Jesse Jackman: I Always Use Condoms in My Films, But I Still Oppose Proposition 60

A lot of people have been asking me for my opinion of California’s Proposition 60, which, among other things, would require the use of condoms in adult films. On its surface, I can see why Prop 60 seems reasonable. Condoms protect performers, right? But I highlighted the phrase “among other things” for a crucial reason: it’s the rest of Prop 60 that makes it a far more complicated, and even dangerous, proposal.

Before I delve into the many flaws contained within the legislation, I think it would be helpful to explain the current state of sexual health prevention in the adult film industry from a performer’s point of view. In short, we performers are our own best resource. We’re all acutely aware of the potential risk of contracting STIs, so we’re especially vigilant when it comes to our sexual health. Many of us work with condom-only studios, but for those of us who choose not to, there are other options that we use to protect ourselves. We get regular screenings for a variety of STIs — as often as every two weeks — and many performers use PrEP, a one-daily pill that prevents HIV infection. If a performer is HIV-positive, he or she can take medication to remain healthy and undetectable. (Studies are emerging to suggest that, with treatment, the risk of HIV transmission is negligible.) We also have high-definition video cameras trained on us during a scene, so if a condom breaks or if someone is showing symptoms of an STI, we know immediately. All this scrutiny combines to make sex on a porn set, with or without condoms, at least as safe, if not safer, than sex in our private lives.

Porn studios also have a vested interest in keeping us healthy. Setting aside the human element for a moment, to the studios, a performer is a valuable commodity. They need us healthy and ready to work. To that end, several companies use an existing system called Performer Availability Scheduling Services, or PASS, that provides their actors with anonymous, comprehensive STI testing. But beyond that, all of the pornographers I’ve met and worked with are kind, compassionate people who really do care about our well-being. They’re not taking advantage of us. And if they do — if a performer has a bad experience with a studio — then the studio’s reputation spreads among us like wildfire.

The combined result of our own vigilance and the diligence of porn studios is that the adult film industry currently has a prevention system that works: there have been no confirmed on-set transmissions of HIV in twelve years, and STI transmission rates are at or below what we see in the general population. The industry is already self-regulating.

It can be argued that the addition of mandatory condom use might improve performer safety even more. That may, in fact, be true — condoms are an important part of maintaining sexual health — and stand-alone legislation to address that issue would be worthy of serious consideration. While Prop 60 does include that provision, the other, less-publicized aspects of the proposed law are truly alarming. First of all, the legislation would empower any resident of California to sue a studio on the basis of a suspected violation. Should that happen, the real names and addresses of the performers in the case become a matter of public record. Prop 60 would put our privacy in jeopardy. A lot of us, myself included, use a pseudonym for a reason. There’s still a very strong anti-sex bias out there, and we need to remain anonymous to protect ourselves from less-than-open-minded individuals — and there are unfortunately a lot of them — who might seek to demonize, harass, or even stalk us. Furthermore, the proposed law encourages bounty hunting: it provides for a reward of 25% of the fines collected, plus the reimbursement of legal expenses, for any individual who brings a successful lawsuit. For us performers, this is really scary stuff.

As far as the studios go, Prop 60 will likely force most of them, the majority of which do not use condoms, out of California. The reality is that condomless porn far outsells condom porn — I’ve heard anecdotally that it’s by two-to-one, but the truth is that it’s probably by even more — so the potential for lost revenue would force most studios to flee the state. The few that remain would be forced underground, where there would be few or no workplace protections offered to the performers at all. (It’s easy to imagine that a studio that’s unscrupulous enough to operate illegally would forego using PASS, for example.)

On a personal note, I find Prop 60 to be incredibly condescending. It’s as if the bill’s sponsors and supporters think we performers can’t make our own decisions about safeguarding our own health. There’s an undercurrent of that tired old refrain: “All porn stars are either damaged, or desperate, or destitute, so we need to protect those who are incapable of protecting themselves.” Quite frankly, I find that insulting. Most of the performers I know are smart, mature, empowered individuals who work in the industry because they enjoy it, not as a last resort. And as I mentioned earlier, we know how to take care of ourselves.

Furthermore, I believe that our choices are our own to make. I don’t believe the decision to use or not use condoms — which is an important and highly personal one — should be made for us by the people of California. Yes, I use condoms in my films because I feel that it sets a good visual example for how to protect oneself from STIs. However, I would never presume to force that practice upon other performers, legally or otherwise. It’s a decision that each performer should have the right to make for themselves.

Prop 60 also contains a couple of other elements that taint its very legitimacy. Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and lead sponsor of Prop 60, has outdated views when it comes to sexual health. Weinstein is an outspoken opponent of the chief alternative prevention method, PrEP. He decries PrEP as a “party drug” that encourages people to have unsafe sex in an uncontrolled environment. His view, which is sort of a throwback to last decade, is that condoms are the only form of protection out there, for performers and others. It’s not. In forcing reputable condomless studios out of state and dismissing other forms of prevention like PrEP, Weinstein’s short-sighted approach would actually lead to a less safe environment for many performers who continue to work in California.

Finally, and perhaps most perniciously, Weinstein’s proposal is blatantly self-serving. The AHF donated nearly $5 million to its own “Yes on Prop 60” campaign, accounting for nearly all of its war chest. And should Proposition 60 pass, Weinstein would literally be giving himself a job: the legislation would create an official government position, designed specifically for him and revocable only by a vote of the legislature, that would empower him to prosecute any suspected violations. After all, who else is better positioned to help the government implement and enforce this new and insidious law?

At first glance, Mr. Weinstein’s proposal might seem like a good idea, but in reality it is a deeply flawed and dangerous piece of legislation. The seven largest newspapers in California are united in opposition to Proposition 60, as well as the California Democratic Party, the California Republican Party, the California Libertarian Party, and over two dozen public health organizations. I join them in strongly encouraging all Californians to vote “NO” on Proposition 60. My health, privacy, and safety — along with that of thousands of my industry colleagues — is at stake.

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