Will porn ever be HIV-free?

Another performer's positive test highlights the challenges of mandating condom use in adult films

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published August 31, 2011 12:30AM (EDT)

As news of another alleged HIV case in the adult-film industry makes headlines, the debate over requiring condoms on California porn sets is sure to be revived. It's important to note, though, that even if prophylactics had been mandated in the state, it's unlikely that a number of recent on-set transmissions, including this latest case, would have been prevented. That's because the actors are said to have been infected on out-of-state shoots.

In 2004, Darren James tested positive for HIV, and it's believed he contracted the virus during a shoot in Rio de Janeiro. He infected three actresses shortly after returning to California's San Fernando Valley, aka Porn Valley. Six years later, Derrick Burts was allegedly infected during a gay porn shoot in Florida. Although the details of the latest HIV case are still unclear, word from all corners of the industry is that it stems from another Florida shoot. If this is true, it highlights the limited reach of recent efforts to crack down on shoots in California and, more important, highlights the difficulty of effectively mandating condoms throughout the industry.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has pushed for stricter state laws in California, hoping to mandate condom use on sets in one of the capitals of the adult-film business. They even sued Los Angeles County in 2009 for failing to prevent HIV infections in the business. Already, California's Division of Occupational Health and Safety has interpreted an existing law protecting workers against blood-borne pathogens to mean that it has the authority to require condom use on porn sets -- but it simply doesn't have the manpower to effectively enforce it. Still, there is a strong argument to be made for harm reduction: Just because a mandate in California can't be fully enforced, or prevent infections from happening elsewhere, doesn't mean it shouldn't happen.

But, as I've reported in the past, some pornographers argue that pressure to tighten regulations in California will only lead to more out-of-state production and that, given the inability to effectively monitor condom use, a strict mandate will actually undermine routine testing of performers (the thinking being that the industry will rely on either testing or condoms, but not both). Adding to the confusion: The industry is currently in the midst of a transition to a new system for testing and oversight. Adult Industry Medical Associates closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in May following a lawsuit by none other than the AHF.

Amid this murky mess, one thing remains clear: Condomless porn continues to be made because viewers demand it. And, as free online smut booms and triple-X fans become increasingly detached consumers, how likely is that to change? 

Tracy Clark-Flory

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