Just recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that sexually transmitted disease (STD) numbers in California are rising fast. But if you think these diseases aren’t a problem in Napa County, think again.
In May, the Napa County Public Health Division reported year-to-year increases of cases of gonorrhea (up 31 percent), chlamydia (up 16 percent), and syphilis (up 11 percent). These diseases are devastating for young people, especially young women.
Yet a multi-billion dollar industry in California routinely and illegally exposes its young men and women employees to STDs, including HIV. And it does so with relative impunity. I’m talking about the adult film industry.
That’s why I support Proposition 60 on the Nov. 8 ballot, which will strengthen enforcement of health rules to fight the STD epidemic by cracking down on the industry.
Every major health group agrees: condoms are the gold standard for protecting against STDs. Supporters of mandatory condom use in adult films include the California Nurses Association., the California Medical Association. and the political advocacy arm of the California Council of Churches.
But the adult film industry is ferociously fighting Prop. 60 because it believes condoms don’t sell films. This industry cares more about its profits than its employees.
The consequence of unprotected sex on young performers is staggering and not surprising given the industry’s insistence on denying performers protection. Studies show one in four adult film performers has an STD. The chlamydia and gonorrhea rates among performers is, respectively, 34 and 64 times greater than rates among peer groups in the general population.
And make no mistake: diseases contracted through unprotected sex in adult film studios don’t stay in the studios or even in the adult film population.
Adult film performers have sex lives outside of work. Earlier this year, the transmission of HIV to a member of the public from a performer was widely covered by news outlets. But the transmission of gonorrhea, chlamydia and other STDs linked to cancer and other serious medical conditions goes uncovered.
But more important is the impact of condom-less sex in pornography on young people. This reckless industry is influencing viewers’ sexual behavior and perpetuating risky practices among the impressionable youth of our state.
Prop. 60 is a critical step to getting the STD epidemic under control by helping Cal/OSHA do a more effective job of enforcing the existing condom health rule.
Prop. 60 will give Cal/OSHA up to a year to file a complaint against a condom violator (now it has to file in six months); it will allow the agency to sue distributors of condom-less adult films (now only producers are liable); and it will require the adult film industry producers to pay for its employees to be tested for infections and to receive disease-preventing vaccines (now the industry makes the employees pay for these health services).
Prop. 60 will help protect young workers and help ensure that the adult film industry follows the same workplace safety rules that hundreds of other industries must obey. It’s only fair.
Dr. Gary Richwald is the former chief physician and director of all STD programs for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.