mandating condoms in sex is still rearing it’s ugly head with a California Assembly Bill, AB1576, and this time it has terrifying legal consequence. My thoughts haven’t changed much on the subject, so I’ve included updates below. 

Published June 6th, 2011

It’s late afternoon on a grey, overcast Monday in the SOMA district of San Francisco.

For the last few months — and especially this weekend — I’ve been reading about changes happening in Los Angeles in the mainstream porn industry. I’d like to think there’s more difference between San Francisco’s little queer porn hub and LA’s porn valley, but like today’s weather, there’s a lot of grey.

Tomorrow, June 7th, at 10am, there is a Medical Meeting with the Cal-OSHA (California Division of Occupational Safety and Health) Board of Directors addressing Adult Industry Regulation. (Address: CalTrans Building, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012). Porn performer Danny Wylde has been one of the most vocal industry bloggers about the recent news; his position as a performer and his writing skills as a blogger put him on the forefront as a key player within a pool of increasingly visible sexually progressive adult stars. Click on over to read his blog post “The Condom Debate“, because I think he most succinctly describes the issue at hand. Additionally, Violet Blue wrote a fantastic article “Real Sex and Porn Sex” not too long ago, which also serves as a must-read to more fully understand safer sex issues within porn.

Akira Raine and Chocolate Chip use a dental dam on queer porn site Crash Pad Series, nominated 2011 AVN Awards “Best Alternative Website” and recognized website at 2011 Feminist Porn Awards. Photo: CrashPadSeries.com

I decided to add my own story to the “debate”; because my experience is somewhat isolated as a queer porn performer. And this grants me interesting and conflicting thoughts around the issue. Just earlier, I was prompted to write and share my thoughts when I saw some posts on the subject by LA Girl-Girl porn performers:

“Think the condoms/porn debate doesn’t effect you? A girl-girl sex scene will require dental dams & gloves & there is no testing requirement.”

“So those condom regs, they are a lot worse than just condoms. Gloves, dams, face shields etc. This passes and porn’s done in CA.”

What’s wrong with barriers? I happen to be someone who adores gloves, and reading these made me feel shamed for enjoying safer sex in my personal life as well as on the screen, especially when the company is open to it. If you don’t like using dental dams or gloves, that’s okay but it’s good to note that the tests required for most mainstream porn studios, including Girl/Girl performers, are designed for heterosexual sex risks. In the queer porn that I’m familiar with, using barriers and opting not to have a straight porn test is a common choice among performers, who even bring their own dental dams to set along with their preferred lube.

One of the main differences I see between “mainstream” porn and San Francisco-based “queer” pornography* is the focus on sex-positive values which includes allowing diverse models to make the choice to best protect their sexual health. (*What is queer porn? It’s a term currently used to describe the work I perform in, where models span a range of queer sexual orientations and gender identities — queer women and men, trans and cisgender, and genderqueers for example — so it’s not simply defined as gay, lesbian, trans, or bisexual.)

How does giving models the choice best protect their sexual health? I believe a choice with a range of protections is better than one blanket-level standard (whether it’s barriers, or testing) for a number of reasons: mainly, it allows for flexibility depending on the models’ diverse needs. All our needs are different. Some models are real-life partners who are fluid-bonded and monogamous with their own testing precautions, or, poly/non-monogamous lovers who have specific arrangements. Some models are sex workers and have boundaries in porn that they may or may not have with their clients. For some models, it’s their first and only porn performance. For some models who work in LA or other industry porn, it’s a special shoot that allows them to have whatever kind of sex they want, or to perform with partners who are outside mainstream aesthetics. Models have different sexual histories, so choices in safer sex practices may vary based on our needs.

In addition, models have different sexual anatomy, regardless of gender expression, which may lend to different sexual risks. Different sex acts also pose varying sexual risks. So there’s a lot of variables and the awareness of all these different situations and kinds of risks, and using the information to apply to sexual practice is called “risk-based assessment.”

When I perform in porn, I make decisions within each scene based on risk-based assessment. For me, I am female-assigned at birth and my sexual health is put at various risks based on the anatomy of my co-star and what sexual acts we will do together. Here’s a chart I found which I modified to read as penis/vulva (as opposed to man/woman):

What You Can Get if Your Partner is Infected

KNOWN RISKS

POSSIBLE RISKS

UNKNOWN

Giving oral sex to a penis
Giving oral sex to a vulva none
Receiving oral sex – penis none
Receiving oral sex – vulva none
Anal sex – penetrating penis none
Anal sex – receiving anus none
Vaginal sex – penis none
Vaginal sex – vulva none
Oral-anal Sex none

* You could be at risk if the receiver has just topped someone else.

** Very low risk.

*** Unprotected anal sex is a very high risk activity for a bottom, much more so than for a top. The risk of HIV transmission to a bottom during unprotected anal sex is 15 in 1,000 versus 3 in 10,000 from a bottom to a top.

  • Kissing, mutual masturbation, and frottage or dry humping are considered safer sex activities, with little to no risk of STD transmission.
  • Using latex condoms (male or female) significantly reduces the risk of contracting STDs during anal, vaginal and oral sex.
  • Washing hands and the genital area thoroughly before and after oral-anal sex reduces the risk of transmission of most of the listed STDs and conditions. Condom use reduces transmission risk even further.

Source: SF City Clinic, via Pink & White Productions (who provides safer sex resources to models). There’s also this guide with risks and tips for Queer Trans Men.

New info sent to me by Metis Black of Tantus Inc: “HPV isn’t an unknown for oral sex- 35% of the throat cancer in men is from HPV and rising.” [source: Wall Street Journal “Throat Cancer Linked to Virus“]


In queer porn scenes, my costars who are lovers and friends, the sexual acts are up to us, including what safer sex practices we use to help protect ourselves and each other. This sometimes takes the form of testing, gloves, condoms on toys, whether or not to go down on each other, whether or not to have anal sex, and a multitude of other choices.


Nina Hartley and I use gloves, condom on a silicone dildo, and water-based lube in our scene for CrashPadSeries.com.

Up until about a month ago, industry professionals in Los Angeles, and sometimes in SF such as Kink.com models, did routine testing at AIM (Adult Industry Medical Heath). It is industry standard that an AIM Panel test with negative results be current within 30-days (two days for some companies).  Some people call this a “clean” vs a “dirty” test; I dislike those terms as it furthers cultural stigma around sexually transmitted diseases, the people who have them and even the industries they work in. So I often use the phrase “current”; which implies that my test results are satisfactory and it hasn’t expired. Currently, performers who went to AIM are now going to Talent Testing, which appears to offer an expanded test for a more affordable cost.

I don’t recall when I did my first test for porn, though it wasn’t for a few years after I had already been in the industry working in queer porn with friends and longterm fluid-bonded partners. When I did get tested specifically at AIM for porn, I found it interesting that the same test is required in LA for both Boy/Girl and Girl/Girl shoots. (Note that while I am female-bodied. I don’t identify as a girl, and many of my scenes — as well as those of many transmale friends  — are often categorized within mainstream as G/G.) As a performer working with a female-bodied costar, I paid out-of-pocket for the $130 test, which covered: HIV-1 DNA, Chlamydia & Gonorrhea by PCR. These are high risk for sex that is heterosexual, penis/vagina and penis/anus sex with the female performer receiving. I’ve had to have this test for a scene where I was performing strap-on sex, topping a female-assigned co-star. In this situation, my risk is very very low; I’m more at risk for HPV and herpes which are not required tests. However the standard was to have this test so I complied. Naturally, I’m happy to be tested regularly; it’s never a bad thing to have too many tests. I’m just using the example to point out how the testing standards are skewed towards heterosexual sex.

Personally, I love performing safer sex practices on screen because it makes me feel safer and comfortable. I also think it’s great to have examples of people using gloves and demonstrating other safer sex practices because it shares with our community to those who may be new to the idea of safer sex. While no substitute for good sex education, safer sex demonstrated in queer porn can provide examples of communication and safer sex practices. The sex education I received in school didn’t include homosexuality or bisexuality. At some point condoms were introduced as pregnancy prevention. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about STD risks, and I learned the hard way that suntan and massage lotions break condoms. There’s a lot about sex ed that we aren’t taught in schools. Or in our culture in general; to this day, I still meet people who think all lube will give them yeast infections (try a water-based non-glycerine or silicone lube). My point is that there’s a lot of sex information lacking in our education system, and it’s no surprise that many people turn to porn for sex education. Director Chi Chi LaRue spent a good 20 years in the gay porn business fighting for visibility of condoms and the safer sex consideration of porn performers. In the gay community, particularly effected by AIDS, showing safe sex as an example of how to have good sex is particularly important.

Ultimately what it boils down to for me is my belief that all performers should be able to have sex as they feel safest to. Whether that means testing, barriers, a combination, or whatever they’ve consented to. I don’t think safer sex barriers should be REQUIRED, nor do I agree that performers should feel pressured not to use them. Production companies can provide as much resources, safer sex supplies, or testing reimbursement as they can afford, and allow porn performers the freedom to choose what they feel most comfortable with. Top three examples of companies and directors I have worked with who provide additional safer sex supplies to help models feel safer are: Kink.com (on set with Princess Donna), Pink & White Productions (Directed by Shine Louise Houston), and Vivid-Ed (on numerous sets with Tristan Taormino, whose performer-conscious work was recently featured in CNN posted “Prevent STDs like a Porn Star“). Thanks in part to an increasing diversity of progressive pornography, our culture is becoming more and more educated and sex-positive. Let’s continue supporting each other in the adult industry, and also learning more — as I am — about how to be the safest we can be.

UPDATE:

I followed along via Twitter as Ela Darling, Michael Fattorosi, and others shared agenda topics and reactions of those present online. This morning I’m reading articles as they are published, which I’m including here.

If you’re curious, here is the draft created from the meeting.
Feedback on it can be sent to Deborah Gold at DGold@dir.ca.gov

I appreciated what looks like a really thorough AVN article by Mark Kernes (Industry Expresses Its Feelings—Loudly—at Cal/OSHA Meeting) and Danny Wylde’s Abbreviated Account of the June 7th Cal-OSHA Advisory Committee Meeting. Here’s his conclusion.

“There are many more points to cover. But this is an abbreviated version, so I’m going to end here:

As it stands, nothing has actually changed except for that fact that we are now very much aware that Cal-OSHA considers our industry practices to be illegal, and AHF is very insistent in making sure we are penalized until we change those practices.

The problem is that those practices are the basis for our livelihood and they have gone unchallenged for years.

Further, performers in attendance were in near unanimous agreement that our testing practices under AIM healthcare were sufficient and effective, and we do not want mandated barrier protection in our industry.”

Read his entire post on trvewestcoastfiction

My sense is that the experiences I’ve had with progressive producers who work within the industry’s current testing standards and who have been open and encouraging around performers’ individual sexual health needs is essentially what the rest of the adult industry wants. I’m curious to see how “adult entertainment” is defined in terms of creating definitions for pornography (which may relate to free speech concerns). It seems like the debate is primarily concerned with heterosexual/straight sex — particularly at one point when “they Gay Industry” was brought up, as if it were outside the conversation (perhaps because condoms are the standard in this genre). It will be interesting to see how regulations effect things, and it was exciting to see performers speak up about their rights; even from another city in San Francisco.

More articles:
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Associated Press – Porn Stars Oppose California Condom Plan
Lyla Katz, X-BIZ Porn Performers Unite Over Proposed Cal/OSHA Safety Regulations
Free Speech Coalition Blog – Study Finds LA County Health Dept Reports on Adult Industry STI Data Flawed, ‘Without Basis in Science’

UPDATE 1/18/2012
Well, it’s passed — so in about 90 days LA production companies (at least, those who get permits) will have to use condoms for heterosexual scenes. It doesn’t really effect me much at all, though it does the people I know who work down there in those types of scenes. Here are some other updates in the meantime:
Lorelei Lee wrote a great piece about this in Salon. http://www.salon.com/2012/01/18/l_a_s_porn_mistake/singleton/
I was interviewed for an article in CounterPunch’s “The Condom: Friend or Foe in the Adult Film Industry”.

Jiz Lee

15 Replies to “Safer Sex in Queer Porn and the Condom Debate”

Simon

Thanks for this. Maybe I don’t get out much but this is the clearest and best risk chart I’ve seen.

Reply
AlistairKookie

I may not know all the dynamics of the porn arena but one thing I do know, safe sexual health is the best thing for all. Thanks Jiz Lee for your insight.

Reply
Jiz Lee

Thanks Simon, AlistairKookie, and Tristan!

Just a note that I should be praising all the companies I work with who encourage safer sex for models. Pink & White’s got two drawers full of almost every kind of latex and non-latex condom, glove and dam, as well as female condoms, and lube for days for their productions at crashpadseries.com. Other queer porn companies like Good Releasing via Courtney Trouble and later her website queerporn.tv has also been super pro-safer sex. And while I haven’t worked with them, Trannywood Pictures does a superb job showing safer sex — it’s the mission of their company — between cisgender and trans gay men. Gotta love directors who love performers!

Reply
Risky Business « Metis Black

[…] said, Jiz Lee wrote a really interesting article about safe sex and porn from a perspective most don’t hear about- queer porn. Current events […]

Reply
ted

Jiz:

Another great article. Also thank you for having the links for the Danny Wylde and Violet Blue articles as they also provided some great background information about CAL-OSHA’s and the AHF’s possible motives in getting rid of AIM. I agree with you in part but as you said: “it’s never a bad thing to have too many tests.” I was under the impression that the testing done by AIM included all the major STDs or is that done on a company or individual basis with AIDS or HIV being mandatory and the rest not required every time ? If that is the case then that needs to be corrected with all STDs tested for just to make sure that all performers have a “current” test status so that they are cleared to work and can get treatment if they aren’t.

Ted.

Reply
Elspeth Demina

I’m having a wee bit of difficulty groking the chart there… not sure what differentiates “known” vs. “possible” risks? Also is the risk to the giver or receiver, or both…? Example: “giving oral sex to a penis” is that if the penis belongs to a potentially infected partner, or the mouth? I hate to sound dense, but something about the chart just isn’t clicking for me.

Reply
Jiz Lee

Hi Ted!

Let me try to unpack your question so I can answer it satisfactory… “I was under the impression that the testing done by AIM included all the major STDs or is that done on a company or individual basis with AIDS or HIV being mandatory and the rest not required every time ? If that is the case then that needs to be corrected with all STDs tested for just to make sure that all performers have a “current” test status so that they are cleared to work and can get treatment if they aren’t.”

The testing AIM did included: HIV-1 DNA, Chlamydia & Gonorrhea by PCR. This was actually the “AIM Panel” which was the industry standard (often mandatory by studio) test. It only included those three. Most studios required it to be 30-days current. A handful required it to be 2 days current. They did not require a new test after each time the performer had sex with a new person. (Whether that person is in the business or not… that was somewhat of a honor code. For the most part it worked very well.)

Hi Elspeth!

No worries! That section of the chart confused me a bit too, but I’m glad that it’s ordered in that way because it seems to take into account a broad scope of medical information to this current date.

From how I understand it — and someone please correct me if I’m wrong — “known”, “Possible” and “Unknown” risks refer to the data from studies and tests confirming the transmission through that kind of sexual activity. Unknown risks may have had little or no studies, whereas Known are verified data. And possible are the in-between grey area where there’s not enough data to back it up either way.

As for the “who is at risk” section of the chart, it’s you. So if you’re doing X thing to someone who has the infection, those are the activities you’re doing, whether you are giving or receiving. (Some of the activities you can disregard if, say, you don’t have a vulva or you don’t have a penis, etc…)

Hope that helps! The chart came from SFCC, a clinic I used to go to before I discovered the more queer and sex-worker friendly Lyon-Martin Health Services and St. James Infirmary. (Going to those places is much better because other general health clinics are insensitive/naive about sex work, or not queer and trans-friendly.)

Reply
lezhavesex

[…] I responded, and so did Jiz Lee, arguably the most famous and sought-after genderqueer porn star in the business. (JIZ LEE! I had a […]

Reply
Julianne

Thanks for this, great post. I have a question about “HPV (warts).” Does that mean you are not including risk for the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer on this chart? I have heard a lot of conflicting information on how HPV can be passed, and would love some clarity on that. Thanks!

Reply
Jiz Lee

Hi Julianne,

I think HPV is in the “Unknown” column because there are still studies going on. This chart was one I found on http://www.sfcityclinic.org/ so it may not be the most up-to-date. How I understand this chart: if the STI is listed, it’s a potential risk. (So just because it’s there as unknown, doesn’t mean it’s not a risk — the fact that it is listed shows it is.) I personally consider HPV a risk to me in the sex I have — whether hand sex, genital contact or oral — with people who have vulvas.

Here’s more info from https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm:

How do people get HPV?
HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners?even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.

[People] can have HPV even if years have passed since [they] had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.

Rarely, a pregnant [person] with genital HPV can pass HPV to [the] baby during delivery. Very rarely, the child can develop juvenile-onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (JORRP).

Reply
Strig

I practice safer sex religiously. I am fluid bonded with one person and use barriers for some things with them (hard fisting, shared toys, and stuff) and barriers for everything with others. I choose not to do oral with others because I am simply not skilled enough to make dental dams enjoyable enough on either end. I get tested for STDs (including HIV) every 6 months at planned parenthood even though most of the stuff I do is the lowest risk for everything.

That being said, this whole industry law thing sounds like another way to punish sex workers for being dirty or something. I agree with you that people should have the right to choose the risk levels with their partners that they want to choose. I also think safer sex needs more presence in pornography. I also think testing procedures need to be more inclusive of the risks of queer sex. I also think getting tested regularly is really smart. I also acknowledge that the mainstream het porn industry has made using barriers impossible to fathom and I think that’s effed up. But, I also think that creating a law doesn’t help anyone other than people who want to control the sexual habits of others.

But, if people choose differently than me, and their partners are all aware of the risks and decisions, who’s business is it other than the people fucking each other?

Anyways, thanks as always for making safer sex hotter than ever. I love the black gloves. I was at a sex workshop recently and brought up gloves and stuff and someone else mentioned that crashpad made them feel more comfortable using stuff like that because it was so hot. Queer porn has made my sex life so much better and made me feel so much more comfortable exploring things. Thank you.

Reply
hivster

[…] I responded, and so did Jiz Lee, arguably the most famous and sought-after genderqueer porn star in the business. (JIZ LEE! I had a […]

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