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Working In These Times

Monday, Nov 15, 2010, 12:46 pm

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

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

STD safety in the porn industry is not a new issue. In 2004, protesters called on Hustler Magazine Publisher Larry Flynt to voluntarily adopt a 100% condom use policy in his sexually explicit films.   (Photo by DAVID MCNEW/Getty Images)

This is the third 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. Read parts one and two.

The Free Speech Coalition, the leading lobby group and trade association for the adult film industry in California is one of the many stakeholders trying to influence Cal/OSHA's rules on condoms in porn.

California law currently requires condoms or equivalent protection for all porn sex. However, the mandate for condoms in porn comes from a general standard that requires all employers to protect their workers from infections. Cal/OSHA is also weighing a petition from an outside group to write more specific rules for the adult film industry.

At a Cal/OSHA stakeholder meeting on Oct. 25 in Oakland, Diane Duke and Kevin Bland of the Free Speech Coalition were quizzed repeatedly about the industry's proposed definition of "barrier protection." The current bloodborne pathogens standard stipulates that, under certain conditions, employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE), defined as specialized clothing or equipment design to shield employees from hazards. "Barrier protection" is the catch-all term that Cal/OSHA and its stakeholders have been using in their discussions of condoms, dental dams, latex gloves, and other PPE specific to the adult film industry. 

It seemed to many in the audience as if the Free Speech Coalition was advancing a watered-down definition of "barrier protection" that included measures that clearly aren't physical barriers, such as medication, or possibly even a sexually transmitted disease testing program (such as the industry already has). The industry maintains that the testing program makes mandatory barrier protection unnecessary because the testing is so effective at identifying infected performers and keeping them out of the talent pool.

After hearing the FSC's proposed definitions, an audience member asked, "Are you saying that testing is an equivalent alternative to barrier protection?" Kevin Bland of the Free Speech Coalition said, "Yes."

A Cal/OSHA official requested further clarification, "So, your legal position is that the word 'barrier' doesn't mean a physical barrier?" Bland affirmed that it was. "Really? OK," the official replied.

On Nov. 8, Working In These Times emailed the Free Speech Coalition for comment. Diane Duke replied:

"Barrier Protection" means various protective devices, medications, methods, or means used to prevent infectious contact with blood, vaginal secretions, semen or other contaminant agents."

We added "medications, methods, or means" to cover methods that may not be in use today but could include barrier methods of the future. Cal/OSHA's bloodborne pathogen regulations have not been revised since 1994. We are trying to consider regulations that will embrace new technologies and can stand the test of time.

This statement seems inconsistent with the views expressed by the FSC at the Oct. 25 meeting. Working ITT immediately wrote back to ask if FSC's position had changed since the meeting. We received no reply.

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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