At gay bathhouses in the Bay Area, monitors pop in on the “playroom” irregularly—“every 20 minutes, every 40 minutes, every hour,” one manager says, trying to make sure patrons are having sex safely.
“You put the condom on or get the hell out,” a monitor at one such club said, upon discovering a couple violating the rules.
William Woods and his colleagues talked to these bathhouse monitors, as well as managers and patrons, about their safer sex monitoring programs, detailed in a recent article in the academic journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy. Some bathhouses enacted aggressive monitoring because “they sincerely care about their patrons’ health,” Woods said. These bathhouses in the Bay Area often were “at the table when the guidelines that are in place were developed, so they have a personal stake in them.” In other cities bathhouses were under threat of closure from state health departments, and their monitoring programs, some implemented so the clubs could remain open, were only lackadaisically enforced.
The attempted policing of HIV transmission has been in the news a lot lately. Soon after four porn stars revealed they had been infected with HIV in early September, calls for laws requiring condom usage on set began to spring up again. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a public advocacy group at the forefront of the debate, argued for a previous law that voters passed in Los Angeles, saying that the adult film industry should protect its workers despite economic pressures to the contrary. They say condom usage is an occupational health measure for porn stars and should be as routine as requiring construction workers to wear helmets. Until filmmakers’ feet are held to the regulatory fire, many advocates believe actors will face an untenable choice between the risk of HIV infection or losing work in a latex-phobic industry. In response, adult filmmakers threatened to move their operations to Nevada. A “sexodus,” some called it. Industry representatives complained that compliance with condom laws would mean less viewer interest in their films.