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California's 30 Day Rule - STD Testing for Adult Film Stars

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Updated April 09, 2014

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California has a multi-billion dollar adult film industry. To regulate the industry, and increase the safety of adult film stars, the state requires that performers regularly undergo STD testing and test negative for HIV and other STDs within 30 days of a performance. However, a negative test may give both adult film stars and film makers a false impression about their level of risk.

STD testing is not infallible. In addition to other types of false negative results, it is known to take a varying, and sometimes significant, amount of time after a person has been infected for them to test positive. For example, antibody tests for herpes and HIV may take up to six months to detect an infection. This is a problem since a person who is infected with an STD but does not test positive can still transmit their infection to a sexual partner. Therefore, it is possible for adult film stars to test negative within 30 days of a shoot and still pose a risk to their on-screen (and off-screen) partners.

Even ignoring the fact that STD testing may not have picked up a recent infection, a 30-day rule for adult film stars also does not take into account the fact that they may have been exposed to STDs since their last test. It does not assess whether they have performed, without barriers, since their test or had risky encounters during their private life. Of course, this isn't just an issue for adult film stars. When any person negotiates sex with a new partner, they not only need to think about test results, but should also discuss exposures that may have rendered STD testing less than reliable.

Although a 30-day rule for STD testing in adult film stars serves as an important component of improving workplace safety in the adult film industry, it cannot stand alone. Such a rule certainly reduces performer risk, but it may also give a false impression of safety. It is critical that performers, and producers, be educated about potential issues with STD test accuracy and timing so that they can make informed decisions about risk.

One of the biggest problems with a 30-day rule for STD testing in adult film stars is that such a rule works best in a closed system. If the only risky behaviors that adult film stars engaged in were with each other, than testing everyone would keep them relatively safe. However, new potential sources of risk enter the system all the time -- both in the form of new performers and in the form of risky behavior outside of the workplace. A lack of safe sex, or other risky behavior, in a performer's private life can put their coworkers at risk. Adult film stars have private sex lives as well, and those partners may not be as rigorously screened as their coworkers.

In many ways, adult film stars and other sex workers are better informed about STD testing and safe sex than the general population. They are often more aware about risk and keep their personal risk lower than people who just have lots of sex for fun. So why is their risk such a focus for public discussion? It's because when sex becomes work, risk becomes subject to regulation in a way that isn't true for private sexual encounters.

OSHA rules mandate that doctors and nurses use universal precautions, such as gloves and masks, to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. It would make perfect sense for similar rules about condom use to be in place to protect people whose work involves the potential for sexual exposure. Unfortunately, two opposing factors make such rules difficult to put into place. The first is that regulators and politicians may be reluctant to make rules that are seen as legitimizing sex work, even where it is legal. The second is that the focus on how condoms and other barriers affect viewer pleasure is used to derail discussions of the ways in which they reduce performer risk.

Until adult film stars, producers, and government officials can discuss sex work in an objective and non-judgmental manner, without invoking moral or religious concerns about the role of pornography in society, it will be difficult or impossible to make intelligent decisions about workplace regulation and risk in the adult film industry. However, such conversations definitely need to take place. Adult film stars have as much of a right to safe working conditions as any other individual working in the United States.

Sources:
California OSHA "PUBLIC MEETING/PUBLIC HEARING/BUSINESS MEETING March 18, 2010" Accessed Online 10/14/10 at http://www.dir.ca.gov/oshsb/minutesMarch2010.doc
Rottblatt H, et al. (2005) "HIV Transmission in the Adult Film Industry --- Los Angeles, California, 2004" MMWR 54(37);923-926 Accessed Online 10/14/10 at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5437a3.htm
AMA Resolution on Adult Film Industry Worker Safety and Health. Accessed Online 10/14/10 at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/DoshReg/comments/AMA_resolution_407%20adult%20film%20industry_APPROVED_06-10.pdf

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