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How the porn industry is putting its performers — and finances — at risk
With a fourth performer testing positive for HIV, refusing to use condoms is only hurting the industry
Condoms will help the porn industry keep the cameras rolling.
Condoms will help the porn industry keep the cameras rolling. (iStock)
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ince Los Angeles County's condom mandate for pornographic film sets passed last November, the adult film industry has been fighting it tooth and nail.

After an initial campaign against the measure failed to convince voters, some companies and performers challenged the law in court, claiming it was unconstitutional (and with some success). But the vast majority have moved their shoots outside of Los Angeles, or at least don't file for permits with the city.

However, with the announcement that the fourth porn performer since August has been diagnosed HIV positive, the adult film industry should consider a radical new strategy: Embracing the law.

The protocol for the heterosexual porn industry has been to eschew condoms for regular STD testing every 14 to 28 days and halting production whenever a performer tests positive. The method has actually has been praised in the past. Dr. Allan Ronald, a Canadian AIDS specialist, told the New York Times, "I don't think there's any questions that it works."

Indeed, the few times performers were diagnosed as HIV positive in the past ten years, it was quickly isolated and the virus was not found to be transmitted to anyone else the industry.

That is why the porn industry has taken such umbrage at the new law. And as threatened, adult film companies appear to have largely left Los Angeles County. Last month, it was reported that just 24 permits for adult films had been filed in the county, compared to 480 within the same period last year. By either refusing to apply for permits or moving shoots, the county has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.

But while the industry has thumbed its nose at the county, it may only be hurting itself.

This year has seen a relatively huge spike in positive HIV tests among performers. While last year featured a syphilis outbreak, prior to 2013 there had only been two HIV cases in the adult film industry — one in 2010 and the other in 2009.

Of course, 2013's increase may be an unfortunate coincidence. But the fact that four performers have tested positive since August is disturbing, and suggests the industry needs to be doing even more to manage STIs. (A fifth potentially positive result remains in question.)

For one, it is unfair to performers. Although many of them are against condom use on porn sets, others feel pressure to go along with the industry standards and fear speaking out. Also, aside from the health risks, there is certainly an emotional toll of having to repeatedly wait and wonder. Porn star Aurora Snow wrote at The Daily Beast:

There have been several HIV scares when I had to make those phone calls and figure out for myself how close I was to patient zero. There are no groups within porn protecting performers; it's always been up to performers to keep track of their scene partners, to check tests for themselves, and to make those phone calls no one wants to make. [The Daily Beast]

And not to be crude, but failing to use condoms has the potential to seriously hurt the adult film industry's bottom line. Under the current system, when an actor tests positive, all porn shooting stalls while performers are tested and the cases are isolated. During that period, not only performers, but all crew members are out of work.

In fact, after the August shutdown due to two new HIV-positive cases, the motion picture and sound recording industries lost 22,000 jobs, the largest decline in any economic sector that month and the biggest drop since the Labor Department started tracking the industry. And this is the third shutdown since August.

The adult film industry has made a strong case against mandatory condoms on set. But now that it has largely rendered the law moot, it should considering voluntarily imposing the condom mandate upon itself.

Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

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