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Porn Defends the Money Shot 

Critics gain ground, demanding condom use to control AIDS

Thursday, Sep 29 2011
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"We're selling a fantasy," he says, adding later: "Think about it. If you make something illegal that has so much demand, you're going to send it underground. You send it underground, you're going to have people not getting tested anymore.

"I don't think it's the right approach."

AIDS Healthcare Foundation seized on news in August of another HIV scare in porn. After a performer in Miami had an initial positive test from a medical clinic for the virus that causes AIDS, a weeklong shutdown of porn production from coast to coast in early September ensued, affecting scores of major and minor productions.

Luckily for the titans of this industry, it turned out to be a false positive. They got back to work, but not before accusing AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its leader, Michael Weinstein, of being overzealous in their attacks against the porn industry and its wholesomely named lobbying group, the Free Speech Coalition.

Weinstein accused the industry of "a full-scale cover-up" in its reaction to the HIV scare, noting that it took nearly a week for the public to find out whether the unnamed porn actor actually was positive and that "the results of any confirmatory tests should already be available" before that.

Because Free Speech Coalition took the lead in publicly explaining the Miami case, Weinstein criticized the group, telling reporters it "is not qualified to investigate a public health outbreak of this kind." However, FSC's leaders dismiss his criticism.

Free Speech Coalition and the porn company that employed the male performer, Manwin, both called for Weinstein to "retract" his allegations. It has been, to be sure, a war of words.

Porn's leaders seem to march in lockstep in accusing AHF and Weinstein of having a profit motive: Many of them allege the health care group wants to take over testing for porn, wants a potentially lucrative contract for inspecting sets, and even wants to get into the highly competitive business of producing condoms — which it would sell to the adult-video business.

"This is about money," says filmmaker Whiteacre.

Weinstein retorts: "We're not interested in doing testing for the porn industry. We already have our own brand of condoms, which we give out for free."

AHF bills itself as "the nation's largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care," and it had assets of $18 million in 2010. Condoms and porn first appeared on its map in 2004, when a Los Angeles performer named Darren James contracted HIV, apparently during a trip to Brazil, where he worked and exposed 12 female performers to the possibility of HIV-positive status.

Ironically, back then, some of the bigger producers like Vivid, which focused on softer-core pay-per-view sales at major hotel chains, were condom-mandatory companies by choice, so condoms were used for everything but oral sex. But tastes got raunchier, even in otherwise buttoned-up hotels that cater to business travelers, and the condoms came off for good.After the 2004 outbreak (at least three women who worked with James after he returned to L.A. from Brazil tested positive for HIV), AHF took an official stance in favor of mandatory condoms. In 2009 the health care group started to lobby actively for the rule.

That's when the group discovered that using condoms during porn shoots was already required under federal law — albeit a law everyone had ignored.

Senior officials at the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) say that its interpretation of federal law prohibiting employees from being exposed to blood-borne pathogens (blood, semen and the like) means that condoms are indeed required on set.

And so, after AIDS Healthcare Foundation began filing complaints against companies like Larry Flynt's Hustler video empire, carting boxes of DVDs depicting condom-free sex to the offices of Cal-OSHA, the workplace-safety division started levying fines on a piecemeal basis.

Flynt's company was hit last March with $14,000 worth of fines for failing to require its actors to use condoms. The multimillion-dollar enterprise didn't even feel the tiny sting. Flynt practically yawned, declaring he wouldn't require condoms at Hustler productions.

Cal-OSHA officials admit to L.A. Weekly that resources for enforcing the federal blood-borne pathogens law are scarce during this era of multibillion-dollar state deficits. Deborah Gold, Cal-OSHA senior safety engineer, said late last year, "We realize that strong, consistent enforcement is imperative to our program. We're doing what we can within our resources."

Cal-OSHA lead counsel Amy Martin refuted that stance in a recent interview. She says the state is actively investigating possible on-set violations but reveals that the state is focused on reacting to complaints — not on digging up problems through surprise checks. The lack of "resources has not prevented us from opening inspections based on complaints," she says.

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