July 31, 2000 05:49pm
Adult Film Stars Take AIM at STDs
by: John Morgan
(VAN NUYS, CA) -- The legendary adult film star now plays an important new role as a certified HIV counselor and co-founder of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM), an organization dedicated to STD testing, tracking, and education. An industry-wide HIV scare in 1998 prompted the change in her life.
"There was nothing in place to protect people or track outbreaks," recalls Mitchell, who feared she had been exposed to HIV at the time. "I vowed to change that and we have worked really hard to set standards that will help reduce the risk to performers."
Regulations are now in place that require adult performers to be tested monthly for STD. Without current negative HIV test certification, they cannot work.
While pre-regulation figures are not available, the informed consensus is that the new strictures and enhanced industry awareness have dramatically reduced disease incidence. In the 30 months since Mitchell started AIM, the organization has administered over 12,000 HIV tests, with only 7 positive results.
Disease tracking database
One of the ingenious ideas that AIM has instituted is a database of all the performers and their work partners. Should an actor test positive, everyone he or she worked with and may have infected can be notified and tested immediately.
"AIM has done an impressive job tracking HIV and other STDs, as well as doing partner referrals when patients test positive," says Dr. Peter Kerndt, acting director of the STD control program for Los Angeles County's Department of Health Services. "This is important because adult performers are not just confined to sex partners within their industry."
"We've seen how fast an STD can move through this community," says Mitchell. "In nine days, 198 people are at risk, so we have to move faster."
In fact, when a performer tests positive, Mitchell and AIM track down every possible infected performer and "quarantine" the first, second and sometimes even third generations of performers who had contact with the infected actor. Performers can only return to work when a clean bill of health can be confidently given.
Recently AIM discovered an alarming increase in gonorrhea (2%) and chlamydia (6%) within the industry. "We instantly started testing everybody and began educating everyone about prevention," says Mitchell, "including advice on changing condoms when changing partners and cleaning adult toys after use."
"We're trying to take the shame out of STDs," Mitchell continues. "Screening and testing are critical - not just for adult stars, but for the general public as well. People are doing everything we do and more in the privacy of their own homes. They need to know the partner they're having sex with has been tested."
Monthly screening and early intervention also greatly improve treatment efficacy. "Early treatment helps lower the viral load more efficiently and quickly and preserves the immune system," says Kerndt. "It's a tragedy to contract HIV, but worse not to know you have it."
Porn's hottest actors and actresses agree.
Condom consciousness and controversy
"There's a lot of denial. We're not going to keep HIV and STDs completely out of the industry," says Mitchell. "This is a very 'at risk' group, so we need to be more aware. The problem is only 17% of the industry are condom players."
Tera Patrick, voted adult filmdom's Best New Starlet in Cannes this year, exemplifies new standards that this enhanced awareness has created for explicit actresses.
"Taking care of yourself is important. I think you can be smart and beautiful and still enjoy sex," says Patrick. "Sex is a wonderful thing, and we shouldn't be ashamed about it. But we should be responsible, and that's where AIM and Sharon deserve all the credit for literally saving lives."
Mitchell hopes to find additional funding for her non-profit
organization so she can continue to offer testing, educational programs, counseling, 12-step programs and life skills classes to people both within the adult industry as well as outside it.
"I love what we do here. We're making a difference on the condom issue," says Mitchell with pride. "But we need help, and it can be frustrating because the stigma of our industry makes finding support more difficult, even though the entire country is watching X-rated movies. They're even on cable now!"
If you would like to be tested or make a contribution to the AIM Health Care Foundation, visit their Web site at www.aim-med.org.
Reprinted courtesy of AIM HealthCare Foundation.