Porn, HIV, and the Great Condom Debate

Then, there's the fact that, in gay pornography (where some sources say Patient Zero initially worked) condoms are standard and actors still contract HIV. Alptraum describes the standard in gay porn as "condoms but no testing," and the standard in straight porn as "testing but no condoms." Some say that the first route is actually more dangerous, as a performer can start working without first being tested for HIV. Ernest Greene argues that, in order for OSHA regulations to take effect, producers would have to make performers employees, and that this would make it illegal to mandate HIV testing or to take HIV positive status into account while hiring.

"We're not hearing the nuance of what people who have sex professionally have to say about sexual health and safer sex practice," said Melissa Gira Grant, a writer and activist. She added: "The story is not as simple as 'greedy porn people' vs. 'public health'—porn people have a stake in public health, and porn people are not some monolithic force, either."

Ponante points out that pressures from outside the industry have resulted in positive changes in the past. "The adult business has, to its credit, evolved in its ability to self-regulate," he says, "but the stimulus has always come from without. This is true of the standardization of age-verification as well as industry standards of HIV testing." Still, in his estimation, enforcing outside regulation simply wouldn't work as well as letting that self-regulation process evolve: "Performers are hyper-aware of the risks as well as prevention, and that cannot be said of the general population. So I think legislation to force outside regulation on the porn business will result in more infection, not less."

As for the current climate in the wake of this latest diagnosis, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health released a statement saying that it had not received a report from AIM regarding new HIV cases within the industry, and that healthcare facilities were legally required to report cases within seven days; we received that statement on Friday, the 15th. AIM maintains it is operating in full compliance. The CAL-OSHA advisory panel meets again on October 25. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has asked the city council to stop issuing permits for porn filming. There may well be increased pressure to provide an immediate solution, but the result looks very much like another iteration of the same debate.

And then, there's the question of how this happened. Alptraum pointed out that, in all likelihood, Patient Zero was infected outside of work. Grant noted that what she terms "the sex/death panic angle" in media coverage can obscure the fact that non-professional sex is less strictly policed than pornography. Most of us aren't required to get regular testing, aren't required to share results, and don't have to use condoms or other barrier methods if our partners don't ask us to. Patient Zero may not even have contracted HIV through sexual transmission. It's valid to have concerns, and to want performers to have safe working conditions, but the fact remains that there is no such thing as absolutely safe sex. Pushing for a cure-all is doomed to failure; all that remains are measures of prevention, which can be better or worse, but cannot be perfect.

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Sady Doyle is a freelance writer based in New York City. She blogs at Tiger Beatdown. More

Sady Doyle is a writer living in New York. She has contributed to Salon's Broadsheet, the American Prospect, the Guardian's Comment is Free, and Feministe. She blogs at Tigerbeatdown.com.

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