by Larry Buhl
Does the porn industry have a hepatitis problem?
Actors who work for legitimate adult entertainment producers, who are mostly based in Los Angeles, now have to submit to monthly tests for hepatitis B and C as well as for Trichomoniasis vaginalis, a sexually transmitted infection of the urogenital tract.
The tests are administered by Adult Production Health & Safety Services (APHSS), which is run by Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the adult entertainment (pornography) industry lobbying group. FSC keeps a database of performers who are “cleared” for work when they are up to date on every test. The tests are voluntary, technically, but all legit adult entertainment directors and producers are expected to use only actors who have been cleared for all STDs.
Every twenty-eight days, performers will be required to take blood tests for hepatitis B and C. Every performer panel (twenty-eight or fourteen days) will require a urine sample for Trichomoniasis, in addition to the regular monthly and twice-monthly tests for HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia.
The new protocols come at a time of increased scrutiny on the porn industry’s safety practices and increased confusion about performer “clearances.”
Until two years ago, basic sexual education used to be provided to every performer entering the adult industry by AIM (Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation). Phlebotomists who took the actors’ blood gently suggested that they get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. But there was little testing for hepatitis unless specifically requested by a performer, and no obligation to share results. Since AIM closed its doors in 2011 due to bankruptcy, there is no one main testing site for all porn actors to go to, even though the test results are compiled by APHSS. These independent testing centers typically obey HIPAA guidelines, and don’t give out medical results. All they say is whether or not a performer is approved for work, or not.
There have been a series of health scares in the legit adult entertainment industry of late. In August, a female adult performer claimed that a man she was scheduled to work with might have tested positive for HCV, because a test from an outside-the-industry testing facility didn’t include any results for hepatitis. Also in August, a performer believed he possibly tested positive for syphilis and might have exposed fifteen others. He turned out to be negative, the Free Speech Coalition said, but the scare and its publicity was one more thing the porn industry didn’t need.
And the industry has been fighting attempts to mandate condom use. Last November an overwhelming majority of Los Angeles County voters approved a ballot measure, sponsored by five individuals affiliated with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, mandating condom use in every film produced in the county. It is widely believed among adult-film producers that their audiences do not want to see condoms in straight porn, though condoms in gay porn have been commonplace for decades. FSC took the matter to court, but last month a federal judge denied the porn industry’s assertion that requiring adult film performers to wear condoms is unconstitutional.
Given the increased attention on health and safety of porn actors, the FSC may have been erring on the side of caution by mandating new testing. But the new protocols beg the question: Why hepatitis C? It isn’t an STD as much as a disease transmitted primarily through blood (although the CDC does recommend routine condom use to reduce the risk of transmission). While HCV can spread through sexual intercourse, it’s rare, and there’s no evidence that it is spread by oral sex.
Hepatitis B (HBV), on the other hand, makes sense. It is much easier to transmit sexually than HCV and up to 100 times easier to be spread sexually than HIV. HBV has been found in vaginal secretions, saliva, and semen. Oral sex and especially anal sex are potential transmission routes.
If actors’ safety is the goal it is not clear why the group chose to test for hepatitis B and C, but not for hepatitis A, which spreads via fecal-oral contact. If even a microscopic amount of feces laden with hepatitis A gets into the mouth, infection potentially can result. (The Free Speech Coalition declined to be quoted for this article.)
It would appear that, given the public scrutiny of its testing procedures, the porn industry doesn’t have a hepatitis problem as much as an image problem.
Still, industry insiders agree that all of these testing procedures are affecting an increasingly smaller percentage of porn performers. Porn production has been growing decentralized for the past decade, fueled by the Internet and cheap video cameras. And there is no condom use, and no testing of any disease, required in the growing, cheaper, “non-legit” porn video part of the industry.
Larry Buhl is a radio news reporter, screenwriter, and novelist living in Los Angeles. His young adult novel, The Genius of Little Things, debuted in January 2013.