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Porn Valley- The business of pornography is not for the fainthearted. When you have sex on camera for a living, be prepared to bare every freckle, cozy up to strangers under hot lights and feign passion on command.

“It’s a job,” said Jay Ashley, 33, who learned how to take orders as a marine during the Persian Gulf war before becoming a sex-video actor in 1992. “I’m not out there being destructive, selling drugs or beating people. I came into this industry to make it my career.”

What Mr. Ashley might not have anticipated was that, like his stint in the Marines, his new career might also be lethal. Mr. Ashley’s is one of 53 names on a list of performers who were exposed directly or indirectly to two actors, Darren James and Lara Roxx, who were found to be infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

The news has prompted a virtual shutdown of the sex-video industry for at least 60 days and has idled countless actors, producers, directors and crew members, many of them based in and around the suburban San Fernando Valley.

The potential economic consequences of the shutdown have unnerved some actors, who often portray their career choice as not so different from that of other Americans. “They’ve got rent to pay, car payments,” said Jill Kelly, a sex-film producer. “Some of them have extravagant lifestyles.”

The enforced hiatus is especially difficult for the men, who make less than their female counterparts. Women can average $5,000 to $8,000 a month, several times what most men earn. “The whole business is all about the girls,” Ms. Kelly said. “The men are just there as a prop.”

Nick Manning, 36, had started work on a film on April 13 when news of the shutdown came through. His restlessness was apparent. “One more day without sex here,” he said on Friday. “It’s ridiculous. We have nothing to do. Imagine if you couldn’t work for an indefinite period of time. It’s very odd for me.”

Tim Myren, a talent booker, who runs the Naughty Modeling agency, said there had been panic in the ranks when the reality of the shutdown sank in. “I had 18 girls calling me crying, all upset, saying, `What do I do?’ ” he recalled. “So I’m trying to figure out some other things for them, like car shows and maybe shooting some solo stuff.”

The publicity over the H.I.V. tests has beamed a spotlight on a largely undercover industry that every year produces about 4,000 titles and brings in $5 billion to $9 billion, according to Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. The higher number almost equals the $9.6 billion in tickets sales in the United States and Canada last year from mainstream Hollywood studios and independent productions.

The sex-video shutdown is self-imposed, not mandated by a government agency and is typical of the vigilance the industry says it exercises over the health of its workers. Industry leaders point out that the rate of H.I.V. infection among pornographic actors is minuscule. Sharon Mitchell, director of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, which tests 900 to 1,200 performers monthly, said that only 11 cases have been recorded here in the last seven years, out of hundreds of thousands of sexual contacts.

People taking tests for H.I.V., chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis at the clinic, which is on Ventura Boulevard, are required to sign a waiver that allows disclosure of their names and test results under certain circumstances, like public health alerts.

Despite such precautions, some actors are now deciding whether their careers are worth the threat to their health. Mr. Manning said he had not envisaged when he moved to Los Angeles and entered the industry five years ago that he and his new colleagues would face such a problem.

“I was never concerned about it till now,” said Mr. Manning, a former human resources executive at Citigroup in New York, who was recruited off the street as a model. “It makes you re-evaluate what you’re doing.”

Despite the crisis, the industry enjoys at least the tacit approval of Los Angeles officials, who bring in revenue by issuing the same filming permits to sex-film production companies as it dispenses to large Hollywood studios.

Things have calmed down considerably since the early 1980’s, when police officers with guns drawn sometimes burst into houses and apartments where pornographic films were being shot, handcuffing naked actors and invoking laws that governed pimping or hiring people for the purpose of sex. The use of those laws against the pornographic film industry was struck down by the California Supreme Court in 1985. Although local and state officials are once again speaking ominously of a regulatory crackdown – including the possibility of inspections of film sets and production companies – most actors, directors and producers appear upbeat and strongly defend their industry. They say the work is enjoyable, clean and shameless.

“I would say that working without condoms in the industry is less dangerous than going home with someone who you just met randomly in a bar and had a one-night stand with,” said the actress Jessica Drake, who began her career as a stripper while in college in Texas and makes at least seven videos a year as a contract player for Wicked Pictures here.

The crisis has forced an unusual cohesion among industry players.

“Friends, enemies – everyone comes together in the adult industry when there’s any kind of a problem like this,” said Jim South, a talent agent with 31 years in the business. “All politics are put aside.”

In any event, he said, “This is not an epidemic.”

A small amount of filming is still going on since the start of the shutdown, mostly girl-and-girl and solo masturbation scenes – anything that does not require male partners.

“There are lots of clever, creative people in the community, and they’re finding ways to have sex without the exchange of fluids,” said Ira Levine, a film director and editor of Taboo, one of Larry Flynt’s pornographic magazines.

Mr. Levine is one of the few directors who advocate condom use across the industry, despite widespread misgivings about the dislike of audiences for the practice.

Joy King, an executive at Wicked Pictures, which five years ago began to insist that its male actors wear condoms while filming, said: “It’s been a tough battle for us. People don’t want to buy your product. It hasn’t come without consequences, but we’ve stuck by it because we think it’s the right thing to do.”

Mr. Ashley, the former marine, said he did not usually wear a condom while filming, but always insisted on seeing his partner’s certificate of health. “I had a feeling I was on that list,” he said, referring to the 53 names of possibly infected actors compiled by the industry health clinic. He attributed his inclusion to having had intercourse for a movie with a woman who had also worked with Mr. James, whose H.I.V. infection is thought to have originated while filming last month in Brazil. So far, only one of the 12 actresses who worked with Mr. James after his return, Ms. Roxx, has tested positive for H.I.V.

Until Mr. Ashley hears the results of two separate tests, he is taking comfort in the theory that it is rare for a man to contract H.I.V. from a woman and said he intends to go back to work as soon as the quarantine is lifted.

Meanwhile, he said, “the fear factor isn’t really there.” His fiancée, Aurora Snow, 22, whom he met when they were cast to do a sex scene together four years ago, is a hostess on two Playboy TV shows, and Mr. Ashley, with some time on his hands, is, he said, “helping out over there.”

“We’re keeping busy – it’s just not sex,” he said.

Brooke Hunter, who was an accountant before becoming a sex-video performer seven years ago, said that everyone she knows in the industry “is extremely concerned” about the H.I.V. outbreak. “We want to regulate ourselves and continue working as safely as possible,” she said.

Ms. Hunter’s husband, who calls himself Don Hollywood when working as an actor and director and uses his real name, Ronald Miller, in his other life as a criminal defense lawyer, said he would not return to work in the industry until it became clear what attempts at regulation, if any, the authorities would make. “I’m an officer of the court, and I don’t want to put myself in the position of violating the law,” Mr. Miller said.

For a few days after it was learned that Mr. James had contracted H.I.V. in the latest outbreak, he could not be found at home, although his car and wallet were there, a concerned friend said. Finally, he reappeared.

“He’d been out of town,” said Tim Connelly, the publisher of Adult Video News, the industry’s trade publication. “He’s back. He’s O.K. He was ashamed and pained and sad.”

Ms. Roxx, the other infected performer, who was new to the business, is believed to have returned to her native Canada.



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