Pornoland’s unwritten law: “if we tell the truth about what’s really going on here, the fan will get turned off”

ABC News presented a remarkably blunt segment on the porn industry in “Porn Profits: Corporate America’s Secret” (2003):

“Even the people who enjoy looking at pornography really despise the people they’re watching, and they have no sense of protection for them,” [former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop] said…

The production companies market [porn movies] over the Internet and to distributors who feed them to video stores–the industry claims that more than 30 percent of all video rentals on the East and West coasts are sex films–and to giant cable and satellite companies…

At conventions and other public events, the adult industry tends to portray itself as a happy family promoting shame-free sexual enjoyment. But privately, many performers say the reality is very different. “There’s some unwritten law or agenda out here in Pornoland that…if we tell the truth about what’s really going on here, the fan will get turned off,” said Ona Zee, a former performer who is now an advocate for reform.

While a hit movie can bring in as much as $1 million–adult movies have a very long shelf life, and can keep selling for years after their initial release–most performers see little of the profits. They are seldom paid residuals, and often get only a flat fee. The fees vary from $350 to $1,000 for a conventional sex scene to a few thousand dollars for more extreme sex.

Few of the companies provide health insurance, and most performers find they must work without condoms if they want to keep getting jobs. “The fans don’t like to see condoms,” said performer Belladonna, reflecting a belief that is widely held in the industry. Like many other performers, Belladonna started in the business when she was 18, the legal minimum. “The person that packs the porn in a box in the warehouse… is entitled to hepatitis B vaccines… But someone that’s having unprotected anal sex, hmm. There is no standard,” said Sharon Mitchell, a veteran performer who now heads a clinic for sex workers, the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation.

According to Koop, many producers and distributors argue that performers are independent contractors, not their employees, so they don’t have any responsibility for them. But Koop calls that a “copout.” “These youngsters are not unionized, they don’t know how to do anything for themselves, and they’re really stuck,” he said.

Mitchell believes that the producers have an obligation to care for the performers in their films. “This is not a moral issue. It’s an issue about disease, about HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, young men and women entering an issue that they often don’t know enough about.”

Bill Margold, a veteran porn star who now counsels young people entering the business, says 18-year-olds are too young to make the potentially life-altering decision to go into porn. “I get 18-, 19-year-old girls who just don’t understand that once you do this, you are sociologically damned forever,” he said.

See also:

Los Angeles Times: “In California’s Unregulated Porn Film Industry, an Alarming Number of Performers Are Infected With HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases. And Nobody Seems to Care.”

Martin Amis: “A rough trade” (explicit)

Porn Actresses: Most Careers Are Short, Few Are Lucrative (explicit language)

Carol Queen: Time for the Porn Film Industry to Stop Being a Poster Child of Heterosexual HIV Transmission

Types of Porn and Their Occupational Safety Risks (explicit)

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