The porn industry in California has been plunged into a serious crisis after one actor tested HIV positive. Some companies have suspended production, while there have been calls for closer oversight of the industry situated in the San Fernando Valley in NorthWest Los Angeles. Concern is centred on the nonuse of condoms.
The San Fernando valley has become the focal point of the porn industry since the 1970s. It has been dubbed the San Pornando valley and Silicone Valley, a play on the prevalence of artificially enhanced breasts.
The HIV positive discovery was made at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, AIM, a clinic that carries out mandatory testing for about 1,200 porn actors in the valley every month. The clinic has refused to reveal the gender of the performer or which studio he or she worked for, but it has started to track down all other actors known to have been exposed and is now quarantining them until they can also be tested.
As many as four major studios have temporarily suspended filming, Vivid Entertainment, which is probably the largest porn-production company in the world, the Wicked Pictures, the Hustler Video and the Digital Playground.
"While we have suspended all future production plans in the short term, we will conclude our current shoot which will wrap within the week," Rob Smith, Hustler's video director of operations, said in a statement. "We have no plans to begin additional production until we get a better overview of the current situation."
Samantha Lewis, chief executive of Digital Playground, said the Van Nuys-based company also had canceled shoots "for the foreseeable future."
The anonymous performer is the first to have tested positive for HIV in over a year. The last major panic to grip the valley was in 2004 when a male star, Darren James, was found to have contracted the virus, probably from a filming session in Brazil.
He in turn infected three actresses. More than 30 studios shut down temporarily while tests on many other performers who had engaged in filming with the four infected individuals were tested.
In the wake of the 2004 scare condom use became prevalent in the valley, but gradually filming without protection returned to being the norm as studios argued that the use of condoms was driving down sales.
James, the actor at the centre of the 2004 events, told the Los Angeles Times that he was dismayed by the lack of progress on the issue in the past six years. "The actors ... they're not getting the protection that they need. There should have been mandatory condoms," James said. "I knew it was going to happen. And how many years has it been? Again. They went right back to the same habits. Good grief, it's like my deal, all over again. I hate that."
Wicked Pictures is one of the only major studios that requires actors to wear condoms. It said in a statement: "Even though Wicked Pictures is condoms-mandatory, we have postponed our upcoming productions to give AIM a chance to create a comprehensive quarantine list.
"Thanks to the continued efforts of AIM the entire industry was all made aware of this possible threat on the same day."
AIM was set up by a leading actor in S&M films, Sharon Mitchell, who appeared in more than 2,000 films and directed several before retiring and turning her energies to the health side of the business. The clinic has been in an ongoing tussle with local health and safety bodies that argue that testing for HIV is not enough and that protection must be given a higher priority.
The clinic has also faced legal suits attempting to force it to reveal the numbers and identities of infected actors. So far it has managed to resist the challenges.
Under California law employers must safeguard their workers against the exchange of bodily fluids. However, most studios bypass the requirement on the grounds that the actors they use are self-employed.
After the HIV positive discovery now, the industry has sought to bluster its way out, denouncing AIDS activists and public health officials for using the incident to renew calls for mandatory condom use and added oversight of the porn industry.
"The misfortune of a patient testing positive for HIV has been turned into a tragic farce by the efforts of groups to exploit the patient for their political and financial gain," the Sherman Oaks-based Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation said in a statement.
It asserted that it is complying with all county, state and federal laws regarding both reporting the infection and protecting patient privacy.
"Under law, reporting to Los Angeles County HIV Epidemiology Program can only occur upon the return of a Western Blot test. That test was taken immediately upon the first indication of a potential infection, but the results take one week to return," the statement said.
Last year, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued an injunction barring a request by state workplace safety officials for the work history of a performer who had tested HIV positive at AIM.
"Through the press, the state is making the same unlawful demands again, while knowing that the state is under a binding injunction barring it from demanding access to those kinds of records," the statement said.
The statement did not include any new information about the individual who tested HIV positive, except to say that, "It is impossible to know if the patient acquired the HIV virus from private conduct or on-camera activity."
AIM officials have so far refused to release the patient's gender, the companies he or she worked for, when they received the positive test result or how many people have been quarantined as a result.
Karen Tynan, a lawyer for AIM, said the clinic cannot release such information by law because it might identify the individual.
"There's a ton of curiosity," she said. "We just can't breach patient confidentiality."
Tynan also declined to say how many individuals have been quarantined. The AIM quarantine means production companies are "placing a moratorium on filming any person one or two generations removed from sexual contact with the current patient," according to the statement, meaning both individuals who had sex with the person who tested positive and their partners.
"Upon completion of testing that cohort, in about ten days or two weeks, as well as highly sophisticated analyses of the genetic components of the infection, the nature of the exposure will be determined," the statement said.