Could The Adult Film Industry Be A Model For HIV Prevention?

Last week, Michael Weinstein of the controversial (and powerful) AIDS Healthcare Foundation, launched an attack on the Center for Disease Control, over the CDC’s endorsement of pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) drugs like Truvada which have been shown to prevent the transmission of HIV. Rather than embrace the move, Weinstein published an open letter entitled “What If You Are Wrong About PrEP?”

As someone who has endured Mr. Weinstein’s morality crusades myself, I have to ask: Mr. Weinstein, what if you are wrong about the adult film industry?

For the past five years, attacking the adult film industry over HIV has been your near singular focus. You’ve railed against producers. You’ve called performers a threat to public health. You’ve run ballot measures, initiated boycotts, and wasted millions of dollars on failed legislation. You spend public money monitoring porn for condoms, and use your valuable resources shaming anyone who doesn’t share your conservative morality. But what if you’re wrong about us? What if, rather than being part of the problem, the adult film industry could be part of solution?

Sound odd? Despite shooting hundreds of thousands of scenes, the last time there was an HIV transmission on a regulated adult set was in 2004 — over ten years ago. Our performers test for a full slate of STIs, including HIV, every two weeks, and the entire industry stops production anytime there’s even a remote possibility that an STI like HIV or syphilis might pose a risk to the performer pool. If this were any population other than porn stars, you’d be praising its incredible success. (In fact, the NY Times has called us “an unlikely model” for HIV prevention.)

You see, sexual health is integral to our business. Performers know more about their bodies — and how to protect them from STIs — than any other demographic on the planet. If a performer contracts an STI, they may not be able to work, sometimes for weeks. And in the case of production shutdown, the entire industry loses money. Even if we were the greedy profiteers you so often portray us as, we’d still have a vested financial interest in keeping the performer pool safe.

Of course, it’s not just about money. The adult industry is a small, tight-knit community, and we care deeply about what happens to our fellow performers. They are our friends, our co-workers, and, in some cases, our family. Many producers, like myself, were or are performers. That’s why we’re always looking for ways to improve the system.

This is also why I’m so bullish on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medications like Truvada, which promise to help reduce the risk of HIV transmissions to near zero. Because while we’ve been able to control performer safety on set, we can’t always control what happens off-set, with an untested population. A performer has to test every fourteen days; his or her boyfriend or girlfriend might not. In the past few years, several performers have attempted to return to work after contracting the virus off-set, and we’ve shut down production, initiated partner contacts and worked with doctors and public health officials to trace the genealogy of the virus (i.e., where it was contracted). A drug that protects performers off set as well as on set not only promises to keep our performers safer, it promises to keep our industry stronger.

It’s hard not to notice that the language you use in your opposition to PrEP — calling it a “party drug” and shaming anyone who uses it — is so similar to the language you use with adult film performers. With both, you talk about loose morals and drug use, and stoke fears that each is a threat to the general population. I’d venture to say that your focus on us has less to do with prevention and everything to do with (what you view as) promiscuity.

That’s why for the past year we’ve been working with HIV and STI outreach organizations, sex worker rights groups, public health advocates, and the performers themselves to develop more comprehensive protocols that talk not only about condoms and testing, but also the possibilities offered by PrEP, vaccinations and other prevention options. While you’ve been singularly focused on mandating condoms and dental dams — non-starters for many performers and consumers — we’ve been upping our game, increasing education, upgrading testing, minimizing risk. While you’ve been protesting OSHA for not toeing your party line, we’ve been working with public health advocates to develop regulations that can be effective while considering the specific needs of adult industry workers.

When I proposed adult film performers could be looked at as an exemplar for safer sex and sexual health, I wasn’t being glib. While sex is never 100% safe, our protocols — regular testing, discussions of sexual health without fear or shame, prevention methods that reflect real-life sexual behavior — would be a vast improvement over what the general population uses now. Our industry has often been at the forefront of new technologies and new freedoms. Why not sexual health? So I ask you again, Mr. Weinstein, what if you’re wrong about the adult industry?

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