LOS ANGELES—At a brief press conference held today, AIDS Healthcare Foundation discussed a study that it presented at the Centers for Disease Control STD Prevention Conference, which began yesterday and runs through Thursday. AHF president Michael Weinstein claimed that during the study, titled "Adult Film Performers Transmission Behaviors and STI Prevalence," 23.7 percent of the 366 performers who participated in the study tested positive for either chlamydia or gonorrhea.
The study itself is unavailable because, as AHF consultant Adam Carl Cohen stated during the press conference, "The data has not been published in any research study. It is usually first presented at a public health conference, in this case the CDC STD prevention conference. After a kind of groundwork there, it then goes to be written as a publication for a journal, so right now, it is only available in a poster form."
Given that, it's not possible to examine the data. But there are some notable points that can be made.
First of all, the study only looked at the two STDs because, according to AHF's Senior Director of Communications Ged Kenslea, "The only reason the study looked at gonorrhea and chlamydia is because the UCLA researchers didn’t have funding to cover the lab costs and treatment for the other infections."
And according to the study, the surveys were provided to "adult film performers seeking testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at two clinics in Los Angeles." The study as it was released includes no mention of UCLA researchers themselves conducting testing or treatment. Also of note, one of the clinics mentioned in the study, West Oaks Urgent Care Center, is not a testing facility but a treatment facility. In other words, performers do not go to West Oak to get tested, but to get treated for conditions of which they are already aware.
In other words, unlike Talent Testing Service, which was presumably the other clinic that took part in the study, where talent does go to get their routine testing done, the performers who go to West Oaks Urgent Care Center are already either infected with something or seeking treatment for other ailments either work-related or not. But what the West Oaks pool of performers does not represent is a group of performers who, like the study claims, are "seeking testing for sexually transmitted infections." Put simply, as an already-infected or injured group of people, the West Oaks population used in the study are contaminated for the purposes of the study because, unlike the TTS population, there are no non-infected or uninjured performers patronizing West Oak. That contamination would, of course, also pollute the overall findings of the study by skewing them toward the very outcome that AHF wants.
Moreover, the study was conducted between August, 2012 and June, 2013, when adult industry testing was still in flux. APHSS, the predecessor to the current PASS system, had begun collecting testing data in mid-2011, and Talent Testing Services was providing data only sporadically until October of 2012, roughly two-and-a-half months into the study.
The "study" poster can be viewed here, but it raises far more questions than it answers. For one thing, among the people apparently identified as authors of the study, besides Talent Testing Services' (TTS) Sixto Pacheco, is Dr. Robert W. Rigg, Jr., owner of the aforementioned West Oak Urgent Care Center in Canoga Park. Also as mentioned, unlike TTS, neither Dr. Rigg nor West Oak are part of the adult industry's Performer Availability Screening Services (PASS) nor was West Oak an approved testing site even during the AIM era—ask any veteran performer about Dr. Rigg's reputation in the industry. So it's unclear what contribution Dr. Rigg made to the study, since performers attempting to test there could not use said tests to be "approved for work" through the PASS system—an approval required by the vast majority of Los Angeles area adult producers.
It is also noteworthy that APHSS, the predecessor to PASS and the heir to AIM, had only been in operation since mid-2011, and TTS has only been an APHSS/PASS endorsed testing services provider since mid-October, 2012, though it had been sporadically providing some information to APHSS for about four months prior to that time. However, while the UCLA/AHF poster states that the study method was a "Cross-sectional study of adult film performers seeking testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at two clinics in Los Angeles, CA," Pacheco is identified as representing "BioCollections, Miami, FL"—TTS's home base—making it even less clear which clinics provided the data used in the study.
Also in question is the overall performer population used in the study. Generally speaking, it is the hetero side of the adult content production community that is regularly tested by PASS-approved clinics, while the gay side of the industry relies on condoms and infrequent voluntary testing. Hence, the statistic quoted under "Type of scenes" on the poster for "Fisting" is 68 participants, who would have had to be almost entirely from the gay side of the industry, since hetero producers are particularly sensitive to the fact that hetero fisting scenes have a long history of prosecution in Los Angeles, and producers are loathe to include them in movies. And since so few gay performers are regularly tested for any STDs, their inclusion would necessarily skew any statistics being used to promote the mandatory "barrier protection" plan under AB 1576. A similar argument would apply to the "hetero side" for the female performers in the pool who only worked with other women on-camera; condom use would be of little use to them—or is AHF admitting that AB 1576 would also require dental dams for pussy-licking?
The inclusion of gay performers would also likely skew the statistics for "Sexual Partners, past 3 months" and "Substance Use, past 3 months." (Interestingly, the study found that the drugs most commonly used by performers are the non-addictive psychedelics like marijuana, Ecstasy, LSD and mushrooms. In other words, with 58.7 percent of the performers interviewed admitting to using marijuana, the "33.2 percent" total "substance use" figure includes nearly 60 percent who use a "drug" that's almost completely benign and is completely legal for medical marijuana patients.) (Interesting also that they didn't test for the drug "alcohol.")
And speaking of "Sexual partners, past 3 months," the summary specifically states that it does not include the performer's partner during an actual filmed sex scene, so the question of whether the use of condoms and other barrier protections during an adult filming could prevent an STD transmission isn't even dealt with! The summary suggests—but by no means makes clear—that nearly two-thirds of the interviewees had sex only with their "main partner," while 36.4 percent had sex with a "One time partner." Lumped into that same category, however, are the 23.3 percent who allegedly stated that they had "Exchanged drugs/money for sex" with no indication of whether such exchange included condom use, nor does the category "Sex with adult film performer, not part of scene/shoot"—though such encounters, at least among hetero performers, would be safer due to industry testing procedures. (Would HIV-positive former performers Cameron Bay and Rod Daily, who did not become infected on-set, fit into that latter category?)
During the press conference, Cohen managed to muddy those statistics even further by stating that, "There was also a statistically significant association between testing positive for an infection and the number of days worked on set in the past 30 days. In other words, the more a performer worked in the past month, the greater the likelihood of infection." Note that he doesn't say that such infection was contracted on an adult film set, making the statement a complete red herring.
The section of the poster labeled "Adult film industry history" raises even more questions. The poster claims that 10.3 percent of performers were "Physically hurt during a film shoot," but it does not qualify that in any way. Could that number include people who got a simple black-and-blue mark from striking an arm or leg on a chair or bed frame? The poster also claims that 16.4 percent of performers were "Not paid at the end of a job." Apparently, the interviewers were unfamiliar with the fact that several of the larger adult producers use third-party payment systems which issue checks to performers several days after the work is completed—and performers know this going into the job! Or did the interviewers know it and simply omitted it in order to further bash the industry?
Troubling, though, is the claim that 15.4 percent of performers "Had to perform sexual favors to get work," and since that is unconscionable—after all, performers are paid, in part, to have sex on camera—producers who do not sanction such behavior should take steps to ferret out and blackball producers/directors/agents who do make such requirements. Similar action should be taken against those who forced any performer to "Perform a sex act you did not want to do," which 13.6 percent said had happened to them, and it should be noted that the recently-released "Porn 101" video from the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee makes that exact point. In any case, though, it will be necessary to see the actual study, rather than just a posterized summary, to determine whether the summary accurately depicts what performers told the study's authors.
By the way, the bulk of the 15-minute press conference was spent hitting many of the points dealt with above, but Weinstein went out of his way to bash vocal AB 1576 critic Nina Hartley and several other actresses when he stated, "In discussions by the industry about condoms, [it's said] they're inappropriate because they create a chafing... I won't go into graphic detail here, but you look at a lot of the practices that are being filmed and these defenders are involved in, obviously their bodies took a lot more abuse than would be there with a condom, and this idea of chafing is something that's really unheard of in the public health community." Really? Is there some other statistical group that has sex as frequently and for as long a time period—typically 1-2 hours at a time—that the "public health community" is familiar with and studied? No? So Weinstein really has no idea what he's talking about, does he?
Hartley herself agrees: "I find it interesting that a man who does not own a vagina, does not work in adult entertainment himself, has not been on a heterosexual adult entertainment shoot deigns to comment on my body and the bodies of my co-workers as to our experience with condom shoots," she told AVN in an interview. "We're sick of Michael Weinstein mansplaining to us our own bodies and our own experiences. He's just a bully; he uses false information, he uses trumped-up stats, he uses non-existent studies to promulgate information he knows is false for his own political ends. It's despicable and he is despicable.
"We are sick of hypocritical politicians like Isadore Hall, whose very own district is full of people who need help with HIV prevention, education and treatment," she continued. "I find it disgusting that there's no AHF clinic in all of Hall's district where they're desperately needed, and yet, Weinstein is still touting a solution in search of a problem, which is the presence of deadly diseases on adult film sets, and that we pose a risk to the general public. We do not. The stats show it, the results show it. Why doesn't he just let it go? Mainly, I'm really upset that he's telling me that my experience with my own body is somehow false or that I'm making this up. It's just astounding."
Weinstein also quoted one of the study's (or at least the poster's) conclusions that, "Given that most performers had sexual partners outside the industry with few reporting consistent condom use within the context of any partnership, targeted intervention strategies to limit the spread of STIs both within and outside of adult film work are needed." Weinstein used that "finding" to state that "the concern here goes beyond the adult film industry and that this is leading to a spread of STDs outside the industry as well as within it," but considering the (hetero) industry's testing procedures, isn't the problem more likely the other way around: That outsiders may be bringing STDs into the performer population?
Certainly, Weinstein and AHF have been derided previously as the "condom police," but does Weinstein and/or the study really seek to require adult performers to wear condoms even in their personal lives?