How Do Porn Stars Prevent STIs?

How Do Porn Stars Prevent STIs?

Our mission at tabú is to empower young adults with engaging, trustworthy sexual health content. With 60% of college students learning about sex from porn, we thought, “why not get insight from someone in the industry?” While porn is a healthy and natural form of sexual expression that allows us to play out our fantasies, it is important to remember that what you see in porn does not reflect reality. We’ve teamed up with the witty, brilliant, and insightful Lorelei Lee to dispel the myths and answer all your questions about sex!

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This month, I’ll answer some questions that porn performers get asked so frequently, I wish we had a universal database of porn FAQs to direct you to.

How do porn performers protect themselves against STIs?

Every way you can think of. And maybe a few ways you haven’t thought of. Since the 1990s, when public health campaigns and medical providers have talked about STI prevention during penetrative sex, they’ve mainly talked about condoms. Condoms might be the only STI transmission method that immediately comes to mind when you think about “safer sex.” There is good reason for this. Condoms are cheap, effective, easy to use, and readily available. You don’t have to have health insurance to get one. They’re small enough to keep in your wallet, purse, or pocket, and they work immediately when you need them to. For sexual encounters that happen off-camera, condoms are often the very best choice.

What people don’t always realize is that the conditions on a porn set are very different than the conditions in most people’s bedrooms (and everywhere else people have sex in their private lives). At home, people have sex for pleasure, increased intimacy, and other deeply personal reasons. On set, every sexual interaction is a show. Everything we do is utterly impersonal — that is, it isn’t primarily for our own gratification, but for yours. Every time we move our bodies, we are thinking of where the camera is, where the lights are — whether you, the viewer will be able to explicitly see what we’re doing. Off camera, most people who have penetrative sex do so for maybe 15 or twenty minutes. On set, penetration can last two or three hours. Under the hot lights, specific choreography, and increased friction of extended use, many performers have found that condoms can have two problems — increased breakage and abrasions which we call “condom rash.” Abrasions on your genitals can increase the likelihood of STI transmission. Many of the performers who work in traditional heterosexual porn —a lot of whom do use condoms in their personal lives — prefer not to use condoms for STI prevention on set.
Over the last fifteen years, performers have developed a complicated testing protocol. Every performer who works in “straight” porn (a phrase that refers to the target audience rather than the sexual identity of the performers; “straight porn” includes both boy-girl and girl-girl scenes), gets tested for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C a maximum of fourteen days prior to each shoot they will perform in. Full time performers perform in anywhere from one to eight shoots each week. In actual effect, this means that most of the performers you recognize are tested every ten days in order to ensure that their results are current.

The STI tests we use are not the same as the STI tests most people can get from their doctors. For example, the CDC still recommends that the average adult be tested for HIV once a year using an ELISA test, which tests for antibodies in your blood and can take three to six months (the “window period”) after a transmission occurred to show a positive result. By contrast, the HIV test we rely on is a PCR RNA test, which tests for the actual virus, and has a window period of nine to eleven days.

To protect our privacy, our test results are not shared, but the doctors who run the testing clinics (which must be vetted before participating in the program), enter into a database whether we are “available to work” or “not available.” If a performer is “not available,” it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve had a positive test — it could mean they’ve been on vacation, went to the wrong clinic, or they’ve been tested but their results aren’t back yet. If an active performer tests positive for an STI other than HIV, they cannot work until they’ve been treated and re-tested with a negative result. If an active performer tests positive for HIV, there is a moratorium on production during which the entire industry shuts down, every performer who recently worked with the person who tested positive is retested immediately, and every performer in the entire industry must retest before going back to work. Using this protocol, despite thousands of porn scenes being filmed every year, there has not been an on-set transmission of HIV for over a decade.

Some performers still prefer to use condoms in addition to testing, and at least one “straight” studio — Wicked Pictures — requires the use of condoms during its scenes.

In gay male porn, a different protocol has developed in which condoms are almost always used, HIV-positive men are not excluded from the industry, and performers also may us a combination of other safer sex techniques, including biomedical interventions such as TASP (Treatment AS Prevention) and PREP (PRE-exposure Prophylaxis).

Over the last decade, as you may have seen in the media, a controversial organization called the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), working in opposition to dozens of other AIDS- and HIV-prevention and LGBT organizations, has backed multiple campaigns to pass regulation that would weaken our testing protocol and mandate condom use as the primary STI prevention method in the adult industry. Their latest attempt, Proposition 60would violate our privacy and weaken our health protectionsand would financially incentivize California citizens to sue adult performers who don’t use condoms in their scenes. Prop 60 is opposed by every major political party, and by performers themselves.

In recent years, performers have been working tirelessly to organize for labor protections specific to our actual needs, and to fight for regulations that would support, rather than undo, our efforts to protect our own health.

want your question answered in next month’s column? send your questions to: xoxoloreleilee@gmail.com or tweet them @missloreleilee

writer, porn performer, etc