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National News

Adult Film Industry: See No Evil

January 17, 2003

In the heterosexual adult film industry, which is legal and utterly unregulated, actors and actresses are often discouraged from using prophylactics during filming because porn producers believe the public wants to see unprotected sex.

The adult film business, which has expanded to include the most risqué forms of sex widely referred to as "triple-X," has a modest form of self-regulation in which some companies request health tests before performers go on camera. But even that practice is neither widespread nor tightly monitored.

Some companies, such as Vivid Video Inc. in Van Nuys and VCA Pictures in Chatsworth, insist that performers bring a recent HIV test result to the set and use condoms when they perform. But dozens of triple-X filmmakers have no such requirements. Even when they do, the rules can be easily overlooked, according to interviews with more than three dozen actresses working for various triple-X companies.

"It's up to the talent to say [to other performers], 'Let me see your HIV test,' or 'Hey, I need a condom,'" says Robert Herrera, production chief of Simon Wolf Productions in Chatsworth. "It'd be great to have everyone wear a condom and a good thing to force everyone to test for everything. But it's impossible to do that in this business."

Gay pornographers abide by a different set of rules: No condom, no HIV test, no audience. Nearly all gay triple-X production studios throughout the industry demand condom use and other protections. The decision is rooted in financial concerns. While there is a niche audience for films that depict unprotected sex, few retail and Internet outlets will carry such movies for fear of drawing public criticism.

"They all wear condoms," says Roger Tansey, former executive director of Aid for AIDS, a West Hollywood-based nonprofit that provides financial assistance for people with HIV. "Gay actors and gay viewers don't see unprotected sex as a fantasy. They see it as watching death on the screen."

The extent of infection among porn industry actors is unknown because no government or regulatory medical agency has ever tracked the industry consistently. The limited data that do exist are alarming.

The Adult Industry Medical HealthCare Foundation, an industry-backed clinic in Sherman Oaks, administered voluntary tests to a group consisting primarily of adult film workers. Of 483 people tested between October 2001 and March 2002, about 40 percent had at least one disease. Nearly 17 percent tested positive for chlamydia, 13 percent for gonorrhea and 10 percent for hepatitis B and C, according to Sharon Mitchell, a former adult actress who founded AIM. None of the tests came up positive for HIV, Mitchell said.

The chlamydia rates in the porn industry are about 57 times higher than the level defined as epidemic. But that and other statistics can also be explained by the small size of the population and its abnormally high rate of sexual activity.

There are two leading candidates for tracking the San Fernando Valley porn industry. But officials of the Los Angeles County Health Department said they do not have the staff or the money to monitor it. And a spokesperson for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health called the industry "too fragmented, too hard to track. We rely on employees to give us tips about unsafe working conditions."

Back to other CDC news for January 17, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Los Angeles Times Magazine
01.12.03; P.J. Huffstutter

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.