Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative: Reprise

A Microscopic View of the  HIV Virus

The below is from my post of March 6 of this year. In light of recent events, it seems worth re-running

A conversation I think is long overdue is a sex-positive examination of the attitudes towards STIs in the “adult industry.” A few years back, when Vivid backtracked on their condom-only policy, I remember Chi Chi La Rue stopped working for the company. He said he couldn’t reconcile his concerns and public record advocating condoms and safer sex with Vivid’s new policy. But other than La Rue, I don’t remember anyone taking much notice.

From a producer’s point of view, building an industry around the acceptance of STI transmission between those who work in “the trenches” doesn’t seem very “sex-positive” to me. From a viewer’s point of view, watching depictions of people engaged in high frequency, multiple partner, unprotected sex doesn’t seem very “sex-positive” or for that matter, very entertaining.

The argument is that “the market” demands condom-free performances. The argument is that male performers find condoms inhibit their erections and that female performers find them irritating, especially in the extended sex sessions that are standard practice in the “adult industry.” The argument is that without the expectation that performers engage in high volumes of  unprotected sex with multiple partners, the “adult industry” would not be economically viable.

All these things may be true. But whether or not Vivid, or Evil Angel, or any other “adult entertainment” company can survive is not my concern. My concern is that I make films in a way that does not treat my subjects’ sexual health as something that can be sublimated to concerns about profit. That means I don’t ask people to do things in front of my camera that they are not already enjoying together as a part of their own, personal, off-camera sex life.

I simply cannot see how the introduction of a camera makes it “sex-positive” for performers to do things that we would decry in any other circumstance. Would a “sex-positive” person claim that a sex-worker is exercising ”agency” if she engages in unprotected anal intercourse with multiple clients? Or would we call this out for what it is, an unwise and risky practice? And when the sex positive community judges the “adult entertainment industry” by a different set of safer sex standards than we offer in any other circumstance, we diminish both the concepts of sex-positivity and safer sex.

The sex-positive community has already had, on more than one occasion, self-satisfied three-minute hates about phthalates and anal-ease, where we congratulated ourselves on our modern and progressive notions about sexual health and our discriminating taste in sex toys. We have repudiated the makers and purveyors of these products for being unconcerned with the with the health of their customers.

Will the sex-positive community be able to muster the same level of outrage and reject the health risks that are currently accepted as part and parcel of making “adult entertainment?” And if we did, wouldn’t that bring the world a little closer to a more grown-up and joyful understanding of sex?

Yesterday Clarisse Thorne asked me my reaction to the discovery (once again) of HIV in the AIM talent pool and the coverage it has received in the NYT. This is what I think:

The NYT and mainstream media as a whole are a joke on the issue of the “adult industry”. Even AVN no longer stand by the revenue figure the NYT cites in this story. The assertion by Steve Hirsch, pres. of Vivid Entertainment, that “talent can choose to use condoms” is a bald-faced lie that any cub reporter could contradict inside of a day if the NYT cared about the truth. They don’t.

Sharon Mitchell poses in a labcoat embroidered with “Dr. Sharon Mitchell”

The media’s reporting on AIM/Sharon Mitchell is a joke. The “two month shut down” after the 2004 outbreak didn’t last a month, and inside the first week Mitchell was handing out free passes (It’s a all-girl shoot in Canada, so go ahead.)

“The reason this 60 hold is happening is you have irresponsable directors that don’t look or even care who’s on the list and will shoot reguardless so for a few bad apples we have this whole thing blown way out of perportion. Look at the Jay Ashley thing for instance? Did they call AIM and get clearance to shoot him? The answer is NO! I from day one before this whole HIV scare came down cleared all my talent through AIM before I’d let them set foot in front of a camera and they also must have valid ID’S showing the name on the ID matches their tests if everyone was as responsable as this we wouldn’t be having this 60 day hold. When I shot this last week I did call AIM to get clearance on all the talent like I always do so I’m not the enemy and I never have been. Check yourself before you come down on me as you all look like a bunch of two faced idiots. Come down on the assholes in this business who could give a fuck less about the talent and lay off of me who goes out of my way from day one to keep it clean.

I haven’t been shooting and I shot a couple of scenes only after the talent was cleared by AIM to be fine to work. I’m off to Canada to shoot this week an all G/G movie up there to keep it safe and they all work within their own circle of girls. You have to understand I will shoot only if talent is ok to work and if they’re ok to work then why shouldn’t they. If they were never exposed they should be working if they want as long as they work with other talent cleared to work it’s a simple phone call to AIM to see who’s ok and who’s not but that seems to much for most directors to make that call that’s why they are holding up shop on shooting as not everyone is responsable when it comes to talent I can explain this to you all day but unless you’ve been talent you wouldn’t understand.”  – Jewel Denyle, May 10th, 2004

In light of the fact that the issue being discussed is infectious disease, the media’s willingness to call Sharon Mitchell “doctor” and run pictures of her wearing a lab-coat, sometimes with a stethoscope is borderline criminal.

Mitchell has never graduated from college. Her “PhD” is from IASHS, an institution that is not recognized by a single academic organization. IASHS operates out of a store-front in San Francisco, and the “degrees” granted by IASHA have no reciprocity with any legitimate institutions of higher education. The sex industry is rife with these sham diplomas. Again, any cub reporter could uncover these facts in a matter of minutes using the internet. The reason they don’t is because having a “doctor” as a source makes it look like they’re doing their job. They’re not.

AIM is not harm-reduction. AIM is tightly woven into the business of pornography, and calling AIM “harm reduction” is farcical; akin to calling a drug dealer running a needle exchange program “harm prevention.” The HIV/STD infection statistics quoted by AIM, most especially the comparison to HIV and other STD infection rates among the general population and relevant sub-cohorts are easily contradicted lies that a high school journalism student could debunk with a hand-held calculator and 20 minutes on the Center for Disease Control website. 

The “sex-positive community” has been silent, save a few lame offerings that ignore the statistical facts. Pornography is made in a way that profoundly contradicts the basic safer-sex message and respect for responsible personal choice that is supposed to lie at the heart of sex-positive philosophy. I am profoundly disappointed.

The bottom line:

The high risk to performers of exposure to STDs in the manufacture of pornography is a simple fact, born out by AIM’s own data. Condoms, the single best way to reduce transmission, the method advocated by all sex educators for those who have sex with partners of unknown STD status is not a choice that is available to performers involved in the manufacture of straight pornography such as  you or I would understand the meaning of the word “choice.”

But if that’s not reason enough for the “sex-positive community” to rethink its attitudes towards the “adult industry,” consider this.

In this latest incidence of HIV in the AIM talent pool, the individual in question went 37 days between tests. Due to the latency inherent in the testing, she may have been HIV positive for as long as 45 day or more before her infection was detected. If this infection had occurred in a male performer there almost certainly would have been secondary infection(s).

But more than that, sooner or later an HIV infection is going to cross from second generation to third generation, and instead of 3-5 on-set transmissions, there are going to be 20-30. This day is coming; it’s a statistical certainty.

In 1998 Peggy and I made our decision about what we would and would not ask people to do so that we could make our films, so that we could make our living, and in the 11 years since we have not wavered from that decision nor regretted it.

In the wake of the 2004 Darren James outbreak I was extremely vocal in multiple venues across the internet debunking false statistics about STD infection rates.

In the five years since the last outbreak I have despaired as I have watched people I had considered allies lend their creative talents and credibility to practices I find deplorable.

Anyone who claims to have a stake in the debate about how sex is treated in our society has to look forward to the eventuality of future outbreaks and ask themselves, “When these HIV outbreaks happen, what do I want my record to look like? What do I want to be on the record as having said and as having done?”

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  1. Posted June 15, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    You don’t despair alone. Ignorance, both wilful and negligent persists. Good for you for calling it out.

  2. Posted June 15, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    The core problem is that production companies are not supportive of condom use. I just spoke with a performer friend of mine, and asked her, “What would happen if you walked onto a set at a major company, and said, ‘I’d like to use condoms today.’” She replied, “I’d be sent home.”

    Mandatory condom use, enforced by law, would be a disaster. But the major production companies really have to just get over themselves and make it a no-fault option.

  3. tony
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    “Mandatory condom use, enforced by law, would be a disaster. But the major production companies really have to just get over themselves and make it a no-fault option.”

    I just don’t ever see this happening, and neither do I see any legal mandate ever becoming law, and if it did, my conservative “law of unintended consequences” mind thinks it might very well be disastrous.

    No do I think censure will ever have a meaningful effect. This is a population that no one cares about, not “fans”, not producers, and maybe even not themselves.

    All I can do is make my films, and explain why I make my films the way I make them, and entreat those who hope for the same world that I hope for to think about the choices they make.

  4. Posted June 16, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    It’s really about time that people in the industry examined their relationship with AIM. The analogy you used is perfect. And likely why no one knew about there being a positive test result since 2004. I truly wonder what would’ve happened had this information not been shared on an industry message board…

  5. tony
    Posted June 17, 2009 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Alison, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    In some ways, what goes on in the LA porn scene really has nothing to do with what Peggy and I do. A typical porn director shoots more sex in a week than Peggy and I have shot in the 15 years that we’ve been inviting couples in front of our camera, and it’s the ferociously high volume of sexual contacts upon which “the industry” is predicated that makes the testing regime so vulnerable. With the benefit of hindsight, we know Darren James was working with an up-to-date PCR test that did not show his actual HIV status, and went on to infect three women (out of about 15 scene partners) before his infection was detect. Alter the time table by another week and he easily could have infected three more.

    Perhaps some feel this most recent incident is evidence of the system working, but I just don’t see it that way. Because of the mechanics of transmission, the most urgent threat is the transmission of HIV acquired by male talent during their off-set activities and transmitted to female talent before their infection can be detected. The AIM protocols have a 100% failure rate in this regard. The have never detected an HIV infection in active male talent before that infection could be passed to female scene partners.

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