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Condom Wars in California's Porn Industry 

Wednesday, Sep 2 2015
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What happens when you combine two turkey basters, a gallon of semen, and a room of naked men? You get a scene from The 1,000 Load Fuck, a film from San Francisco-based gay porn studio Treasure Island Media.

You also grab the attention of the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In 2013, voters in Los Angeles outlawed production of bareback porn. Since then, self-appointed pornography watchdogs such as Michael Weinstein — President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in L.A. and the adult entertainment industry's professional nemesis — have campaigned to mandate condoms in all California-made smut. (Weinstein is a condom extremist; his opposition to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and allegations that AHF paid kickbacks in exchange for referrals to federal healthcare programs, have made him a pariah among AIDS activists.)

In 2009, AHF filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA arguing that Treasure Island Media violated occupational safety and health standards by exposing performers in the 1,000 Load Fuck to potential infections. Further, AHF said the studio misclassified performers as independent contractors rather than employees — a common practice in porn.

After a six-year investigation, an appeals board ruled last month that Treasure Island Media's failure to use condoms wasn't "serious," and that the performers were indeed employees. A $685 fine was assessed.

Cal/OSHA couldn't deem the violations serious because there wasn't enough evidence that the performers exposed to body fluids were more likely than not to contract an STD. (Treasure Island Media uses mostly performers who are already HIV-positive.) And while the employee classification in this case may haunt future skirmishes between OSHA and porn producers, for now it applies only to this ruling.

Both AHF and Treasure Island Media claim victory.

"Standards have changed," Weinstein says. "Exposing a person to a thousand loads of cum is not a trifle. In what bizarre world does Treasure Island think this is normal?"

Buoyed by this, AHF is pushing the statewide condom measure for the 2016 ballot. And Weinstein vows to continue filing complaints against condomless porn. According to the Los Angeles Times, AHF has a $750 million budget, so money is no object.

Meanwhile, Karen Tynan, Treasure Island Media's attorney, says the ruling sets a precedent in favor of porn companies.

"Treasure Island is edgy and out there, but content is not the linchpin of this case," she says. The three-person [OSHA] panel took a more academic approach. It shouldn't be about content but about the application of the law."

As to whether this ruling will chill porn production in California, Tynan demurs. "A lot of ideas about porn production are from Boogie Nights. Your editor can be in Bumfuck, Kentucky, now — it doesn't matter. With technology and the cloud and cameras, you can film anywhere in the world."

About The Author

Jeremy Lybarger

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