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HIV and the Porn Industry: Testing, Condoms and Trust

HIV and the Porn Industry: Testing, Condoms and Trust
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On June 4, Patient Zero was tested for HIV. She worked on June 5, and her results came in positive for HIV presence in the bloodstream on June 6. At that point, all hell began to break loose.

  Legal and Consumer Concerns

Safer sex activists and many sex-positive voices question whether it’s ethically responsible for the adult industry to not require condoms. Whether it’s the belief that consumers need to see responsible behavior, or that testing is imperfect and shouldn’t be relied upon, a vocal number of writers and educators strongly favor a condom-only (or at least, condom-highly-recommended) system. In fact, Michael Weinstein, head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, says that “L.A. County Public Health officials have been asleep at the switch with regard to monitoring HIV and STD prevention and testing in the region’s porn industry,” and has called for Los Angeles County to use existing regulations to require condom use on all sets—as a matter of both preserving the health of the actors and actresses, and to protect the “public health.”

Even psychologists have taken notice of the condom issue. Steve Livingston, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto and a contributor to the Psychology Today website, noted: “It is very hard to see how most pornography is instructive for contraception or disease control. Condom use is infrequent in these media—supposedly because consumers prefer viewing ‘bareback” sex—and demonstrations of other prophylaxes (e.g., dental dams for cunnilingus) are all but non-existent.”

Livingston goes on to quote a pair of 2002 studies that show “regular consumption of romance novels was associated with reduced self-reported intent to use condoms, and second, the depiction of condom use within a romantic story context increased self-reported intent to use condoms.” If that argument applies to porn via video, then that gives more credence to the need for condom use in films in order to encourage viewers, and the general public, to use them.

Throw into the mix the issue of the California Occupational Health & Safety Administration. Cal/OSHA’s laws about bodily fluid exchange are obviously being broken. However, some feel that if the industry were to be more tightly regulated in California (following OSHA guidelines), it would drive many mainstream companies out of business and would lead to more underground filming. AIM and the testing standards that are followed in the industry would no longer be standard practice, which might ultimately result in losing safety precautions that are currently in place.

Cal/OSHA’s website clearly states that the blood borne pathogens standards require “employers to use feasible engineering and work practice controls to protect workers from coming into contact with blood or other disease-carrying body fluids”—including semen and vaginal fluids. They detail various examples of how to do so, including simulating sex acts though acting and post-production, ejaculating outside of the orifice in question, and the use of condoms and dental dams. OSHA also states that employers may not discriminate against any worker who complains about unsafe working conditions, which means that actors who request condoms and are suddenly dropped from call lists could conceivably choose to bring complaints forward and put to the industry. During the 2004 outbreak, Cal/OSHA followed up on complaints by investigating and fining two production companies for failing to comply with bloodborne pathogen standards. During the past week, Cal/OSHA has reportedly visited the AIM offices, and plans, as of this writing, to subpoena records to determine which producer hired the infected actress.

So, what is the future of the porn industry? Likely to not change, in the long run. Apparently the current outbreak is due to one actress, who was not tested prior to performing after more than 30 days since her last test. Whether the production company chose to not check the database, or to ignore the “past due” testing status, or whether there was actual lying involved on the part of the actress, has yet to be ascertained; what we do know is that over the 11 years since AIM came into existence, a total of six performers have tested positive, according to AIM (who reported an additional 12 people that they noted were not adult industry performers)—and that is without any industry-wide standards that regulate the use of any barriers (including condoms) for what are unquestionably high-risk activities for STI transmission.

The adult industry is run on trust—handshake agreements that everyone is supposed to abide by, yet, obviously, not all do. In a perfect world, trust would be enough—the actors trust the production companies to watch out for their collective health, the production companies trust the actors to be truthful and practice safer sex. But, with that trust showing signs of abuse, is trust enough for porn stars to risk their lives on? And even if they are willing to do so – is it ethically and morally responsible for an industry that is based on the marketing of fantasy to put that fantasy before the potential for disease that they expose their own workers to? Do we, as a society, really need for our porn to be made and marketed in a bubble of faux safety, where we simply don’t see any indications of responsible sexual practices? Or is it past time, as some commentators believe, for the porn industry to reflect safer sex practices in a demonstrable way, not only encouraging healthier behavior for consumers but also protecting the health of actors and actresses in the industry.

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