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

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.