Free speech in Pornland

No surprise here. The adult entertainment industry has followed through on their promise to file a suit against Los Angeles County, challenging Measure B, which passed in November, mandating condom-use on porn sets in L.A.

The suit, filed Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of Vivid Entertainment and performers Kayden Kross and Logan Pierce, states that porn companies have the right to freedom of expression and speech, which includes the right to film sex acts without a condom. (via Huffington Post)

Free speech, in the porn industry, has always had less to do with freedom and more to do with profit, male orgasms, and also profit. It is an industry that cares little about people’s actual lives (unless the life in question is a penis). That they’ve extended their warped understand of mastubatory material as ‘free speech’ to challenge a law that is intended to protect performers from STDs is unsurprising, but ridiculous, of course.

Pornography has long been defended based on libertarian ideals that sees freedom as something that only exists on an individual basis. “Freedom = My right to shoot you/fuck you/own you/use you” stands in the minds of those who are too lazy or stupid or selfish to understand that negative liberty is regressive rather than progressive.

Last year, when this debate began, I wrote that the whole thing struck me as a faux-progressive derail — as though condom-use would make the porn industry ‘safe’ and therefore ethical. While I would agree that generally, advocating for condom-use on porn sets is a good thing (Gail Dines outlines why this kind of legislation is important, very well in two articles she wrote for The Guardian), my interest in writing about Measure B and the suit filed by Vivid Entertainment is not to argue for or against condom-use on porn shoots. My aim is to point out the ways in which liberals and those who would consider themselves to be or present themselves as otherwise progressive people, are making arguments that are in opposition to the creation of a free and equitable society, and have been suckered by libertarian language that, in fact, works against our collective liberation.

Measure B has been opposed by many in the industry based on arguments such as: the porn industry will leave L.A. and film elsewhere the porn industry might lose money, condom-use interrupts the ‘fantasy’ aspect of porn the porn industry might lose money, and laws such as these interfere with the rights of individuals to do what they want, whenever they want the porn industry might lose money.

It’s shocking and depressing to see performers go to bat for their billionaire bosses — it’s like watching the lower class attack organized labour on account of some deluded, neoliberal understanding of freedom that imagines the free market and privatization will somehow, some day, work in their favour.

But this is what happens when we understand freedom in individualistic terms.

The porn industry has done a great job of selling this idea that pornography equals freedom of speech and have convinced many performers to toe the party line. People who understand censorship as necessarily conservative and oppressive hear sex industry advocates say the words ‘freedom of speech’ and, without thinking, leap to their defense (for the record, almost everyone supports censorship in one way or another, otherwise child pornography would be legal).

So we have folks arguing that Measure B is  ‘paternalistic‘ (because grown-ups can exploit themselves if they feel like it, goddamit!).

We also have folks arguing that porn is fantasy and that what people see onscreen has no impact on our real lives (you know, like how advertising and product placement has no real impact on people’s lives and their choices as consumers). Hey, if kids learn that condoms aren’t sexy and that women loooooove double penetration and gang bangs, that’s their problem.

And then, of course, there’s the argument that the ‘adult entertainment industry’ will have to go elsewhere in order to be profitable, leaving L.A. based porn performers out of work. You know,  just like how we should work against organized labour because unions force corporations into bankruptcy (big business is the real victim here, folks!) which, in turn, causes the working class to lose shitty, exploitative, jobs that keep us exhausted, poor, powerless, and in debt.

Tricky, tricky. It’s incredible how many fall into this trap.

What it comes down to is that all defenses of the porn industry are based the concept of negative liberty, which can be easily translated to mean: “Me, me, me. My money. My gun. My property. Also, my dick. Me.” Anything that infringes on me/my money/my dick counts as an attack on freedom in Pornland. We are manipulated into believing that laws, by nature, are condescending and necessarily infringe on our rights as individuals.

While it’s pretty obvious why those who run the multi-billion dollar porn industry would oppose a law of this nature, the fact that porn performers themselves would speak out against the measure seems a little more surprising. Why reinforce the fantasy that condomless sex is the sexiest sex? Why endanger the health and lives of people working in the industry even further than they already are? We can see the ways in which people have been impacted by libertarian/neoliberal discourse to the detriment of even their own lives.

Porn actor, James Deen, who is doing the good work of opposing even the semblance of safe sex, is quoted as saying that “he was “disappointed” that sex workers were being “continually bullied and used by others.” It wasn’t his wealthy bosses that he was talking about. It’s evil organizations like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (the group who led the campaign to mandate condom-use on porn sets) who are, apparently, intent on ‘bullying’ and ‘using’ porn performers.

And it’s not just Deen who opposed the passage of Measure B. Porn star, Jessica Drake spoke out against the bill saying: “As a performer, and also as a woman, I don’t like the idea of someone telling me what I have to do with my body.

This is not a progressive understanding of liberty, though the pro-sex feminists/libertarians/porn industry would have us believe that they are the true freedom fighters. Considering the constant accusations that feminists who oppose the sex industry are ‘in bed with the right’, it’s odd that the folks who oppose Measure B seem only to understand freedom in a completely individualistic and capitalist sense. As Dines pointed out in The Guardian:

Echoing the usual ideology of the right wing of the Republican party, the anti-Measure B campaign had three main purposes: to promote the economic benefits of the sector to the regional economy; to deny a need for governmental regulation; and to encourage workers to make their own choices, however dangerous or exploitative the conditions.

It’s also worth noting that these are the very same arguments made by those who advocate for the decriminalization of pimps and johns. Critics of prostitution are accused of meddling with jobs, free will, and of encouraging repressive, paternalistic laws which interfere with individual women’s ‘choice’ to sell sex, as well as men’s individual ‘right’ to buy it.

Dines also notes that Diane Duke, the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition (a porn industry lobby group) “is on record as saying that Measure B was not about “performer health and safety”, but rather about “government regulating what happens between consenting adults”. Sounds familiar?

“Consenting adults”: the magic phrase that ends every conversation.

“Consenting adults” erases the social conditioning that teaches women their bodies are to be looked at.

“Consenting adults” erases poverty and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

“Consenting adults” erases the gendered nature of poverty and the particular ways in which women are impacted by poverty (which, in turn, often leads women into the sex industry).

“Consenting adults” erases the growing inaccessibility of post-secondary education and the insane levels of debt students are forced to acquire in order to attend university in North America (more and more we are hearing about women turning to the sex industry to support their educations).

“Consenting adults” erases male violence and sexual abuse (which is sexualized in porn and is part of the history of many women in the industry).

“Consenting adults” erases all circumstances and context that might lead women into the sex industry and refuses to address inequity and systemic oppression.

When you hear the words ‘free speech’ and ‘consenting adults’ being used by owners of corporations that make billions off of objectifying and degrading women, approach with caution.

When we’re actively opposing condom use because we’re afraid the porn industry might lose money, it’s time to admit that these arguments are not progressive and don’t promote freedom, liberty, or justice for anyone but those who are too stupid or selfish to care.



Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • BK

    Bravo! This is a great post, Meghan!

    Will share, share, share!

  • Jason Thrasher

    Wow, great post! Agree 100% w/everything you said. Kudos for showing libertarianism/neoliberal BS as the mindless drivel that it is.

  • MLM

    Seconding both the previous comments. Great post.

    “When you hear the words ‘free speech’ and ‘consenting adults’ being used by owners of corporations that make billions off of objectifying and degrading women, approach with caution”.

    If you could distill that message somehow it should go on T-shirts!

  • Mary

    Awesome post, Meghan. I’m curious, though– What corner of the political scale do you lean towards? You seem to be none-too-fond of both the left and right (not criticizing that, I don’t like either much), so are you more in the middle? You seem more strongly opinionated then most people in the middle.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’m a socialist. My frustration is more with American liberals than the left, per se, because they tend to completely misunderstand progressive politics and lean right while defining themselves as progressive. I love the left and have always identified with and supported the labour movement – I just don’t love the distortion of leftist politics by neoliberalism.

      • High five, Meghan!

        • Meghan Murphy

          High five!

          • marv

            I believe it is not unfair to characterize the Left in general as having some neoconservative elements alongside the neoliberal ones. The patriarchal conventions of marriage, weddings and family are uncritically accepted albeit with minor reforms. Equal child care responsibilities within hetero relationships isn’t a priority. Male competitive sports, especially hockey, football, baseball, soccer and basketball are celebrated unabashedly except for reservations over corporate control, high salaried players and excessive violence. Religions and multiculturalism (including western civilization) are generally respected without serious critique of their male supremacist foundations, teachings and values. Animals are considered subservient to humans. There are other ways too in which the Left honours male traditions as much as the Right

          • Meghan Murphy

            That’s certainly true. I do have more faith in a leftist approach to building an equitable world than I do the right, of course, because of the commitment to addressing class and poverty, which seems key in terms of ending prostitution and subordination. That said, of course, even in a world that was free of poverty, women could still face sexism. It’s not as though wealthy women aren’t objectified….

  • copleycat

    Awesome post Megan. I completely agree, if speech is so free then how come the people we hear the most from are billionares?

    • Meghan Murphy

      What’s so ‘free’ about speech if it works to marginalize, oppress, and silence women, anyway?

      • copleycat

        I think it’s just meant as an illusion, it implies that everyone has access to this “free” (costs you nothing) “speech” (stick and stones it never hurt anyone, said the minister of propaganda).

      • MLM

        “We must be encouraged to open our minds to the possibility of replacing free speech with a concept of fair speech. Social issues must be analyzed in terms of harm to both individuals and groups of people. Hate speech should be made a criminal offense, and pornography should interpreted as hate speech against women. To the end that the human dignity, equality, and freedom of both sexes should be honored and protected, our immediate task as feminists, is to expose the hypocrisy of “free speech” and encourage its replacement with a concept of fair speech.”

        From “Pornography and the Myth of Free Speech” by Betty McLellan

  • copleycat

    Porn wants to be seen as a legit business (which it isn’t unless you consider inciting abuse and enslavement on a global scale to be legit) and yet it won’t adhere to the same rules other businesses – pretty much any other legal venture, must. People in the food industry have to wear plastic gloves while prepping food to minimize the chances of spreading disease. People working in labs must wear personal protective equipment (PPE, which is gloves, goggles, lab coats, sometimes even booties and caps) and that’s not just for their safety on the job but to minimize the chances of them bringing any genetically modified bacteria or viruses out of the lab, so it’s done for public health.
    This is a public health issue and despite all the claims and cries about freedom from the government, just who is going to pick up the bill for all the medical treatment these porn workers will need after their one year careers are over and they’re left with STD’s (and the chronic treatments for HIV, Hep C and the complications secondary to them are expensive) not to mention mechanical damage (fistulas and prolapses) and psychological damage and no health insurance? That would be we the people, so yes we are as the trendy parlance goes “stakeholders” in this decision.
    As for the argument that the porn industry will leave the U.S. and go where they can freely abuse people – well then they’re on the run and when they get to the next country the people there should fight them and anyone who cares about living in a just world should help those people fight. The same as with every other exploitative industry, there should be no tolerance for their exploitation anywhere.
    What’s the Martin Luther King Jr. quote? “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – That is one of the ideals the new left let go of when it went skipping (or diddling) off with porn. Chris Hedges opens his chapter on porn in his book “Empire of Illusions” with the quote from Andrea Dworkin which states “The new pornography is a vast graveyard where the left has gone to die.”
    I’m quoting both of the above from memory so they might not be exact but the point remains; you can’t be getting off on oppression and be a champion of equality, you can’t be getting off on cruelty and be filled with love (no matter how long you’ve been a vegan), you can’t be getting off on degradation (not even and especially not your own) and truly believe in the value of human life. You can’t be a damn hypocrite when it comes to ethics and the stakes are too high at this point in human history for faux-gressive bullshit to still be flying in public debate.

    • lizor

      “This is a public health issue and despite all the claims and cries about freedom from the government, just who is going to pick up the bill for all the medical treatment these porn workers will need after their one year careers are over and they’re left with STD’s (and the chronic treatments for HIV, Hep C and the complications secondary to them are expensive) not to mention mechanical damage (fistulas and prolapses) and psychological damage and no health insurance? That would be we the people, so yes we are as the trendy parlance goes “stakeholders” in this decision.”

      Yes. Yes. Thank you.

  • Dzongkha

    When we try to modernize laws on prostitution we’re told by industry profiteers that there’s no need for new anti-trafficking laws because existing laws already cover rape, kidnapping, forced labor. Existing health laws should have been covering porn dicks with condoms for decades and we’re not supposed to ask how pornographers have gotten away with blatantly breaking existing work safety laws for so long.

    Go down that road and next you might wonder how paying people to perform sexually, aka prostitution, has been permitted for so long in the state of California or in strip clubs in every state that has strip clubs.

    • You might also wonder how sexualized content in mainstream performing arts work (acting, modelling, dance) has become so normal that it doesn’t even get onto the table. Try looking for work as an actress if you’re even remotely attractive and you’ll see what I mean. (Someone do this and blog about it!)

      When it’s commonplace, people tend to assume it must be ok, otherwise someone would have done something about it by now. And when you try to talk about it, people tune you out, because the powers that be haven’t said it’s on the table, so it isn’t.

      • MLM

        That’s a really good point. I think it’s connected to the absence of a stronger female presence in key creative positions on so many productions.

        In a article called “Where are the women in film?” for The Guardian (18/5/2012) Amelia Hill interviewed Producer Trudie Styler and director Lucy Walker about that problem (specifically in the film industry, anyway)

        Lucy Walker : “There is a remarkable problem. In Hollywood last year, just 5% of the 250 biggest films were directed by women. That’s down from 9% a few years ago. What’s going on? It’s not that women don’t want to do it: in film school, 50% of students are women. There is something going on between women wanting to do it, and getting to do it. It’s absolutely remarkable

        Trudie Styler: “Everyone is concerned in these lean times to show a profit, but while only 7% of directors in Hollywood are women, 23% of producers are women. It behoves those to be inviting women directors to step up and say: “We’ll develop your product. Bring it to us.”

        When men are still overwhelmingly calling the shots (pun intended) does it surprise anyone that so many films fail the Bechdel Test?

        Or that according to this study by the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, women are underrepresented and oversexualised in top films?

        And this is another reason why it is such a complete joke when people start going on about women directors/producers in porn – and “feminist” pornographers – eventually changing the porn industry into some kind of utopian wet dream. Look at how hard it is for women to change the blatant sexism existing in mainstream cinema, and we’re supposed to believe that things will somehow magically change in an industry as inherently patriarchal, misogynist and entrenched in rape culture as the porn industry?

  • Vouchsafer

    My next-door-neighbor confided in me the other day that her husband, who has been unemployed for a while now, has discovered internet porn and that he spends his whole day watching it while she is at work. This bothers me greatly, as I work from home and we live in a pretty remote area. I hate that he’s in there watching increasingly degrading images, because studies have shown that porn users embark on a downward journey on the old ‘hard-core’ slant. I do not see this man out working in his yard, which he used to do all day before they got high-speed internet a few weeks ago. When I see him now he is very angry looking and will no longer meet my eyes. It bothers me that the option of such a harmful pastime exists to him in the first place. It bothers me that so many men in general get off on dehumanizing women, and it bothers me that because of porn, society at a younger and younger age absorbs the message that real women enjoy having those things done to them.
    If the porn industry succeeds in getting the condom law struck down, it will just emphasize the point that the subordination of women for profit has become that normalized that even though they may feel it necessary to consent to acts that are no doubt painful in most cases and at the very least far from enjoyable in order to earn money, they could at least be assured of their right to demand that those dicks that will penetrate them be enshrouded in latex.
    If the porn industry wins on this issue then good luck reining them in on anything in the future.

    • copleycat

      My condolences to you and your friend (neighbor) but if you’ll accept it – a word of advice – do not be alone with your neighbor’s porn zombie husband. If he comes looking to borrow or use something or asks you to come over to his house and help with something don’t, just don’t. If he calls you and says he’s home and twisted his ankle but doesn’t want to call an ambulance, tell him you’ll be over with your friend to help cause you have a bad back. If he calls to say his wife is hurt and can’t talk on the phone cause she’s unconscious or in too much pain, tell him you’ll call an ambulance (which is always what you should do in that case anyway).

      I know four young women who’ve had to end relationships with their husbands/long-term boyfriends because of porn and they all say that the guys got quieter and meaner until it was like they were living with a total stranger, one of them left after her boyfriend had a temper tantrum because she didn’t want to have sex with a hood over her head (and he was looking at cartoon porn where the women were decapitated) and another left her husband after he attacked her in their kitchen. This shit changes people.

      If you want to be supportive of your friend start looking up local resources and be available to talk, chances are she’s morbidly embarrassed about this and feels like it’s her fault somehow. Again my sincerest condolences, porn brings relationships to ugly ends. Look out for yourself in all this.

      • vouchsafer

        Ugh, thanks for the advice. You said what my gut was already telling me.
        The thing that worries me more is this young generation that’s growing up immersed in porn culture and watching no doubt horrifying shit, and in most cases no one’s explaining to them that those acts are not what real sex constitutes.
        Little teenage girls watching women degrade themselves on camera and thinking that’s what normal women do during sex,(and therefore what they think they will have to do to please men) teenage (and older) boys looking at girls or women on the street and mistakenly believing they allow those degrading things to be done to them behind closed doors.
        Gawd, its so damaging, to say nothing about the fact that the kind of sex that women do enjoy, the kind that respects what they want to feel, is getting absolutely no play.

        • copleycat

          I’m very concerned about what’s going on in our culture now too. Children are being inundated with porn, it’s bad enough that adults are but kids have no life experience to judge this stuff against. Of course that might not really matter, given that when it comes down to it, porn is probably the most potent opperant conditioning program to ever exist.
          Those who insist that it doesn’t do any harm are at best ignorant and at worst blatantly lying. Advertising works as a way to influence opinions and behaviors, if it didn’t companies wouldn’t spend so much money on it. Most ads in public spaces aren’t experienced simultaneously with orgasm (the most powerful reward for the nervous system) and yet they quite effectively work to influence people. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that porn is significantly more effective in its ability to influence?
          I think one of the unacknowledged effects of porn exposure in kids is the increasing problems that female K – 12 teachers are having in being able to maintain any order in their classrooms. This is a very bad omen but there’s no public discourse about it.

    • LenaCorn

      Seems that a lot of this schmoe’s hobbies bother you. Ever ask yourself if your hobbies bother and worry your neighbors?

      • Grackle

        ………yeeeah, that’s the issue here.

      • copleycat

        Actually, this “schmoes” all day, single pursuit, bothered his wife enough that she reached out to her neighbor (Vouchersafe) for some help in dealing with the emotional distress that it is causing her.

      • vouchsafer

        Oh so you call porn addiction a hobby? I call it the single biggest threat to women’s safety and empowerment out there.

  • MLM

    Seriously, what kind of mental gymnastics does it take to perceive people running the porn industry as “freedom fighters”? Perhaps, if your idea of Robin Hood is as guy who beats up and robs the peasants, rapes a load of them as well, and then turns out to have been the Sheriff of Nottingham all along…

    “If the porn industry wins on this issue then good luck reining them in on anything in the future”. Too right. Exactly what “freedom” is it they’re fighting for again?

  • Why do pornstitutes support unsafe labor practices, do you think? Have they been brainwashed? I don’t get it.

    • Dzongkha

      Many don’t. One of the leading voices for worker safety is a black sex worker who caught HIV doing porn and who has nothing to gain from trying to protect other pornstitutes, Darren James.

      Voters passed Measure B, but liberals overwhelmingly side with the millionaire white dude porn corporations over the black sex working man with AIDS (he directs porn now) in what could be the biggest intersectionality fail since the internet began.

    • copleycat

      All the women I’ve met who have exited prostitution think it’s inhumane. I think the prostitutes advocating for no condoms are the ones whose voices are heard by more of the public because they’re speaking on behalf of the porn industry with the aid of billion dollar megaphones.

  • marv

    Many people are afraid of denouncing porn (and its health risks) because that transgression is unacceptable in the dominant cultural view where the social pressure to conform is enormous. You are intimidated to hide the truth to escape the ire of morons not to mention so called friends. It is unmentionable in dictatorial official public discourse too – a conspiracy of silence. The persecution of antiporn activists is also rampant. It is as if men’s identity is dependent on porn and to question it is to contaminate the meaning of masculinity and life.

    As a signifier of self-definition porn has really captured who we are as a culture. Consequently victims are muted (though screaming inside) and made to become complicit in their own debasement by internalizing exterior oppression to the point where the psychological control results in self revulsion. They become truly broken and vanquished by the conqueror, otherwise known as spirit murder.

    Can bodies make themselves heard when their mouths are silently shrieking? Yes. The feminist movement uncovers the atrocities, silencing and denial. The Feminist Current is a luminous example of this task.

  • copleycat

    “It is as if men’s identity is dependent on porn and to question it is to contaminate the meaning of masculinity and life.”

    Excellent point, I agree and this also demonstrates the additional problem of how due to the early exposure porn is experienced as some kind of rite of manhood.

    • marv

      Absolutely. Very troublesome.

  • Thank you so much Meghan!
    I was an actor in porn for almost twenty years and I left because frankly the business became too skanky for me! That was in 2008. I shudder to think of how bad it’s become lately, and I applaud AHF’s efforts as heroic and necessary!
    The thing many people don’t know is that OSHA came to the adult film industry a few years ago and begged them to start following the law and using condoms! They blatantly refused. That was when AHF stepped in for the benefit of the talent!
    Now to see them fight against their own safety in favor of their demise astounds me, because the crop of performers I was involved with would have never done that!!!
    One thing though, Meghan! Please do not let the public think ALL porn actors are against Measure B! There are those of us who are in favor of it, and we’re vocal on comment boards such as this one, but the mainstream seems to completely ignore us because showing that some porn performers have a brain is not what they want to show the world.
    Oh, before I sign off, I just wanted to say that I came from a four hour safety meeting today! The rest of the workforce in America cares about worker safety!!!! Why are performers willing to work for companies who thumb their noses at their safety? I’ll never understand that one!
    Thank you for a very informative and wonderful post!
    Nick East
    AVN Hall of Fame Actor

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for your comment, Nick! All the best to you.