University of Southern California

Resolving the Problem of Performer Health and Safety in the Adult Film Industry

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Note by Maria de Cesare
From Volume 79, Number 3 (March, 2006)

No matter how much fascination it may provide to the lives of the lonely, the curious, the adventurous, or the ordinary, it is undeniable that pornography poses problems. This statement is not startling or revolutionary; no other industry has unfailingly produced equal parts astounding revenue, excitement, shame, and fear among every echelon of society. For decades, the adult film industry has operated a thriving worldwide empire centered in Southern California, generating billions of dollars in revenue and producing thousands of films per year. Notwithstanding its status as one of the largest industries in a heavily regulated state, the adult film industry has flourished for decades without a discernible trace of government oversight. In recent years, however, a particularly insidious problem within the industry has perched itself precariously at the threshold of the public consciousness and has threatened to end the government’s historical indifference toward the industry’s practices.

In the spring of 2004, a spate of HIV infections among performers in the Southern California adult film industry induced a panic when it was discovered that over sixty performers had been exposed to the disease. In response to the potential outbreak, several major pornography companies voluntarily halted production for several weeks, and over fifty performers who had been identified as having sexual intercourse with the infected performers agreed to place themselves on a “quarantine list,” ceasing all adult film work while awaiting their HIV test results. Although the industry’s proactive response managed to contain the infection’s spread, the crisis sharply called into question the adequacy of current screening and testing procedures in the adult film industry, and underscored the need for increased preventative measures.

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