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Porn stars at L.A. convention defend HIV tests

Most say they believe that the industry's testing guidelines are enough to keep performers safe despite the news that an adult film actress has tested positive for HIV.

June 13, 2009|Kimi Yoshino and Rong-Gong Lin II

Porn actresses paraded in stiletto heels, wearing itsy-bitsy skirts and bikini tops that overflowed. Guys eagerly snapped pictures and collected autographs. As Erotica LA got underway Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, it was business as usual.

Adult film stars and producers who gathered for the three-day expo said they continue to believe the porn industry's testing guidelines are enough to keep performers safe despite this week's news that an adult film actress had tested positive for HIV.

"I don't think there's a problem right now," said actor, producer and director Jules Jordan. "It's like people who do stunts in Hollywood. There's a risk in anything you do."

Jordan said he does not use condoms in filming because "it takes away the whole fantasy."

His opinion, echoed by many in the industry, comes even as details of the newest publicized HIV case remain murky. Officials at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, a San Fernando Valley-based clinic that primarily serves porn stars, have issued conflicting statements about when the woman's first positive test was known, citing both June 4 and June 6.

What is clear is that the woman worked June 5 despite having last tested negative for HIV on April 29, outside the voluntary industry standard of 30 days. AIM officials said she has since gotten multiple positive test results. The woman had two recent sex partners, her boyfriend and a male performer she worked with June 5. The men have tested HIV negative so far. Six additional people who had sex with the men have been notified of the positive HIV test result, AIM's medical director said this week.

Los Angeles County officials, who have not yet received an official report on the case, said it would be the 22nd HIV infection in an adult industry performer since 2004. Five were detected in the outbreak five years ago that shut down production for a month. In all, health officials said 16 of the 22 are men, including 10 who were identified as having sex with other men, and six, including the most recent, are women.

Given the size of the industry "it is pretty remarkable and a testament to the testing procedures in place" that so few people have tested positive for HIV, said Steven Hirsch, co-founder of Vivid Entertainment, one of the largest producers of heterosexual adult films. "If we feel like the system is no longer working, then we would be open to changing our policy. As of now, we feel like it's working well."

Vivid, a condom-optional company, follows standard industry procedure requiring talent to show a clean test within the last 30 days before working. Most porn production companies have partnered with AIM, which gives producers access to an online database of performers' test results.

But public health officials caution that the testing protocol does not adequately protect against transmission of diseases. The male porn star at the center of the 2004 outbreak, for example, had tested negative for HIV just days before working and spreading the virus to three female performers.

Actress Belladonna, 28, star of more than 250 adult films, said she believes the industry needs more rigorous testing.

"I don't think 30 days is good enough," she said during a break from signing autographs at Erotica LA. "This is our bodies, our life, our work."

Still, she described her work as safe even though she does not use condoms.

Jessica Drake, an actress for Wicked Entertainment, said she also "finds comfort in the testing system we have set up." But she said she always uses a condom in filming and works for the industry's only heterosexual condom-mandatory production company. "Safe-sex practices definitely help me feel a lot more comfortable," Drake said. "And I've told many a new girl, 'Don't let anyone tell you you can't make a career [using condoms]. Stand your ground.' As a personal preference, that's what I believe."

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

ron.lin@latimes.com

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