In 2008, Heather Smith worked at a Bay Area dot-com specializing in serving up adult content to the masses. Her job was simple: watch the video and tag everything that could help users find what they were looking for (sex acts, performer names, ethnicities, hair color, breast size, and so on). At Zocalo Public Square, Smith writes what her brief time laboring on the outskirts of the adult industry taught her about porn, and how these lessons color her views on issues in the industry today:
Pornography is work that deserves to be safe. Like nursing, boxing, and other bodily-fluid-intensive jobs, that safety is going to be complicated. What I do know from my brief time as the Nancy Drew of dick identification is that a lot of the laws that get proposed to make porn safer have unexpected side effectsÃ¢â‚¬â€some of which are just as bad as the original problem. Take condom use. Condoms are already the standard in one fairly substantial sector of the industryÃ¢â‚¬â€gay porn. But the last time a porn actor tested positive for HIV, in 2010, he told the L.A. Times he believed he had caught the virus on a gay porn shoot where condoms were used. [ … ]
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re like stunt men,Ã¢â‚¬Â [adult actress] Stoya said. Recreational sex involves three to 13 minutes of thrusting. Porn sex requires 45 minutes to an hour of thrusting. Everything is more transmissible, even with a condom, and condoms are more likely to break. So it is possible to contract HIV while on set, even if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re using condoms. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s much more likely to happen in gay porn, where condoms are common but testing is rare. By contrast, actors working in straight porn get tested for HIV as well as a slew of other STDs every few weeks, as part of voluntary industry standards. If condom use were mandatory, such standards could fall by the wayside.
Or consider the elaborate databases people like me helped to create in order to protect against underage pornography. The Adam Walsh Child Protection Act reporting requirements seem to have done a good job of keeping people under 18 out of the porn industry, but they have done so by compromising the personal information of every person over the age of 18 who has ever worked in porn, or erotic modeling, no matter how briefly. Even as a disaffected contract worker with no background check, I had access to the addresses, Social Security numbers, real names, and unflattering ID photos of every porn actor or actress that I identified. I had this information because the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act demanded that anyone who sold, or resold, pornography, have this information in their records.
Read the whole thing. It’s not that long and it’s worth every minute.
Header image by Asim Bharwani.