California: Keeping It Safe After the Clothes Come Off

Former adult-film performer Darren James, whose 2004 HIV diagnosis shut down California's porn industry for one month, is now part of a campaign to require the use of condoms on production sets to decrease the risk of infections. James said he does not know specifically how he acquired the virus, but he does know he unwittingly passed it to three female co-workers. "They're nice people and I felt bad," he said.

Inside the industry, condoms are considered a profit-killer by many, and performers understand that an insistence on using condoms would result in their getting little or no work.

"I have tried every possible way to convince a lot of companies to use condoms," said Sharon Mitchell, who runs the Adult Industry Health Care Foundation, an industry-sponsored clinic that screens performers for STDs and HIV every 30 days. "Still, a lot of people don't like to use them for personal reasons and some people don't like to use them for professional reasons."

"The truth is that when people watch adult movies, they're watching for the fantasy, and they don't want to see condoms," said Steve Hirsch, CEO of Vivid Entertainment. "Condoms in adult movies just don't sell well." Mandating their use would likely push the industry underground, he added.

Even so, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is currently suing the Los Angeles County Public Health Department and major adult-film producers to require condom use. "I believe that every performer wants to wear condoms on set," said AHF President Michael Weinstein. "I believe that every producer should be required to have the workers on that set, the performers on that set" use condoms, he said. Weinstein noted that with other Hollywood actors, "you can't have them do stunts without protection."