Porn: On regulation, censorship, and education in the wake of Prop 60
By: Scarlett Harris
As porn increasingly takes the place of traditional sex education, instead of looking inwards to create better public and school sexual health initiatives, legislators are scrambling to regulate and censor porn. This creates a culture which further demonises and stigmatises porn despite its widespread audiences, all the while continuing to leave young adults in the dark when it comes to healthy sex and relationships.
Proposition 60 is one such bill voted down during last November’s U.S. election season that would mandate the use of condoms in porn produced in the state of California.There was much controversy surrounding the bill, with performers such as Stoya and Ron Jeremy speaking out about why condoms were not only a health risk, but a privacy issue as well.
This is not the first time California has tried to introduce such legislation. Prop 60 found its roots in the 2012 bill Measure B, which was successful in requiring condoms in porn filmed in Los Angeles County, resulting in the mass exodus of porn production from L.A. to southern Californian cities and Las Vegas, Nevada.
The mandatory use of condoms in porn could amount to censorship, which constituted part of the argument against Prop 60 and Measure B, which we’ve seen on our own shores in recent years.
In 2005, Australia tried to ban such things as small breasts and female ejaculation in porn claiming that they promote pedophilia and obscenity, respectively, but in effect they demonise the cisgender female body. In fact, it was revealed last year that at some time during his Prime Ministership, John Howard equated female ejaculation with “water sports”, believing that it wasn’t even a thing, because if you don’t understand something, it should be banned.
Another politician, U.S. President Donald Trump, recently made headlines for allegedly hiring Russian sex workers to urinate on a bed once slept in by former President Barack Obama. The deluge of memes that followed on social media not only illustrated that our only collective experience with water sports is derived from pop culture such as Sex & the City and R. Kelly, the latter of which was a sexual assault, but that a lot of people think golden showers are worse than oh, I don’t know, being caught bragging about sexually assaulting women. This misinformation reveals why comprehensive sex education is so important.
The UK followed suit in 2014, banning “spanking, caning, being tied up, being gagged, ‘abusive language’, ‘harmful penetration by an object’, facesitting, fisting and female ejaculation.”
The censorship of such sex acts in porn actually speaks to a larger problem about lack of sexual education and how, especially in countries such as the U.S. where 76.3% of high-school sex ed is abstinence-only based, porn is increasingly the primary method of learning about sex and bodies for young people. Porn site Pornhub has recently capitalised on this by launching their own sex ed section.
From this perspective, Prop 60 could have been beneficial, as it promotes depictions of safe sex. In contrast, small breasts and female ejaculation are things that occur in some female bodies, thereby their inclusion in porn is also a form of education, and thus their censorship inhibits sexual education. However, Prop 60, in all its depictions of ‘safe sex’, doesn’t take into account the sexual health of the performers, instead buying into the narrative that the sex that takes place in porn is an individual occurrence, not a job (again, pardon the pun) performed for long durations, several times a day, multiple times a week. Performer Chanel Preston extrapolated on “condom rash” for HIV/AIDS awareness blog, Beta. “It’s caused by friction and using condoms for such a long period of time. And for days at a time. In the ‘real world,’ people may have intercourse for maybe ten minutes. An adult film performer could be having intercourse for hours—and, for some, using a condom can be extremely painful. “Performers in the industry can work anywhere from three to six days a week,” she continues. “That’s a lot—and a lot of time using a condom. Condoms aren’t necessarily the best way to keep performers safe, just because they work for people in the general public. We know that, and that’s why we want[ed] that choice.”
Interestingly, Prop 60 would have allowed porn consumers to take legal action against any production that didn’t include the use of condoms. Though this usually pertains to directors and producers, these days most porn performers are involved in all or most aspects of a shoot, thereby a complainant can gain access to their personal details as part of the proceedings. Though presented in a humourous, “It Happened to Me” way, this video (SFW) of porn performers revealing their strangest fan moments illustrates how such fixations could easily slip into (pardon the pun) stalker territory.
In an increasingly conservative political climate, other such censorship includes the removal of the adult section of Backpage.com by the U.S. Senate for human trafficking concerns; U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanting to reinstate the Department of Justice’s “obscenity unit” to “crack down” on porn; and a proposal to install “porn blocking mechanisms” on all electronic devices connected to the internet.
But legislators can’t have it both ways: they can’t regulate certain kinds of porn and not supplement it with adequate sex ed in schools. It could be argued that both need to occur in tandem, along with more robust education on consent and healthy relationships, to prevent unhealthy attitudes and behaviours towards sex and relationships.