Putting Barriers on Fantasy – Proposition 60 and the Portrayal Police

This week, voters in California will decide the fate of Proposition 60, the proposed “mandatory condoms in porn law”. Countless other industry voices have already pointed out the key issues of concern, namely 1) that while ostensibly a matter of occupational health, the bill drafters didn’t consult with industry professionals in determining what the safest and fairest safer sex protocols for porn should be, and 2) that as a result of this total ignorance about how the industry is structured these days, the bill puts performers at risk of expensive lawsuits and privacy violations.

Read on…

If Michael Weinstein, proponent of the measure and President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, were actually interested in resolving health concerns within the porn industry, then he would actually work with the porn industry rather than refusing the invitations he has received from adult performer committees and other trade groups. That he has no interest in doing so shows that he neither respects industry workers nor trusts that we are the experts of our own lives and jobs. This behaviour makes it clear that his real interest is not in our health – rather his crusade is a moral one.

So I have other concerns in addition to those I listed above, because this moral crusade impacts more than porn industry professionals. Proposition 60 also marks a step towards the policing of fantasy. Despite claims that he is primarily concerned for the health of porn performers, Weinstein has also suggested that pornography can and should be responsible for ‘setting a good example’ for viewers by portraying the use of condoms so as to promote safer sex behaviour (why it needs to be condoms I’m not sure because, considering he is president of an AIDS organization, I presume Weinstein is well aware that using barriers is not the only way to reduce the risk of transmitting STIs and HIV… right?).

I don’t know how many times we need to say it: Porn is fantasy entertainment. It is not an instructional video. It can be both, of course, but that is not its typical purpose and it should not be judged according to such criteria. Yes, there are real bodies involved in its making, and yes, there are real risks attached to having real sex with those real bodies. But just as we allow professional stunt people to take on certain risks of bodily harm – risks that they are well trained and supported to minimize and mitigate – so that they may portray certain fantasies in popular cinema (Explosions! Falling through roofs! Car chases!), so too should we allow porn performers to take on certain bodily risks, that we are trained and supported in mitigating, so as to portray sexual fantasies that may not include barrier usage.

Media like TV and cinema – be it mainstream or erotic – is all about the creation of fantasy worlds. I am not interested in policing anyone’s fantasies, nor the media that they use to illustrate and experience those fantasies. I may not share those fantasies, I may even find them troubling on occasion. But a fantasy is not an act. A fantasy is not even necessarily an intention to act. Provided that the people involved in portraying them are well-treated, well-respected, consenting adults, no one has any place deciding what fantasies we should or should not have the right to commit to film. Propping things up under the banner of ‘health’ is a convenient way to pretend that one is simply trying to act, ‘objectively’ in the public’s best interest – or even better yet, for the children (those children that use porn as sex-ed rather than as fantasy material because no one will give them actual sex education).

Causes pursued in the name of health are never just about health. There are always moral and political dimensions to the way health concerns are portrayed. Proposition 60 may claim to be about health, but it is also about policing the limits of acceptable fantasy. It holds the fantasy materials of pornography up to different standards than the fantasy materials of mainstream TV and movies. We do not demand that mainstream media only model ‘healthy’ behaviours – well-balanced diets, cautious adherence to road safety rules, or appropriate postures in which to move heavy objects. Doing so would be ridiculous. It is equally ridiculous to demand that our sexual fantasy materials only portray ‘healthy’ behaviours, least of all because: who gets to decide what is or is not ‘healthy’ sex? Proposition 60 therefore sets a dangerous precedent by allowing health policy to define what constitutes ‘healthy’ sexual ideas and to then police the limits of fantasy accordingly.

This Tuesday, vote No on Proposition 60.

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