HIV-Positive Porn Star Was Gay-To-Straight

In the discussion of one porn performer testing positive for HIV, a detail has been overlooked: the performer crossed over from gay porn to straight, which matters to the extent that the two industry sectors have very different safety norms.

AVN.com says that the performer who tested positive "performed in both straight and gay adult videos," generally a pretty rare phenomenon in the industry. His partners, both professional and personal, have been quarantined, but in the meantime it's reignited a longstanding debate over how best protect the health of performers.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is pushing for mandatory condom use in all porn produced in California, said the performer's infection was "totally preventable" and "living proof that testing is not adequate protection against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases."

But the truth may be more complex, because this particular performer (whom AVN is referring to as Patient Zero) came from the world of gay porn, where condom use is mainstream and testing is not, to the world of hetero porn, where testing is mainstream and condoms are not.

In gay porn, political pressure from health and rights groups has meant that, except for a few fringe studios, condoms are the norm. Because of the implicit assumption that many of the performers are HIV positive and that open knowledge of that would end their careers, testing is not usually a requirement.

By contrast, the current standard for heterosexual porn is to be tested at least once every 28 days for HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, every sixty days for syphilis, and to "authorize access to the results of those tests through a computerized data base to both other performers with whom they might be hired to work and to producers who might hire them," according to a highly informative (and opinionated) blog post written last year by director and pro-porn activist Ernest Greene (also known as Ira Levine and Nina Hartley's husband.)

Greene, who's closely involved with AIM, an organization that offers HIV tests to performers that have shorter windows of detection than the tests usually available in clinics, pointed out in 2009 that this practice has kept HIV infection extremely low. "During [the past] dozen years, a total of five active players on the heterosexual side of the industry have been diagnosed as HIV positive. Four cases were discovered in 2004 and one on June 4 this year," he writes. "Our good fortune in porn is directly attributable to two things: constant voluntary testing and the much-derided conceit of the external ejaculation, which significantly reduces the risk of serum transmission through mucous membranes." That's heterosexual porn in particular; Greene says the rates are probably much higher in gay porn, but no one can know without widespread testing.

Why not just require all performers to use condoms always? As Fleshbot editor and Jezebel contributor Lux Alptraum wrote the last time this issue came to the fore,

The reason for condom scarcity in straight porn, ultimately, is you: the consumer. Porn companies make porn without condoms because that is the kind of porn that patrons want to see. And porn companies want to give you what you want-it's how they make a living.

The one porn production house that has mandated condom use, Wicked Pictures, says the decision hurt sales.

Greene also says that condoms are less effective in commercial use than they are in personal use. He says it takes two and a half hours to shoot a hetero sex scene,

"during which male performer's erections rise and fall, condoms frequently tear or unravel and the degree of latex abrasion on the internal membranes of female performers' vaginas lead to micro-abrasions that make them more vulnerable to all kinds of STIs. Most condom-only female performers eventually abandon condom use, not under pressure from producers, but rather because of the constant rawness and end-on-end bacterial infections produced by countless hours of latex drag.

If that made you cross your legs in sympathetic pain, you're not alone. And what all of this actually means, Greene says, is that condoms can be a less safe choice for female performers than tested barebacking. Greene also argues that it is "legally impossible" to require both condoms and testing, since anti-discrimination laws would mean that employers couldn't keep out HIV-positive performers.

That reasoning has its skeptics: one blogger notes an inconsistency in this reasoning: "If it is illegal for producers to 'even ask about a potential employee's HIV status,' as [Ernest Greene] states, could it be considered illegal for AIM to give those employers that information?" In other words, if disclosure of HIV status is already taking place and taking performers out of the industry, why would adding condoms to that mix change anything?

In any case, given the frequency of testing in the straight porn community, it is likely that Patient Zero was infected from someone in his personal life, which may end up limiting the scope of infection. We'll find out soon enough.

Adult Performer Tests HIV+ - UPDATE [AVN - Contains NSFW Advertising]
Related: Unsafe At Any Deed [Blackbook]
The Latest In HIV Porn Panic: Rumor Control [BPPA]

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