News Sexual Health

Porn Pause: Moratorium on Filming Imposed When Adult Actress Tests Positive for HIV

Martha Kempner

Just a few days after a judge ruled Los Angeles' on-set condom requirement constitutional, the industry had to deal with the news that one of its actresses tested positive for HIV.

The debate over condoms, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pornography is flaring up once again in Los Angeles. Just a few days after a judge ruled the city’s on-set condom requirement constitutional, the industry had to deal with the news that one of its actresses tested positive for HIV.

A 28-year-old actress who uses the screen name Cameron Bay went in for her monthly STD screening in August—an industry requirement—and was told that her results were inconclusive. A second test revealed that she was, in fact, HIV-positive. Bay had tested negative on July 27, but that test may have been done during the “window period”— the time between becoming infected with HIV and developing antibodies that can be detected by the test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people develop antibodies within two to eight weeks of being infected (the average time is 25 days), but it can take longer. Therefore, it is hard to pinpoint when Bay was infected and whether she contracted the virus on-set.

A trade organization known as the Free Speech Coalition monitors STDs for the adult-film industry. Per industry policies, the coalition announced a nationwide moratorium on filming, first until Bay’s test results were confirmed and then until her partners could be notified and tested. The news has heated up a contentious battle between industry insiders who claim they are willing and capable of policing themselves and public health advocates who say actors are in danger.

The industry began monitoring STDs in 1998 after several porn actresses sued producers when they became infected with HIV on-set. In response, producers banded together and created the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), which was essentially a nonprofit clinic that offered health tests to performers and kept a record of the results. Producers also agreed not to hire any performer who hadn’t been given a clean bill of health in the last 30 days. The industry also agreed to shut downs while the clinic investigated any positive HIV tests. This happened for a month in 2004, when performers tested positive, and again in 2011, when what turned out to be a false-positive test stopped production for a few days. In 2010, the City of Los Angeles shut down the clinic for not being properly licensed, and the Free Speech Coalition took over the job of monitoring STD test results (the agency provided actors with a list of participating clinics where they could get tested).

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Industry insiders believe this system is working and point out that since 2004 only six performers have contracted HIV. Public health advocates, however, argue that the job remains too risky and note that other STDs run rampant among actors. According to the Los Angeles Department of Health, about 25 percent of performers are diagnosed with an STD each year, and rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are seven times higher among porn actors than in the general population.

A number of organizations led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation took matters into their own hands over the last few years and managed to get a measure put on the ballot in Los Angeles County that would require actors in all permitted adult films to wear condoms. The Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, known as Measure B, was passed by an overwhelming majority of voters last year despite threats from producers that they would simply take their operations—and tax dollars—elsewhere.

Though it passed last November, the measure was not instantly implemented as the county struggled with how to enforce it. Then, in January, two production companies (Vivid Entertainment and Califa Production) and two porn actors (Kayden Kross and Logan Pierce) sued the county to prevent the law from taking effect. County officials declined to defend the law in court, but the AIDS Healthcare Foundation was granted “intervener” status and stepped in to defend Measure B. On August 16, a federal judge ruled that the law was constitutional and could be implemented. U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson said the new law seeks to alleviate those harmed in a direct and material way. Vivid Entertainment says it will appeal the decision.

The production company may find that supporters are harder to come by now, as fewer than ten days after the decision was handed down HIV rocked the industry again and the cameras stopped rolling. In the meantime, Cameron Bay has had to cope with a life-changing diagnosis and a lot of publicity. She told her fans on Twitter, “I’m still coming to terms with all this but thanks to everyone showing love I feel stronger than ever.”

Roundups Sexuality

This Year in Sex: We’re Living in the Future

Martha Kempner

Between the high-tech sex toys, transplanted uteri, lab-grown penises, and perils of hookup apps, 2014 sometimes sounded like a science fiction novel. But we can't forget the news about IUDs and STIs that came out this year, either.

This Year in Sex takes a look back at the news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and other topics that captured our attention in 2014.

The HPV Vaccine Works, It Doesn’t Cause Promiscuity, and There’s an Even Better One Coming

HPV and its vaccine made headlines many times this year. The upsetting news is that two new studies came out suggesting that we had been underestimating the number of both HPV cases and cervical cancer, but as far as the vaccine itself was concerned, things were looking pretty good.

First, and most importantly, it appears to be working. A 2013 study found that despite the fact that only half of teen girls had gotten one dose of the vaccine—and fewer than a third had gotten the recommended three doses—the proportion of teen girls infected with the HPV strains that the vaccine addresses has dropped by 56 percent. This year, another study confirmed this success when it found that states with high rates of HPV vaccines have lower rates of cervical cancer, and vice versa.

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Additional research this year should (though probably won’t) also put to rest the idea that giving young people the HPV vaccine encourages them to engage in sexual behavior. One study found that young women do not change their attitudes or behaviors toward safer sex if they get the shot, and the other showed that girls with the vaccine are no more likely to get pregnant or be tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection than their unvaccinated peers.

More good news: Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new version of Gardasil, one of the two HPV vaccines on the market, which will protect against more strains of the virus. The original vaccine protected against strains 11 and 6, which cause most genital warts, and strains 16 and 18, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer. The new vaccine, called Gardasil 9, will protect against these four strains in addition to five more cancer-causing strains—31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. Public health experts are hopeful that this added defense can prevent 90 percent of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers.

Wins and Losses for Those Who Want Condoms in Porn

Last year ended with a shutdown of filming—the third of its kind in 2013—in the porn industry after another actor was found to be HIV-positive. So it should be no surprise that this year included numerous rounds in the battle between producers who say no one wants to see condoms on film and public health experts who insist safer sex should start on set.

An effort to get California to pass a statewide law mandating condom use ultimately failed after facing a lot of opposition from porn company representatives, who threatened to take their business to a friendlier state, and porn stars who said it would force their industry underground and make their work more dangerous.

Defenders of the ban, however, did get an end-of-year victory this week when Measure B—a Los Angeles County ordinance requiring condoms on adult industry sets—was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A lower court had formerly upheld the measure, though it has yet to be systematically enforced.

The IUD Gains Supporters and Users

The intrauterine device (IUD) was once one of the more popular methods of birth control available. Then one model, the Dalkon Shield, came on the market with numerous design flaws that caused many users to become infertile, even resulting in several deaths. Though the dangers were unique to Dalkon Shield, women and physicians became suspicious of all IUDs; for many years, very few women—and only those who had already had children—would use them for contraception. In the last few years, however, IUDs have started getting more attention as providers and public health experts note the safety of newer models and the unparalleled efficacy rates.

This year, the IUD gained even more supporters, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which came out with a recommendation in October suggesting that IUDs be considered a first-line contraception for sexually active young people. Three months prior, research out of Colorado suggested that increasing the number of young women at Title X clinics using long-acting reversible contraceptives (which include both IUDs and implants) had led to lower than expected fertility rates among low-income women ages 15-to-24 in the state.

Other states, even conservative ones, decided this year that fixing the way Medicaid pays for IUDs—to make it possible to obtain one in a single visit, or even while still in the hospital after delivering a baby—could help prevent unintended pregnancies.

All of this support seems to be translating into increased use of the method. The National Survey of Family Growth found that 6.4 percent of contraceptive users were using an IUD in 2011-2013, compared to just 3.5 percent in the 2006-2010 survey.

Lab-Grown Penises and Transplanted Uteri

The future of reproductive health may include penises grown in a lab and babies born from transplanted uteri.

This year, the first baby to grow in a transplanted uterus was born to a 36-year-old Swedish woman whose name is being withheld. The woman, like the nine others who began the trial, had functioning fallopian tubes but was born without a uterus. After she received a donor organ from a friend of the family, doctors put her on anti-rejection drugs immediately. She became pregnant using IVF and had a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy, though the baby was delivered at 32 weeks when she showed signs of preeclampsia.

The medical team who undertook the trial hailed this as great news for assisted reproductive technologies, but others have expressed worry that the procedure is too invasive for both the donor and the recipient. Two of the nine women in the original study had to have their donor uteruses removed.

Meanwhile, no one has yet to be given a lab-grown penis, but new research on rabbits publicized in October suggests that it’s just a few years off. The process starts with a donor organ that is first stripped of its cells, then seeded with two different types from the genitals of the intended recipient. By making the penis out of the recipient’s own cells, scientist say they are reducing the chance of organ rejection. The procedure was tested on 12 rabbits; all successfully tried to mate using their engineered penis, eight were able to ejaculate, and four impregnated their bunny partner.

Truvada Dominates HIV-Prevention Discussion

Truvada is a combination of two antiretroviral drug used to treat individuals who have HIV. When used daily in HIV-negative individuals, these drugs have been shown to prevent transmission of the virus. The FDA approved the use of Truvada as a form of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) in 2011 and it has been gaining popularity ever since.

This year, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization released guidelines suggesting that those at high risk of HIV infection—including injection users and men who have sex with men who are not in a monogamous relationship—consider using Truvada.

The method is highly effective. Studies have found that men who take it every day can reduce their risk of HIV infection by as much as 92 percent.

Still, some HIV advocates are concerned that those who choose Truvada—which can cost as much as $10,000 a year and needs to be taken every day—will stop using condoms, putting themselves and their partners at increased risk of other STIs, such as gonorrhea or syphilis.

The Dangers of Mixing Sex and Technology

The intersection between technology and sex got a little tricky this year as officials pointed to a dating app, Grindr, as being at least partially responsible for a syphilis outbreak; meanwhile, a jury in California found that an STI dating site called PositiveSingles had been sharing private information.

Grindr uses global positioning technology to help users meet other users nearby who are interested in getting together, presumably for sex. Grindr is marketed to men who have sex with men, but similar apps exist for heterosexual couples and women who have sex with women. This March, the popular app was at the center of an outbreak of syphilis in Onondaga County, New York.

A few months later, research in Los Angeles found that men who have sex with men who met partners on apps like Grindr had a 25 percent greater incidence of chlamydia and a 37 percent greater incidence of gonorrhea than those who met men in person at a bar, club, gym, private sex party, or even an online dating site. There was no difference in HIV rates or syphilis rates based on where men met.

The online dating sites, however, might pose another problem, at least according to a California jury that awarded 16.5 million dollars last month to a man who says the dating website PositiveSingles—which advertises itself as a place where people can meet other people living with STIs—violated consumer law and committed fraud by sharing information among many other niche websites owned by the same company. As the plaintiff’s attorney put it: “[my client] is not Black, gay, Christian or HIV positive and was unaware that [the] defendant was creating websites that focused on such traits that would include his profile, thus indicating that he was all of these things and more.”

Always a New Sex Toy

Finally, lest anyone worry that we will get bored heading into the new year, we take a look at the sex toys that emerged in the public eye in 2014. There’s the Svakom Gaga, a new vibrator introduced by a Chinese company that comes equipped with a camera and a USB port—plug it into your computer and star in your very own vulva video.

Of course, if you’re not ready for your close-up or you live far from your partner, you could instead turned to the OhMiBod, a vibrator that can be controlled from an iPhone via Bluetooth.

And, for the fitness buffs who aren’t satisfied knowing that they took their 10,000 steps a day, there is the kGoal, a U-shaped device that counts kegels. Women put one side of the device inside their vagina and the hook the other to their phones and are able to know exactly how many times they squeezed their pelvic floor muscles. Known as kegels, these exercises have been shown to help during childbirth, prevent or control urinary incontinence, and improve orgasms.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: HIV Tests, Cameras in Vibrators, and Porn Producers Threaten to Leave the Golden State

Martha Kempner

This week, a new study shows that just one in five sexually active high school students has been tested for HIV; a porn producer with a large presence in San Francisco threatens to move to Las Vegas if a condom law is passed; and a vibrator lets you record your vagina during masturbation.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Too Few Teens Getting Tested for HIV

A new report based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance concludes that too few young people are getting tested for HIV. The report, which is scheduled to be presented on July 23 at the International AIDS Conference, found that only one in five sexually experienced U.S. teens has been tested for HIV. Researchers say this is especially concerning given that one in four new HIV infections in this country occur in young people between the ages of 13 and 24.

Laura Kann, chief of the CDC’s school-based surveillance branch, told HealthDay that these numbers are disturbing: “We have too many kids in this country at risk of HIV infection and we have not enough kids tested for HIV, and we need to do more.” She added that we don’t quite know why so few kids are getting tested but acknowledged that the modern perception of AIDS as a chronic but treatable disease may be part of the problem. “Young people today were not around in the early days of the epidemic and did not see the havoc that it wreaked. And there is just not the same emphasis in our society there was previously, so some amount of complacency is there,” she said.

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The CDC recommends that teens and adults ages 13 to 64 get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime as part of routine medical care. Those with risk factors should be tested more often.

Porn Company Threatens to Flee California in Advance of Condoms Bill

As Rewire has been reporting for a number of years now, there is a battle raging in California over whether adult film stars should be required to wear condoms during filming to protect themselves, each other, and their off-screen partners from sexually transmitted infections and HIV. A local ordinance that passed in Los Angeles County has yet to be enforced but a proposed state law that has been unsuccessfully introduced many times has a better chance of passing than it ever has before. AB 1576, introduced by Assembly member Isadore Hall, has passed the full assembly and one of the two state senate committees to which it is was assigned, meaning that it is just two votes (by the appropriations committee and the full senate) away from passage.

Each time advocates for condoms in porn make progress, industry leaders threaten to take their business elsewhere. And this week one of the larger producers in the state showed its intention to follow through by spending time in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kink, which specializes in films on bondage and fetishism, has a large presence in San Francisco. In 2007, the company bought the National Guard Amory complex in the Mission District, which had been vacant since 1975 for $14.5 million. In 2012, the company bought the nearby Armory Club and turned a dive bar into an upscale night club. Despite these ties to San Francisco, the company’s CEO, Peter Acworth, has said he will move out-of-state if the law passes. He issued a statement saying that he and his staff were in Las Vegas this week where they shot two feature-length films and looked into the state’s permitting rules.

This seems like a warning shot sent out to senators: Pass the bill and risk losing jobs and tax revenue in your districts.

The Vagina Videos: New Vibrator Comes With Camera

We’re now used to cameras in our cellphones, but how about in our sex toys? A Chinese company has invented the first vibrator with a built-in camera and light so that you can get an up-close-and-personal view of your genitals, presumably during masturbation or perhaps partner play. The vibrator, called the Svakom Gaga, comes with a USB port. Plug it into your computer and watch your own larger than life vulva and vagina videos. If you’re feeling really adventurous or in the mood to share, your partner can download a wireless app to let him or her control the vibrator and video from afar.

Though super close-ups don’t sound all that appealing to those of us at “This Week in Sex,” the company suggests that watching leads to learning. According to the company, Gaga “shares the exclusive right of gynecologist with you. Not only making you a better understanding and attention of your lover, but also making much fun for you.”

Like with any other sex tape, we should remind you of rule #1: “It always ends up on the Internet.” That said, we’re guessing no one will be able to recognize you from this particular angle.