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Working In These Times

Monday, Nov 8, 2010, 1:10 pm

Making it Explicit: Condoms, Porn and Cal/OSHA (Part II)

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

This is the second in a series of posts about Cal/OSHA's latest meeting of adult film industry stakeholders to address STD safety protocols in the industry, which last month was roiled by a male star testing positive for HIV.

Cal/OSHA is currently weighing the merits of a petition by the AIDS Health Care Foundation to amend the state's bloodborne pathogen standard to require condoms for vaginal and anal sex on adult film sets. On Oct. 25, industry representatives, local and state public health officials and activists gathered to discuss how the bloodborne pathogens standard might be revised to more effectively regulate the industry. This was the fourth in a series of public meetings.

Diane Duke of the Free Speech Coalition, the adult film industry's premiere lobby group/trade association, argued that the definition of "barrier protection" should encompass not only condoms and other literal barriers, but also sexually transmitted disease testing programs.

An industry-supported clinic known as the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM) runs a voluntary testing program for a large percentage of straight porn performers. Actors who work for participating production companies must test monthly for HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. The industry maintains that the AIM testing program is good enough to eliminate the need for condoms on set.

Mark Roy McGrath of the Reproductive Health Interest Group at the University of California Los Angeles challenged Duke on the industry's proposed redefinition of the term "barrier." He noted that definitions for terms like "barrier protection" are borrowed from other fields where they already have clear and established meanings.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation staffer Whitney Engeran-Cordoba asked point blank if the Free Speech Coalition was saying that testing is an equivalent alternative to physical protection. Duke and FSC lawyer Kevin Blunt affirmed that this was their position. 

This prompted an OSHA official to ask, "So, your legal position is that "barrier" doesn't mean a physical barrier?" Blunt agreed. 

"Barrier protection" is the term that Cal/OSHA and the AFI stakeholders have been using to refer to latex condoms and other types of personal protective equipment designed to protect performers' mucous membranes from with blood or other potentially infectious bodily fluids during on-set sex.

The existing bloodborne pathogens standard requires "personal protective equipment," which is defined as "specialized clothing or equipment worn or used by an employee for protection against a hazard."

McGrath pointed out that, in public health, testing is classified as a form of surveillance, not protection. He offered an example to illustrate his point. Under the current industry standards, a performer can test negative and have unprotected sex for nearly a month before she has to test again. If she shows up at a shoot at the end of the month, the testing program does not protect other performers against HIV exposure. If she has contracted HIV since her last test, her partners will be exposed to the virus through unprotected intercourse.

In fact, the AIM testing program has failed to protect workers from exposure to HIV. In 2004, actor Darren James infected three other performers after getting a negative test through AIM. In 2009, an actress contracted HIV in her personal life and worked in the industry while HIV positive, despite participating in the testing program. Luckily, she didn't infect any of the performers with whom she had unprotected sex. But she easily could have.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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