The Whore Next Door: Condoms on Set? Hell, No

When I first told my father that I was a stripper, he said he was proud of me.

Not because I was now dancing naked for a living — that part didn't really faze him. No, he was proud I was a part of the world's only unionized, worker-owned peep show, the late great Lusty Lady.

My dad has been a union worker for as long as I can remember, serving as secretary for his local. He saw that I was part of an organization that was fighting for labor protections in an industry that sorely needed them.

My mother, a liberal '90s mom, never gave me “the talk” about menstruation and contraception because I think she just assumed I had absorbed the information over years of her pro-choice tirades. I wasn't raised with religion, but our family had clear values about labor and reproductive rights.

This is why I'm so nervous about the upcoming California Occupational Safety and Health Standards board meeting in Oakland on Feb. 18. The board will listen to public comment before voting on a proposed set of regulations for California's adult film industry. Unfortunately, the regulations in question are severely out of touch with the realities of the workplace. They stand to put the lives and livelihoods of performers at risk by abandoning the current comprehensive STI screening system in favor of relying on condoms and other protective gear, such as goggles, gloves, and dental dams for all vaginal, anal — and even oral — sex acts on film. Severe fines of up to $25,000 await those who violate the proposed regulations, thus criminalizing condom-less porn and driving it underground or out of state, where Cal/OSHA regulations can't reach them.

“These are regulations designed for medical settings, and are unworkable on an adult film set — or even a Hollywood film set,” says Diane Duke, a former Planned Parenthood executive ad former CEO of the Free Speech Coalition (an organization that lobbies on behalf of the adult industry). Duke led campaigns to block condom mandates three times in the course of her career before stepping down from her position in November.

“This regulation is based on nothing but moral prejudice,” says Eric Paul Leue, Free Speech Coalition's current executive director. Leue is also a member of the L.A. County Commission on HIV and last year was named one of the top 15 HIV Advocates to watch in the coming year by HIV Plus magazine.

To be clear, the porn industry isn't anti-condom; it is pro-choice. Currently, several studios shoot exclusively with condoms, and many others give performers the option to use condoms in addition to the comprehensive — and, at $250 a pop, pricey — STI screening we must undergo no more than 14 days prior to every shoot.

Condoms are great at preventing STI transmission, but they're not the only choice available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a multi-pronged approach to combat HIV transmission effectively, including testing, barriers, and pre-exposure prophylactics (PrEP).

The adult industry's self-imposed practice of STI screenings and optional condom usage has resulted in zero on-set transmissions in California in the past decade. From an epidemiological standpoint, going after the adult industry to fight HIV/AIDS is a gross waste of money, time, and resources — especially while the financial burden of combatting the epidemic is estimated to grow by $12 billion in the next four years.

“Cal/OSHA provides regulations that should be protecting the employee, but this was created without any real performer input,” Leue adds. “We appeal strongly to the [Cal/OSHA] board members to restart this process with performers at the table, so that we can build regulations that will improve the health and well-being of performers.”

I was raised to understand that labor rights are about listening to the needs of workers and ensuring that their health and well-being are protected. My mother always told me that no one has the right to make choices about my reproductive rights — be it abortion, birth control, or prophylactics. If it's happening to my body, it should be my choice.

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