There are many excellent reasons to oppose government mandated condoms in porn — as an example of “sex work savior” legislation crafted while explicitly ignoring input from actual sex workers, a freedom of speech issue, another example of government trying to tell us what the “approved” forms of sex between consenting adults are, a safety risk to performers when these laws push the industry underground, and more. When politicians and special interest groups (*cough*Aids Healthcare Foundation*cough*) “sell” this legislation to the public, though, the angle they use doesn’t have much to do with any of those arguments — they come at this type of legislation pleading for workplace safety. “We just want to give adult film performers the same OSHA workplace protections as people in other occupations!”
This is a difficult argument because on it’s face, it sounds totally reasonable, even to allies of sex workers. Who’s against safety? I mean, shouldn’t porn performers have the same on-the-job protections as, for example, nurses?
I’m a ER nurse with experience in porn and a partner who works full time in the adult industry, and I’d answer that particular question with a resounding “NOPE.” The “workplace safety” argument falls apart in two basic ways. First, in terms of actual job-related risk, and second, in terms of the approach and implementation of “safety” regulations offered in bills like CA Prop 60 (on the ballot in California in November), as well as the (fortunately now dead) AB 1576 and the (unfortunately still quite alive) Measure B in LA.
Starting with risk — being an adult film performer is an incredibly safe job. Since the current testing standards were implemented in 2004, there have been ZERO transmissions of HIV on industry-regulated adult film sets. The adult industry has shown over the last decade of successful self-regulation (read about the current guidelines here) that sex on an adult film set is the safest sex you can have, and being an adult film performer is extraordinarily safe! Of course every job (and really everything we do) involves some amount of risk, but let’s contrast the risk of contracting HIV on a porn set to the risk I face when I work in the ER. Every day I have many patients with a variety of contagious diseases or of unknown status. In 2005 (the most recent year for which I could find numbers), there were 1,350 health care worker (HCW) exposures (needlestick or mucocutaneous) to HIV positive sources recorded by the CDC, and 8,859 exposures to sources of unknown HIV status. Those are just the ones reported, and we know that HCWs wildly under-report their exposures. The International Healthcare Worker Safety Center has estimated that as many as 35 new cases of HIV are transmitted annually to healthcare workers in the US . Globally, there are estimated to be around 1000 cases per year .
HIV is just the start of the serious risks I face as an ER nurse- I’m exposed to patients with TB, MRSA, hepatitis, meningitis, c. diff, and many more. Several years ago, one ER I worked at had such a severe outbreak of workplace-acquired c. diff among the staff that about a third were out on sick leave and they almost had to shut down the ER. I’ve also been assaulted on the job. So where would I be safer — having sex without a condom on an industry-regulated adult film set, or working as an ER nurse? I know my answer to that question. Yet organizations like the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) try to sell the idea that there’s some sort of epidemic or wildly unsafe working conditions in the adult industry. As has been pointed out by others, adult performers are not a risk to the general population- the general population is a risk to adult performers!
So that’s the risk angle — the risks on an adult film set are fundamentally not anywhere near the same as the risks I face in the ER, so it doesn’t make sense to apply the same “workplace safety” standards.
The second way that these claims about “workplace safety” fall apart is that legislation to mandate condom use in porn likes to call upon OSHA standards, yet handle these issues ENTIRELY DIFFERENTLY than the OSHA regulations that apply to hospital workers. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations as they apply to jobs like nursing are focused on making sure the employer provides protective equipment like gloves, masks, and isolation gowns. They’re focused on making sure the employer takes on the burden of paying for my bi-annual TB tests and n-95 mask fit tests and hepatitis B vaccinations and all that .
There’s actually quite a bit of space for worker choice in the OSHA regulations that apply to HCWs. There are exceptions for me not taking the time to put on personal protective equipment if I make a professional judgment that a specific instance it’s use would prevent the delivery of healthcare or public safety services or would pose an increased hazard to the safety of myself or co-worker. There’s even exemptions for worker choice — some nurses and phlebotomists don’t like to wear gloves because they can “feel the veins better” without them. Does that rationale sound familiar to anyone, with regards to people not liking to use condoms? Well, there’s actually an entire section of OSHA regulations specifically outlining exemptions for employees to choose not to routinely glove for blood draws . That’s after an interesting section stating that “mouth pipetting/suctioning of blood is prohibited”- which was kinda an odd subject to read about on the US Department of Labor web site.
In any case, this is in stark contrast to laws like AB1576 & Measure B, which make no exceptions at all, and focus on punitive, criminal consequences for failure to comply with these “protections”- to quote from AB1576: “Because a violation of the act would be a crime under certain circumstances, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program by creating a new crime.”  Measure B also imposes penalties, including fines of up to $1,000 and jail time.  These penalties explicitly apply not only to producers and directors, but to anyone involved in production, including and up to the performers supposedly being protected! This is an entirely different approach than lawmakers take towards job safety for occupations like nursing and it is very telling as to the real intentions behind this type of legislation.
So at their base these are concern-trolling laws that address a non-problem “problem.” Organizations like the Aids Healthcare Foundation *know* that there’s no crisis in the adult industry. What are they hoping to accomplish — taking the number of on-set HIV transmissions down from zero to… what? If they actually gave a shit about preventing HIV infections on the job they could come to hospitals and implement programs to move to IV cannulas with one-way valves or needleless IV tubing or spend their time and resources on some of the 49,000 people who are diagnosed with HIV per year (NONE of them infected on a regulated adult film set). It’s an outrage to see a non-profit like AHF wasting money to publicity-monger with crap like AB 1576 and Measure B.
Mandatory condom in porn legislation uses “workplace safety” as a Trojan Horse. Inside the Trojan Horse you’ll find the real reasons behind this type of legislation- moralizing, controlling sexuality and especially the female body (similarly to legislation about birth control and abortion), garnering publicity, etc. Whenever you see legislation that proposes to “help” a group of people who vehemently oppose said “help,” you should be very wary. Sex workers don’t need legislative “saviors.”
 Preventing Needlestick Injuries among Healthcare Workers: A WHO–ICN Collaboration. http://www.who.int/occupational_health/activities/5prevent.pdf
 Center for Disease Control http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/occupational-exposure-to-hiv
 United States Department of Labor https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=10051&p_table=STANDARDS
 AB 1576 Bill Text http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/asm/ab_1551-1600/ab_1576_bill_20140130_introduced.html
 Measure B Text as linked from http://www.smartvoter.org/2012/11/06/ca/la/meas/B/
About the author:
Shay Tiziano is an ER nurse, has appeared in adult films and is the partner of adult film performer/manager Stefanos Tiziano. She is a vivacious femme switch with over 9 years of experience educating, hosting, performing, and advocating within the BDSM community. Together with her partner, she holds the title of International Power Exchange 2014. Along with Dane Ballard, Dylan Ryan, and Jessica Drake, Shay presented a panel on mandatory condoms in porn at CatalystCon West 2014. Shay also received feedback on the ideas in this post from MietteRouge, a kink-friendly MD familiar with the adult industry.