As the 41st Consumer Electronic Show's four days of tech gadget goodness came to a close Thursday, Las Vegas welcomed back another old friend — the annual Adult Entertainment Expo.
No matter what your ethics dictated, CES convention goers couldn't avoid eye contact with the scantily clad women of the adult entertainment world roaming the Sands Expo space. And an invitation to their booths would introduce even the least curiously initiated to displays of their films shown, in CES tradition, in high definition on the latest plasma TVs.
Hypothetically, one of these executives who took a wrong turn on their way home may be surprised to learn that during the making of these unrated films unlike football, hockey or baseball, the adult film industry requires no protection at all. The use of a condom is strictly voluntary and almost never done.
Although an HIV outbreak in 2004 in the porn industry caused the industry to impose a condom-only policy, few of the performers in today's films are using them. This has caused great concern to a coalition of California public health leaders including Peter Kerndt of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
"There's little regard and no protection for the people who work in this industry. This is the last at-risk population exposed unnecessarily to the risk of HIV and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases," Kerndt said.
Industry Veteran Policing the Industry
There are currently no legal requirements for condom use or even for testing, but with the help of an industry veteran there are at least self-imposed standards that are being enforced by all the major adult film studios based in the San Fernando Valley area of California.
Sharon Mitchell appeared in more than 2,000 films before hanging up her G-string and starting the nonprofit Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM) in 1998. That was the year a devastating HIV outbreak infected several female performers after a single male performer named Marc Wallice infected the women.
In the last 10 years 17 adult entertainers have tested positive for HIV, including six that AIM's testing caught before they could pass on the disease to anyone else in the industry.
Today all porn participants are required to have a full HIV/AIDS test every 30 days administered by Mitchell's AIM, which also keeps an electronic database of results.
"There's no 'I forgot my test.' It's on the computer and it's demanded," said performer Jesse Jane of Digital Playground.
"Before I do a scene with a guy or girl I have them tested the two days before and it take 48 hours to get the results, so I know they're clean. For me condoms hurt, so I can't get into a scene and I can't fake it. But I do promote safe sex especially if you are not going to get tested and you should get tested anyways at least once a month just to be safe."
The adult entertainment industry knows the self-regulation is important to keep the government out of its affairs and AIM offers one more not so subtle bit of advice to the studios on its Web page that "it is hereby beneficial to the liability of the companies to keep records of bills of health regarding each talent member and their partners for each day they are employed."
California, which has laws to make sure restaurant employees wear hair nets, has a code requiring all employers to protect employees from possible exposure to blood-borne pathogens, but the rule doesn't include most porn industry performers who are not full-time employees of the studios that make the films.
Wicked Pictures, an adult entertainment studio that hires its thoroughbred performers to long-term contracts, is the only large studio that still has a strict all-condom policy. Vivid Entertainment, the valley's largest studio, has returned to a condom-optional policy where the female stars make the decision.
To Wear or Not to Wear
As a former participant, Mitchell hopes for a day when all performances occur with some sort of protection involved, but for now she said, "I know the pressures that these talent members go through. They're offered more money. They're told these movies will not sell if there are condoms in it."
Michael Klein, President of Hustler Home Video says the fans are the ones asking for skin-on-skin films. "That seems to be more popular. That sells more. That's why you go through the whole process of testing and everything else. It's pretty much the fans don't want to see condoms."
Jules Jordan of Jules Jordan Video has worked his way from being a porn store clerk to having his own studio and he has a strict no-condom policy.
"Testing's a must for everyone in the industry and that is how I can back up my stance on no condoms. I don't think the fans want to see condoms on film, because the fans are coming to see fantasy and condoms are not usually part of fantasy," Jordan said.
Producers are unwilling to spend the money on expensive special effects that may be able to disguise the protection. Although porn is based on fantasy, shoestring budgets and quick production timetables are the industry standard, so high-tech postproduction is not possible to digitally remove the latex from the scenes.
Although HIV is the sexually transmitted disease that most performers fear, the sad truth of the industry is that anytime bodily fluids are involved without protection the performers are at risk for dangerous and painful diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
These painful diseases are treatable by drugs and are not life threatening, but are extremely painful and if untreated can lead to serious complications. These STDs can by transmitted from an actor's private life and spread throughout the industry before the monthly tests are completed.
Condom Regulations Lifted
In 2004 actor Darren James had unprotected sex scenes with 13 actresses during a monthlong period in which his HIV test went from negative to positive. The results were three of those actresses contracted HIV and it was discovered he contracted HIV while filming a scene in Brazil.
The scare caused the industry to immediately implement an all-condom policy for a short period of time until it began to feel comfortable with improvements in the accuracy of the testing technology.
The typical ELISA test offered in a doctor's office has a window period of six months because it tests only for the antibody that can take up to six months to mature in a young healthy person. AIM now uses PCR/DNA (polymerase chain reaction) test that can detect HIV in just after two weeks and claims to have stopped all spread of HIV in the adult entertainment industry in the last four years.
Mitchell's organization offers a wide range of resources for industry members besides the testing including counseling, psychological services and even a scholarship fund if the actors decide the physical and emotional risks are no longer worth the acting fees they collect.
She describes an environment for a new actress of today. "They walk on set and it's wall-to-wall sex and the type of sexual encounters they're having are extremely high risk." When asked whether she could ever see a day when condom use was a requirement, she said, "That would be wonderful, wouldn't it?"
Testing stems the flow of sexually transmitted diseases if it discovers an infected actor before an outbreak occurs. With actors often performing in several scenes a day often with multiple partners, an epidemic could spread like wildfire if not contained through testing. For the time being that is enough of a safety net for many of the participants.
Jayden Jaymes is one of the actresses who is just going with the flow, but still has trepidations about sex scenes without a condom.
"Yeah, sometimes I worry, but thank God for those tests. I have been unfortunate enough — we all get STDs — but I have gotten them taken care of. It worries me sometimes there are some of those that you can't get rid God forbid if I ever get HIV or AIDS, but I think I'm OK for now."
But Bob McCulloch, the attorney for Darren James, the actor whose HIV infection led to the condom-only practices in 2004, says the industry is only reducing liability with the testing and that the condom-only policies of the past are the only way to protect the performers.
"The system currently is designed to sacrifice a small number of people who are going to get it, and then limit the damage. It's a system that has damage control, but not prevention."