Porn biz goes soft after HIV scare

Positive test may have negative effect on industry

While Washington has tried to regulate porn for years, to little or no effect, industry practitioners have suddenly been spurred to take action for their own reasons.

Adult-film star Darren James found out Monday that he’s tested HIV-positive, and almost immediately the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation recommended that all porn production cease for the next two months. The proposal was seconded by Adult Video News, the industry’s trade publication.

James, who has starred in dozens of porn movies in the past six years, is the first performer in four years to be diagnosed HIV-positive. The actor mostly performed in so-called gonzo porn, which is both plot- and condom-free.

Since 1998, AIM has tested James for sexually transmitted diseases every three weeks as part of its ongoing effort to monitor the health of porn performers. On March 17, his HIV test was negative. The April 12 test wasn’t. Double-checked, it still wasn’t.

The result means the porn industry can’t be sure all of its performers are disease-free until June 8 — 60 days after the last day James worked.

It’s difficult to estimate the impact — in terms of morale or money — on a business of renegades. The industry doesn’t make its financial figures known, but with Hustler Video, VCA, Jill Kelly Prods. and Sin City shuttering production and other companies likely to follow, it could mean tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

As for mainstream showbizzers, a few below-the-line workers in Hollywood moonlight in the thriving porn industry, which is centered in the San Fernando Valley.

“I’m getting everything from ‘What, are you kidding?’ to “Thanks,’ ” said AVN publisher and former porn performer Tim Connelly of his publication’s call to stop production. “I want to wake up everybody, throw cold water in their faces.”

Stoking the fire

Others fear the news will add fuel to anti-smut crusaders’ attempts to crack down on all matters deemed indecent.

“I think this will be the worst we’ve ever had,” said Jim South, owner of porn talent agency World Modeling and a 28-year veteran of the business.

AIM chief Sharon Mitchell has contacted all 12 female performers who worked with James in the past month, as well as the second, third and fourth “generations” — the hundreds of performers who then worked (meaning had sex) with James’ partners.

Mitchell said the likelihood was high that some of the initial 12 women would test positive, thereby increasing the pool of potentially infected performers.

However, that can’t be confirmed for 30 days — the time necessary for HIV to show up on the PCR/DNA test used by AIM. Thirty days later, a second test will be performed to confirm those results.

The American porn industry is one of the most regularly monitored businesses in the world with regard to sexually transmitted diseases. Through AIM, Mitchell has created a database devoted to the sexual health of an industry that traffics in high-risk behaviors. It’s unique enough that she’s become a consultant to the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control on HIV prevention strategies.

Some unlikely to comply

Not all companies will follow AIM and AVN recommendations.

Wicked Pictures and Vivid Video, the two largest porn companies, have followed a “condom-only” policy for years, believing that it offers performers enough protection against any potential threat.

“We require current HIV tests and STD panels of all performers 30 days before start of production, and condom use is mandatory in all the movies that we shoot, so this has not been a factor for us,” a Vivid spokesman said in a prepared statement. “We have, and will continue to insist, on every possible safety measure.”

Jill Kelly, a former porn star who now operates her own “condom-optional” production company, disagrees that these precautions are enough.

“Anyone who continues to shoot at this point are complete idiots,” she said.

Mitchell was also a porn star before she earned a master’s degree in public health and a Ph.D. in human sexuality, with AIM serving as her dissertation. She said it is unlikely the industry will meet her shutdown recommendation.

“It would be nice to have the two months, but we’re dealing with pornography,” she told Daily Variety. “We’re in an industry making a living by peddling flesh. I have to operate from a harm-reduction model and not an abstinence model. They would continue to shoot underground. I know the holes in this industry.”

Mitchell’s recommendation did seem to be connecting with performers on Wednesday.

“I will go by whatever guidelines come out from Sharon,” said porn star Cherokee. “No amount of money is worth your health. We all have to step up and be responsible to each other. Other people don’t know what to do with us, so we have to be there for each other.”

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