The Occupational Dangers of Being a Pornstar…

Prior to becoming an adult entertainment attorney I was an employment and workers’ compensation attorney. I have probably handled over 3000 cases for both injured workers and employers. I have represented numerous employers including Fortune 500 aerospace defense contractors, major movie studios, hospitals, the Dodgers, LAPD, LAFD and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I have represented workers with injuries ranging from simple knee sprains to amputated fingers, back injuries, liver failure and even work related death claims.

I have personally examined chemical plants, manufacturing companies and aerospace companies for safety violations and work place health issues.

Cal-OSHA, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Michael Weinstein would like you to believe that the straight adult entertainment industry in Los Angeles is nothing more than a disease filled cesspool of STIs and HIV. Cal-OSHA would like to treat semen as a hazardous material that any exposure to does results in an injury that requires immediate treatment. They would also like you to believe that all other industries are compliant with Cal-OSHA regulations and are clean and safe work environments. I can assure you that all of those assumptions are flawed.

The only way you can truly understand how dangerous being a pornstar is by looking to other industries’ injury rates for comparison purposes. In the last eight years I only know of one death that can be called work related since it occurred at the studio of a production company ( Please see: ). That incident involved one performer killing another performer and injuring two others. However, it was not related to condom use or barrier protection.

According to California’s Department of Industrial Relations there were 360 total work related deaths in 2011. The adult entertainment industry had no fatalities on-set in 2011. ( Please see: 2011CaliforniaFatalInjuries ). For 2012, I am unaware of any on-set fatalities as well. Through-out the history of the industry many pornstars and performers have met their untimely demise either from traffic accidents, overdosing on drugs, suicide and murder. However those deaths cannot be listed as work related deaths.

As for non-fatal injuries in 2010 (the 2011 study has not been release yet ), according to the Department of Industrial Relations there were a total of 14,255,000 Californians employed who reported a total of 464,100 work related injuries. The average incident rate for all employees in all industries was 4.2 injuries for every 100 workers in California ( Please see: 2010CaliforniaNonFatalInjuries )

If the industry employed an estimated 7500 on-set content production workers ( performers, videographers, photographers, lighting, production assistants, makeup artists ect ) in the year 2010 that means there should have been 315 significant on-set physical injuries or STI exposures in 2010 based on the average for all workers in the state of California ( Please see: 2010CaliforniaIncidentRates ). The highest injury incident rates were reported in law enforcement (12.2 injuries for every 100 employees) and the least dangerous industry in the report was Data processing, hosting, and related services (less then 1 injury for every 100 employees).

This is where the statistics become confusing. According to the United States Department of Labor, the flu and the common cold are expressly not included in their data for work related injuries ( Please see: ). This is despite the fact that many workers are in fact infected by a contagious co-worker. Anyone that has worked in an office environment knows how fast the flu can spread through an entire office staff. From a work injury perspective though it would be almost impossible to prove such infection was indeed caused by work or acquired from a co-worker. It really comes down to a matter of proof. How could an office worker conclusively prove that the flu contracted at work was from a co-worker and not from a spouse, child, friend or contracted in a non-work environment. Unless, of course, it was a rare strain of the influenza virus.

For example, let’s say Bob and Mary are co-workers. They are also a dating. Both Bob and Mary come down with the flu. Bob reports to his employer that he caught the flu at work from Mary and wants to file a workers compensation claim so he can receive medical treatment. Do you believe that he caught it from Mary at work ? I can assure you that his claim will be denied as being work related.

In the adult industry we face the same issues in regards to chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV and possibly herpes. The HIV virus, hepatitis B and syphilis are different since these infections are much more rare and can be tracked to a Patient Zero. Since all of the performers in porn have sex off set in their personal life with other performers or civilians (those that don’t work in porn) it would be nearly impossible to prove that a performer that tested positive for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV and/or herpes actually contracted it on set. As a matter of law, it is my belief that a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board administrative law judge would find against a performer attempting to claim that chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV and/or herpes to be a work related injury. Unless they can conclusively prove that the only exposure occurred on-set, which is unlikely.

Therefore, removing chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV and herpes from the potential list of work related injuries that one can suffer on set, the adult industry might have lower than average work related injury rates. In 2010, we should have had an estimated 315 total work related injuries, physical and sexual STI injuries. It is impossible to know with certainty the actual number of 2010 work related physical injuries that occurred in adult entertainment since we are combined with other entertainment industries such as television and film for reporting purposes. However, Ballot Measure B will do nothing to alleviate any possible physical injury on set. Its only focus is on barrier protections to stop the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Thus we are left to examine what evidence we do have about on-set sexual disease transmission that would be work related. The only evidence of a potential work related injury that may have occurred on an adult set in 2010 was a possible HIV transmission. There were no known reported syphilis or hepatitis cases in the industry in 2010. Therefore we are left with just one possible injury related to on set transmission.

That person is Derrick Burts. The same Derrick Burts that AHF is using to campaign for condoms in porn. How Derrick Burts contracted HIV is still a mystery. Burts was not only a male performer in the straight industry, he was also a male performer in the gay industry. He also admitted to placing an escort ad on a gay prostitute website to service male clients. However, he denied actually ever seeing any male clients. ( Please see: )

Despite Burts being HIV+ no female performers contracted HIV from him nor did any test positive that many have given it to him. However, he may have contracted it on a gay set in Florida. His exposure was tracked to a gay scene. He had performed in a gay movie with a known HIV+ male actor ( Please see: )

Thus, since AHF and Weinstein’s focus with “condoms in porn” is only on the straight side of the industry it would safe to conclude that Derrick Burts HIV was not a straight porn industrial injury rather one that occurred either in his private life, as a gay male escort or on a gay set. Therefore, once removed, there were no significant on-set transmissions of traceable industrial exposures to HIV, hepatitis or syphilis in 2010.

In 2011 there was one known false positive for an HIV transmission, no known reported syphilis or hepatitis B infections ( Please see: ). And in 2012 there was only nine known reported performers that contracted syphilis on set ( Please see: ). I am unaware that any additional cases of syphilis have been found in the last month. Therefore, it is likely that the number of industrial exposures will be limited to nine.

Without a comprehensive study into all work related injuries suffered on an adult entertainment set, physical and STIs, it is difficult as best and impossible at worst to fully understand to have a complete picture of industrial injuries and exposures on set employees might suffer. However, comparing the number of potentially life threatening on-set transmissions compared to the number of scenes shot in Los Angeles since 2004 (the last know HIV transmission on-set) the actual threat of a work related transmission is relatively minor and/or non-existent (again excluding common STIs that could not be conclusively proven to have occurred on set).

AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s support for Ballot Measure B is understandable. It is also understandable that an organization that provides HIV counseling, treatment and prevention measures does not truly understand California employment or workers’ compensation law. From a worker health and safety standpoint, Ballot Measure B is simply overkill. The industry has remained relatively free of life threatening infections for the past eight years.

The mainstream equivalent would be a ballot measure requiring all office workers in the state of California to wear face masks to prevent the transmission and spread of the cold or flu at work. It makes perfect sense but is it necessary. Would you want this to be you ?


8 thoughts on “The Occupational Dangers of Being a Pornstar…

  1. Michael Whiteacre September 29, 2012 — 7:01 pm

    There are huge problems with your claim that “performers actually do have higher STI infection rates than the general population”:

    1) The general population is largely untested, so we don’t know what actual rates of STI infection are in the general population; we only have estimates.

    2) As noted by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer MD, MS, PhD of Johns Hopkins, the LA County Department of Public Health reports on adult industry STI data are so flawed as to be “without basis in science. Mayer’s 2011 report concluded that the data presented by LACPH Drs. Kim-Farley and Kerndt is “fundamentally flawed” and that the methodology used by the doctors to arrive at the estimated rates is invalid. The statistics calculated by Kim-Farley and Kerndt contradict each other’s presentations, as well as data contained in other reports on STIs released by LACPH.

    Mayer concluded that, since the vast majority of persons in LACPH’s comparison groups are not even tested within any given year for any STIs (and may not be sexually active enough to risk infection), a much better comparison group would be comprised of sexually active persons, within a similar age range of performers, who are frequently tested for infection. Utilizing this methodology, the rate of infection in sexually active young people in LA County may be up to ten times higher than Kerndt and Kim-Farley suggest, and not much higher than the supposed rates of adult performer infection.

    Also, LACPH reports take into account neither re-infection rates nor performer re-testing for the same infection incident, and Kim-Farley’s method of estimating prevalence rates diverges sharply from that recommended by the CDC.

    Here is a link to Dr. Mayer’s report:


  2. I have no argument with the industry doing more to educate its workforce. I have no issue with condoms. I have issue with a mandatory condom scheme to fix a problem that may not be work related.

    As for painters, masks and fumes it can be easily proven that a painter IS exposed at work. As you note its not so easy to prove for performers and STIs.


  3. I hat to mention this as generally supportive of sex workers, but the opposite could be argued as easily. Indeed, it would be very difficult to prove where performers were infected, so it seems pretty straight forward to suggest that the industry cannot be held accountable for transmissions. The problem is, performers actually do have higher STI infection rates than the general population (several pubs last few years…happy to post). The question is whether the industry has a responsibility to promote safety or reduce the likelihood that these STIs were set acquired (since we cannot know). Perhaps the better analogy is painters and masks for fumes? Or 9/11 workers who put themselves in harm’s way? What are the laws in those domains?


  4. Michael Whiteacre September 28, 2012 — 1:45 pm

    That’s good to know, but it still doesn’t mean they’ve demonstrated workplace infection. Lots of performers interact off-set, many live together in either relationship or roommate situations, and many share common off-set “vectors,” as it were.


  5. I personally spoke to the LA County Department of Public Health and they confirmed that it was nine performers. Possibly ten but they could not say if the 10th transmission was anyway related to their work as a performer.


  6. Michael Whiteacre September 28, 2012 — 1:19 pm

    My pleasure.

    One other point:

    You write, “in 2012 there was only nine known reported performers that contracted syphilis on set.”

    That is incorrect. LA County Department of Public Health has asserted that it found nine people who were infected in the course of its investigation into the adult industry. They have hedged on the issue of whether all nine were performers (the story reads, “more cases of syphilis have now been found in the county’s investigation”, and moreover, they have not demonstrated (or even alleged) that these infections all took place on set.


  7. Thank you for the additional information and thanks for catching the typo as well.


  8. On the issue of Derrick Burts, you write that he “had performed with in a gay movie with a known HIV+ male actor.” It should be stressed once again that, for the most part, the gay industry — and in the case of this shoot in particular — does not subscribe to rigorous universal HIV/STI testing and status verification. That is how Burts was able to work (unknowingly, it has been alleged) with an HIV+ model.

    Here is an excerpt from an email Burts wrote on December 15, 2010, while he was in the process of trying to tailor polygraph questions to his liking. His statements stand in complete contradiction of his earlier claim to have had a monogamous off-camera relationship with his all-American girlfriend (female performer Kaycee Brooks):

    “I had a posting for escorting during the time I got HIV, however, I did not meet with anyone from the ad. The reason I am time specific on the escort question is because back in May or June I met with a guy from Craigslist and gave a massage and a handjob on a guy… I classify that as escorting, however, there is no way I got HIV from that time since there was no sex and out of the time frame of being able to get HIV.

    “As for the anal sex question, there was a time I had unprotected sex with another guy while participating in a threesome at some point in June. I know I didn’t get HIV from that time as well because it was out of the range of time I could have got it and all people in that threesome have been tested since, it was also before I started porn….”

    Porn agent Mark Spiegler, who had offered Burts cash to take a polygraph, mocked Burts’ claims: “He goes, ‘I didn’t get it from [swinging] because they all tested negative.’ Like who gets everyone’s name and number at a swinger party?”

    To me, the most damning part of this email exchange (which has been published in large part) is where Burts sought to narrow the question concerning whether or not he’d ever had bareback gay sex to whether or not he’d ever had bareback sex DURING a gay porn shoot. That seems to me to be pure misdirection.

    Burts traveled to Florida to shoot a series of gay porn scenes in September 2010, and it has ben reported that he stayed at the home of his agent, Howard Marr of FabScout, with at least one other man. One common theory is that Burts had sex with a man who turned out to be HIV+ while in Florida to shoot. His unknown sexual partner, the theory goes, may have also been involved in some way with the production(s). Therefore, under this theory, if Burts had been asked (as he suggested):

    “Did you have bareback anal sex with guys *in any of your shoots* in the time frame you may have contracted HIV?” — he would have been able to truthfully answer NO.

    Had the question been asked as: “Did you have ANY bareback sex with a man during the 90 days preceding your October 8th AIM test?” he might not, under this theory, have been able to truthfully answer NO.

    One other piece of the puzzle supports this theory:

    Spiegler’s final proposed question (of the allotted four) was:

    “Is it possible you may have contracted HIV outside of the adult entertainment business?”

    In his final email to the polygraph examiner, Burts wrote: “I kept his last question as is…. Do I think it was possible to get HIV from outside of working in the industry… my answer would be NO, which would come out true… proving that I truly believe I got this from working in the industry. . . . Do I believe I got this in Florida while working on a gay shoot? Yes, I am willing to state that which will prove that I am correct.”

    This supports the theory that Burts had sex with someone involved with one of his shoots — but not necessarily a performer while in front of a camera. Note that Burts changed “in any of your shoots” to “while working on a gay shoot.”


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