Actor's Positive HIV Test Disrupts Filming as Clinic Traces On-Screen Sex Partners

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WATCH A Dozen Porn Stars Test Positive for HIV

A porn actor's positive HIV test has prompted an increasing number of America's largest adult film companies to halt production while an industry clinic locates and tests the performer's on-screen sex partners.

The revelation this week further highlighted the lack of condom use among actors routinely exposed in the course of a day's work to bodily fluids capable of spreading myriad sexually transmitted diseases.

The $13 billion porn industry, concentrated in Los Angeles' largely suburban San Fernando Valley, operates under a self-imposed system of monthly blood testing and monitoring. Actors pay for their own tests, performed at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks, a private, nonprofit founded in 1996.

Jennifer Miller, an administrator for the foundation's HIV-STD clinic, said Wednesday that state medical privacy laws prevented her from disclosing the gender of the actor whose HIV test came back positive. She similarly declined to say how many of the actor's on-screen sexual contacts had been identified so they can be tested.

Rumor swirled around the industry about the identity of "patient zero." Adult Video News reported on its Web site, AVN.com, that sources had identified the patient "as a male performer who performed in both straight and gay adult videos."

In a prepared statement, Adult Industry Medical Healthcare said that as a precaution, the industry has imposed a moratorium on filming "any person one or two generations removed from sexual contact" with the actor whose preliminary HIV test result sent a shock wave through an area known for seismic surprises.

That moratorium will remain in place pending confirmatory HIV testing of the patient and fellow male and female actors potentially exposed during on-camera sexual acts with the patient or with the patient's other on-screen sex partners. The additional tests and analysis were expected to take "about 10 days or two weeks."

Michael Weinstein, president of the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation's largest AIDS organization, used the latest incident to reiterate his harsh criticism of the industry's reliance on test results and its historic resistance to requiring condoms during risky sexual acts.

"It's very, very unfortunate that another person has to go through this ordeal," Weinstein said. "At the same time, it points out how outrageous this is."

HIV Case Comes Amid Porn Regulation Debate

Periodic testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases doesn't substitute for prevention, Weinstein said. In December 2009, he petitioned the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for a revision of regulations addressing blood-borne bacterial and viral infections to spell out how to keep actors from becoming exposed to potentially infectious blood, saliva and semen.

His petition set in motion a series of four advisory committee meetings, the next -- and last -- coming up Oct. 25 in Oakland "to discuss whether or not the regulations should be amended to specifically address the adult film industry," said Amy Martin, chief counsel for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, part of California's Department of Industrial Relations.

She and Deborah Gold, chief safety engineer for Cal-OSHA, said testing often identifies infections one or two weeks after they've been transmitted, too late for the rapid medical treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis, which has been proven to prevent HIV in people with known exposures.

Porn Actors May Face Anti-Condom Pressure

Major production companies have steadfastly maintained that actors are independent contractors, rather than company employees, so the companies need not require them to use "personal protective equipment" such as condoms and dental dams.

Company executives say they make condoms available if actors insist but, in interviews this week, several offered myriad reasons why they're not used. These range from male and female actors' complaints that the latex is irritating, to a belief that audiences don't want to see condoms on-screen.

"If you mandate condoms, this industry will go underground immediately," said Steve Hirsch, founder of Vivid Entertainment, one of the most successful adult entertainment enterprises and a "condom-optional company."

Health Regulators: Porn Industry Is Breaking the Law

"Every time a production company makes a film and the actors engage in unprotected penetrative sex, they are violating our regulation," Martin of the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health said. "It's already been determined that ... workers in this industry are employees. We have said over and over again: You are currently required to wear condoms.

"We've cited at least six employers for failing to do so. They all settled with us. We have never vacillated from the position, that the law applies to this industry and the law is absolutely clear."

Gold of Cal-OSHA said, "We have a commitment to this process ... so if there is a way to improve protection for employees of the industry, we're going to look at it."

Anti-porn crusader Shelley Lubben, a former prostitute and porn actress who founded the faith-based, nonprofit Pink Cross Foundation in Bakersfield, will attend the Oct. 25 hearing, "along with a fresh group of recovering porn stars who will talk about their diseases."

"The women are all victims," said Lubben, whose years on adult film sets left her with herpes and early cervical cancer. "No one told me this would happen. I paid a great price."

Lubben said she will ask regulators to shut down the industry "until it can operate like any other workplace in California. When it can comply, like any other hospital, restaurant, anybody else ... with California state laws, then there isn't a health and safety issue anymore and I can go on to [fighting] prostitution."

New HIV Case Has Industry-Wide Implications

Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said the only adequate response to the newly revealed issues prompted by patient zero's HIV test would be an industry-wide shutdown of productions. His concerns are based on sobering statistics about sexually transmitted diseases among adult film actors in greater Los Angeles.

In a documented 1998 HIV outbreak, one male performer was believed to have infected up to six on-screen female partners. In 2004, a male performer infected three female performers. In 2009, HIV was reported in another adult film performer, but there were no reports of spread within the adult film community, which at any given time numbers about 2,000, 75 percent of whom are women.

Disease Risk High in Porn Industry

At a March 18 Cal-OSHA advisory meeting, Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, chief of the division of communicable disease control for Los Angeles County's public health department, laid out the risks actors take when they engage in "high-risk sexual practices such as unprotected, prolonged and repeated sexual acts with multiple sexual partners over short time periods."

He said disease monitoring has revealed that rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are more than seven times higher in the adult film industry than in the general population. Up to 25 percent of performers are diagnosed with an STD in the course of one year.

He also has said there have been eight cases of HIV among confirmed adult industry performers working in the business at the time of the diagnosis since 2004, with four of them contracting the virus during production.

The first companies to stop production were Vivid Entertainment Group of Los Angeles, dubbed the Warner Bros. of the porn video business, and Wicked Pictures of Canoga Park, Calif., which has required condoms in all its pictures since 1999.

Hirsch, the company founder, said Vivid Tuesday shut down all production "indefinitely, until all the facts come out. We are fortunate enough to have probably five months' worth of movies already shot."

While Wicked Pictures "only shoots with condoms, we still don't want to put any actor or actress in a position to work with someone that may prove to be on the quarantine list," company president Steve Orenstein said.

A day later, Larry Flynt's Hustler Video announced it would complete a shoot that should finish by week's end, but would suspend other production, said Julie Messing, director of public relations for Flynt Management Group in Beverly Hills.

Samantha Lewis, CEO of Digital Playground in Van Nuys, said she made the decision to shut down production on two films "the minute we heard the news."

Lewis, who described herself as a mother first, said she would "shut my doors tomorrow to protect someone's life" and that the hiatus would give her "the chance to talk to every single one of my performers ... and make sure none of our girls or our male performers worked with this person."

AVN.com also reported at mid-week that Jennaration X Studios, Girlfriends Films and Kick Ass Pictures were halting productions.

But other companies chose not to idle actors and crews. Evil Angel Productions, which distributes porn films by a stable of directors and compares itself to United Artists studio, notified its directors about patient zero and advised them to be "hypervigilant" in verifying HIV results for actors they cast, General Manager Christian Mann said.

Mann said Evil Angel's owner, John Stagliano, and his wife, Karen Stagliano, both HIV-positive former actors, believe "condoms should not be required."

He was infected during a private sexual encounter in Brazil; she was infected in 1998 during on-screen sex with fellow porn actor Marc Wallice.

New Soldiers in the Fight

The National Coalition of STD Directors, whose members represent states, large cities, counties and territories working to control and prevent sexually transmitted infections, voted last week in favor of a four-pronged, national approach to what it termed the epidemic of STDs in the adult film industry.

The approach includes federal and state mandates for condom use and giving health departments more resources and authority to investigate and control on-the-job exposure to infectious diseases. Coalition Executive Director William Smith warned that even if California's rules are remedied, the industry easily could relocate to other states, such as Colorado and Florida.

"This has to be more than a Whack-a-Mole approach," Smith said.

He said the coalition wants to engage the hospitality and cable TV industries in the campaign to make condom use standard in adult entertainment offerings. Because there's so much money generated by hotel video rentals, convincing hotel chains to offer only adult films where actors use condoms would exert financial pressure.

"The only way these production companies are going to get on board is to really feel the pain," he said

"No one is questioning their right to produce these films, to distribute these films and for anyone to enjoy these films, but we think this is a worker rights issue with profound public health implications," Smith said.

"NCSD and other concerned partners will work the workers' rights side of this, we will work the public health side of this and we will work the economic incentive side of this until we get a resolution."