Tainted

08.14.13

The Porn Industry’s Hepatitis Problem

Is a veteran adult performer filming scenes after testing positive for hepatitis? Aurora Snow says the industry’s self-policing is more inadequate than ever—and it’s time to add hepatitis to the list of mandatory tests.

Porn star Lisa Ann alleged Monday that a male performer was scheduled to shoot a scene despite testing positive for hepatitis, raising questions once again about whether the industry’s current testing standards are covering all the bases.

In the 12 years I was in porn, no one worried about syphilis or hepatitis. In fact, I’ve never been vaccinated against hepatitis A or B; back then it was a series of three shots and I never made it a priority to make it to the third round—not uncommon thinking for most performers in porn. Two years into my career, in March 2002, Pamela Anderson claimed to CNN that she’d contracted hepatitis C from her ex-husband Tommy Lee. (Lee denied having the virus.) As far as I knew then, that was as close as hepatitis had come to entering the world of porn, which is to say it was leagues away. The industry I was part of has changed a lot in the last few years; some could argue it has become more private in terms of information sharing creating a gap in safety protocol.

When I was in the business, most of the performers were tested at AIM (Adult Industry Medical). We tested every month for HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. A few times a year we had what we referred to as “syphilis month,” when an extra vial of blood was drawn and tested for syphilis. Neither syphilis nor hepatitis were big enough concerns to test for regularly; HIV was the big worry. AIM had no competition, so we all went to the same place, which made it very convenient for anyone in the industry to call in and check on another performer’s test. I called AIM before every scene to request my scene partner’s medical results over the phone, and in what was likely considered a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), that information was shared with me. It made me feel safe.

Since AIM was shut down due to bankruptcy, new talent testing centers popped up and there is no longer one main venue for all to flock to. Adding to that confusion today’s industry testing centers typically obey HIPAA and don’t give out medical results. All they can say now is whether or not a performer is approved for work.

It’s obvious that medical privacy laws don’t just make it difficult to notify adult performers, they may also undercut any system the porn industry claims it has to keep performers safe. If someone tested positive and refused to share that information, or who they worked with, or even quit after obtaining positive STD results, a disease could unknowingly spread within the industry. The real issue here, one the industry’s confusion and panic certainly points to, could be that HIPAA makes porn’s self-policing a myth.

It’s important to remember this business is built on sex and money, not trust.

Since the syphilis scare of 2012 there has been more regular testing for it, but hardly any testing for hepatitis unless specifically requested by a performer and certainly little obligation to share unfavorable results. Current protocol for performer safety in the self-regulated industry only asks that a performer have a negative test for the standard three: HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. In June, both Talent Testing Services (TTS) and Cutting Edge Testing (CET), the two main testing centers for performers, temporarily added hepatitis to the list of STDs they tested for, not unlike the “syphilis month” of testing back in the day of AIM. But to accommodate an ever-growing pool of talent—porn is no longer relegated to the San Fernando Valley—there are testing-center outposts littered throughout the United States, some of which are listed on the APHHS (Adult Performer Health and Safety Services) website. These testing outposts typically test performers for the standard three without the extra STD test a few random months out of the year.

After Lisa Ann’s allegation, it may be safe to assume more performers will be asking to see a negative hepatitis test too. Considering medical laws, it’s impossible to say whether Lisa Ann confirmed that the male performer in question really has hepatitis C. According to a statement she gave Xbiz, she determined he was positive for hepatitis through a “process of elimination.”

Derek Hay, owner of the porn agency L.A. Direct Models, in a statement to Xbiz, publicly reminded us that “the adult industry does not currently require someone to demonstrate negative test results for hepatitis in order for a performer to be cleared to work.”

Lawyer Michael W. Fattorosi said that medical-law records create a conflict within the industry’s self-regulating safety protocol. “There are competing forces, personal privacy versus the public’s and the industry’s health, safety, and welfare,” he said. “The industry has to devise a system that can protect privacy while best combating the spread of any disease.”

Which leads me to wonder why Measure B, a 2012 law requiring porn performers in L.A. to wear condoms, isn’t more welcomed within the adult industry. Would diseases be an issue if condoms were standard practice? Despite the passing of Measure B, only a handful of companies work hard to comply, and countless productions now take place just outside Los Angeles County, and thus outside the law’s reach. Though Fattorosi claims Measure B is being enforced and several of his clients not only have health permits but have also been inspected by the Los Angeles County Health Department, “County Health is doing their best, but porn production is not their only responsibility. It is imperative that the industry immediately add hepatitis testing to the standard panel of tests that are required before a performer is allowed to participate in a scene.”

In an attempt to handle the situation, TTS is now offering a two-week window of complimentary hepatitis screenings from now until the end of August. Unless the industry insists on adding hepatitis to the list of regularly tested STDs, these screenings will most likely only be done sporadically throughout the year and won’t even be offered at every testing outpost. If it weren’t for the temporary and very brief testing of hepatitis to expose potential threats, it is within the realm of possibility that a performer could knowingly work with hepatitis throughout the year. It’s important to remember this business is built on sex and money, not trust.