IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Cameras roll again in California porn industry

After HIV scare, debate rages about mandatory condom policy
/ Source: Reuters

Holding a video camera, the 38-year-old director stood behind the naked actor and near-naked actress on the wooden staircase and yelled, “Rolling and action!”

Then “Mr. Pete,” a 20-something with cropped brown hair and lots of tattoos, and “Jada Fire,” sporting a black bra and panties set and spike-heeled platform shoes, began having sex on the staircase.

With scenes like this one, the U.S. pornographic film industry, which until mid-May had been shut down for nearly a month by an HIV scare, was back in business. Said director Axel Braun of the filming, “It was so beautiful, I didn’t want it to stop.”

The shoot in a house in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles, home to a large segment of the U.S. porn film industry, was among the first since the shutdown.

Five performers had tested positive for HIV, and all their sex partners, an estimated 60 people, had to be given emergency tests. The voluntary moratorium, originally set to last two months, idled thousands of “adult entertainment professionals” who collectively make about 4,000 porn videos each year.

The moratorium ended this month after the health clinic that tests performers monthly declared it safe; test results indicated the virus had not spread beyond the five infected. “The community is safe,” said Dr. Sharon Mitchell, a former porn star who co-founded the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation. “We did a really good job.”

Mandatory condom policy debated
But the biggest scare to hit the porn industry in years has brought to the forefront a debate about whether the industry ought to adopt a mandatory condom policy. While the use of condoms has become accepted and encouraged in the segment of the industry that produces gay porn, the conventional wisdom in the straight porn industry is that condom use translates into lost sales.

It’s a “marketing decision,” said Hustler empire founder Larry Flynt, whose production company churns out hundreds of adult videos a year. “The majority of people who buy these films do not want to see a condom.”

And that is probably why only about three of the more than 1,000 adult video production companies have mandatory condom policies, according to Adam Glasser, a porn actor who also produces adult videos. The 40-year-old Glasser is also the star of a reality TV series called “Family Business” about his production company which helped invent what is known as “gonzo-style” adult entertainment — videos with no scripts, plots or dramatic devices. Just sex.

About 70 percent of the adult videos produced in the United States are shot “gonzo-style.” So, the industry is watching carefully Glasser’s announcement that, in the wake of the recent HIV outbreak, his would become the first “gonzo” porn production company to mandate condom use in all productions.

“I thought about it back in 1998, but ... wasn’t courageous enough. I was scared that I would lose what I had.  I was weak,” Glasser said in an interview. Now, he said he realizes, “this is a life and death issue.”

More careful?
Back at the Woodland Hills house, where, true to “gonzo” fashion, “Mr. Pete” and “Jada Fire” are still going at it without the benefit of condoms, the director says while he thinks performers will be “more careful” in light of the recent industry crisis, he predicts that “in a month” everything will be back to where it was before.

But, porn star “Savanna Samson” who will only confide that her real first name is Natalie and her age is “roughly 30,” thinks this time the industry is in for a sea change.

“Most of the people I know are going to start insisting on using condoms,” said Samson, who has appeared in 16 adult videos. “It’s your life you’re talking about. I think now it’s a huge eye-opener.”

Dr Mitchell says that she thinks the HIV scare will lead to more frequent testing of porn stars. Additionally, Dr. Mitchell’s clinic is putting together a database of which performers have had sex with other performers and the type of sex they had during productions to better track any future spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

“Screening alone is insufficient to protect these performers,” according to Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for Los Angeles County.

“Sex needs to be protected sex. In all other industries, worker protection is important. You don’t go to a construction site and find workers not wearing hard hats,” he said.

But not everyone agrees. “The safest sex you can have is on camera,” said Tim Connelly, the publisher of Adult Video News Magazine. By Connelly’s figuring, in the six years since the last HIV outbreak in the straight porn industry, more than 25,000 sex scenes have been shot. By that measure, Connelly said, the most recent outbreak represents an infection rate of about three people for every 10,000 sex scenes performed.