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HIV Outbreak: Health Scare Brings Porn Industry to it's Knees

by Chris Parry

Anyone who has watched a porn film over the last ten years has possibly asked themselves the question, “Hey, they’re not wearing condoms; that’s a bit risky, isn’t it?” I know I have. Not that I watch porn very often but… hey, it’s research, leave me alone. Anyway, porn actors have been going condom free, for the most part, for many years now, putting their faith in a ‘test first, shoot later’ scheme that had just about the entire professional porn industry dubbing itself clean enough to ride 'bareback.’ But that might be about to change in a big way, since adult film star Darren James found out this week that he has tested positive for the AIDS virus. No big deal, you might think, since people test positive for AIDS every day of the week (especially in Africa, where estimates put the infection rate at 35% of the population). The real issue here is that James has had sex on camera with dozens of women since his last negative sexually transmitted disease test, mostly without the protection of condoms, in the mistaken belief that he was completely clean. We now know he wasn’t, and finding out how many other people in the business might have been infected by him, and who they may have since passed the virus on to, could prove such a big job that the entire industry may have to shut down for up to three months while *everyone* is re-tested.

According to Variety, the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation has recommended that all porn production cease for the next two months. Adult Video News, the industry's trade publication, has backed up that call and is now hoping that the industry can handle this situation in-house, before the prudes in Washington decide to dip their finger into the sticky pit of porn.

Darren James has been a porno mainstay for some six years, and he’s apparently the first adult actor to have been diagnosed with the disease in the mainstream industry for some four years. In adherence to industry standards, James had been tested for sexually transmitted diseases every three weeks through that period of time, but his April 12 test came back positive. So too did the re-test.

And this is where it gets nasty. James says that he’s performed with twelve women in the time since his last negative test, and while those women have all been contacted, authorities also need to contact the people they’ve since worked with, and the people that those people have worked with, and so on and so on, until they have an entire database of who may have been exposed to the disease. We’re not talking fifty people here – some of these performers make a different film every other day, so literally hundreds of adult film performers may have been exposed to the virus.

According to the Variety piece, Hustler Video, VCA, Jill Kelly Productions and Sin City have shut up shop immediately, and others will soon have to follow. As porn is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and makes up a hefty slice of the total commerce of the San Fernando Valley, the expense may easily be measured in the tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of lost jobs if the situation worsens.

But, frankly, though the American porn industry is heavily regulated and monitored, you have to be amazed that this hasn’t happened sooner. With thousands of people being in the industry and testing only happening every three weeks, the number of people who may have tested positive previously and simply disappeared into the smog is one statistic that the industry generally won’t talk about. Those part-timers may well have been caught early enough to not be of a huge impact in the business but, as we’re all told over and over again that the only safe sex is sex with a condom, it’s surprising that the adult film industry has been so reticent to catch up, instead preferring to go au natural and sell a few more tapes to the purists. Some companies, such as Wicked Pictures and Vivid Video, who are also incidentally the two largest porn distributors, have been working with a "condom-only" rule for several years, and it clearly hasn’t hurt their bottom line, nor will it stop them from making films while the rest of the industry hunkers down and waits out the results of testing in hope.

But this also raises a bigger question for the rest of us who aren’t gifted enough to appear in porn – how many people out there have stopped using condoms in their private lives because they see porn stars doing same? Could the porn industry’s resistance to adopting stringent sexual protection while shooting (no pun intended) have resulted in fans of the genre doing likewise, and if so, will this latest blow to the industry (again, no pun intended) cause a swing in the opposite direction?

And will the government step in and use this tragedy as an excuse to jawbone the industry into being regulated by Washington, or even curtailed significantly?

Tonight, Darren James is far more renowned than he ever hoped he would be. The bigger question is, how many are about to join him?


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1089
originally posted: 04/15/04 16:11:46
last updated: 05/29/04 00:47:51
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