I was recently interviewed by Jon Catt, a writer for LukeIsBack.com, re. my talk at Stanford Law School this past April. I am reprinting the interview below in its entirely – enjoy!!
“Dr. Chauntelle presented findings from her paper ‘Adult Film Performers and Occupational Safety and Health’ (Stanford Law and Policy Review 23) during a panel at Stanford Law School in April, 2012. She summarized her talk beforehand on a podcast for her site, PVVOnline.com. I found it very interesting and asked her if she’d agree to another interview.
1. For people who haven’t had the opportunity to listen (yet), can you sum up the main points of your talk?
Certainly!! In a nutshell, I conducted focus groups and interviews with twenty-four women and men currently working as adult performers in the Southern California/Los Angeles area about occupational safety and health. Specifically, we discussed how they felt about occupational condom use and STI testing, potential health risks, and STI status disclosure on the job.
The participants shared so much, but I was able to distill four relevant points. Here they are…
- 1. Barriers (ie condoms) introduce a series of complications and risks that may outweigh the benefits they provide. Women and men experience these complications and risks differently.
- 2. Knowing a co-performer’s STI status is both imperative and preferred over barrier protection alone. Every performer who participated in this study expressed this.
- 3. Performers are aware of workplace-related risks in an occupationally unique way. Relative to “average persons,” adult performers have “uncommon” understandings of risky sex behavior, STI status, etc – these understandings help shape the way performers think about their jobs, etc.
- 4. Adult performers feel as though they are the only ones who should be in control of their bodies.
2. How did you choose the performers for your study, and was there any reluctance to participate?
Well… Participants were recruited through what’s called “snowball sampling,” a name I’ve always found hilarious. I sent out a call for participants to five of the LA area agencies and asked each to circulate the call amongst the performers they were affiliated with. Performers were asked to contact me directly via email to reserve a spot in one of the focus groups and/or schedule an interview. I also attempted to generate participation via social networking sites and community blogs using the same call.
I got a lot of response, and some people even recruited participants themselves. Several performers contacted me because they’d heard about the study from a friend or affiliate (versus an agency). And three people just randomly showed up for a focus group with another participant. I let them stay, of course.
In the end, I was really pleased to get twenty-four participants. To some, that may sound like a small number; but I did all this over five days in LA (I was still living out of state when I gathered this data). Considering the time crunch, the “things coming up” factor, the geography of LA and how difficult it is to get anywhere, and simple human flakiness (we’ve all been there), the fact that this many people came out to have their voices heard was really significant.
But all that being said, you can’t say that this study is “representative” of all performers. There are a lot more than twenty-four people working as talent in LA; and, because of the sampling method, these performers were obviously connected in some way. It’s important to remember that representative part when you are thinking about the overall implications of these findings.
Oh and fyi, I conducted this study in the San Francisco Bay area too. The Bay Area-based segment of the industry is structured very differently than LA, and the process yielded only six (six!!) participants over one week’s time. The data provided by these individuals was super enlightening; however, the small number of participants render it preliminary at best. This study would need to be redesigned significantly in order to adequately capture that population. That’s just part of the process though…
As far as reluctance to participate, thirty (LA and SF) people showed up and shared their thoughts, so that definitely says something – willingness!! But any details beyond that drift into confidentiality territory.
3. Can you tell us something about the differences in how the industry is organized in Southern and Northern California?
Oh there are so many things, but one clear characteristic I’ve gotten from the people I’ve spoken to is “full-time verses part-time.” In general, in Southern California, porn is someone’s main job; but in Northern California, porn is often a part-time gig or maybe something that’s done as an exploratory, growing, and/or for-fun experience. These occupational structures (or not) lend to very different experiences.
4. Why do you think performers rarely weigh in on the condom debate?
Well, it could be for any number of reasons. First and foremost, people simply don’t ask. They don’t know who to ask, or perhaps they’re not willing to do the legwork it takes to get people to talk… or maybe they’re uncomfortable with the kind of work performers do, or maybe they really actually just don’t care. Who knows, but I think they main reason why performs rarely weigh in on the debate is because no one asks them to.
A close second is the fact that people don’t tend to take performers very seriously. Sure, there are some high profile people that the powers-that-be occasionally seem to listen to, but the vast majority of performers are not high profile “big deals” – they’re just folks doing a job. And when some young porn chic explains how it is in her experience and that experience happens to be very contrary to conventional understanding… well, people tend not to listen or hear in those situations. (this is a bit of what I was talking about in my third finding point, btw)
5. Young female performers have started to rush into doing more hardcore scenes quite early in their careers. How well aware do you think they are of potential risks, and how they can protect themselves?
That’s a complicated question, and honestly – it depends. It depends first on what constitutes “risk.” Some people I’ve spoken to understand every aspect of a very “conventional” definition of sex-related risk, and they make their decisions with this knowledge accordingly. Others don’t; most are somewhere in the middle.
Further, some performers understand risk in a completely “unconventional” way – meaning, they see risk in things that the “conventional” world wouldn’t think twice about, and they think the most conventionally risky behaviors are just whatever. It’s like two groups speaking two totally different languages in this respect… it’s really interesting (and sometimes scary and sometimes frustrating) to see these disconnects play out.
In terms of performers protecting themselves, I think education and information is beyond key – if performers have “conventional understanding” and “porn understanding” at their fingertips, then they have the power to make more informed decisions about whatever it is that they choose to do. Making this type of information comprehensive and accessible is a daunting task, but I honestly believe this would be the most far-reaching endeavor at this point.
6. Why do you think the regulators just want to apply existing law without trying to understand the particularities of the adult industry?
Hmmm… well, I could answer that cynically (as I do think the cynical answers come into play more often that I’m comfortable with), but I’d say it has a lot to do with sex. Specifically, it has to do with the endless series of sex-related disconnects that exist between the adult industry and regulators, which really just speak to a wider series of disconnects existing between the adult industry and wider society.
As a culture and society, we have a series of sex-related conceptualizations that are held up as “conventional” or “correct” or “normal” or whatever. Regardless of whether or not we buy into them individually, they do exist collectively.
The adult industry adds dimensions to sex that are not commonly, collectively held as acceptable or even comprehensible – relatively public sex for commercial exchange. Sure, many will say that all sex involves some sort of exchange; but I mean unabashed commercial exchange. Further, there’re other occupations that involve sex and/or sex-related things in conjunction with commercial exchange, but porn is far more public than any of those occupations. So maybe it’s the whole “public” thing that really pushes it over the edge… I don’t know.
Regardless, porn is capable of scrambling many peoples’ brains. Regardless of consumers’ apparently endless appetites for porn, the adult industry, its products, and its workers are ununderstandable to so much of the wider world. This is problematic, deeply discriminatory and limiting, and needs to be worked through. But given all this and to answer your question, it’s not that regulators just want to apply existing law without trying to understand the particularities of the adult industry… it’s that they almost can’t understand the particularities of the adult industry, at least not until so much more work has been done to untangle our wider cultural issues with sex.
7. How would you like to take your study forward, and what can be done in the immediate to promote understanding between the industry and legislators?
I would like to expand it!! I would love to have a number of participants that more closely reflects the overall number of performers working in the LA area, and I would love to bring the voices of Bay Area workers into the conversation (in more than a preliminary way). Things are so different between the LA and San Francisco industries – they both may deal in adult, but it’s done very differently. This needs to be understood in order to make recommendations and changes and retain existing components in a way that makes healthy, safe sense to everyone involved. And I would be more than happy to help legislators figure it out.
In the immediate though, my research and blog work are available for everyone (not just legislators and academics) at PVVOnline.com. I would suggest reading through its archives to anyone looking for a foothold on understanding industry basics, but more importantly – go to the source. Ask performers, producers, and every other member of the industry (there are thousands) what they think – they know what they’re talking about. They live it.
Well… what do you think??
(and honestly, this was partially an excuse to debut this new picture – squeeeeee!!!)
(pictured: me via Dean Capture – May, 2012)
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You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage/PVVOnline, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.PVVOnline.com).”