Must porn stars get tested?

The gay porn world makes actors wear rubbers and doesn't test for STIs. That's changing, and not everyone's happy

Topics: Pornography, LGBT, HIV, AIDS,

Must porn stars get tested?

The gay porn industry has always had HIV-positive performers. A self-regulating policy of condoms and no testing — the inverse of the straight porn world, which prefers testing and no condoms — has allowed it. But that’s changed in some corners, where testing for sexually transmitted diseases is being mandated alongside rubbers. Testing positive means that you’re blocked from performing, even with condoms — and for some in the business, this raises concerns about discrimination and medical privacy.

Unlike in straight porn, condoms became the norm in gay porn because “gay male culture lives with HIV as a day-to-day reality,” says Joanne Cachapero, spokesperson for Adult Production Health and Safety Services (APHSS), which now oversees testing for the industry. It required “a few activists” to push the issue, however. J.C. Adams, an author and editor on Gay Porn Times and the author of “Gay Porn Heroes,” explains: “In the late ’80s and early ’90s, gay adult (porn) performed a very real public service. Producers and directors took it upon themselves to incorporate condoms into their films,” he says. Embedded in that cultural experience is the belief that condoms provide the best protection against HIV — better than testing, which comes with a window of potential false negatives, and certainly better than taking someone’s word that they’re negative.

“But it’s starting to change,” says Michael Stabile, who has both worked in the adult industry and written about it as a journalist. “I’d say about half the [gay] studios now test.” Some of those studios are bareback (i.e., no condoms), and some are “affiliated with straight companies that have adopted blanket policies,” he says. In August, Men.com (which is under the massive porn conglomerate Manwin, which also owns several popular straight porn production companies) implemented mandatory testing for its gay productions. Given the site’s popularity, it has sparked conversation about whether the move represents a sea change and has revived debates about the place of testing in gay porn.

It’s a reliably contentious issue: While studios like Next Door and Phoenixxx confirmed their mandatory testing policy to me, a representative at Falcon refused to comment on its testing policy. As for APHSS, Cachapero tells me, “We support either testing or condoms.” But she adds, “since some STIs can be contracted even with a condom, there needs to be testing in any case.”



Part of the change may be attributed to the growth of porn conglomerates that produce both gay and straight porn. Related is the rise of the “gay-for-pay” genre, or cross-over stars: men who perform in both sides of the business. (Such performers, and disparate gay-straight policies, have been targeted with blame in the wake of HIV scares in the industry.) Stabile suggests another possible cause: “In the past year, oral cum shots have really, really exploded” — so to speak. He continues, “It used to be incredibly rare in gay [porn] — I remember a blow up a few years ago when [a porn company] tried to include it in a movie — but suddenly everyone does it.”

He also sees a “bigger trend” in gay porn of going without condoms — ironic given that the L.A.-based straight porn industry seems to be moving toward rubbers, thanks to a ballot initiative to mandate them. So the rise in testing may be “epiphenomonal,” Stabile says.

Whatever the cause, critics of mandatory testing say the ultimate result is a violation of medical privacy. Zach Sire, editor of TheSword.com, a gay “gossip rag,” worries about leaks: “When you have all these different people sharing private health records, this information has a tendency to slip out.” A number of recent incidents have stoked such concerns — namely, the Porn Wikileaks incident last year, in which the identities and private medical records of more than 15,000 adult performers were published online, and the outing of HIV-positive performer Mason Wyler the year before.

Porn star Conner Habib disagrees with “the discriminatory act of telling someone who is HIV positive that they can’t work,” even with condoms. “It’s the whole weird Lyndon LaRouche thing of wanting to quarantine people with HIV in the ’80s,” he says, referring to the activist who believed AIDS could be spread through casual contact. “It’s just like, well, we understand what’s going on now. Why do you want to bring back that quarantine mentality?”

Chi Chi LaRue, a legendary director of both straight and gay porn, agrees that it’s “really discriminatory” and says, “I consider everyone a risk. That’s why I take precautions and don’t do risky sex behavior on my sets. I haven’t done a scene without a condom.”

An online poll of gay porn performers by TheSword.com found that 30 percent of respondents were either positive or didn’t know their status. The head of a gay porn company, who asked to remain anonymous, went so far as to estimate that, based on conversations with fellow producers, 50 to 60 percent of performers in the gay industry are HIV positive. Clearly, there’s a yawning gap between 30 and 60 percent — there just aren’t reliable numbers.

These sorts of concerns about discrimination are especially strong in the gay community. Stabile explains, “A lot of men who are running studios came of age in the ’80s and ’90s, and issues like status confidentiality and HIV discrimination hold much more significance than they do in the straight community.”

Andy Kay, a director at BoyCrush.com, which requires testing and condoms, admits that it’s discriminatory, but says, “In my mind, people who are positive don’t have a place in porn.” That’s because he’s seen “countless condoms break,” he says. Kay adds, “I couldn’t live with myself if one of my models contracted an incurable disease on one of my sets.”

Stephen Sirard, owner of Next Door Studios, which produces straight, gay and bisexual porn, says he maintains a testing-and-condoms policy for good reason: In the past 10 years of routine testing for his talent pool, he’s only seen one month in which no models tested positive for an STI. “Every month, someone tests positive for chlamydia and gonorrhea,” he says. Sirard says Next Door Studios is the only North American gay porn company to require such a full battery of tests — for HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The company is even considering adding a test for herpes.

Some object to mandatory testing because they perceive an undercurrent of homophobia. “A lot of times, it seems to me that this is put in place to appease those with this idea that gay men have AIDS and that, if you have sex with a gay man, you’re going to get AIDS and die,” says Habib, who has written for Salon. He sees it as a way “to pander to people who are heterosexual who are coming in” to the gay side of the business, typically in the “gay-for-pay” genre.

Given that most gay companies that mandate testing also require condoms, he doesn’t see the point of testing — especially given that it comes along with discrimination and potential violation of medical privacy. He says, “If you have people using condoms for everything other than oral sex, then I’m not sure how necessary these tests are in the first place. It seems to me there’s an implicit misinformation there, like that you can easily get HIV from having oral sex.” He also points to the window period in which false negatives are a possibility.

LaRue believes that relying on testing is “kind of foolish and [gives] a false sense of security.” I’ve been called a ‘condom Nazi’ since I started,” he says. Sire echoes this sentiment: “The only way to really be safe is to use condoms.”

Kay sees a generational difference in the approach to condoms versus testing — or, really, condoms versus condoms-and-testing. “I think that because of the AIDS scare, most directors who made it through that era trust condoms with their lives,” he says. “I can understand that and, as a young director, I don’t try to argue with them on it.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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