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AIM has other problems: a highly transient population of workers, rinky-dink, amateur productions and renegade companies that flout AIM's growing industry clout and a chronic lack of funding. But most I spoke to in the porn industry felt that AIM was better than nothing.

In fact, attitudes in the adult-film industry seem to be gradually changing, in part as a result of Mitchell's constant prodding and in part as a result of periodic crises in which performers turn up HIV positive. Major porn companies such as Vivid and VCA have instituted "condom only" policies, and porn giant Metro did the same, only to backslide recently to a "condom optional" policy. And an increasing number of porn stars insist on the use of condoms in their sex scenes.



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One of these, porn superstar Chloe, who has starred in about 300 films and won eight Adult Video News Awards in the past two years, told me that it was only at first that she got any flak for her decision.

"I've been in the industry for a little under five years," she said. "When I first came in, I was a noncondom player and I had 10 cases of V.D. in my first year -- stuff like chlamydia and gardnerella. I've been using a condom only for the last three years and have had one infection of chlamydia since. So I'm an avid condom user and like to see others use them as well.

"This industry hates change," Chloe added. "Back in my second year, I wasn't that popular. So I did lose a lot of work in the first three or four months of being condom only. But you just have to stick with it. It comes down to your personal safety and health vs. making money. For me, my personal safety and health were more important."

Of course, her success helps in her resolve. When she puts her foot down now, producers and directors have to comply. As has been noted in a lot of reports on the porn industry, female stars are better paid and generally have more personal freedom than their male counterparts. For instance, Tony Tedeschi, one of the few big-name male stars in straight porn to insist on condoms, still loses income because of his stance.

"I use condoms in every shoot," he told me. "Yes, I do get shut out of work because of it. But it's something I feel strongly about. Not just to protect myself, but because of the message that's being sent out.

"A lot of people nowadays, the only sex ed they have is adult videos. If they see all these people having unprotected sex, they assume it's OK. If we set a bad example, someone could catch something because they imitate the behavior they see in our films," Tedeschi said.

Some porn flicks do show condom use, despite complaints that condoms are an aesthetic turnoff for viewers. Mitchell commented that the Crown brand is favored in the industry, since a Crown-wrapped willy looks like a "well-lubed dick." One might expect the see-through Crown rubbers to waylay any arguments against their use on porn sets.

But the average porn outlet is awash in a smorgasbord of titles, presenting any number of risk-filled sexual activities: colossal gang bangs with ranks of amateurs plucked from the streets, rough, prolonged anal sex and extreme "gonzo" videos in which you might witness anything from a girl gulping down a wineglass filled with the jizz of a dozen men to a vast orgy scene with participants leaping gleefully from partner to partner. Many straight-porn directors constantly push the envelope to see what they can capture on film. Safe sex is not exactly their highest priority.

Jim Steel, a writer, director and producer of gay porn for Odyssey Group Video in Los Angeles, takes a dim view of the attempts of the straight side of the industry to regulate itself. Though he gives kudos to Mitchell (whose organization mostly caters to heterosexual pornsters) for doing what she can on her side of the fence, he thinks straight porn still lags behind gay porn on safer sex.

"Let me put it to you this way," he said. "I'm 42 years old. And from when I graduated from high school at 18 and came out, everybody I know is dead. So, as far as I'm concerned, until they find a cure for HIV, if you see a dick go into a hole, it should be covered with a condom. To do anything else is putting people at risk."

Steel said that, unlike straight porn, gay porn does not require testing, mainly because producers already use condoms on all productions and for the most part do not allow cum shots in the mouth or on the face. However, as in condom-only straight productions, condoms are not required for blow job scenes.

"It's not as common a practice on the gay end as it is on the straight end to have the test," Steel added. "But I think the test is ridiculous anyway. If you're not asking them to do anything unsafe, what business is it of mine as a director to know what your health is?"

Actually, to an outsider such as me, it seems as if regular testing for STDs and HIV along with consistent condom use, even for oral sex, would be the safest bet. These are the guidelines followed at Dennis Hof's Bunnyranch, and he says that during his tenure the brothel has had to deal only with rare cases of chlamydia in newcomers.

However, Patrick from San Francisco insists that those who avail themselves of the services of sex workers also bear some responsibility in all this. His comments could also apply to those who consume pornography.

"Since the advent of AIDS, I've seen so many stories that portray sex workers as these disease vectors," he said. "And I'm so sick of that. It's a really horrible stereotype. We were carrying HIV into the general population, supposedly.

"The reality is, clients are adults who make decisions about the kinds of sex they're looking for. If there's unsafe sex going on, clients are the ones demanding it. They're not these innocent little disease-free victims who are getting infected by villainous sex workers. That's a complete fabrication. We're all adults here."


salon.com | July 21, 2000

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About the writer
Stephen Lemons is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. He contributes regularly to the New Times L.A., Art Connoisseur, SOMA magazine and GettingIt.com.

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