Porn Star’s HIV Diagnosis Highlights America’s Sexual Health

With STDs on the rise in America, the adult film industry may soon be required to use protection.
By @katierucke |
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    Condoms labeled like the city's subway lines to be given out for free by New York city's health department sit in a box inside a Kenneth Cole store, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 in New York. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole joined in the campaign and designed special clothing with tiny pockets to hold the condoms. With the unveiling of the NYC Condom, New York became the first city in the nation with an official brand. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

    Condoms labeled like the city’s subway lines are to be given out for free by New York city’s health department Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

    After porn actress Cameron Bay tested positive on Aug. 21 for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the debate on whether or not protection such as condoms should be required for adult film actors has once again surfaced.

    While many public health and sexually transmitted disease prevention advocates have long argued in favor of the use of condoms in all adult films, many in the adult film industry argue protection isn’t needed, especially since the use of a condom ruins a certain fantasy aspect of pornographic videos.

    Although the number of porn stars in the U.S. who have HIV is not known, Bay is the second porn star in recent weeks to announce they are HIV positive. The actor who goes by the stage name Rod Daily announced on Twitter he has HIV as well.

     

    While the exact numbers of HIV prevalence in the porn industry are not known, a July 2012 report from AIDSMAP reported that female sex workers are 14 times more likely to contract HIV than other women.

    HIV is a virus that affects certain white blood cells — CD4 T cells — that manage human immune system responses. When these cells are damaged, it becomes difficult for people to fight off infections or diseases.

    The human body can never completely rid itself of HIV, since it hides in certain types of cells and reproduces at a slowed rate, leading to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation in turn contributes to the development of many chronic medical illnesses, including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and cancer.

    Though the industry requires monthly STD screenings for all actors, some say the tests are a case of too little, too late. Bay, for example, had tested negative for HIV just four days prior to testing positive. She reportedly contracted the disease while filming a movie for a fetish website on July 31.

    For officials in the adult film industry, a required use of a condom is concerning because they say condoms may negatively affect an already diminishing audience, thanks to free Internet porn, foreign imports and cheap, amateur films. In other words, they argue that watching safe-sex is not as appealing to audiences.

    And in the case of Cameron Bay, testing is not always a sufficient enough way to protect porn stars from contracting HIV and STDs. Former porn star Derrick Burts, 25, can attest to that. He said, “Testing is a false security blanket. It doesn’t protect you. It only notifies you when you have something.”

    “Before I started in the adult industry, I never had an STD in my life. Then in a period of four months, I contracted gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. You can’t tell me the system worked,” Burts added.

    He said he tested negative for HIV on Sept. 3, 2010, but contracted the disease filming a gay porn flick in Florida a few days later. Burts called it “pure luck” that he didn’t infect anyone else before he took his follow-up test — which came back positive for HIV — a month later.

    “Luckily I didn’t work with any female performers during those weeks. If I had gone to work without a condom, I would have spread it,” he said. “The industry got very lucky there.”

    The influence of a lack of safe sex in porn has some concerned that regular people may feel they, too, need not use condoms or other forms of protection, especially since unlike porn stars, there is no monthly mandate that all sexually active persons in the U.S. be screened for STDs and HIV.

     

    Porn industry: Say ‘no’ to condoms

    Last year, the city of Los Angeles passed an ordinance that required porn stars to use protection in their videos.

    AIDS Healthcare Foundation officials pushed for the passage of Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, or Measure B, arguing that the adult film industry has been ignoring state laws already in place that require condoms when actors are exposed to bloodborne pathogens.

    Part of the reason the AIDS Healthcare Foundation pushed so hard for this ordinance was because, if used properly, condoms can help prevent the spread not only of HIV but STDs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia as well.

    After the ordinance passed, the adult film industry filed a lawsuit hoping to block the law from being implemented. They argued that requiring performers to wear condoms was unconstitutional, since adult film actors can choose to use protection if they think it’s necessary. But last month, U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson ruled against the porn industry’s argumentl, reasoning that the industry officials failed to present evidence that testing is so effective and universal that the use of condoms was not necessary.

     

    Stigma

    Though most sexually active persons are aware of the risks associated with unprotected sex, not all get tested for HIV or STDs. In fact, only about half of sexually active persons are tested for HIV. Currently more than one million Americans have HIV, but only about 82 percent know they are infected.

    Each year in the U.S. there are about 50,000 new cases of HIV infections. The Center for Disease Control estimates that about half of those infections were spread by persons who did not know that they are HIV-positive, since about one in five persons does not know they are infected.

    The CDC recommends that all heterosexual teenagers and adults get tested at least once a year, and says bisexual and homosexual individuals should be tested more frequently. At-risk groups such as African Americans and youths should also be tested more frequently.

    Part of the reason why some people don’t get tested for HIV and other STDs is because of the stigma attached, which is why the National HIV/AIDS group says its strategy for curtailing the epidemic begins with ending the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. “HIV stigma also prevents people from talking and learning about HIV and may stop some individuals from taking the courageous step to know their status by getting tested,” the group writes.

    In an interview with Mint Press News, Bill Tiedemann, executive director for the Minnesota AIDS Project, said that since the HIV/AIDS epidemic first began 31 years ago, there has been a stigma attached to the disease. Anecdotally speaking, he said some individuals may not get tested because they are in denial that they have put themselves at risk, while others are concerned about the legal responsibilities of knowingly having HIV.

    Tiedemann shared that some people who do end up testing positive for the disease don’t disclose the results with their partner(s) because they are ashamed, fearing they will be discriminated against and fear their partner may no longer want to have sex with them.

    The taboos surrounding HIV testing may soon be changing though. In July, President Obama signed an executive order that would require all individuals ages 15 to 65 be tested for HIV. However Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, was not convinced that the mandatory HIV testing and other facets of the executive order would actually be implemented, let alone enforced.

    “Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “We have had other grand announcements from the White House on AIDS that turned out to be empty words. If indeed the President has finally understood the importance of this issue and will proactively address our concerns, then we will applaud that effort, but not until then. We have wasted 4 1/2 years trying to educate this president about the tragedy that is AIDS in the world. The war against AIDS has not been won – keep your promise. Mr. President play a real leadership role here and abroad – your legacy depends on it.”

     

    STD epidemic

    But it’s not just HIV-testing that is taboo in the U.S. — other STDs are another concern as well.

    According to a March 2013 report from the CDC, there are an estimated 20 million new STD infections in the U.S. each year, which amounts to about $16 billion in medical costs alone. Almost half of the new infections occur in young men and women aged 15 to 24, even though young people only account for about 25 percent of the sexually active population in the U.S.

    In total, about 110 million people in the U.S. are affected by an STD. The eight most common STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B virus, herpes simplex virus type 2, HIV, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis and trichomoniasis.

    However, in an email to Mint Press News, a spokeswoman for the CDC said that the exact numbers of people with STDs are probably higher than what is reported, since many cases go undiagnosed and unreported:

    “We at CDC are aware that there are misconceptions about STD transmission – like who gets STDs, how common STDs are and that they can be “silent,” or asymptomatic. So we stress the importance of making sure people know the facts and get tested.”

    A report from the CDC said that the high rate of STDs is concerning since these infections pose a threat to an individual’s immediate and long-term health and well-being. They also increase the likelihood a person will contract HIV and can lead to severe reproductive health complications such as infertility.

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