'(A)nything that forces itself into my vagina is by definition raping me ...' - adult film performers and occupational safety and health.

AuthorTibbals, Chauntelle Anne


The California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for employees. (2) This includes protecting workers from on-the-job injury and exposure to hazardous materials. (3) Blood-borne pathogens, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV, are considered hazardous materials. (4) Currently, in workplaces where the likelihood of occupational blood-borne pathogens exposure remains even after engineering and work practice controls have been instituted, existing California law mandates that:

[T]he employer shall provide, at no cost to the employee, appropriate personal protective equipment such as, but not limited to, gloves, gowns, laboratory coats, face shields or masks and eye protection, and mouthpieces, resuscitation bags, pocket masks, or other ventilation devices. Personal protective equipment will be considered 'appropriate' only if it does not permit blood or [other potentially infectious materials (OPIM)] to pass through to or reach the employee's work clothes, street clothes, undergarments, skin, eyes, mouth, or other mucous membranes under normal conditions of use and for the duration of time which the protective equipment will be used. (6) There is, however, an apparent disconnect between California state law and adult production practices. The majority of new, professionally produced adult content is created in Southern California's Los Angeles area. (7) Professionally produced adult content is reliant on the graphic depiction of various forms of human sex acts and sex-related behaviors. Consequently, despite general practice safety controls instituted by adult content producers, professional adult performers are potentially exposed to blood-borne pathogens regularly in their workplaces. The use of personal protective equipment as mandated by law and articulated above, however, is not standard practice in the adult production industry. (8) Instead, the industry has developed its own sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention and mitigation system whereby performers must supply proof that they are clear of STIs before working. (9)

Recently, tensions between state occupational safety and health regulations and adult content production practices have given rise to what has colloquially come to be known as "the condom debate." The condom debate is extremely complex, with existing law, market demands, industry viability and profitability, and first amendment-related issues providing fodder for endless discussion. Two of the most vocal entities contributing to the condom debate today are adult industry leaders and producers and California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA), the body responsible for enforcing workplace health and safety regulations in the state. (10) Industry leaders and producers, as represented by the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), are in favor of employing the industry's STI prevention and mitigation system; CalOSHA is in favor of enforcing existing law. For various reasons, however, the workers most directly affected by these practices--adult performers--rarely weigh in on these discussions.

This essay considers insights gathered from twenty-four women and men currently working as adult performers in the Southern California/Los Angeles area in order to begin exploring workers' feelings about occupational safety and health. Specifically: how do adult performers feel about occupational condom use and STI testing, and how do adult performers feel about potential health risks and STI status disclosure on the job?


    Due specifically to the California v. Freeman decision in 1989, (12) and due in part to additional jurisprudential, geographic, and cultural factors, the United States' professional adult content production industry is centralized in the state of California. (13) The industry's structure within the state is both unique and complex, with the most significant concentrations located in the culturally and geographically distinct Los Angeles/Southern California and the San Francisco Bay/Northern California areas. These distinctions have informed the development of two very different versions of professional adult content production and have, consequently, partially shaped the condom debate and performers' negotiation of it. Because marked differences exist between adult production in Southern and Northern California, a brief description of the industry's structure in each respective region follows.

    1. Southern California

      The Southern California segment of the adult production industry is regarded as the predominantly "straight" sector of the industry and is considered a "full-time" occupation by the majority of performers therein. The majority of the adult content production occurring in Southern California operates under a "no condom" or "condom optional" policy.

      For a large portion of working performers, the Southern California (Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley-based) industry is structured as follows: talent are represented by one of several "modeling agencies" specializing in adult performers. These agencies vary in size, quality, and reputation. (14) Producers contact agencies in order to book specific talent. Talent work on a scene-by-scene basis for any number of producers.

      Other talent work independently, without representation, on a scene-by-scene basis; and a small and currently declining number of talent, most commonly women performers, are under exclusive contract with a specific production company. These "contract girls" generally only shoot hardcore content with their respective contracting company. Occasionally, contract talent will have representation, generally from within the same collection of modeling agencies, for bookings that are not reserved for their contracting production company (i.e., soft-core or solo shoots). (15)

      There are no readily available, rigorous, or representative demographics describing the number of performers currently working in Los Angeles County, Southern California, or in the state of California as a whole; nor are there any data describing the percentages of contract, agency represented, or independent/unrepresented talent. Existing assessments are estimates at best. (16)

      At the time this data was gathered, talent sexual health was monitored by an industry-mandated STI prevention and mitigation system. Adult Industry Medical (AIM) was started from within the adult industry in the late 1990s in an effort to protect both talent health and industry viability in light of STI transmission risks associated with occupational sex performance. (17) In addition to tracking STI exposures, preventing the introduction of HIV into the adult performer population, and impeding the spread of any infection introduced, AIM maintained a centralized database of performers' STI test results. Adult performers were encouraged/informally required to test with AIM at least once per month. Producers could then access performers' test results in order to verify they were free of STIs before working. Although not without flaws, AIM centralized the testing process and functioned as an informal community center for performers. (18)

      AIM closed during the spring of 2011. (19) Industry leaders immediately began developing a new ST1 prevention and mitigation system that incorporated AIM's strengths, while correcting its flaws. The resulting Adult Production Health and Safety Services (APHSS) program was announced in late July of 2011. (20) During the weeks between AIM's closure and APHSS's launch, producers still required performers to show proof of clear STI status prior to shooting; however, no centralized monitoring, tracking, or reporting of STI statuses occurred.

    2. Northern California

      A significant amount of adult content is produced in Northern California's San Francisco Bay Area. This segment of the industry, however, is structured very differently than the Southern California Los Angeles-area industry.

      There are no talent management agencies in the San Francisco area, and production companies generally specialize in producing gay male and/or queer niche content (for example, S&M, genderqueer, niche fetish genres representing various sexual orientations, sexes, and genders). This segment of the industry is generally regarded as a "part-time" occupation, and performers deal directly with producers for bookings.

      Gay production companies are generally solicited directly by prospective talent via Internet contact forms or email. If hired, performers are brought to the Bay Area for scene work from locations around the globe. Although some gay porn performers are Bay Area locals, most performers who work for Northern California-based gay porn production companies generally do not live in the vicinity. In my dealings with members of these production communities, it seems like gay production companies regarded as professionally "legitimate" are "condom mandatory." Condom optional and/or no condom companies are generally, not regarded as professional business entities in this segment of the industry. (21)

      The remaining queer segment of the San Francisco Bay Area industry is structured as an amalgamation of the gay male and straight Southern California portions of the business. In my dealings with members of queer production communities, work is generally part-time; rather sporadic and informal (however, performers do seem to work more frequently than those in gay porn); and somewhat fractured--there are no talent agencies in the Bay Area, there are no local organizations serving that segment of the industry as a whole, etc.

      The adult production community in Northern California is structured very differently from the Los Angeles-area community and faces very different challenges and issues. Consideration of this segment of the industry is extremely important; however, because of methodological constraints (see Methods...

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