Story of the Day Replay: ABC News Looks at the Condom Controversy in the Adult Industry

from – Darren James once led a busy life as a porn star.

“Sometimes it’d be 10 women in an orgy scene — nonstop,” he said, talking about his career at its busiest. “And you work from eight in the morning to maybe eight at night. And that’s one scene. All these women. Nonstop.”

It was part of a job James did successfully for nearly eight years. Until he got the call all porn performers dread.

“I get that call,” he said, shaking his head. “Everything stops. I had the virus. I’m like, whoa, what happened? This can’t be happening to me. … I thought I did everything right. And my whole world just crashed.”

James learned he was HIV-positive in 2004. And he doesn’t know, he said, how he got infected.

“I don’t. There was just so many women pressed up in that short period of time,” he said.

James passed the virus to co-workers, although “not knowingly,” he said.

“I’d known three girls I’d infected and I knew them,” James said. “They’re nice people and I felt bad.”

James’ HIV infection shut down Southern California’s porn industry for a month. When his identity as the original infection was made public, he says the isolation that followed drove him to attempt suicide.

“I know porn ain’t the best business in the world, but it’s all I had,” he said. “At that point I wanted to end it because I know I couldn’t recover.”

James is now campaigning to make condom use mandatory in adult films. He predicted years ago that his infection would not be the last the industry would see. In June of this year he was proven right when another performer was diagnosed with HIV.

Sharon Mitchell runs the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, or AIM, a clinic set up by the adult industry to serve performers.

What sexually transmitted disease does she see most among the performers?

“Chlamydia,” she said. “Chlamydia sticks to everything.”

“We’re not the condom police and we’re not the set police,” Mitchell said. “We do make it possible for everyone to exchange clean bills of health.”

The recent HIV infection of an adult performer was detected at Mitchell’s facility. Unlike in James’ case, Mitchell says this time the contamination was contained and no other performers were infected.

“The patient zero only had one prior test, it wasn’t like this performer had been working for six months and had, you know, a whole history of testing, and so we were really able to take a good look at the people that this performer had worked with,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell believes that the latest patient zero contracted HIV outside of the industry but within the 30-day testing period that is now industry standard.

“Yes, most definitely,” Mitchell said. “We are really able to tell almost to the day.”

Los Angeles County health officials say that more than 3,600 cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea have been reported among adult film performers since 2004. But Mitchell says she observes a lower incidence rate of STDs among adult performers than is found in the general population. She credits sex education provided at her clinic.

“I have tried every possible way to convince a lot of companies to use condoms and I’ve even found two brands of condom that basically look like a well-lubed penis because they are so clear and they lend themselves to the hue of the video and the body tone,” Mitchell said.

“Still, a lot of people don’t like to use them for their personal reasons and some people don’t like to use them for professional reasons.”

Condoms may be life-savers, but inside the porn industry they are widely viewed as profit-killers.

Steve Hirsch is the CEO of Vivid Entertainment, one of the country’s most prolific producers of pornography. Testing for STDs in the industry is voluntary, but Vivid requires its performers to provide a clear test from the AIM clinic every 30 days in order to work.

“The truth is that when people watch adult movies, they’re watching for the fantasy, and they don’t want to see condoms,” said Hirsch. “It’s been proven over and over and over. Condoms in adult movies just don’t sell well. That’s just a fact.”

At a recent Vivid shoot, producer Shylar Cobi explained the process.

“I go to talent search and today we’re using Nicki Jane, so I type in her real last name and it brings up her current results and a little link to it and I can click on the button and it gives me her results. And it tells me when she was tested and when it expires, so as long as I know it’s within the 30 days, it’s not expired, I can use the talent.”

“Nightline” spoke with Nicki Jane about 10 minutes before she was to have sex on camera with a man she had met that day. Asked if it was weird to be having sex with a stranger, she said “No, not at all.”

Jane acknowledged that the 30-day window between tests meant that she could be working with an infected performer.

“It’s not 100 percent, nothing is 100 percent safe,” she said.

Does that make her nervous?

“No,” she said. “It would make me more nervous probably like, getting on a plane and thinking that the plane is going to crash. I don’t really think about it.”

While some companies say they offer female performers the option to use condoms, inside the industry the decision to demand condom use is widely viewed as a choice to not work in porn.

“If you wanted to [use condoms],” said Nicki Jane, “you wouldn’t hardly get any work. …The whole point of the porn industry is to see something raw, see something really sexual and it’d be all like if you’d see a condom, it all looks a little pre-, like people should be using condoms in the real life and when they see it on screen they don’t really want to see that.”

Mike Weinstein runs the AIDS Health Care Foundation. He believes that the graphic nature of porn shoots invites risk.

“Well, there are definitely sexual acts that are being depicted on film, for the benefit of the fantasy of the audience, that are much riskier,” said Weinstein. “Also, you may [have] multiple performers at the same time. Obviously, that increases the risk of transmission.”

The AIDS Health Care Foundation is suing both the Los Angeles County’s Public Health Department and major porn producers to force condom use on sets.

“I believe that every performer wants to wear condoms on set,” Weinstein said. “I believe that every producer should be required to have the workers on that set, the performers on that set, just like they would on a Hollywood movie, you can’t [put] people who are on a Hollywood set at risk, you can’t have them do stunts without protection.”

“Nightline” was there when an 18-year-old adult performer came to the AIM clinic for her 30-day STD test.

She said she was taking the testing “pretty seriously,” adding that it’s something she does every month.

“Because there’s a risk of getting AIDs, everyone is scared of getting it, so you got to get tested every month,” she said.

The performer said her work was probably not worth the risks.

“Not really, no,” she said, “but you got to do it for money.”

She said that working without condoms is the only way to get consistent work in adult films.

“People don’t usually want condoms, so I don’t think I’d get as much work,” she said.

She said she felt pressure not to wear condoms and favored a change that would require them. “I’d make it like a law or something,” she said.

But Hirsch and others inside the industry say a law requiring condom use would only push production underground. He says the known infection numbers prove that the current voluntary testing system works.

“We produce as an industry about 10,000 movies a year,” said Hirsch. “Each movie has about five sex scenes, so that’s 50,000 scenes a year. Multiply it by five years and we’re talking about 250,000 scenes have been shot since 2004, and one person has tested positive. I like our track record.”

But James still believes that’s not good enough.

“Why is it worth it to go what I went through?” he said. “It’s probably the worst thing. Just getting that call, ‘You have HIV,’ and then your whole life is upside-down. The only way to solve it is condoms. Period.”

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