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

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 pre­mière 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​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a pub­li­ca­tion of the Sid­ney Hill­man Foun­da­tion, a non-prof­it that hon­ors jour­nal­ism in the pub­lic interest.
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