The Debate Over Condoms in Porn Highlights the Difference Between Porn Sex and Real Sex

The Debate Over Condoms in Porn Highlights the Difference Between Porn Sex and Real Sex

On Thursday, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) voted against a new set of regulations that would require the use of condoms in adult films. The proposal would have pushed adult film studios to provide other protection, like dental dams, gloves and, yes, maybe eye safety gear, on set. 

At a hearing in Oakland, California, three Cal/OSHA regulators voted in favor of the proposed regulations, which supporters claim will improve performer safety and better prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. The remaining two regulators, however, sided with the scores of adult industry workers who oppose the new rules, many of whom argued that the proposal violated performers' individual rights. 

More than 100 performers and producers appeared at Thursday's Cal/OSHA hearing and spoke out passionately against the new regulations. According to Vocativ, the rejected rules stated that if a work activity "may expose the employee's eyes, non-intact skin, or mucous membranes to blood or OPIM-STI [other potentially infectious materials-sexually transmitted infections], the employer shall provide condoms or other suitable barrier protection." 

So, if a performer's genitals, anus, mouth, nose or eyes — all mucus membranes — were exposed to "bodily fluids and other substances that may contain and transmit sexually transmitted pathogens" (including "pre-ejaculate, ejaculate, semen, vaginal secretions, fecal matter and rectal secretions") then they would need to wrap up... or put on gloves or other protective gear. 

Preserving the fantasy: It might seem counterintuitive that adult performers would so vehemently oppose standards that are, in theory, meant to improve their safety and, broadly, public health. But much like the industry's backlash against a 2012 law requiring condom use in porn shot in Los Angeles County, performers' opposition to the regulations is rooted in several concerns, including that wearing condoms in porn is uncomfortable and unnecessary given porn's existing STI testing protocol, which requires that performers be tested every 14 days. 

Industry pushback is also largely based on a desire to keep the entertainment in adult entertainment — and to keep porn profitable. Many have argued that porn featuring condoms doesn't sell nearly as well as condom-free porn, in large part due to the fact that the presence of condoms ruins the sexual fantasy onscreen. Following that argument, putting porn stars in safety goggles (which the proposal didn't necessarily require, though it has been interpreted that way by opponents) would similarly in the way of enacting the fantasies porn sets out to portray. 

As porn performers themselves are quick to note, porn sex and real sex are very, very different — and that's the point. Whether the fantasies porn creates are a good thing or a bad thing is in the eye of the beholder, but many performers take issue with the idea that porn should serve as a positive example for how to have sex for people outside the industry. As performer Jessica Drake previously told Mic: "People don't go to see movies in theaters and expect to be able to fly." 

Some have argued that porn should be more like real sex, and certainly real sex should be safe; condom use is a huge part of reducing a variety of sexual health risks. But condom use in porn, according to the dozens and dozens of performers who testified Thursday, could be detrimental to the industry. Pornographers clearly have a financial stake in keeping fantasy alive. 

At the moment, it seems they'll be able to, though it remains to be seen how the industry will work with government regulators to ensure better safety standards on set. While some performers have argued that some industry regulation is necessary, what that looks like is a question Cal/OSHA regulators and the industry will have to work together to answer. Either way, the fight over condoms in porn is likely far from over, which means questions about the difference between porn sex and real sex will surely come up again.