July 28, 2009

Porn Stars and Public Health

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

Recently, news broke that a Los Angeles porn actress tested positive for the HIV virus. Take a look at how different articles addressed this topic:

 

Los Angeles Times

United Press International (UPI)

ABC News

e! Science News

Yahoo News

perezhilton.com

Oddly enough, Perez Hilton’s version was the only one that mentioned the importance of using condoms to prevent disease.

I heard someone on the radio suggest that LA rate porn film shoots like they do restaurants. In LA, restaurants must post their quality ratings based on public health inspections so customers can be informed about a kitchen’s cleanliness. Suggesting that porn film locations do the same is odd since the public does not patronize the actual work site nor is visiting or working at such a site a “choice” for someone who needs the job.

Suggesting that the city fund such ratings for the benefit of a few workers who already have the job before they step onto the site seems a colossal waste of taxpayer funds in these lean times.

If the issue is fear of spreading HIV, then public funds would be better spent on sex education, since the rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the general population are a more significant public health hazard than actors within the adult media industry are.

image

Source: http://www.prb.org/Datafinder/Topic/Map.aspx?variable=43

It is important for the adult entertainment industry to monitor and control the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The industry does test for some but by no means all STIs that may infect their workers. However if they did test for more than HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea, as they currently do, the industry might lose most of its current workers!

image

Source: Chlamydia_Fig1_2007CDC.jpg

According to this Reuters article, the porn industry employs 1,200 actors, and since 2004, 1,357 actors have tested positive for gonorrhea, 15 for syphilis, and 22 for HIV. (You might be wondering how there could be more people with gonorrhea than the total number of actors—this figure is an annual average and there is significant turnover in the industry). These statistics, suggest a very high STI rate. But the most commonly occurring STI, chlamydia, is not included in this study.

Let’s consider STIs in context with another illness we’ve heard a lot about this year. The swine flu, H1N1, is considered a pandemic. A pandemic is typically defined as an infectious disease that spreads across some number of continents, potentially infecting a wide group of humans. Using this basic definition, one might wonder why sexually transmitted infections aren’t defined or perceived as pandemics although they too are shared across populations that do range across the globe.

If STIs were indeed defined as pandemics, more resources could be garnered to fight them and to stop their transmission. As it is, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) do what they can to track the numbers and raise awareness.

At the very least, our country could be doing more to better educate its population about sex and STIs. As it is, only 20 of our 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) mandate sex education and none require that forms of contraception, including condom use, be stressed in that curriculum.

image

Source: http://www.guttmacher.org/sections/sti.php

When STIs hit the news as a threat to the porn industry rather than as a public health issue, sociology can help us understand why we choose to focus on the threat as it affects others instead of ourselves.

What sociological theories or concepts might be useful here? Even though its profit margin is eroding (possibly due to the internet), porn does generate millions of profit for a variety of businesses, like hotels, satellite and cable companies, and media outlets. Would the issue of corporate power and the context of our capitalist system help us understand this issue more? What other sociological concepts might give us some insight?

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Comments

Observational learning might have a role here. I worry about talking about modeling when discussing porn (because I'm not sure I believe that people mimic all behaviour modeled in porn)... but the descriptive norm that's established with the prevalence of condom-free porn might have an effect on viewers (i.e. those in the broader population outside of the industry)

I worry about talking about modeling when discussing porn (because I'm not sure I believe that people mimic all behaviour modeled in porn)... but the descriptive norm that's established with the prevalence of condom-free porn

Suggesting that porn film locations do the same is odd since the public does not patronize the actual work site nor is visiting or working at such a site a “choice” for someone who needs the job.

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Since it's not a pandemic it's not really a fight about the difference between the two; although they both spread around the country. I think to better the educated it should be brought up more. We hear about it, but not as much as we should since it's a serious thing.

The CDC says that nearly every sexually active person eventually contracts one or more types of human papilloma virus, or HPV. Some types cause genital warts, while others can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, tonsils and back of the throat. An HPV vaccine is available and recommended for young people before they become sexually active, as well as for people in their 20s who have never been vaccinated.

I worry about talking about modeling when discussing porn (because I'm not sure I believe that people mimic all behaviour modeled in porn)... but the descriptive norm that's established with the prevalence of condom-free porn

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