Jun 212009
 

Those of us who work in the field of sexuality have been immersed in news and opinions regarding the issue of HIV in the porn industry of late. For those who missed the memo, a female porn actress was found to be HIV+ and worked at least one day after the positive test was administered.  According to some sources she was allowed to do this because HIV+ test results should be followed by a retest (false positives are more likely than false negatives) and she had not had her follow-up tests yet.  Other sources have said that her results did not come back until two days after testing, and she was allowed to work during that time.  Either way, it had been a little over a month since her last clean test and so she should not have been hired according to the porn industry’s self imposed testing mandate.  Thus far none of her co-stars have tested positive but it can take a while for tests to be accurate so we can’t be sure of their status yet. This sprinted to the front of the sexuality news thanks to an untrue statement released by the county that houses the testing center she went to; they said that as many as 16 porn stars had tested positive. In fact, there was only one; the rest were members of the general public or aspiring porn stars that used the clinic but were not involved in any movies.

She is the first to have tested positive since 2004, when one man and three women (who worked on the same film) all tested positive. HIV testing is something the porn industry has voluntarily instituted, and it is generally done at a clinic called AIM (Adult Industry Medical) that makes the results available to the porn movie companies.  Those who act in porn, or hope to, are expected to get a test for HIV every month (other STI tests may not be done).  The cost (over $100, according to one source) is paid by actors and actresses, out of pocket. Now there is a call that the state of California find a way to mandate that condoms be used on porn set.  California is reputed to be the largest producer of porn by far, and it is an important part of the state’s economy.  Their adult industry in San Fernando Valley is much larger than the county’s non-porn sets, although the total size of the porn industry has been subject to conflicting reports and sketchy research[Thanks to Tony Comstock for pointing out my faulty stats, they are now more accurate.] A state decision mandating condoms would have a huge influence on the industry and possibly on the whole economy of nearly-bankrupt California.  Most heterosexual porn does not include condoms, while man/man porn usually does.  Some companies tried using condoms in the 1980s but found that sales went down dramatically so they went back to barebacking.  That didn’t stop the gay porn industry from making the switch, though.  Some people feel that it was an artifact of the then-recent push for condoms in response to the AIDS epidemic, and that today’s young adult porn buyers are cooler with condoms.

There are porn stars on both sides of the issue though the studios are mostly against mandating condoms, and the public is divided with little understanding of the issues and few opportunities to hear from the actors and actress. I’ve done my best to scan through a host of articles and put up a bit of a summary for all of you. Please consider discussing the topic here, or any of the other sites that are hosting public conversation on the issue. News on this topic is sometimes contradictory, and continues to evolve. Please let me know if any corrections are needed to this summary.

In Favor of Mandating Condom Use in Porn
  • The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a huge provider of health care to the HIV+/AIDS community, is one of the leading groups in the fight to mandate condoms.  They accuse the State of California of neglecting to require common sense safety needs of porn stars.  They want all films to require condoms, and say that any who won’t should be shut down.  This group and the porn companies take turns accusing each other being in bed with the state government.  They made the bad pun, I’m just using their words!
  • The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has issued a few statements. You can read one of the more recent ones for yourself.
Against Mandating Condom Use in Porn
  • Current porn stars at Erotica LA (a huge annual porn industry convention that the public may attention in Cali) share their thoughts on their right to choose whether or not to work films that include condoms.  The article ends, however, with a statement from a pro-condom star who works for Wicked, the only major porn label to require condoms for all films.  Read it here.
  • The Adult Video News (AVN) publishes news slanted against the condom mandate, however it is still enlightening on their perspective.  In this article several respected names in the porn industry and among sexuality experts speak out against the condom ban.  Greene, a porn producer, points out that the incident rate of HIV in the porn industry is very low as-is, so the system must be working well.  His is convinced that requiring condoms would increase abrasion-related health risks to stars, is not affordable or enforceable, is not what customers want and would mean the end of the HIV testing set-up they use now…thus resulting in more HIV infections.  At points he says he is speaking for his partner, adult star Nina Hartley.  Dr. Marty Klein, a well respected sex positive sexuality expert, adds that this is a sorry attack by the anti-sex folks to gang up on the porn industry. He also points out that porn stars are contractors and not full time employees, and must be made employees in order to mandate condom use through workplace safety measures.  If they were employees it would not be legal to ask for their HIV status, thus resulting in the end of HIV testing.  There is also a section of anti-trans and anti-bi statements showing that bigotry that continues in the industry. Read all of it here.
  • Theresa Flynt, daughter of Larry Flynt and VP of their empire, says that actors are able to choose whether or not they will work with condoms in the porn industry.  She also says that customers at their stores don’t want condoms in their porn, as it ruins their fantasy.  All of the details are in the anti-condom-mandate AVN article found here.
In Favor of More Aggressive Safety Precautions, But Not Necessarily Through a Legal Mandate
  • Darren James, a former porn actor, became a public figure in 1994 when the AIM clinic publicly released his HIV+ status in spite of his objections.  He shares his heart breaking story in hopes that aspiring actors will be careful with their bodies, and to encourage the porn industry to require condoms (presumably without a legal requirement) in an article in the Las Angeles Times.
  • Belladonna, a famous porn actress, suggests that the porn industry start testing every week instead of every month.  Belladonna encourages her fellow porn stars to be better about using condoms in their private sex lives.  She also stresses that the public is unfairly scrutinizing the porn industry and states that she accepts that she is in a high risk line of work in her interview with Babeland.
  • Cory Silverberg, one of my favorite professional sex educators, likes the idea of condoms in general but is most highly in favor of opening public conversation on this topic in order to brainstorm the best possible range of solutions for everyone.  There is a good discussion going on in the comments (I’m in there, too) and I encourage you to check it out.
And what do I think? I’m pro-condoms, but unsure of the efficacy or desirability of a mandate. First, I would need to see some relevant research to decide if Greene and Hartley’s claims are true regarding increased risk to stars due to frequent condoms changes. If their assertions are not supported by research, then I would like to see the porn company take what they’ve done with testing and echo it with condom use. I suspect that if all companies began using condoms at once, especially considering the greater public acceptance of condoms, they would bounce back from any decline in business.
Until then, lets make a point of buying porn from companies that use condoms, like Wicked. At the very least we can confront the stereotype that we, as consumers, would rather put our entertainers at risk than deal with seeing virtually unnoticeable condoms in our porn. I prefer to believe that we’re not really that stupid or cruel, so back me up on that one!

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  7 Responses to “Update on HIV in the Porn Industry”

  1. ” Their adult industry is much larger than mainstream Hollywood, although many people don’t realize it.”

    Can you provide a citation for this? According to AIM, they serve a pool of about 1200 actors. SAG says they represent about 120,000 actors.

    I’m having trouble reconciling the fact that SAG is a 100 times bigger, yet you say porn is bigger than Hollywood. Do you have a reliable source for this information?

  2. You have my vote Ruth, better be safe than sorry despite that condoms work only 97% still it’s better to have one. I feel bad about these guys, it does look they could loose more than what they can gain from it. Mandating test fee sounds a bit steep, in the end if you got it you’ll still have to wear protection so why just not have protection all the time. I’m sure the adult industry is creative enough to find ways in heightening the sensuality in the movies with condoms on, I mean in my point of view naughty dresses and sexy tease with delightful moaning is far more sexy than focusing on crotch banging.

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  3. An interesting read at this blog http://bppa.blogspot.com/2009/06/latest-hiv-in-porn-panic-rumor-control.html

    Its as close to an insiders report as we are going to get I believe and blows some of what has been reported right out the window. Unfounded panic really annoys me.

  4. Tony – Thanks for bringing that up. I had been basing the comparison on what I’ve read about total industry profits, but it still looks like I need to make a correction on that. My reading came from a publication in The New York Times, which used cited a study by Forrester Research. It’s an older paper, yet it is one that continues to be repeated. However, I looked back into it after your comment and was surprised to find this article by Forbes debunking both sources. Oops! According to one of the AVN articles I cited for other things, and should have read a bit more slowly:

    The purpose of the march, according to AHF, is to “call for the introduction of landmark California legislation that would require the use of condoms by actors performing in porn videos produced by California’s multi-billion dollar adult entertainment industry — a mainstay of the San Fernando Valley economy.” “Mainstay,” though, is hardly the proper term. In fact, adult video/explicit content production is by far the Valley’s biggest industry, dwarfing every other including mainstream Hollywood’s satellite stages and the aerospace industry.

    Note that they switch from talking about the entire state to talking about San Fernando Valley, and “Hollywood’s satellite stages” – not the main ones, I guess.
    Thanks for pointing this out. I will add a note to the original post to alert future readers of the change.

  5. All fixed up, with a shout out to Tony!

  6. Thanks for the great link, elfing! It’s a very detailed and well written report.

  7. I would bet my money (and health) on a success rate in the high 90s any day! You do point out an important trend in a number of large porn companies, which is a push toward increasingly extreme/shocking/edgy stuff and away from the teasingly fun and delightful aspects of sexuality. I appreciate that there are others who find it sexy, but I am not likely to patronize studios where the actresses on the cover look miserable and they aren’t even in a S&M flick. Thankfully there are many companies, especially the smaller ones, who are seeking to satisfy us with lusty movies that are creative in directions that stimulate the senses without inducing gasps and grunts of shock. Perhaps these companies will also be the ones to help lead the way toward further-enhanced protective measured designed for and with their stars. Lets hear it for hot, non-dubbed moans!

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