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January 25, 2012 04:53am
The HIV Straw Man
Source: Adult Industry News
by: Rich Moreland

During the AVN festivities in Vegas last week, I took some time to attend the Adult Production Health and Safety Services seminar, "The Nuts and Bolts of APHSS." The program opened with Patient Alpha, recently misdiagnosed with HIV from shooting in Florida, concealed behind an identity-protecting screen and answering questions from AVN’s Tom Hymes. Alpha’s testimony recounted his struggle to cope with his diagnosis, albeit false, and its effects on his career, which included being shunned by fellow performers. Free Speech Coalition’s Diane Duke chaired a panel discussion that followed with a brief Q & A closing the session.

For the most part, the gathering focused on HIV with a sample guideline to APHSS testing procedures distributed to all who attended. Though the mandatory condom issue in LA was the underlying thread behind the seminar, little of it was brought up directly. On the other hand, the hard work of FSC, "thousands of hours," according to Duke, highlighted the progress made in replacing the now defunct AIM.

As the seminar concluded, I had some pause for thought on the present state of the industry. Protecting performer health is not so much an HIV issue as the AIDS Heathcare Foundation would like us to believe. Microbiologist Erik Avaniss-Aghajani’s final contribution to the panel discussion addressed this point. Ironically, it came almost as an afterthought. He flatly stated that HIV is a chronic illness manageable with meds. It is not a death sentence; those days are past. In his view, the industry now has the responsibility to rein in other demons like HPV (human papillomavirus). He’s spot on and I would add the potential threat of anal and throat cancers, easily diagnosed with anal and oral swabs, as a major concern. This is what "harm reduction" means now.

Minimizing these infections is actually not that difficult and APHSS is prepared to do just that. Consequently, the real question on the mind of every performer should be, "What can I do to make APHSS’s job easier?"

Performers are the major players in guaranteeing their own health protection. Here’s why. The adult business is able to monitor and control its infection rates precisely because it is a small, closed community that self-regulates. This fact separates the adult environment from statistics compiled on the general population, a comparison tactic the AHF loves to use. Self-regulation of a handful of people is the industry’s greatest advantage and its chief albatross because the perceived inadequacy of self-oversight feeds the voices calling for condom enforcement.

Let’s look at the issue from another perspective. If everyone in the adult community is tested and is supposedly clean, why do STI’s within this closed performer group pop up at all?

The answer lies in the personal responsibility of those who fuck for money.

To put it another way, the burden stands squarely on how performers handle sexual liaisons between testing windows. Models who choose to go to swing parties must use protection to keep disease out of the working pool the next day. Feature dancing, where opportunities arise for extra income beyond brief stage appearances, and escorting are activities in which caution is imperative. If you are a sex worker, watch your step with civilians!

In theory, testing allows adult performers to be fluid-bonded within the confines of their shooting partners. To maintain this perception and give it credence, activities outside the studio setting need to be condom-based.

Speaking of protective barriers, here is a thought for producers and directors. Allow performers the choice of condoms and advertise that specifically. Let the public know. Most models will forego the offer but the policy goes a long way in ameliorating concerns that the STI Cerberus sits on the doorstep of every studio. The argument that money will be lost is never going to convince anyone who erroneously believes that HIV is the problem, threatening lives every time a penis and a vagina and an anus go courting.

By the way, performer reaction to the condom discussion must replace emotion with reason. As I said in a previous article on this site, screaming like stuck pigs and threatening to go underground does not move public opinion. Additionally, reinforcing the public’s notion that the industry is populated with rebels who trash government intervention is not an effective persuader either. Frankly, it hardens positions.

With that thought, I left the conference room realizing that HIV is a straw man. Infections are so minimal as to warrant much attention, a salute to the reliability of testing. But AIDS is a powerful image, nonetheless, and it sways public opinion.

The real target of the condom-only forces is the industry itself. Reducing infection rates to zero for all STIs is the best weapon to ward off the barbarians at the gate. Performer responsibility after the cameras are turned off is the only avenue to reaching this goal.

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