How AHF’s Moral Arguments Against Porn Are Endangering Performers’ Lives

How AHF’s Moral Arguments Against Porn Are Endangering Performers’ Lives

By Mike Stabile

Last Thursday in San Diego, the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) heard arguments on proposed safety regulations for the adult film industry. The 21-page document contains a smorgasbord of provisions, most notably mandatory condoms, and suggests dental dams and goggles to guard against HIV on-set.

How AHF's Moral Arguments Against Porn Are Endangering Performers’ Lives

Michael Weinstein, of the controversial AIDS Healthcare Foundation, instigated the regulations. Like Weinstein’s other crusades against the adult industry, the regulations were grounded in fear and shame.

During the hearing, dozens of working adult film performers testified against the regulations, citing medical privacy concerns, AHF’s stigmatization of adult film stars, and personal choice in condom use. Others filled the gallery for support. But it was four performers, each with HIV, who testified in favor of the regulations whose stories will likely carry the biggest weight with the Cal/OSHA board. And that’s a danger for all performers. 

In what porn performers call the civilian world, it’s difficult to trace the source of a HIV infection. As Dr. David Holland, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University, pointed out to Cal/OSHA in his opposition to the regulations, people aren’t always truthful about where an STI comes from. Sometimes they are embarrassed. Sometimes they don’t know. Often, they look for a scapegoat.

In the porn world, a virus’s origins are much easier to track. Because performers are tested every fourteen days, it’s fairly simple to determine when the transmission happened, and because one’s co-stars are tested as well. If it was an on-set transmission, the results are incontrovertible.

Two of the HIV-positive performers who spoke in favor of the hearing worked on sets where such testing was mandatory. But none of their co-stars ever tested positive for the virus, thereby eliminating the possibility of an on-set transmission. The two other HIV-positive performers worked on sets where condoms were mandatory (then argued that mandatory condoms would have saved them).

Yet all four testified — sometimes tearfully — that their HIV status was “as a result of” their work in the adult industry. What could they mean?
The phrase is meant to confuse a casual listener — or reporter — that they got the virus in the course of their film work, rather than their personal life. But to those who know the intricacies of the testing system, or basic epidemiology, the meaning becomes less about science than sin. The virus as punishment for the decision to work in the industry in the first place.

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