Porn News

O’Lovely: “They Don’t Care About Our Health”

LOS ANGELES – At a secluded ranch above Placerita Canyon, a former supermarket cashier who calls herself Mia Beck was taking her first tentative steps toward her new career goal: porn star.

Wearing a pink bikini, she sat in the shade of a live oak tree next to a pond, waiting her turn before the camera in Janine Likes Men.

“I’m taking it slow… . I’ve talked to lots of girls in the business and they all said to start slow, not to be pressured into doing anything you’re not comfortable with,” said Beck, 20, two years out of high school and two months into her new job. “So I’m just doing girl-girl and solo scenes for now. And that way I don’t have to worry about the condom thing.”

The “condom thing” has become a huge issue for the multibillion-dollar sex video business here, following the revelation that five performers recently contracted HIV during unprotected sex. The industry virtually shut down for a month, and 50 performers were placed on a quarantine list until new blood tests could demonstrate they were free of the virus that causes AIDS.

On Wednesday, the self-imposed moratorium was lifted, and shooting quickly resumed in the lower-rent reaches of the northern San Fernando Valley, where the producers’ offices and warehouses of the sex industry coexist with auto-repair shops, upholstery stores, and middle-class housing.

Despite the HIV cases and some proposals by state and city legislators for regulation of the porn industry, insiders say little is likely to change. A business notorious for exploiting young performers often desperate for money will continue to produce what it says the public wants, making AIDS an occupational hazard.

“They don’t care about our health,” said Olivia O’Lovely, 27, a two-year veteran of the business, who says she has been in about 80 movies. “They know another girl turns 18 every day.”

A lot of money is at stake in the business. Tim Connelly, publisher of Adult Video News, says video rentals topped $800 million last year, and he estimated total industry revenue – from rentals, video sales, Internet sites, still photos and publications – at $9 billion a year.

“We’re bigger than NASCAR and the NFL combined,” Connelly said.

They are also increasingly mainstream. Producers and distributors regularly lobby the state legislature in Sacramento, and the industry fetes itself each year with a $225-per-ticket awards ceremony.

Of the approximately 4,000 sex videos produced here each year, more than 90 percent are believed to feature unsafe sex. Only two of the scores of sex video companies, Vivid Entertainment and Wicked Pictures, require condoms to be used.

The risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is not limited to the industry’s 1,200 performers here; health officials say an outbreak of HIV/AIDS could spread from performers to the public.

The sex industry’s defense in recent years has been monthly testing of its performers. But, because a person may have HIV for several weeks before it shows up on a test, the testing regimen is not a perfect tool, as the recent outbreak proved.

Five weeks ago, a veteran sex performer, Darren James, tested positive for HIV, apparently after contracting the disease while shooting a movie in Brazil. After he returned to the United States, he apparently transmitted it to at least three actresses – Lara Roxx, Jessica Dee and Miss Arroyo.

A fourth performer, a transsexual known as Jennifer, also tested positive, although that case was apparently not linked to the four others.

Sharon Mitchell, a former porn actress who now runs the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, which does the testing of performers, said testing had been a successful defense against the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. But she acknowledged that “this is a containment system – it’s not foolproof.”

State Assemblyman Tim Leslie, a Republican, has sponsored a bill mandating condom use in all sex videos, and Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks has proposed similar city legislation.

“We talk a lot about migrant farmworkers and how oppressed they are, but the worst-treated migrant has more protection than the most famous porn star,” said Brian O’Neel, press secretary for Leslie.

Unlike workers in most industries, few sex performers are demanding safer working conditions.

“They don’t band together. They’re too young, their self-esteem is too low. They’re looking for money,” said Paul Thomas, a veteran director of sex videos who works with Vivid, one of the two companies that require condoms. He was directing Janine Likes Men. “At Vivid, we take the position that we have to set working conditions that are good for them.”

“If everyone would just say ‘no,’ we could stop this,” O’Lovely said. “But the percentage of those doing it out of need for money or drugs is higher than the cluster of us who aren’t.”

In recent weeks, some performers have started holding meetings, trying to organize the actors. The results, they say, have not been encouraging.

“I’d really like to hope so, but I don’t see the evidence,” said performer Jack Lawrence, 37. “I’ve been to all the meetings, and when you see 40 people show up out of 1,200… .”

Steven Hirsch, Vivid’s president, said his company initially lost about 15 percent of its revenue when it instituted its mandatory condoms policy after an AIDS outbreak six years ago. He said sales had rebounded since then, boosted by demand from “soft-core” porn channels.

“Regardless, we were not going to put ourselves in a position where any of our people were going to contract a deadly disease or any sexually transmitted disease,” Hirsch said. “Other companies look at it as a marketing edge not to have condoms… but ultimately, they may have to take responsibility for what happens.”

Performers are independent contractors working for daily payments, so the production companies don’t provide benefits or pay for the blood tests, which cost $110 a month.

Performers collect anywhere from $200 to $2,000 per sex scene, which is better money than they could earn working as waitresses or house painters.

“I make more in one day doing this than I did in a week at Whole Foods,” said Beck, who said she would be paid about $400 for her scene. “And she probably makes four or five times as much as I do,” she said, nodding across the pond at Janine, the movie’s star, who was in a clinch with a male performer, moaning theatrically.

O’Lovely said that when she worked with directors she likes and coworkers she trusts, “it’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s great money.” But she said she was surprised the government hadn’t taken action on the safe-sex issue.

“They make us wear seat belts. But not condoms?”



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