Porn Stars Back to Work but Controversy Persists Over Industry Handling of Prevention


VIDEO: Pornstars Forced To Wear Condoms?

Video of a press conference where a former porn actress discusses the risks of not forcing porn stars to wear condoms. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks debate the potential law. Should porn stars be forced to wear condoms? What will be the effects of this regulation on California?

Last week the porn industry voluntarily shut down production on movie sets around the country after an unnamed actress initially tested positive for HIV. While it turned out that her results were inaccurate (a false positive) and that she does not, in fact, have the virus, the incident called national attention to the ongoing controversy around how the industry handles the possibility of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) being spread on set.  Producers insist that the industry is capable of regulating itself and keeping its performers healthy but some public health and AIDS advocates vehemently disagree. 

The industry began a self-imposed system of testing for STIs in 1998 after production companies faced lawsuits from several actresses who became infected with HIV on set. Industry leaders created the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), essentially a nonprofit clinic that offered health tests to performers and kept a record of the results. The clinic was supported by contributions from production companies.  According to the New York Times: “Producers agreed not to hire performers who had not been tested in the last 30 days, and the clinic investigated the sources of infections, coordinated halts in filming when actors tested positive for HIV, and hounded performers who had been exposed to get tested.”

Industry leaders argue that the clinic was successful in its mission and point out that since 2004 (when an outbreak shut down production) only five performers have tested positive for HIV. Some public health officials, however, disagree that this system of self-regulation is working. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, “about a quarter of all performers are diagnosed with an STD [sexually transmitted disease] each year” and “the rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea are seven times higher than those in the general population.” In December 2010, L.A. County Health officials closed the AIM clinic saying that it was not properly licensed. Though it briefly reopened earlier this year under a new name, the clinic permanently shut down in May leaving the industry scrambling for a new way to regulate STI prevention.

In August, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the trade association for the adult entertainment industry, launched a new online program and database referred to as the Adult Production Health & Safety Services (APHSS.org). The program will provide performers with referrals to participating health care facilities and then keep records of their test results. Right now, however, the database still needs to be “populated” with information. Still, FSC points out that the clinic at which the unnamed actress received the false positive test result was outside this system. 

Despite this new system, some advocates believe that testing is too little, too late.  Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) said: “Testing just acts as a fig leaf for producers, who suggest that it is a reasonable substitute for condoms, which it is not.”  

While both California and federal workplace safety rules require porn stars to use condoms if they are exchanging body fluid through sex, AHF and others say that the industry has largely ignored these rules. Brian Chase, the organization’s assistant general counsel suggests that the industry operates in a legal gray zone: “When you’ve got a situation like that, you’ve got a lot of industry participants who feel they don’t need to follow the law,” he said.  And California health officials admit that they are not equipped to enforce these rules.  Over the years they have issued only a handful of fines which have not led to any changes in industry behavior. 

In February, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance which would mandate condom use in adult films and enforce the rule by linking the requirement to the issuing of film permits. Oddly enough, in May the council voted unanimously not to pass such an ordinance.  AHF is now spearheading a petition to get a similar rule on the city’s ballot in 2012 and put the question of whether porn stars should practice safer sex to the voters.  

Industry leaders warn that such a requirement would simply drive production – which brings in $13 billion annually – to other states and even other countries. They argue that condom use in porn movies hurts sales and producers will be unwilling to make this change. Others suggest that this is not an issue that requires government intervention as porn stars are adults who understand the risks of their profession and assume such risks voluntarily. It will be interesting to see how the voters of Los Angeles react to this question. 

In the meantime, now that the test result has been found to be a false alarm, actors and producers have gone back to work (without condoms).

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  • anthonyjk

    On balance, a fair and balanced (in the true sense, not the FOX News sense) article. There are, though, a couple of caveats.

    First, it was NOT the LA City Council that approved the proposed ordinance for mandating condom usage as a requirement for porn production. That ordinance is in the form of an initiative that is in the formative process that was initiated solely by the AHF. The City Council did initiate an inquiry by the LA City Attorney’s office into whether it was fruitful for their local offices to impose the condom mandate via local laws, but the Attorney’s office ruled that it would not be feasible to do so. The AHF launched their initiative drive in protest to that decision. The actual Feburary vote by the LA City Council was to initiate the inquiry, not for an official initiative.

     

    Secondly..it is still highly debatable whether or not California or federal regulations directly require mandatory condom usage, due to the specific structure of the regulations themselves. Neither the federal nor the state health and safety regs directly dictate protections for porn performers, other than the avoidance of exposure to “blood borne pathogens” that could be tainted by infectious bioorganisms. Cal/OSHA, the state body that regulates workplace regulations, is currently in the process of profligating regulations that would impose specific workplace regulations on porn production, including barrier protections such as condoms or dental dams or other means of protection…but those regulations are highly controversial and have been the subject of intense debate and analysis. There is also the question of whether porn performers, because of the nature of their occupation, would legally fall under the protections and restrictions as “workers” or “independent contractors” (the latter category less subject to regulation per California law).

     

    Finally…it should be noted that porn performers whom have lined up against the condom mandate are NOT opposed in any way to voluntary condom usage; indeed, they understand the preference of many performers to insist on condom usage as one means of protection against STI’s. They are opposed to the condom mandate because it would take away their choice of how they wish to be protected; because a condom mandate — especially in lieu of removing and terminating the existing testing regime, as pro-mandate groups like AHF have proposed, and in light of existing California antidiscrimination law that forbids terminating an employee who happens to be HIV+) could in fact weaken protection of performers; and because the condom mandate would have the effect of shutting down porn production in California and moving it to other places with less protection, further degrading performer safety.

     

    Also…the “$13 billion” stat for the gross profits of the porn industry has been proven to be highly exaggerated, because it includes profits of not only porn videos sold in Los Angeles County, but all aspects of worldwide Internet, video, and written porn, as well as many corporations in which porn is a small portion of their profits. Most more realistic analysis places the profits of LA-base porn production as closer to $3 billion.

     

    Other than those caveats, an excellent article.

     

    Anthony