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Meet Karen Tynan, the Woman Trying to Keep Condoms out of Adult Film

Meet Karen Tynan, the Woman Trying to Keep Condoms out of Adult Film: Photo via Grace Mendenhall

Photo via Grace Mendenhall

The adult entertainment industry is generally thought to be run by men, for men. (FYI: It’s not.) However, in times of legal crisis or cultural attack, the cadre of “industry attorneys” on call are all, invariably, men. Until now.

In November 2012, 59.96 percent of LA County voters approved Measure B, which mandated the use of barrier protection (read: condoms) in adult content shot in Los Angeles County. Karen Tynan, an attorney who specializes in defending California employers in occupational safety and health proceedings, was subsequently brought on by the adult industry’s trade organization, Free Speech Coalition (FSC), to help fight any further statewide or national “condom mandate.”

Tynan is a fish out of water. She has a sweet Southern charm, a splashy, sassy, slightly sarcastic demeanor and is a lady working in labor law, which is generally just as much of a sausage factory as adult film is thought to be. After a few minutes of conversation, you realize there’s way more to Tynan than you’d expect.

I sat down with the jurisprudential badass and self-described “courtroom tiger” once via Skype and again at The Phoenix Forum, a B2B adult industry trade show held annually in the spring.


Regarding LA County’s condom mandate, what’s going on right now?

It’s the never-ending battle. Every year AIDS Healthcare Foundation [AHF] makes new efforts in Sacramento with some lame condom bill, and the industry has to rally to fend off [AHF’s proposed] overreaching government regulations – things that would require latex gloves and dental dams in porn. There’s a new Cal/OSHA proposed regulation pending in California also. My clients and I are opposed to government regulations that take away autonomy for performers and drive the adult entertainment industry underground; 2015 is a big year for the industry.

You defend porn employers in occupational safety and health proceedings. How did you develop such a specialized client base?

It’s not a long story. It only goes back about five years. I started defending Adult Industry Medical (AIM), the Los Angeles clinic that served adult film performers. Cal/OSHA had inspected the clinic and was seeking performer medical records. I worked with the ACLU to defeat those efforts. California privacy laws protect medical records, including performers’. After that, my first studio representation was a San Francisco-based gay studio that had been cited by Cal/OSHA for a condom violation, and I got a great result for them. It all just snowballed from there. It’s a close-knit industry, and once you do well for one client, other clients just naturally call. It’s all word of mouth.

What exactly do you do for your clients?

I fix problems. These studios are active employers with lots of business in California and nationally. I mostly practice employment and regulatory law, like wage and hour compliance, but that’s evolved into lots of general work for some of my bigger clients. I defend sexual harassment lawsuits, wrongful termination claims and breach-of-contract type actions. When adult companies refuse to use condoms and get cited by Cal/OSHA, I defend them. I also do lobbying for my clients in Sacramento where we have to work against statewide condom mandates and proposed regulations against the adult film industry. And since I’m a solo practitioner, my phone is always on, 24/7/365.

Photo via Grace Mendenhall

Photo via Grace Mendenhall

How does being one of the few women attorneys working in the adult industry play out?

It’s definitely a male-dominated industry, and the lawyering associated with the adult film industry is also male-dominated. But my background in the merchant marine prepared me to navigate a workplace that at least appears to be misogynistic. I think my gender helps me represent my clients more effectively. I come across in the courtroom or in Sacramento as an ordinary volleyball-mom type. When I talk about sex or BDSM or squirting or whatever, I make it sound like buttercups and daisies. That’s pretty darn helpful.

What don’t people know about the adult film business?

Adult film performers are not wounded or broken people. Generalizations like that really annoy me and, frankly, they’re insulting. There are some incredibly brilliant people in the industry. Are there some goofballs, too? Sure. But I can tell you there are some goofballs in every industry from the construction industry to the wine business to whatever company. The stereotype of performers as “broken winged birdies” is just flat out wrong. That typecast feeds some kind of societal need to stigmatize female performers, and I find it offensive.

How do you reconcile working with some of the hardest of hardcore adult content producers with being a mother to a college-aged daughter?

My thoughts have definitely evolved over the last five years. When I started repping adult companies, I wasn’t as intricately involved in operations or as aware of the details of production as I am today. Frankly, I just didn’t know there were so many genres of porn, and I had no idea who Nina Hartley was. I was completely unfamiliar with just about everything “porn.” But since then, the more I have come to know about production and different genres, the more I have come to respect, and in some ways embrace, my clients.

Look, some of the adult content I defend may not be my ‘cup of tea,’ but it’s somebody’s. Who am I to be critical of someone wants to watch ‘Electrosluts’ or if a guy enjoys cuckold porn. There are consenting adults enjoying legally-protected content, and it’s my job to help my clients be compliant and follow laws and be good employers while they create content desired by the consumer.

What about the impact on your personal life?

Well… (long pause) You know, I did have an older lady on a non-profit board that I was serving on give me a hard time about my work. That was weird. But as I started to get more industry clients, I had a long talk with my daddy, and he was fine with my work. So if my daddy’s fine with it, that’s what matters. My mom does my accounting and filing. My sisters respect my success and cheer me on.

Friendships and dating have been interesting. I do have deep and abiding friendships in the adult industry, close friendships, but I don’t date within the industry. As a lawyer, it’s just bad form to date clients anyway. As a single gal I try to hold off telling a guy anything more than that I am a boring employment and regulatory law attorney. That said, I will say that I’ve asked some of my good friends for some advice about particular aspects of “extracurricular activities.”

Tell me about this new thing you have going licensing and marketing weed strains and paraphernalia with high profile porn performers.

I have a client in the medical marijuana business, Natural Cannabis, and I have many clients in the porn business. One of my gay porn clients, Treasure Island Media, asked if I could help them get a strain of weed for cross-branding. I made that call and set up the business deal. That day, when I was driving home on the 101, I thought, ‘Why aren’t performers making celebrity endorsements of their favorite strains?’ I made a few phone calls, and within a week performers were flying in to Northern California to pick their strains, tour pot farms and finalize packaging. I think this is going to be huge as more states legalize marijuana. Plus, these are hot ladies choosing their favorite strains for their fans – somebody should have done this years ago!


Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is a sociologist living in Los Angeles. Her book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment comes out in July. Follow her on Twitter at @drchauntelle.


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