Whore Next Door: Breaking (Literal) Barriers

Adult-film performers descend on Cal/OSHA to talk about condom use on set.

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

It’s been just a year since more than 100 adult-film performers flooded the Harris Auditorium in Oakland and convinced the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) to throw out a set of harmful regulations for the adult-film industry.

I remember hearing the news and feeling my knees buckle and my heart leap. No one had expected us to win.

In the year after that historic vote, performers have shown up to every single Standards Board meeting to show the board how invested we truly are in drafting regulations specific to our industry. On Jan. 31, the first of what will hopefully be many more advisory hearings finally took place.

More than two dozen performers came from all across the state to tell the division of Cal/OSHA about the realities of their work.

Two petitions were up for consideration. One was from Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which was drafted without any input from working performers. The other was produced in collaboration with those currently active in the adult industry. AHF hoped for a reconsideration of the regulations that were thrown out last year, which mandated “barrier protection” (i.e., condom usage) and the efficacy of the current STI screening system, which has prevented on-set transmissions of HIV for more than 12 years.

Representatives from AHF were there, along with the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, members of the adult industry’s trade association, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and representatives from the testing facilities that the adult industry uses for screenings of sexually transmitted infections.

Plenty of workers choose to use condoms when they shoot penetrative sex. Local genderqueer stars Jiz Lee and Ruckus are among them, and both shared their perspectives during the hearing. However, neither performer expressed a desire for the division to recommend regulations that mandated that choice. Lee pointed out that when performers shoot traditional penetrative sex, they do use condoms — something that Lee says can cause serious discomfort during long shoots, which is why they don’t often perform that style of content.

To illustrate this, sex educator Hernando Chaves — who had woken up at 3 a.m. to drive a 15-passenger van full of porn stars for six hours to attend the meeting — rose to speak. He encouraged anyone who wanted a better understanding of what some performers refer to as “condom rash” to put a condom on their finger, spit on it, and rub the inside of their forearm for the entire length of an episode of Westworld. Chaves said that the forearm will begin to experience redness and chafing after just the opening credits.

“Now imagine what that does to the inside of your body,” he said.

Transgender performers Stefani Special and Isabella Sorrenti (a former Marine) also showed up to give testimony about how difficult condoms can be for transgender performers.

Alyce and Justice, a fluid-bonded monogamous couple who only perform and produce together, showed up to ask the division not to draft regulations that would force them to use condoms in their own bedroom.

“It would be like the state was putting something between us, you know?” Alyce said.

But all the air went out of the room when living legend Julia Ann, who recently won an Adult Video News Award for Best Marketing Campaign over her grassroots organizing to defeat Proposition 60, took the podium.

Earlier in the day, AHF Director of Policy and Advocacy Adam Cohen had pointed to a study citing a number of adult-film workers who reported getting injured on the job. This prompted Ann to share her story.

“The one time I did an anal scene with a condom, it split my anus,” she said, as gasps filled the room. AHF has argued that mandating condoms will cut down on the number of adult performers being treated with antibiotics for STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, but Ann went on to describe how many women in the industry suffer bacterial infections triggered by extended condom use, which then also need to be treated with antibiotics.

She told the division that she’s never shot scenes with condoms in which fewer than five were used, because they are so prone to breakage.

“Condoms don’t stand up to our shooting,” she said. “They break.”

The overwhelming majority of workers who provided testimony asked the division to reject condoms as the gold standard for protecting our workforce and look instead to the incredibly effective STI testing protocol, while continuing to listen most to the workers who will be affected by future regulations.

“We are adults,” Julia Ann concluded. “Our voices are real, and I’ve done this job way too long for somebody across the room to tell me what I’m doing and what I need.”

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