The lack of condoms in porn films has drawn criticism for years. Now it's drawing an official complaint.
On Thursday, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said it's filing complaints with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of the California Department of Industrial Relations over the non-use of condoms in the porn industry.
The foundation named 16 California-based companies that it says are violating workplace safety laws and failing to safeguard the health of adult-film performers.
"As I continued to do hardcore porn, I started catching STDs all the time," said former porn actress and member of the Pink Cross Foundation, Michelle Avanti. "My lower body hurt so badly and at times my private area felt like it was a blazing fire. I could no longer work because I caught so many STDs and infections. I believe that if condoms had been allowed to be used in my own films, I would not have suffered so many physical ailments and infections."
The Pink Cross Foundation is a public charity dedicated to offering adult industry workers emotional, financial and transitional support for those who want out of the adult industry.
Since the June 17 reporting of the latest HIV outbreak -- and the subsequent reporting by the LA Times that as many as 22 porn performers may have tested positive in the last five years -- no action has been taken by the County to halt the spread of STDs on LA porn sets or to conduct the proper and legally required public health follow-up with those thought to be infected, according to a news release from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
"By recommending -- but not requiring -- condom use on porn film sets, Los Angeles County has basically abdicated its responsibility to perform its main function -- which is to protect the public health," said Whitney Engeran-Cordova, Director of AIDS Healthcare Foundation's Public Health Division.
Porn Biz Could Leave California
Industry officials said the most recent HIV case was isolated to one female performer, and that voluntary guidelines requiring monthly tests for sexually transmitted diseases and quarantines for anyone who tests positive have kept performers safe.
"The industry has done an admirable job of policing itself," Steve Hirsch, founder of Vivid Entertainment, told The Los Angeles Times. "If Los Angeles County chooses to enforce mandatory condoms, what you'll see is all adult production leave California. It will move to other places."
But former adult film performer Shelly Lubben, who founded the Pink Cross Foundation, said she got herpes and became infected with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, while working in the industry, and had to have half of her cervix removed.
"We want the fans to know what they're contributing to," she told The Times. "They're demanding harder and grosser porn. We want to educate them to exactly what they're watching -- diseased people ... It's illegal for bodily fluids to touch skin, and yet it happens every single day in the porn industry."
Former Porn Actresses Support AIDS Healthcare Foundation
“While working in the industry, I performed in over 100 triple-X hardcore movies. Some of my experiences on the porn set include me being totally wasted and porn producers allowing me to be -- and even providing -- alcohol and drugs for me. I experienced rough sex scenes and have been hit by male talent and told them to stop, but they wouldn’t stop until I started to cry and ruined the scene,” said Avanti, who is lending her support to AHF's call to require condoms in adult films.
"I was a porn star living the glamorous life. Drug overdoses, herpes, suicide attempts and abuse at the hands of the porn industry," said Lubben. "In my time in the industry, I did some very hardcore movies, and only drugs and alcohol could get me through them. I played a crazy game of Russian roulette with my life. The industry did not and still does not enforce condom usage, so STDs and HIV were and still are a high risk among porn actors and actresses. While my own life has taken an entirely new and profoundly fulfilling direction and I now work to help performers leave the industry altogether, I wholeheartedly support AIDS Healthcare Foundation's call to require condom use in the ongoing production of adult films in California."
"It breaks my heart to acknowledge that during my time as a porn star, I've done a scene with 25 men and even though I was assured that all of the STD testing had been taken care of by the producers, in my heart I realize now that this was probably a lie because I never saw the tests for myself," said Jan Merritt, former porn actress and member of the Pink Cross Foundation. "There are thousands of porn stars actively working in the adult industry. Can AIM say in all honesty that they are able to accurately test and regulate all of these performers' health? I think not. How is AIM certain that their tests are foolproof when nothing in this life is guaranteed, not even the use of condoms, contraceptives and other prophylactics? And how much higher is the risk of getting HIV and other STDs in an industry where you have not only one sexual partner per day, but several or more and condoms are looked at as an unnecessary, negative component of this industry? Enough is enough! How many more HIV incidents will occur in the adult industry before changes are made once and for all? 22 reported cases of HIV. How can anyone say that's a small number? We are talking about human lives! How can you put a price on life?"
STDs in the Industry in Los Angeles County
Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health is aware of an ongoing and pervasive sexually transmitted disease crisis in LA's pornography industry, a fact that is well documented. DPH has cited numerous figures confirming an STD epidemic among performers in adult films, including the fact that performers in hardcore pornography are ten times more likely to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease than members of the population at large.
According to figures cited by DPH, there were 2,013 documented cases of Chlamydia among LA porn performers between 2003 and 2007. In the same period, 965 cases of gonorrhea were documented. Many performers suffer multiple infections. In the period April 2004 to March 2008 there have been 2,847 STD infections diagnosed among 1,884 performers in the hardcore industry in LA County. DPH attributes the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in the porn industry to a lack of protective equipment for partners, including condoms. The agency recommends condoms be used during production, but has never taken steps to ensure their use, or to protect the performers who are essentially required to endanger their health in order to remain employed.
"This is not just about one industry, but about our entire community, as the spread of disease among adult film performers endangers themselves as well as their sexual partners in and outside the industry," said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "Los Angeles County Public Health officials cannot keep passing the buck on this by playing ping pong on this with the state and the industry itself. That is why we are filing these complaints with Cal/OSHA today."