See also, San Francisco Chronicle: Sex for money, not love — Violet Blue asks rising adult superstar Lorelei Lee about the differences between sex work and sex not-for-work (sfgate.com)
In portraying harmless fantasy, porn often gives us a world that can only ever be that: pure fantasy. A good porn film delivers the fantasies well, and we get off with success — wet, sticky, throbbing rapture. However, in the realm of portraying healthy and safe sex, porn often fails. The main reason is because pornographers want to give viewers the fantasy sex they demand, and they believe this version of sex doesn’t acknowledge the many dangers of sex with multiple partners or strangers. Porn viewers get their fantasies at the price of not seeing how to stay alive and sexually active in the modern era.
Many see the practices in porn — even with the occasional condom use — as a crazy and possibly deadly game of Russian roulette. What’s worse, some viewers may imitate the practices onscreen — unwittingly learning how to spread disease. They may be unaware of the risks — and precautions — that performers are taking by working in an industry that often expects unsafe behavior of its stars.
There have been a good number of porn stars who have contracted HIV/AIDS and other STDs while working in the business. The most famous case was legendary über-dick John Holmes, who had unprotected sex with actresses on camera after testing positive for HIV. Holmes did not inform his coworkers, and put many people’s lives at risk. In the late 1990s, male star Marc Wallice contracted HIV, told no one and continued working, infecting four of his female costars. Call it selfish or call it murderous, their actions sent a wake-up call to everyone who works in porn. And HIV isn’t the only thing that can be contracted from unprotected sex. Herpes, syphilis, genital warts, gonorrhea, chlamydia, bacterial infections and other diseases and viruses can be passed by intercourse sans condoms.
In 1998 there was an HIV outbreak in the adult entertainment industry. Former porn actress Sharon Mitchell discovered that many of those who tested positive had worked with her when she was in movies. Mitchell responded by founding AIM, the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, a non-profit agency offering HIV and STD testing, gynecological services and treatment, counseling of many types, informational services for sex workers and the general public. The industry responded with a surprising amount of support.
AIM’s motto is “Health for the sex worker in body, mind, emotion & spirit!” In a recent collection of data, AIM administered voluntary tests to a group consisting primarily of adult film workers. Of 483 people tested between October 2001 and March 2002, about 40% had at least one STD. Nearly 17% tested positive for chlamydia, 13% for gonorrhea and 10% for Hepatitis B and C, according to Mitchell. None of the tests came up positive for HIV, Mitchell said. The 40% infection rate statistic compares to that of the mainstream population: According to San Francisco Sex Information, around 40% of the non-porn population has some form of sexually transmitted condition, too.
By industry standards, an adult entertainment worker should be tested for HIV/AIDS every 30 days, though there is no standard for testing for other STDs. Most — though not all — producers and directors will not hire an actor if he or she does not have a written record of an HIV test less than 30 days old, but testing for other STDs is on a case-by-case basis depending on performers and directors. Some gang-bang shoots require the participants to arrive with certification from AIM that they have tested negative for HIV and other STDs. However, since the industry is self-regulating in all aspects of testing and condom use, safer-sex risk assessment ultimately falls into the hands of the performers.
AIM Healthcare serves over 400 clients a month and is making plans to expand. Since its inception, the organization has successfully lowered the spread of HIV in the porn industry, and has certainly increased awareness among performers. AIM uses an HIV test that produces results in one to three business days, though this is by no means the most reliable test for HIV.
There are many kinds of HIV tests. AIM uses the PCRDNA test because it is the best test for quick-result early detection of HIV and functions as an effective screening test for adult entertainment workers and the sexually active. The standard test for HIV is the ELISA test, which has a window period of up to six months because it tests only for the HIV antibody, not for the virus itself. That antibody can take up to six months to show up in detectable levels in the blood of a healthy person. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test looks for the virus itself. The PCR test can detect HIV after about two weeks (give or take a day or two). So far, AIM has reported only two false positives and no false negatives. They confirm each positive result by standard HIV tests like ELISA.
Besides worrying about the spread of viruses and STDs from unprotected sex, there are a large number of activities you’ll see in porn sex that are unsafe and even dangerous. There is currently a trendy fetish for ass-to-mouth contact, using everything from penises and fingers to sex toys, and there are even a few porn series specifically devoted to showing the practice. Ass-to-mouth contact puts the recipient at great risk for contracting Hepatitis A, which can be treated but not cured. The penetrator is at no risk in this situation.
Hepatitis A comes from getting fecal matter in the mouth, and many starlets reduce their chances by taking multiple enemas before anal sex scenes, though this is not a foolproof measure. Anal-to-vaginal penetration is another sex act fetish, which by bringing E coli bacteria from the anus to the vagina causes a severe bacterial infection. Again, enemas are used beforehand, but this is not a reliable safeguard.
Sometimes there is anal penetration with objects or sex toys that do not have a flared end, which is unsafe because the flared end prevents them from being pulled into the anal canal by the involuntary sphincter muscle. Performers are at risk every time they shove something like this up their asses, all covered in slippery lube and difficult to hang onto, because an item lodged in the lower colon is a major health emergency.
Similarly, starlets seem to be able to just take a toy, penis or huge object in their asses without any warm-up. They never show you that the performers spend lots of time off-camera relaxing their anuses with lubed fingers and toys, and some will even prepare the night before a shoot. To insert anything without preparation and sufficient lube can seriously damage the dry, thin tissues of the anus, and can even result in fatal injury. Don’t try it at home.
Speaking of lube, it’s usually nonexistent in porn. As if by magic, the penis or sex toy slides right in the vagina or anus, or a little licking will precede a fast penetration. Lubrication is used in shooting porn videos, but it is very rarely shown to the audience. Dry sex, especially anal sex, increases the chances of disease and virus transmission and doesn’t feel as good as sex with slick sex parts. If lubrication is shown in porn, it’s usually saliva — but saliva is not a substitute for lube; saliva dries out in seconds, doesn’t provide the slip necessary for extended in-out thrusting, and is in no way sufficient for safe anal penetration.
Condom use in porn is hotly debated by everyone involved. Some companies and directors have a condom-only policy; most leave it up to the individual performers; some are against condom use because it “interferes” with their portrayal of sexual fantasy. But condom use doesn’t prevent every infection, disease or virus. And in the manner that condoms are generally used (with the exception of smarties like Ed Powers of Dirty Debutantes fame) there is much room for error.
In fact, when condoms are only used for penetration and the man ejaculates on a woman’s external genitalia, the participants have greatly undermined the use of the condom. Ejaculation in the eyes and nose are other unsafe practices engaged in by porn performers. Ejaculation in the eyes and nose can transmit herpes, chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea, and the latter three viruses cause conjunctivitis when contracted via the eye.
Porn is great for getting off and learning about our own sexual fantasies, but it is certainly not a source for accurate sex information. Even so, we must remember that we take our own risks every day, with every sexual encounter we participate in. Choosing to watch porn with no condom use or unsafe practices — and being turned on by it — does not make you an accessory to unsafe behavior. You are watching fantasy enactment to get off, period.
Enjoying unprotected sex on-screen is nothing to feel guilty about, and remember that you will never really know the circumstances surrounding what you’re watching, or the relationships of the performers. Enjoy your porn, and your fantasies to their fullest, but be smart when you want to make your own fantasies come true. And support a good cause: Give money to AIM Healthcare.