Porn Industry Touts Record In Fighting HIV

Former adult film actress Tricia Devereaux poses inside the Los Angeles Convention Center prior to the opening of the EroticLA Convention in Los Angeles, Thursday, June 11, 2009. AP Photo/ Philip Scott Andrews

When Tricia Devereaux broke into the adult film business 15 years ago, testing for sexually transmitted diseases wasn't much more than an afterthought, so much so that by the end of the decade the star of such films as "Coed Carwash" and "Convention Cuties" had tested positive for HIV.

But these days, says Devereaux, who has worked behind the cameras since testing positive in 1998, her industry has become so aggressive at policing itself that she believes a porn star has less risk of acquiring the AIDS virus than a member of the general public.

"I think because of what happened in 1998 the industry immediately looked at itself and found ways to really, really minimize the risk factors by switching to more foolproof tests and doing it more often," she said.

Adult filmmakers in the U.S. now require that actors prove they have tested negative for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases within 30 days of going to work on a film.

Still, the tests aren't foolproof, as was revealed this week when an actress who had passed an HIV test before making a film tested positive immediately afterward.

That positive result was reported by the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation. Known in the industry as AIM, the organization tests hundreds of actors each month in the San Fernando Valley, where the U.S. porn industry is headquartered. It grants those who pass certificates allowing them to work.

Although the woman's co-stars have tested negative, they have been quarantined from acting for the time being and advised to be retested in two weeks because medical experts say it takes almost that long for a person to show signs of infection.

That means the woman's case should be a wake-up call to the adult film industry that it isn't doing enough to protect its performers, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health.

He said the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health requires that safe sex be practiced on all adult movie sets.

"But we have persistent reports that that is not the case," he said, adding his department receives an average of 15 reports a week from the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation of actors testing positive for other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.

"That's obviously very disturbing," Fielding said. "I don't know of any other industry where people are subjected to that kind of risk."

He called for the use of condoms on all adult films as one means of providing necessary worker safety.

After an HIV outbreak in 2004 spread panic through the industry and briefly shut down production at several studios, many producers did indeed begin making condoms a requirement. But they said both actors and audiences quickly rebelled.

"What happened was the talent didn't want to use condoms," said Steven Hirsch, co-Chief Executive of Vivid Entertainment Group, one of the multibillion-dollar industry's largest filmmakers. "They came to us and said repeatedly, 'Could we have choice?' ... As a result, we decided to go condom optional. Plus we're very comfortable with what AIM is doing with the 30-day testing."

Late Thursday, county heath officials released data indicating that there were 16 previously unpublicized confirmed cases of HIV in adult film industry performers since 2004.

That brings the number of known HIV cases in adult performers to 22 since 2004, according to the data requested and reported by The Los Angeles Times.

AIM, founded by former porn star Sharon Mitchell, who left adult movies to earn a doctorate in human sexuality, maintains a computer database that film producers can check to determine that actors have passed their tests. Devereaux said this has reduced the forging of test certificates, something she said was more common during the '90s, a time when tests were required only every 90 days.

The woman who tested positive hasn't been identified by AIM officials, but Fielding said he expected the foundation would turn her name over to county authorities soon and when it did they would counsel her and any of her sexual contacts.

Mark Kernes, senior editor at the Adult Video News media network, said word in the industry is that she is an older woman who only acts occasionally in films targeted to young men's fantasies and thus is believed to have acquired the virus from a non-actor. He, like others, hopes it will spread no further.

Like other businesses, the porn industry has been affected by the recession and the increasing availability of its product for free on the Internet. But it is still an enterprise that Kernes estimates generated $8 billion in revenue last year.

With so much at stake, Hirsch said it makes sense that the industry would do everything it could to police itself.

"People in our industry have sex for a living so they are hypersensitive when it comes to disease," he said. "If they're unable to work they are not making any money."

He considered it significant that there has been only one confirmed case of HIV in the industry in the past five years, a period during which he estimated the business churned out as many as 100,000 films.

"Look," he said, "I wish it would be zero. But it was only one and it was dealt with immediately. I believe it just proves the system works."


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