"(A)nything That Forces Itself into My Vagina Is by Definition Raping Me ..." - Adult Film Performers and Occupational Safety and Health

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

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?

I. ADULT PRODUCTION INDUSTRY STRUCTURE (11)

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. …