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Porn Flicks or Virtual Coliseum? Risking Actors' Lives for Sport

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Pornographers are aroused and growling over a new Los Angeles law that will require adult film actors to wear condoms in sex acts well known to be high-risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The filmmakers call the new law "government overreach." They argue that monthly HIV tests should be sufficient to prevent the virus from slipping into the mix of fluids splashing about the set and unwittingly infecting an actor while on the job.

The Los Angeles Times reported that companies are threatening to move out of the city, taking with them as many as 20,000 jobs for actors, makeup artists, camera crews, caterers, and the abundance of talent and services that makes L.A. a magnet for movie makers of all sorts.

The Los Angeles City Council passed the law, which takes effect March 5, after reports of actors becoming infected with HIV while pursuing their line of work. Former adult film actor Derrick Burts, who tested HIV-positive in 2010 and was told he was infected by a fellow performer, was quoted in the Times as saying, "It's a broken system that they have in place. What performer wouldn't want to feel more safe on a work set?" Burts backs mandatory condoms.

Filmmakers argue that requiring actors to use condoms will hurt their sales. "The viewers out there don't want to see movies with condoms," Steven A. Hirsch of Vivid Entertainment told the newspaper.

Since the early AIDS years, HIV-prevention educators have argued that porn can play an important role in modeling and eroticizing safer sex -- or, to the contrary, reinforcing the idea that only "bare" sex is real sex.

The Times quoted Michael Weinstein, president of Los-Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, as saying, "The fact that porn sends out a message that the only type of sex that's hot is unsafe ... we think that's detrimental." AHF has lobbied the city since 2010 to require condoms in the adult movies made there.

The L.A. public health department in 2010 estimated that condoms and other protection are used in fewer than 20 percent of hardcore heterosexual pornography. The department also reported that adult film workers are 10 times more likely to be infected with an STD than a non-adult-film worker.

"Unlike Hollywood films where there is sex or violence that is simulated," Weinstein said in an email, "in porn, real actors are being infected with real STDs, and the audience knows it. Therefore, they are thinking that the hottest guys do it raw and only geeks use condoms."

In the early years of AIDS, gay pornographers who wanted to sell movies understood the influence that their products can have in shaping not only the sexual fantasies but the actual behavior of gay men. The late Chuck Holmes, founder and president of industry giant Falcon Studios, told me in a 1995 interview, "No responsible gay erotica producers would ever make a decision [not to use condoms]. They'd be drummed out of the business because the models wouldn't talk to them, the distributors wouldn't touch it."

Times have changed. By the middle of the past decade, an increasing number of gay erotica producers were not only making "bareback" movies, but they felt no responsibility whatsoever to their actors -- or their audience.

In a 2005 meeting in San Francisco, sponsored by the city's Gay Men's Community Initiative, a group of 70 men discussed sex, including porn videos. They spoke frankly. "Twink barebacking is reprehensible, using kids, paying them to risk their lives," said Titan Media vice president Keith Webb of the growing number of porn movies depicting unprotected anal intercourse. Such films "fetishize internal ejaculation," he said.

Several of the men pointed to Treasure Island Media's 2004 title Dawson's 20-Load Weekend as an example of irresponsible gay filmmaking for its celebration of what most rational people would deem suicidal behavior. The company's website boasts of a worldwide demand for the movie, tantalizing buyers to pony up $49 with promises of forbidden scenes of a "fresh young man" who "goes from being a barebacking newcomer to a true Power Cumdump as he takes on man after man after man."

Treasure Island cameraman Nick Stevens defended the movie in the forum. "Our movies are for models to have sex the way they want," he said. "Why should we not film that?"

Apparently Treasure Island Media -- like the Los Angeles filmmakers squealing about the new condom law -- saw nothing wrong with depicting, in the most graphic terms, what could well be the actual HIV infection of a man whose alleged craving for "cum" was obviously stronger than his lust for life. Maybe that explains the dark, foreboding music in the Dawson trailer.

With HIV and other potentially deadly STDs continuing to spread at a shocking rate among American gay and bisexual men, maybe it's time to reclaim Chuck Holmes' conviction that safe sex is hot sex -- and that endangering other men's lives for the sake of a fantasy has no place in the life of a truly proud gay man or in his erotic entertainment.