Porn News

Mother Theresa of Porn?

Porn Valley- Former porn star Sharon Mitchell lived a “Boogie Nights”-style life of fame and excess, turning out more than 1,000 movies with titles like “Jail Bait” and “Captain Lust and the Pirate Women.”

Along the way, she acquired herpes, chlamydia and a 16-year heroin habit. She was also raped and beaten by a deranged fan in 1996.

A few years later, though, she would return to the industry in a much different role: unofficial chief health-care officer.

Mitchell, holder of a Ph.D. in human sexuality, co-founded the nonprofit Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, which provides testing for sexually transmitted diseases along with drug and psychological counseling for porn actors.

“She is basically the Mother Teresa of porn,” actor and producer Dave Pounder said.

It was the foundation’s testing that determined last week that actors Darren James and Lara Roxx were infected with the AIDS virus. The discovery led to the voluntary quarantine of 53 people and prompted an estimated 80 percent of the porn industry to halt production until further testing gives the all-clear.

While Mitchell has her critics, many in the multibillion-dollar industry credit her with getting the industry to look seriously at the occupational hazard of AIDS.

“She’s trying so hard to keep this ragtag bunch of hooligans together in this industry,” said Suze Randall, a friend and adult film producer. “We’re all rule-breakers and free spirits, and Sharon’s got her work cut out keeping us all alive.”

Mitchell, 46, said she is the only one providing comprehensive help to the nation’s porno film industry, which is centered in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.

“We let them know that HIV is an occupational hazard, not just a risk or a remote possibility,” Mitchell said. “Nobody seems to hear it. Everybody is so into making money.”

Raised in New Jersey, Mitchell said she grew up in a “wonderful and loving” family and took her first adult film role after off-Broadway acting jobs did not earn her much money. She said she had no qualms about getting into porn. Nobody had even heard of AIDS.

“What risk was there in 1975?” she said. “It was the sexual revolution. What was I going to get? Crabs?”

She had a long career as a performer, director and producer and gathered a shelf full of adult movie awards and a place in Hustler magazine’s Hall of Fame. Acting in the movies was fun, she said.

Then, after performing at a Sunset Boulevard strip club, she was followed home by a fan and brutalized. The attack “did something to me,” she said. She made a few more films but was soon “running for rehab and college as fast as I could.”

As she was studying public health (she would later earn her doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco), the first big HIV scare hit the industry in 1998. Six performers were found to have the AIDS virus. Testing programs were spotty. People in the industry asked Mitchell to look into it.

“I started testing everyone,” she said. “I had been out of porn for a good two years, maybe three. I did not want to come back for anything. But I thought, these are my friends.”

The effort turned into a foundation with a $1.4 million annual budget, with most of the money coming from performers. Now, with nine full-time employees and a variety of other services, the clinic typically runs a $7,000 monthly deficit, Mitchell said.

Performers in most heterosexual porn flicks do not use condoms, for fear they will hurt sales. But many producers require actors to get tested for AIDS once a month. And Mitchell said the self-policing of the industry has worked.

After 80,000 tests, only 11 performers have been diagnosed with HIV since 1998, she said. Before the two recent cases, the last positive test was in 1999 and involved just one person.

Mitchell gets high marks from the health officials that she works closely with. But she rejects suggestions that the government regulate the porn industry by mandating condom use or enforcing safety rules on movie sets. Such regulation would only force the industry underground, she said.

Nevertheless, Peter Kerndt, director of Los Angeles County’s sexually transmitted disease program, predicted the HIV scare might lead to a condom requirement.

“She genuinely cares about people that come into this industry and has done everything she possibly can to protect them, their health and to provide them with information they need,” he said. “Obviously more needs to be done.”

As for Mitchell’s career, she said she never seriously considered returning to porn. “Nobody knows me as the ex-porn star. I’m a doctor. I wear a doctor’s coat. I run a clinic. I’m very well-respected,” she said.

Besides, she added, what kind of porn could a middle-aged woman do?

“It would have to be `Granny Does Vegas,”‘ she said.

 

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