Hands up who hates condoms? A fair few of you out there, am I right? Well, you’re not alone. So does the porn industry (as a rule) and it’s all set to go head to head with Los Angeles city law, which is seeking to make condoms mandatory for each and every pornographic film made in its constituent.
Despite the fact that past efforts to forge such a change have repeatedly stalled, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has now insisted, “we can’t keep our heads in the sand any longer. These people should be using condoms. Period.” The city hopes to tie issuing its film permits to the use of condoms on the sets, as The New York Times reported earlier this week.
This is a major new development in the industry, considering that it was only a little more than a decade ago that it was almost wholly unregulated. It wasn’t until 1998 – after several actresses contracted HIV and begun filing law suits against the porn production companies – that the industry sought to clean up its act and introduced the not-for-profit clinic Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation.
But following the clinic’s brief closure and its history of hostility with the government, it’s no surprise LA city law is playing devil’s advocate – even if it means potentially driving the porn industry outside of the city limits.
Now that our brief history lesson is over, children, let’s look at the issue – namely the porn industry’s disinclination to promote the use of condoms and the attitude of our archetypal student to condoms when it comes to getting hot and heavy.
Whilst I’m not denying that most men (and women) out there are rightly concerned with relying on the rubber for a one night stand, or even a quick fling, in this day and age it seems to have become de rigueur to expect condoms to fly out the window quicker than you can say “Facebook relationship status”. And that’s not even counting all those who opt for a spot of unsheathed genital friction first and only belatedly turn to condoms for actual penetration. Essentially, condoms have come to be viewed as a necessary evil – but only a temporary one.
Now, I wouldn’t seek to condemn those who go about post-prophylactic sex in the safest way possible (i.e. both parties being tested, and then recourse to the Pill/implant/coil etc.) but that this has become THE NORM perhaps points towards more than a little pressure to conform to a standard that seems to have appeared from nowhere. Back in the good old days of Sex Ed and school uniforms, condoms seemed an exciting novelty and one it was a real mark of maturity to get to grips with. (Again, all-girls’ grammar school, so perhaps not the benchmark here).
Now everyone wants rid, even those who don’t quite know how. I’ve had many female friends bemoan the lack of contraceptive possibilities for women who suffer from, say, migraines and can’t risk any hormonal interference without some serious health consequences. Many have viewed their exclusion from the world of condom-free intercourse as a serious disruption to their love life. The fact is that the Pill has been reduced to a sexual fashion accessory, a supposed mark of liberation or trust in one’s partner – more of a case of when, than if – an attitude that precludes those out there who might not want to impose such artificial constraints upon their body.
I’m not here as a triumphant defender of the condom. Anyone who has ever opened a spot of supposedly femme-friendly erotic writing in the pages of, for example, Company, magazine will know just how awkward sexing up condoms can be. Yes, in fiction, just as much as in reality, getting to grips with a piece of latex mid-makeout breaks the fluidity of the experience and eek, dare we say it, makes the whole experience seem somewhat less intimate. And given the amount of sex these stars are having, the constant friction of latex/ skin could cause some serious irritation.
Jim South, a talent scout for sex-industry performers said that “I tried many years ago to get everybody to go to condoms”, before he explaining that “quite a few companies did, but sales fell severely. The switch would be very difficult”. The fact is, safe sex has a bad rep.
In the airbrushed world of television and cinematic sex these concerns are easily elided – we’ll be given some soft-focus clips of naked bodies writhing, followed by a nice, clean aftershot of both parties lying beneath some rather strategically placed covers. There’s no sign of any used and discarded condom or body fluids to tarnish the anaesthetised vignette. Unless the scene is being played for laughs, it’s rare we’ll have to see our protagonists debating over which condom is the best to use or fumbling to put it on, either in the dark or in a state of mild inebriation.
But if popular culture has as great a power at shaping and deconstructing modern myths as many psychologists and sociologists would have us believe, then a move by the porn industry to spice up condoms could be just what we all need. How many millions of adolescents are whiling away their time trying to pick up hints and tips from dirty movies and how many in future could be potentially converted into seeing condoms as “the norm” rather than an unpleasant interference.
Los Angeles’ law is going to be unpopular. It’s not going to succeed in imposing a blanket ban on condom-free sex scenes outside of the city limits, at least not in the near future. But by bringing all the past horror stories of STI-ridden sex starlets to the fore, it’s helped to remind us of just how dangerous the industry can be. And in a society where we seen to be keen to emulate exactly what we see on screen, the potential pitfalls of bumping uglies outside of the industry too.