Does the Porn Industry Have the Secret to Successful HIV Prevention?

For the past 30 years, the Center for Disease Control and AIDS awareness advocacy groups have worked hard to advertise condoms as being paramount to reducing the risk of contracting HIV. So the assumption is that actors in the adult film industry, who do not use condoms, are not having "safe sex." But about 350,000 bareback scenes have been shot since 2004—and the disease has not been transmitted between any performers on set. So what's the deal?

Pornographers across the country adhere to industry-wide standards set by the Free Speech Coalition. All on-screen talent must test negative for STDs every 28 days (and some studios even mandate tests every 14 days)—with their results logged into an industry database, available for producers to check—in order to work in a film. If a test comes back positive, all studios stop filming until "all the on-screen partners of that performer, all their partners, and all their partners' partners, are found and retested."

As the New York Times points out, no serious academic study of the porn industry's testing system has been conducted, but an eight-year-long streak of a clean bill of health for performers presents some convincing data. Still, the state of California has been trying to make it illegal to film sex scenes without condoms. (It's actually on the ballot today in L.A.) But it's something that pornographers are firmly against. Steven Hirsch, founder of Vivid Entertainment, says that when his studio shot with condoms for two years following a 1998 HIV outbreak, sales went down 30 percent.

Nina Hartley, pro-sex feminist, adult film actress, and former nurse points out that condoms make her work nearly impossible.

"The average length of intercourse for most Americans is 10 minutes. [In a porn scene] it's 30 to 60 minutes of thrusting. It doesn't matter how much lube you use, it's uncomfortable, it's a friction burn, and it opens up lesions in the genital mucosa. I could handle two to three condom scenes a month. But actors are paid by the scene, and I couldn't do three in a week."

But the mandatory testing seems to eliminate the need for condoms.

So what is the secret to staying HIV negative? Transmission-rates expert Dr. Jacques Pepin, author of The Origins of AIDS, says, "If you are having sex mostly with people who themselves are tested all the time, this must further reduce the risk." And while the idea of regular testing is great, regular people aren't privy to one another's medical records, as adult film stars are, so condoms are still the safest bet.

Image via Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock

Unlikely Model in H.I.V. Efforts: Sex Film Industry [NYT]