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Bareback Riding 

The porn industry deals with another HIV-positive performer

Wednesday, Jan 12 2000
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Photo by Sophie Olmsted

Cheerful wouldn’t be the word to describe how porn star Tony Montana looks as he comes bouncing through the door at Leisure Time Entertainment’s compound in Van Nuys. No, the man looks downright happy. Sporting a leather biker jacket emblazoned with the American flag, gray jeans, a turtleneck and tennis shoes, Montana extends a hand and a big smile to the reporter.

"You might say I’m feeling pretty positive," he offers with a devil-may-care chuckle. His upbeat attitude was once something of a trademark for him in the skin industry, where porn critics quickly dubbed him a "hardcore Ricky Ricardo," (thus his film I Love Juicy), though more likely for his thick Latin accent than for a Desi Arnaz wit. He plied his career diligently, pumping his way through hundreds — if not thousands — of blue movies for the past two decades.

For a guy who, as he likes to say, "was paid to get laid," a perpetual smile might not be too surprising on most days.

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But it seems a little odd on this winter morning, considering that Montana recently tested positive for HIV, abruptly ending his career as a performer and sending another virus-laced shock wave through the industry.

While industry health-care workers say they quickly detected and contained Montana’s infection before it spread through the talent ranks, it served notice that the porno world cannot dodge this viral bullet indefinitely.

Montana’s infection hits the industry just as the memory of the last outbreak, which saw at least five performers infected with HIV in late 1997 and early ’98, seemed to be finally fading over the horizon. Indeed, the high-voltage debates that ripped through the adult-entertainment world over performers and models using condoms had ebbed in the face of a strict reliance on monthly HIV testing.

His diagnosis also strikes when the adult-entertainment industry is reaching a zenith in this country that must make Ed Meese cringe, with more than 10,000 new porn videos washing across the nation just last year alone.

With the explosion of digital technologies, porn has expanded its lucrative product into DVD and Web markets. The San Fernando Valley remains porn’s ground zero, with the industry employing thousands of people in the Valley and thousands more across Los Angeles County.

Just last week in Las Vegas, hundreds of players in the industry — from young performers to salty old producers — gathered at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) to celebrate what is porn’s headiest go-go era since the late 1970s.

They looked like carnal stockbrokers cheering a bubble that seemingly won’t burst. But that’s just wishful thinking, even if the band is merrily playing on.

Following the last outbreak in ’97-’98, a quarantine list and a rigorous testing campaign seemed to clear the breadth of the talent pool — offering edgy directors a green light to stage even greater spectacles of debauchery.

Unprotected sex, or "bare back" videos as they are often called in the industry, was once again the name of the game. Bizarre rituals such as bukkake videos, which feature as many as 80 men ejaculating one after another into a woman’s face while she holds a bowl underneath her chin, pushed the limits even further.

"Not too many people were really thinking about it anymore," Montana says, his grin shrinking slightly. "Hey, everyone was getting tested." Montana says he maintained a fairly busy performance schedule throughout the year, working about three days a week and submitting to the industry-required monthly HIV tests.

In early October, Montana received a phone call from Sharon Mitchell, an industry veteran who directs the nonprofit Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation, which coordinates HIV testing for much of the talent.

"Sharon calls me up and says, ‘Listen, you have to come back in. You have a false positive,’" Montana says, recalling that he wasn’t too concerned at the initial news. "I know stuff like that can happen once in a great while, so I go back and they took a bunch of blood from me, and everyone was really nice and telling me not to worry about it."

When the additional tests confirmed the worst, Montana says he just rolled with the punch.

"I was sitting in [porn agent] Jim South’s office when the news came in that it was definitely positive. It was just a weird feeling . . . but it wasn’t like I hit the floor or suffered great depression," he says. "I’ve never been one to take things too hard, but at the same time I just sort of sat there in a daze and thought, wow, out of all the people, it had to be me. But I guess thatlife."

In this case it is a matter of both life and death, for both Montana and the adult-video industry.

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