One of the most troublesome aspects of the condom use in the adult industry is the possibility of a performer developing a latex allergy. When some people hear the word allergy they think running nose, itchy eyes and some mild discomfort. However, an allergic reaction to latex, especially latex gloves and/or condoms is a much more serious allergy then just that. Quite honestly an allergic reaction to latex condoms/gloves can cause shock and even death. There are no studies pertaining to just latex condoms. The following article is based on exposure to latex and health care employees that wear latex gloves to prevent exposure to blood borne pathogens. However, certain parallels may be drawn.
The issue is so serious that OSHA has developed a Bulletin about exposure to latex ( Please see: http://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib012808.html ). Currently there are no federal regulations concerning latex gloves or condoms however twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have all developed their own standards and enforcement policies for latex exposure.
Who is Allergic to Latex…
According to OSHA;
“With more widespread use of NRL (natural rubber latex) gloves after 1987 there was an increase in reported NRL sensitization and allergic reactions among patients and among employees, notably health care employees. In rare cases, these allergic reactions can be fatal…The majority of health care employees are able to use NRL products to care for most patients. However, some employees may develop sensitivity to NRL upon repeated exposure.”
An allergic reaction to latex condoms is actually something that can develop over time. A particular person may not be sensitive to latex at first but through prolonged and repeated exposures they may actually become seropositive for anti-latex antibodies. More disturbing is that it is currently impossible to determine who may or may not become allergic over time. According to OSHA;
“It is not possible, at present, to determine which employees will become sensitized or symptomatic on exposure to NRL allergenic proteins. Moreover, the extent of an individual employee’s reaction, or the length of time required for such allergic reactions to develop in a sensitized employee, cannot be ascertained. Finally, it is not possible, at present, to predict which individuals will progress from sensitization or from local contact urticaria to more dangerous allergic reactions, nor when this progression may occur.”
Typically, 1-17% of the population is sensitive to latex. Not surprisingly those that are exposed to latex on a regular and repeated basis, tend to be in the high range while the general population are in the lower range. Sensitivity has been found in;
“Health care employees particularly affected include operating room personnel, dental patient care staff, special-procedure and general-medical nurses, laboratory technicians, and hospital housekeeping personnel consistently exposed to NRL. NRL sensitization or allergic response or reaction has also been reported in greenhouse employees, hairdressers,doll manufacturing employees, and employees in a glove manufacturing plant.”
If condom use increases in the adult industry I am sure that “adult performer” will be added to the list of employees noted above. Based on the several studies it would be safe to assume that between 1-17% of all performers may develop a latex sensitivity from repeated condom use. Assuming there are 1500 performers that currently work in Los Angeles adult industry this condition could affect anywhere between 15 to 255 of the current performers (Please see: http://www.latexallergyresources.org/statistics ).
Symptoms of Latex Allergy/Sensitivity…
If someone is allergic to latex what are the symptoms that one can expect to experience ? OSHA has defined reactions into three categories;
“These categories include reactions that vary from localized redness and rash; to nasal, sinus, and eye symptoms; to asthmatic manifestations, including cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, and chest tightness; to in some cases, severe systemic reactions with swelling of the face, lips, and airways that may progress rapidly to shock and, potentially, death.”
The most basic reaction is contact dermatitis which OSHA describes as;
“The allergic contact dermatitis has an appearance similar to the typical poison ivy reaction, with blistering, itching, crusting, oozing lesions. Also, like poison ivy, this dermatitis appears 24-72 hours after the use of gloves or exposure to other sources of chemical sensitizers.”
Obviously, having blistering, oozing and itchy lesions on an adult performer’s genitals is something that doesn’t inspire thoughts of sexiness. And of course those performers will lose considerable income even waiting for the lesions to heal before trying to work again. However, the more important aspect to this issue is the very real potential thread of shock or even death within minutes;
“A type I reaction can occur within seconds to minutes of exposure to the allergen (in the case of NRL, to allergenic natural rubber proteins), either by touching a product with the allergen (e.g., gloves) or by inhaling the allergen (e.g., powder to which natural rubber proteins from gloves have adsorbed). When such a reaction begins in highly sensitive individuals, it can progress rapidly from swelling of the lips and airways to shortness of breath, and may progress to shock and death, sometimes within minutes.”
It is imperative that anyone in the sex worker community, not just those that perform in adult entertainment, be aware of latex sensitivity and allergies. I strongly recommend that everyone reading this article do their own research and talk to their own healthcare professional.
A great start place is at the website of the American Latex Allergy Association ( Please see: http://www.latexallergyresources.org/ ). I would also recommend visiting the U.S. Department of Labor’s website as well ( Please see: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/latexallergy/index.html ).
There are options to using latex condoms. Non latex condoms are manufactured for those that are either allergic or have developed a sensitivity to latex. However, it should be noted that lambskin condoms do not contain latex but they are ineffective for stopping the transmission of the HIV virus. A non-latex Polyurethane condom must be used.