NEW YORK TIMES
Sunday, May 2, 2004
How to put condoms in the picture
LOS ANGELES Another young performer in pornographic movies tested positive for H.I.V. last week. She is the third to do so in the last month, prompting a 60-day industry-wide halt to filming so that actors can be tested and re-tested for the virus. The testing has taken place at the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, the organization I founded in 1998 to provide sex-film performers counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Each month we give about 1,200 actors a test that can identify H.I.V. as early as 14 days after infection. We also test for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
It's very difficult to get sex-film actors to adhere to any regulation, but most of the performers follow our rules when the rest of the industry the producers, directors and distributors cooperates. They are the "parents" in this business, since a number of the people who act in these films are not emotionally healthy. Some are young and troubled, and their careers are short: the typical sex-film actor works in the industry for three months to three years.
The self-policing has worked. Two of the largest film companies, Vivid and Wicked Pictures, regularly use condoms and the other companies will if the actors insist on it. In 80,000 tests my organization has conducted since 1998, there have been only 14 diagnoses of H.I.V. infection. We're doing an excellent job. But if a crusading government takes advantage of the three positive diagnoses to try to shut down the industry or mandate condoms, it won't work. The segment of the industry that refuses to use condoms will simply go underground.
That has happened before. In the San Fernando Valley or "Porn Valley" where much of the sex-film industry is based, it has been legal to shoot films that show actual sexual intercourse only since the late 1980's; before then, the makers of more graphic films simply operated underground, and made plenty of money. If Los Angeles County mandates condom use, the filmmakers who refuse to follow these regulations will just move elsewhere avoiding even the opt-in testing we have at my organization. Then we would truly have a public health issue: remember, these men and women have nonprofessional sex lives with husbands, wives and partners who are not in the industry.
What we can do is reward the producers, distributors and actors who use condoms with a "seal of approval." The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, state and federal health departments, and my organization should act together to give approval to the films made by companies that use safe workplace and health care practices. Most mainstream companies don't like to discuss their lucrative dirty secret that they make huge profits off sex films. But if hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott, and cable companies like Time Warner and Comcast, showed only those films with the seal of approval, filmmakers would have a financial incentive to follow the rules.
Pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry some put the figures as high as $9 billion per year. Almost all of the national cable providers offer a pornography channel, millions of sex videos are sold each year and 50 percent of hotel guests watch pornography on pay-per-view channels.
With the explosion of the industry, the business has changed drastically. In 1975, when I started as a sex-film actor, it was more like the mainstream film business: the same agent who helped get me roles on Broadway sent me out for my first pornographic film. Back then, films had to have "artistic merit" to be shown in theaters legally, so the films had plots. But the San Fernando legalization and the proliferation of video changed things. Films have become increasingly hard core because that is what sells. Rejection of condom use is purely and simply a financial issue. Filmmakers believe that viewers prefer the "reality" of unprotected sex. But the reality of unprotected sex is risk of H.I.V. infection.
Pornography has been around for a long time, and it's not going to go away. If we can make it financially attractive for the people who work in the industry to use condoms, they will. And that's the only way that we will be able to further limit the risk of infection to sex-film actors and to the people they come in contact with in their private lives.
Sharon Mitchell is the founder of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Created: May 4, 2004
Last modified: May 4, 2004
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