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Dino Bravo: I got bills to pay

The HIV outbreak in the San Fernando Valley-based adult film industry last week raised concerns about risky sex practices to an unprecedented level among performers, producers and health experts with some advocating the need for government regulation.

Dozens of production companies in the multibillion-dollar adult film industry shut down after actor Darren James tested positive for HIV on Monday. Actress Lara Roxx, 22 — one of the 14 women he worked with after March 17 when he tested negative — subsequently tested positive as well and about 55 people have been quarantined because of potential exposure.

Sharon Mitchell, a founder and executive director of The Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation in Sherman Oaks, said the industry’s spectacular profits aided by the Internet and cable television’s reach into mainstream America have led to increasingly risky sexual practices, without using condoms. The industry’s annual revenues are estimated to be in the $9 billion to $13 billion range.

“It’s the Wild West cowboy. It’s the last frontier to escape regulation,” Mitchell said. “It’s chic to be a porn star.”

Mitchell, herself a former adult film star who helped bring regular testing for HIV, AIDS and venereal diseases into the industry after an outbreak six years ago, said safer sex practices are necessary but government regulation might drive the industry underground, where it would be harder to get voluntary compliance.

Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of the sexually transmitted disease program for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said regulations won’t drive “the big boys” underground.

“You don’t live in fear of what could be driven underground.”

Kerndt said officials take the outbreak seriously and see unsafe practices in the adult film industry as posing health dangers to the general population.

“We’re concerned about this, because it has the potential, unchecked, to spread rapidly to their partners apart from their industry partners,” he said.

Kerndt said a state-county task force has drafted a plan that would make condom use mandatory by forcing production companies to comply with a California Occupational Safety and Health Administration injury and illness prevention plan or face closure.

“We want to bring this industry into the mainstream by putting it under the regulations that currently exist for Cal-OSHA. This would be a model for the rest of the country.”

There are about 200 adult film producers — most of them in the Valley — and about 75 percent of them have stopped making films, including industry giant Vivid Entertainment LLC in Van Nuys.

No one knows how long the stoppage will last or what its financial impact will be.

“As of now we have stopped making movies, for at least a week, perhaps two, as AIM puts together the list of people who have been affected by the HIV scare,” company co-chief executive officer Steven Hirsch said Friday.

“We feel that with condoms and mandatory testing people will be safe on our set.”

Performers, in order to work in the adult industry, have to be tested every three weeks — but often have multiple partners onstage in the weeks between. James, for example, filmed scenes with five women on March 8, AIM’s records show.

There is wide agreement that condoms are the best answer to preventing HIV, but condoms also drive down profits because they limit the kind of sex practices that consumers will pay to see.

With fear running high in the industry, many performers were streaming into the AIM clinic on Ventura Boulevard. The clinic has performed about 500 tests since James’ positive reading Monday. AIM normally sees about 1,200 adult film workers a month.

Dino Bravo, 34, of Studio City said one of his shoots was canceled Thursday because it involved one of the quarantined women. But two others are set for next week.

“There’s risk in everything,” said Bravo. “I put my clothes on in the morning, and could get hit by a truck. I got bills to pay.”

Ayako, 36, of Sherman Oaks said that after just three months in the industry, her main concern is safety.

Because her specialty is fetishes and other acts for private collections, she said she focuses on working with people she trusts. “There’s a lot more (work) these days. It’s everywhere. People want something different.”

Mitchell spends much of her time counseling young men and women on the pitfalls of the industry and shows them safe sex videos warning that HIV is an occupational hazard.

“This is an addiction about money, sex and fame,” she said. “People get into it for the money, and have a plan of action, like in five years they’ll get out and run their own company or Web page or sell real estate.

“They think it’s the back door to Hollywood … they get stuck here on this side of the hill.”

 

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