Wednesday, October 13, 2010
It's October 12th, 2010. The adult, social-networking community is in a panic. My Twitter feed displays messages like this:
Has anyone heard anything about this possible HIV outbreak?
Rumors circulate. People seem to freak out. I text a friend about it, but she doesn't know anything. Five minutes later, her status update reads:
Does anyone have any links to actual *real* news regarding the HIV scare?
Hyper-links are posted within the hour. Both AVN magazine and The Los Angeles Times confirm reports that AIM (Adult Industry Medical) has made a statement:
“AIM has confirmed that an adult industry performer has tested positive for HIV. We are currently quarantining and testing all exposed partners and we will have no further information until the end of the week. We are contacting everyone that might have been exposed. Please check the AIM database to confirm all tests” (http://business.avn.com/articles/Adult-Performer-Tests-HIV-415455.html).
Further reports claim "patient zero" is male and a performer in both gay and straight, adult films. One of the industry's openly bi-sexual performers predicts a backlash against what little progress he's made in gay/straight, cross-over acceptance. By the end of the night, he's proved a modern-day Nostradamus.
A straight, male performer posts this update:
I have no problem with gay people... But pick a side and stick with it! STOP DOUBLE DIPPING!!!
It's not the only response of its kind.
The usual pool of pro-queer performers fight back:
You're a douchebag. Don't turn HIV outbreak into gay bashing. We're all in the same industry. Grow up!
Fights rage over the internet. Attempts are made to quell the electronic-violence. Statistics are tossed back and forth, articles posted from the Center for Disease Control. Everyone seems to have an opinion.
Then the classic questions arise. Should the adult industry require mandatory condom use? If so, who should enforce it? The Los Angeles County? What about OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)? Why aren't there already greater safety precautions put in place?
For those outside the industry, the questions might continue: Aside from a few niche films, I haven't seen a single condom on screen. Do pornographers do anything to prevent against STI transmission?
Why, thanks for asking. Yes, we do.
Adult Industry Medical (AIM) is a non-profit organization, co-founded by ex-porn star, Dr. Sharon Mitchell. Since its inception back in 1998, AIM has gone on to open two clinics, provide counseling services and support group programs, and implement testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (among other things).
In congruence with AIM, the straight (heterosexual) side of the adult industry now adheres to a self-regulated standard. All talent must provide evidence of negative blood and urine test results for HIV, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea before performing in any given production. Further, the test results may not be older than thirty days. Essentially, an adult performer must get tested at least every thirty days to continue working in the industry.
Some companies hold themselves to even higher standards, requiring STI tests no more than fourteen days old. High-profile performers are known to request tests as fresh as two-days old.
The precautions taken are admirable, especially in an industry labeled with such reprehension by the mainstream media. But do these precautions prevent STI transmission? Well, yes and no.
Obviously, testing does nothing to prevent the transmission of fluids. It only offers a decreased likelihood that those fluids contain sexually transmitted diseases. The practice of regulated testing is prevention only in the sense that without it, things would be much worse.
Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Herpes already run rampant in the industry. Just like a professional athlete will most likely incur a number of minor injuries throughout his career, a professional sex worker will surely sit a few weeks out while recovering from “the clap.” It's an unfortunate job hazard, but one all performers should be aware of. Regular testing helps curb the spread of outbreaks when they occur, but it does little to outright prevent them.
So why not implement the use of condoms in all pornographic productions? The biggest argument is that doing so will hurt sales.
The claim is that pornography embodies a fantasy. Consumers want to see unprotected sex because, in a perfect world, that's the way it should be. It's a little difficult to confirm this speculation given that few productions have tested the waters. But one of the larger adult companies, Wicked, already shoots exclusively condom-only content. One can only assume, by the scale of their high-end productions, that sales are not effected.
However, porn caters to as many fantasies as presumably exist. Wicked might hit their target demographic, but what about everyone else? The obvious answer is, “Who cares? The health of employees should always be put before the sales of a company.” But as adult performer, Drew Deveaux, points out in her blog entry, “Safer for Whom?,” the issue is more complicated:
“When we think about the implications on the generic 'performer' were mandatory barrier use to be the norm, what we’d be doing is creating a more narrow range of images that will necessarily appeal to a smaller audience leading to obvious tangible economic implications. How do we consider the impact such changes would have on the economic health and well-being of hundreds of performers? Arguably even more problematic is the creation of an underground industry to fill the niche that would still very much be there. Given the (semi) illegal nature of this hypothetical industry, performers working in those contexts could be facing way more risk (likely for less pay) than the managed, minimal risk currently taken on by those working in an industry that has done a bang-up job at self-regulation in the absence of 'lawmakers' telling us how to work or be safe” (http://www.drewdeveaux.com/site/?p=53).
Her point is that even if condoms become mandatory, some consumers are going to want to see content without them. And some companies are going to want to meet that demand. The safety of the performers involved in such productions would probably face similar risks to those of contemporary prostitutes working outside the boundaries of the law. I think everyone can agree that such risks are potentially greater than what exist today.
Also: on a day-to-day basis, my experience is that most performers prefer not to use condoms on set. I can't claim to know everyone's preference, but according to those I've spoken to about the subject, most feel that AIM testing is a sufficient precaution. Lack of comfort, allergic reactions, and simple love for bareback sex are among the reasons given, but they all go out the window once the threat of HIV is near.
In 2009, after news of an HIV outbreak occurred, I performed in three scenes in a row, all of which required condoms. It had nothing to do with company policy. Three girls in a row felt uncomfortable performing without condoms, given the circumstances. And in all three instances, the companies agreed to shoot condom scenes.
This brings up two major points. One is that there IS an actual choice. When working for many companies, talent may request to do a condom scene. Whether or not this will hamper the amount of work for said talent is debatable. But it is possible to perform only in scenes where condoms are used for barrier protection.
The second point is that HIV outbreaks have happened before.
In 2004, prior to my involvement in the industry, pornographic production came to a standstill when an “HIV-positive male porn star, Darren James, infected three female performers with whom he'd filmed sex scenes. James, who had recently worked outside the U.S., was not aware of his positive status at the time he performed” (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/10/porn-actor-has-tested-positive-for-hiv-industry-clinic-officials-confirm.html).
I'm not sure of the ramifications outside of production delays for the 2004 incident. But last year, in 2009, an HIV outbreak hit the industry once more. No names were released to the public, but rumors spread that “patient zero” was a woman involved in the Los Angeles swinger scene. Aside from the usual panic and postponement of shoots, the adult industry faced a threat to both its privacy and self-regulated testing practices.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) subpoenaed AIM for the records of every patient tested and/or treated at either of their medical facilities. According to AIM:
“Cal-OSHA made no secret of its intention to use whatever information it might have obtained through this subpoena to establish connections between AIM patients and the producers who engage them and thus to justify the imposition of potentially ruinous fines on those producers on the dubious grounds of engagement in proximity to the detection of sexually transmitted infections.
This was a heavy-handed attempt by a state agency to write new law expansively reinterpreting its mandate with the intent of punishing adult video producers for misfortunes to which those producers causal relationship cannot be medically or legally established. The court found Cal-OSHA's claims to such authority entirely meritless and its methods in contravention of existing law” (http://www.aim-med.org/news/2009/10/20/1256052533/index2.html).
To this day, AIM has debts in excess of $170,000 due to the legal fees associated with the Cal-OSHA litigation. Because of financial troubles, one of its clinics has since shut down permanently. AIM now operates out of one facility in Sherman Oaks, California.
Given the circumstances, it is almost necessary to question the intent behind state regulation of the adult industry's health practices. Cal-OSHA did nothing but harm the preventative measures already put in place. And if they were successful with the subpoena, it appears all they would have done is fine (shut down) some production companies. With fewer production companies, there is less work. And still, no further preventative measures.
So who's interest does Cal-OSHA have in mind? Sex workers'? Most likely not.
Within the adult industry, backlash to HIV outbreaks consists of a different animal. Lukeford.com, a blog that disseminates adult industry news and gossip, promotes one of the more notoriously shared notions:
“Now the condom issue aside, there is something else porn stars can do to lessen their risk of problems and it’s as simple as saying “no!”. No[w], I don’t mean no to performing, I mean their no list. Your hands are not tied, you can dictate who you will and won’t work with and that includes risky performers... This should at the very least include any male OR female who has had sexual relations with a gay (or bisexual) male performer, and any male or female talent who has had sexual relations with a tranny” (http://lukeford.com/2010-10-12/attention-porn-stars-learn-to-say-no-and-maybe-save-your-life/).
This idea operates off the assumption that homosexual men and transsexual (M-to-F) women make up a higher risk population for the dissemination of HIV. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this is true:
“Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) represent approximately 2% of the US population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV and are the only risk group in which new HIV infections have been increasing steadily since the early 1990s” (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm).
Arguments can be made to why these statistics exist. They are comparable to arguments for why many racial minorities still remain in poverty. Social and political infrastructures are in place to help facilitate the perpetuation of stereotypes into realities. It's unfortunate. No amount of conservative, “personal responsibility” arguments will change this.
But the adult industry's association of HIV with gay/bi/trans performers is more complex than just a response to statistics.
The difference in preventative methods for STI transmission between the gay and straight “sides” of the adult industry is widely noted. Gay production companies require condoms but not tests. Straight companies require tests but not condoms. There are exceptions to both rules, but that's what they are: exceptions.
My own experiences validate these claims.
I did a few gay scenes at the beginning of my career (nearly five years ago) and was required to wear a condom for every one of them. Since then, I've gone condom-less for the majority of my straight porn career.
But upon more recent attempts to go back to performing in gay scenes, I found out something new. Gay companies are now requiring tests as well as condoms. Gay-straight-crossover performer, Wolf Hudson, writes this in his blog entry, “Jet Set Men Now Testing Models?”:
“It's a very tricky subject to tackle and some do not know where to even begin. Most, if not all gay porn websites require testing, Randy Blue and Cocky Boys come to mind, but never really a traditional DVD studio... until now” (http://wolfhudsonxxx.blogspot.com/2010/09/jet-set-men-now-testing-models.html).
The implication is that the gay “side” of the adult industry is segregated into different factions: those who promote testing, those that don't, those that are HIV-positive, and those who aren't. However, the trend seems to be going in one direction. Testing is becoming the norm.
But back to the straight industry's rejection of gay/bi/trans performers. Is the refusal to work with crossover talent a logical step in decreasing the likelihood of HIV outbreaks?
Consider this: Of the past three HIV outbreaks in the adult industry, only one “patient zero” is noted as having any affiliation with the gay “side” of the industry. Yet gay/bi/trans performers are the ONLY ones highlighted as risks for disseminating HIV to the rest of the talent pool.
It's hard to prove this, because there are no documented accusations that I know of, but even last year, when a presumably STRAIGHT WOMAN was outed as “patient zero,” I still bore witness to multiple accounts of slander against gay/bi/trans performers for somehow being a part of the incident. The only rumors about “patient zero” claimed she belonged to the swinger scene. No one got outraged at swingers, or claimed they should be added to talent's “no list.”
The fact is that gay/bi/trans performers are easy targets. Especially ones who out themselves as crossover performers. But they are just as likely as anyone else to be sexually responsible, or irresponsible. The only difference is the participation in slightly less conventional sexual behavior ON CAMERA.
Anyone who's been a part of the adult industry for any significant amount of time has no doubt heard countless rumors about who's an intravenous drug user, who escorts (a polite term for an upscale hooker), who has gay sex in their private life, and who has sex with transsexual women. Some of them are baseless, but a portion always turn out to be true. Each of the above stated behaviors could be considered “high risk,” and each are practiced by performers within the straight “side” of the industry. So when going to work, every performer puts themselves at risk. It's a part of being a sex worker. Surely, no one wants to increase that risk, but finding a scape goat is the worst possible way to address the issue.
I'll end this essay with two loaded questions. My point here should not be vague. As a performer in the straight “side” of the industry would you rather have sex with a man who you know has been tested through the same organization you have, within the same time-frame you have, who has had condom-only sex with other men, who is trying to fight against stereotypes and is therefore more likely to be responsible in his personal life, who is not hiding his sexual inclinations or activity, but happens to be bi-sexual? Or would you rather have sex with another stranger you know nothing about because you presume he must be straight?