Porn Director: "I Changed My Mind About Condoms"

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In this excerpt from the new book Best Sex Writing of the Year, a progressive porn director admits she had a hard time challenging the adult film industry's long-held no-condom rule.

"My chlamydia and gonorrhea test results aren't back yet," a 19-year-old I'll call Cheryl said in a raspy whisper, her small hand covering her cell phone as the nurse at the clinic waited on the other end.

"Well, when do they think the results will be in?" I asked, trying not to sound panicked. My entire cast and crew was in the next room waiting for the results, which would clear her to perform hardcore sex on camera with a male costar.

"Probably not until Monday," Cheryl said. "I'm so sorry, Nica."

"Fuck," I whispered, walking into one of the dark, empty rooms on the soundstage. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

I was already several thousand dollars over budget due to production disasters and "no call/no show" performers. It was crucial that I finish the movie, but by law, there was only one way I could allow Cheryl to perform a sex scene without a current STD test: by allowing her costar to wear a condom.

I'd been told many times that condoms in porn meant certain death to sales. Conventional wisdom suggested that nobody wants condoms in their sexual fantasy. Porn was supposed to be an escape, not a public service announcement or a reminder that sex is dangerous or risky.

This was prior to 2012, when the controversial Measure B made condoms mandatory in porn—a law recently upheld, though it is still being fought by adult film producers who believe it's catastrophic to our industry. For a long time I agreed with them, and though I've long struggled with the subject, here's how much I didn't want a condom in my film that day: I replaced Cheryl.

Actually, it was the president of the parent company who made that decision, but I'm the one who accepted it and had to break the news to Cheryl, who was surprisingly gracious about it. I'd come to porn hoping to change the way it was made, but that day, I felt like a scumbag.

I compare my career ascension in porn to falling into the rabbit hole, à la Alice in Wonderland. While working as a litigation paralegal and moonlighting as a journalist seven years ago, I got an assignment to write about the making of a fetish video. In order to do the job right, I decided to audition for a role in a spanking video and perform in it myself.

The experience was life changing: Instead of feeling degraded, I'd left the shoot feeling oddly euphoric and—even more oddly—empowered. I began working for other adult film studios, including a small, unknown lesbian porn company whose owner operated out of his modest Encino, California, home. After using me as a model for several shoots, he offered me a job as creative director. My mission, he explained, was to transform his company from a niche studio into the "leader in lesbian erotica." It meant quitting my job at the law firm and taking a huge pay cut, but I felt destiny knocking. Within a year, the studio was the talk of the adult industry and I was being hailed as a trailblazer in a "new era" of adult films.

And so, along with "suburban mom," "journalist," and "paralegal," I added "pornographer" (a label I proudly, defiantly claimed) to my résumé. My overnight success gave me the confidence (or was it arrogance?) to think I might change not only what kind of movies fans watched but also how adult performers would be treated on set.

I'd heard stories of performers forced to have sex on dirt roads and in back alleys, on dirty carpets infested with fleas, and on semen-stained couches. I'd heard tales of porn "stars" being denied access to soap and showers, and given no food or drinks after 12 or more hours on set. Most adult performers also accepted as par for the course that they'd be sexually harassed not only by producers but also the lowliest members of the studio's production crew.

Not on my set. It was time to borrow a playbook from the corporate environment I'd left behind.

My first rule: No one on my crew can "hit on" the talent. I explained to them that doing so places the performer in a tricky position, much like when a boss asks his secretary out and she agrees for fear of losing her job.

"Our performers are naked, and you are clothed," I reminded my bewildered crew. "You're in a position of authority, and you're not to abuse it." This rule made me instantly unpopular with male crew members, but I didn't care. If they broke it more than once, they were fired.

Another rule: Nude performers would never be told to sit, lie down, or perform sex acts on unwashed or unprotected surfaces. Counters and desktops would be thoroughly washed with anti-bacterial soap or spray, and beds and couches would have clean linens—either straight from the washing machine or brand-new from the store (I provided these myself). It was alarming how strange and even unreasonable my crew found these requests to be, despite the fact that staph infection was a constant problem on adult film sets and performers routinely canceled shoots citing a "spider bite." ("Spider bite" had become something of a euphemism for "staph infection" in the adult industry.)

But the one thing I didn't insist on was condoms. It was a given that we didn't use them; that's what our mandatory 30-day STD tests were for. It was the "industry standard," and while I didn't hesitate to question other industry standards that might place performers in harm's way (or just create an unpleasant environment), for some reason the condom issue sounded no alarms for me.

Best Sex Writing of the Year: On Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work And More was released by Cleis Press on March 17. Share, like, or tweet this excerpt by Friday, April 3, to win a free copy of the book!

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