Porn star James Deen is more concerned about whether to order the musetto frito appetizer than the barely hours-old news that there has been a possible case of HIV exposure on an adult film set.
“I don’t really worry. I just think it sucks for that person,” he says as his phone chirps and beeps with alerts. I just happened to be interviewing Deen when the Free Speech Coalition, which represents the adult film industry, announced a moratorium on filming due to possible HIV exposure on a set outside of California.
“When someone tests positive, my concern is not for my safety,” says Deen. “It’s for their emotion(al) state and coming together as an industry to support them and help them get correct medical care.”
If anything, he is apologetic that he is being distracted with incoming emails about it. “I’m sorry. This is my worst interview ever,” he said, more, more chagrined than anything else. “It’s understandable people are freaking out. It’s frustrating I am being asked questions I can’t answer.” Like what? “Like, ‘Who is it?’”
The Free Speech Coalition has not publicized the performer’s identity.
But the unknown potential health risks seem like a mild annoyance, if that, to Deen. I ask him point-blank: Do you still believe in not requiring condoms on set. “I believe in freedom of speech,” he says with a weighty stare. His answer is sharp, without pause or doubt. He spends more time contemplating what wine to order.
Deen was one of the most vocal members of the industry to campaign against Los Angeles County’s Measure B in 2012, which mandated porn performers use condoms. The measure passed, but the adult film industry has sued, claiming the law violates First Amendment rights. In 2013, U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson issued a mixed ruling, saying it was constitutional to make porn actors use condoms but potentially unconstitutional to enforce. A ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal is pending.
Despite the multiple HIV scares since Measure B was passed, Deen rejects the condom mandate. In general, he is wary of government regulation of the porn industry. He says some people have suggested that adult film actors should register with the state as a public health measure, but, unsurprisingly, that’s even more abhorrent to him. “I’m against that because I am a Jew, and the last time we had to register with the state, it didn’t work out so well.”
With this latest scare, Deen’s doubling down on the adult film industry’s rejection of condom laws. “Our protocol is so strict. We have yet to have a single onset transmission in ten years,” he says. Voice raised and hands gesticulating, Deen is adamant in his defense of the current protocol of getting tested every 14 days, although some studios require only every 28 days. He stresses that “irresponsible behavior off-set” has been responsible for every HIV case in the industry since the resting regulations were implemented. “There hasn’t been a single transmission on set. You can’t do better than zero.”
According to Deen, there are some 50,000 HIV tests performed in the porn industry each year with a .01 percent rate of false positive. Mathematically, that means there are likely to be a handful of false positives each year, as was the case when porn filming halted for 24 hours in August after a confirmation test proved negative.
Deen says he provides condoms as an option on set when he is in charge of the filming and stresses to actors that they shouldn’t do scenes if they feel uncomfortable. “If someone tells me they want to hire me and do a scene that I don’t feel comfortable with, then I’m going to tell them that and I’m not going to do the scene. I need to take personal responsibility,” he says.
But just because neither system is perfect doesn’t mean that industry can’t do a better job protecting adult film performers—and Deen admits that. “I think we need more education on sexual behaviors off the set,” he says. “I think we need to make sure not just anyone with a penis and anyone with a vagina is allowed on set, [but] I don’t think mandating condoms fixes that.”
To him, the adult film industry “needs to be slightly reconfigured” from when it first started its battle to remain a legal operation decades ago. “If it’s [the industry] going to be protected by First Amendment rights, it needs to be seen not as a bunch of people trying to make money and exploit sexuality, but as a business, like Hollywood, that follows certain rules and regulations. We’re at a precipice right now. We can either go to legitimacy and do things the moral and ethical way, or slip back into the shadows and be this dirty industry with mustaches and gold chains.”