PORN RETURNS: Slutty and safe? You decide.

“John Q. Public thinks that we all beat our wives, have sex with our children and that we’re extremely liberal Democrats who are atheists,” talent agent Jim South explains in between phone calls. While South’s claim overstates people’s beliefs quite a bit, the fact remains that public perception of the world of pornography is not one of roses and sunshine.

“We deal with sex – that’s the only thing that makes our business different from any other,” says adult film director Jane Hamilton.

But sex is precisely what makes working in porn different from working in retail, finance or farming. The mental and physical repercussions of normal sex can be enormous. Such repercussions can be amplified tremendously by working in the sex industry.

Personal relationships suffer. Performers are at risk of being exposed to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The psychological pressure from the industry can be immense.

I found that the porn industry is not “everything in the world bad,” as South said he believes the public might see it. In more than a dozen interviews I talked to performers and counselors to examine some of the common perceptions and important health and relationship issues facing the industry.

Working in a candy store

One stereotype nearly everyone working in the industry is eager to dispel is the popular belief that girls are coerced or manipulated into performing sex. Performer Jasmine Klein gives the standard argument from those in the industry:

“When a woman walks onto this job, she’s choosing to do it,” Klein says. “She has the right and option to say no.”

T.T. Boy, a popular male performer who retired in 1998, offered his concise opinion.

“In this business there is no coercion. If you don’t want to fuck, get the fuck out fast,” he says.

Klein, like nearly everyone else in the industry, is quick to point out the difference between porn and Hollywood filmmaking.

“You’ve got women in mainstream who suck and fuck to get the job – that is our job!” says Klein.

Has South, dubbed the most powerful man in porn, ever used his influence for sexual gain?

“No way,” he says. “I don’t make people go to bed with me to get jobs, never have.”

Bill Margold, a performer advocate, questions the industry’s claim that it is free of coercion. He slyly charges, “We all work in a candy store, and it’s impossible to resist the temptation to eat the candy.”

Sharon Mitchell, a Ph.D. candidate who runs an industry health care and counseling clinic, says those new to the industry are most apt to be taken advantage of.

“For people who don’t know better, and you come in off an ad in the newspaper, you probably see (coerced sex) a lot . it’s the nature of the beast,” she says.

No performer I spoke with could recall ever being coerced into sex, although most wouldn’t put it past the seedier operators in the business.

Klein adds, “(Women who are coerced) don’t have the common sense to run their lives period. You’re going to be manipulated at any job. Just because it’s porn and deals with sex doesn’t mean that it has any different rules or guidelines than anything else.”

Not so safe sex

Despite all the progress the safe sex movement has made in the last 20 years, it has failed to completely infiltrate the porn industry. According to Adult Industry Medical Care (AIM), the industry’s most prominent health care clinic, just 17 percent of recently-produced scenes use condoms.

Mitchell offers her explanation why condoms are missing.

“A lot of companies can’t sell their material in Europe because they use condoms,” Mitchell says. “So they pay the girl more not to use condoms. Now if you’re a girl, and you’re a student and you need the money, or a mom, or a junkie and need your fix, whatever it is, you need your dough right away.”

Mitchell also believes that performers tend to trivialize the danger of unsafe sex.

“They want to boil down HIV and all the information thereof into odds, like ‘what are the odds?’ I’m like, ‘what the fuck do you care are the odds?’ They could be a million to one, but you could be the one,” she says.

At AIM, one percent of industry clients test positive for HIV every month. What seems like a small number becomes larger when you realize that performers can easily have more than 100 sexual partners in a year. But has AIDS changed the industry at all? Mitchell says no.

“What the fuck has changed? People are taking two dicks up the ass with no condom,” she says. “Short of driving a train up someone’s ass, they’ve done everything that they possibly can.”

While AIDS prevention clearly is not the number one priority in the porn world, a certified copy of an AIDS test dated within the last 30 days is now a requirement on most porn sets. And the 15 to 20 percent of scenes shot today that use condoms is up from nearly zero a decade ago. Reputable agents and large studios have working relationships with health clinics to encourage regular testing of performers.

One company embracing safe sex is VCA, the second largest adult studio in the country. VCA uses condoms in every scene it shoots. Jane Hamilton, who directs movies for VCA explained, “Our videos educate people, that’s not their primary purpose of course, but they do. That’s why it’s important that we use condoms.”

Hamilton says their sales in Europe haven’t suffered.

“My mom is a pornographer”

You hear the spiel in commercials pitching everything from SUVs to herbal tea-“work life is overtaking your personal life, wouldn’t it be nice to escape the office?”

In porn, there is no office and the line between personal life and professional life is blurred to the point of irrelevance.

“When you work in the industry, you sign on for problems with relationships,” Mitchell says.

It’s rare that you’ll find a happily married porn performer. It’s even rarer that you’ll find a porn performer married to someone outside of the industry. In porn relationships, abnormality is the norm.

“It’s far more important to find someone to sleep next to than sleep with,” says Margold, a former performer who currently runs Protecting Adult Welfare (PAW), a counseling and performer welfare group. Margold recounts a story from the 1970s when he and co-star Sue Kay were staying in a motel in the California desert after a day of shooting.

“I was completely worn out after shooting that day,” Margold says. “Sue Kay came to my room and said, ‘Can I sleep with you?’ and I said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t fuck anybody anymore.’ And she said, ‘No, no, I just want to sleep next to you’ and she crawled up next to me and went to sleep.”

Rarely do performers find long lasting relationships with those outside of the industry. Laurie Holmes, a performer active in the 1980s and widow of porn legend John Holmes, has been married twice – formerly to John and currently to performer Tony Montana.

“When you marry someone who’s done what you’ve done and more, they can’t throw it back at you,” Holmes says.

“You’re always going to be called a ‘fucking whore,” Mitchell says. “No one fights fair when they’ve got an ex-porn star as a spouse.”

Jasmine Klein, a performer and a single mother of three children in her mid-20s, is determined to keep her personal life and professional life separate.

“My life revolves around my children, it revolves around my family,” Klein says. “I’m a member of the PTA! Being a single parent, who do you date?”

Klein’s kids don’t know what she does for a living.

“I tell them that that mommy does production management, because I also do production management, on movies they can’t see,” she says. “They will probably find out eventually and if they do, I’ll explain to them, ‘Look, mommy had to make a living to support everyone.'”

As Klein asserts, keeping a porn career secret is not always the best way to deal with the issue.

“At Christmas I was visiting my family in Texas and my brother and his friend went to a club, and his friend pulled me aside and said ‘I’ve just got to tell you, I really respect your work,'” Klein says. “And he said he worked at a porn shop and I was hanging on a poster on the wall.”

Klein’s mother now knows all about her career and says she’s fine with it.

“She says it’s great as long as I’m happy,” Klein laughs.

Her father?

“My dad’s dead but I’m sure he’d be high-fiving his friends.”

Unlike Klein, Jane Hamilton, 45, a former performer who now directs movies for VCA, reconciles her porn career with her family life through frank and open dialogue.

“Yes I’m a pornographer, yes I’m a mother of two teenage boys,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton acknowledges though there is a huge stigma associated with pornography, the roles of pornographer and mother don’t usually overlap.

“I didn’t realize how much it impacted my children. My one son isn’t proud of what I do, but he’s not ashamed either. It’s not like he’s out there going ‘Yeah! My mom’s a pornographer!’ My other son tells very few people ever. They’re not going to know about our relationship and what a good mom I am,” Hamilton says, beginning to tear up. “They’re obviously going to think the worst. It’s very difficult.”

Hamilton, recently divorced, believes her double duty as pornographer and soccer mom intimidates men.

“If men can deal with the sexuality part, then maybe they can’t deal with the family part,” she says. “Or if they can deal with the family part, then maybe they can’t deal with the sexuality part.”

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