LOS ANGELES—Headline News anchor Susan Hendricks tackled the thorny issue of condoms in porn this afternoon on her show Now in America, and found support for using the latex barriers from director Tristan Taormino, actress Alana Evans and gay industry "consultant" Shannon Prewitt.
Beginning with images of Cameron Bay and Rod Daily from AIDS Healthcare Foundation's press conference this past Tuesday, Hendricks intoned, "The adult entertainment industry rocked by a health scare... Performers testing positive for HIV... now sharing their stories about what really happens on the set. The porn industry's dirty secret exposed!"
It's unclear what that "dirty little secret" is supposed to be, since anyone who watches porn with any regularity already knows that most productions, at least on the hetero side, don't use condoms, but Hendricks brought in CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who's "been looking into this problem; certainly a serious one."
The show claims that five performers have now been identified as HIV-positive, but made no distinction regarding whether those performers worked on the straight (two) or gay (three) side of the industry, which have differing approaches to condom use and testing—and according to what was said at Tuesday's press conference, it is unclear whether one of the performers who appeared, Patrick Stone, is in fact HIV-positive.
Nonetheless, with the industry's moratorium scheduled to be lifted today, Cohen pressed forward, noting that she'd interviewed director Tristan Taormino who, according to Cohen, is "putting her foot down" regarding condom use.
"She's [Taormino] shot a lot of steamy romps over the years, but from now on, she'll be doing something very different. She'll be requiring her male performers to use condoms," Cohen said.
"I want eveyone to use a condom so that I can feel good at the end of the day that I did as much as I could to protect my performers," Taormino, who's now shooting for Adam & Eve, told Cohen.
Cohen analyzed the situation as, "Many performers and producers worry that condoms take the fantasy away from porn and scare off viewers. They say it's enough that performers are required to get tested every two weeks for sexually transmitted infections, but here's the problem: That still leaves a window of time when performers can contract illnesses and not know and spread them. Recently an HIV scare has rattled the adult film industry. While there's no evidence the infections happened on a set, three porn stars have tested positive for HIV in less than a month. There have also been cases of syphilis and hepatitis."
Of course, if the infections didn't happen on the set, and all the evidence points to the fact that they didn't, it's unclear that the industry's current 14-day testing regimen is insufficient to deal with the problem. But Taormino thinks that may be the case.
"There's a lot of talk of how porn watchers don't want to see condoms, sales will plummet, everyone's going to be miserable and no one's going to watch condom porn, and I'm not buying it; I'm not," Taormino stated. "I want to see a shift in the industry, and I'm hoping that—I know i'm going out on a limb right now, but I'm hoping others will join me."
Cohen made it clear, however, that this was Taormino's personal choice, and that the director didn't want condoms mandated by government. She also found that condom use doesn't have a lot of support.
"Surprisingly, some of the fiercest opposition to condom use is from the performers themselves," Cohen noted. "They say that all that latex-to skin-contact can be, well, irritating, something very irritating because they're having sex for hours at a time."
Hendricks next brought on Alana Evans, who noted that when she first got into the industry, "condoms were accepted."
"When I started in 1998, many companies understood the risks and the desire for our safety," Evans stated. "As the industry became more raw, so did our scenes. We were expected to work without condoms."
Evans' recollection is a bit off. Of course, 1998 was the year of the adult industry's first HIV problem, when a performer faked his HIV test and infected several actresses before his positive HIV status was discovered. But condom use in the '90s was hardly "accepted," since most productions didn't have them, and while a number of companies did go "all condom" after the '98 outbreak, the move was short-lived, not because the industry wanted to go "more raw," but because movies with condoms in them didn't sell well.
After correctly noting that many companies will not use actresses who insist on condom use, Evans has decided to take a personal stand for their use.
"I for one as talent now am not crossing that line again and I will be moving forward as a condom-only performer," she stated. "It's the best and safest thing that we can do, but i understand it's not going to make me popular with the producers in my industry."
"Porn has opened many doors for me and given me many opportunities," she noted upon further questioning. "I stand by that statement because it's allowed me to be at home with my children... but as a parent, you have to stress to your children that they need to protect themselves when having sex with other people. I believe myself as an adult; how can I not follow the same examples that I set for them?"
But Evans said that most adult performers understand that there are risks, including HIV, in appearing in adult movies, and that performers need to take personal responsibility for their own actions, and that "I can't trust everyone that I go to work with every day, I don't know what they do in their personal life when they're not on set, and at this time, it's not safe for us to take those risks anymore and just think that everybody's going to follow the same rules that I follow," which she said included using condoms in her personal life.
Hendricks then questioned gay "consultant" Shannon Prewitt about the new industry standard requiring 14-day testing—obviously not realizing that most producers on the gay side don't require testing at all. However, Prewitt claimed that his company uses a test that can detect the HIV virus within seven days, and while that is the earliest that the industry's current standard Aptima RNA test may reveal an infection, the "window period" for that test runs up to ten days from date of infection, and is 99 percent sure after 14 days.
Continuing her ignorance of the distinction between gay and straight movies, Hendricks asked if Prewitt thinks that the industry is "turning a blind eye to the problem," and asked, "Do you think the industry would rather make the money by not using protection?" (Of course, condom use is already widespread on the gay side of the industry, since when it was first discovered, HIV was labeled a "gay disease," and its impact on the gay community as a whole led to their almost-universal adoption of condoms in their movies—at least until the rise just a few years ago of condomless productions.)
"We have a sister site, Rockettube, that we basically have 270 different studios that produce over 12,000 bareback videos, and that's our highest sells," Prewitt noted, "so obviously the consumer does want to see bareback, but I can speak for our company and we want to make sure that if we are doing that, that our models are made aware of what the consequences could be and that they're tested as safely as possible."
Not exactly a wholehearted endorsement of condom use, though it was a clear affirmation of testing—and that's where Hendricks decided to end the segment.
UPDATE: Alana Evans clarifies, "I did my first movie two weeks prior to [Marc] Wallice [the 1998 "Patient Zero"] getting caught. After that, Vivid Films and Shane's World were condom, so my memory wasn't off. It's just that the companies I was shooting for were condom only. That's all I meant."
UPDATE 2: Tristan Taormino expands on her views on condoms in adult movies here.