HOLLYWOOD—Friday afternoon saw something unique in the annals of adult industry history: The inauguration of a monthly internet radio program that brings together the "movers and shakers" of the adult industry for a discussion of its problems and issues by people who are actually in a position to do something about them.
"I want to bring in all sorts of people and it's not only people who agree with my viewpoint, because to be honest with you, that's boring. I want to bring in people who have all different sorts of viewpoints," explained Vivid Entertainment CEO Steven Hirsch, who will moderate each episode. "I want to talk about what really happens behind the scenes in the industry, so I'm excited and ecstatic to have a forum like this to reach out to other people in the industry who don't necessarily get 60 minutes to talk about how they really feel, and hopefully people enjoy it."
The topic of the roundtable's first discussion was one that's affecting everyone in the industry and many far beyond it: The requirement under the recently passed Measure B that all hardcore scenes shot in Los Angeles County must use condoms and other protective devices or be subject to large fines. To discuss that, Hirsch invited some of the industry's most influential personnel: Evl Angel CEO John Stagliano, Penthouse Entertainment Managing Director (and now the publisher of Penthouse magazine as well) Kelly Holland, Free speech Coalition CEO Diane Duke, and First Amendment attorney Paul Cambria, who's the primary attorney challenging Measure B on behalf of Vivid and two performers.
"It's been talked about a lot in the media, but there haven't been a lot of CEOs in the adult industry who have really tackled the issue of condoms and where we're going with them, what's happened in the last year," Hirsch framed the discussion. "Several people have tested positive, so the question is, where is the industry today and where are we going?"
Hirsch first asked Duke to give some background on the issue, and she summed up the situation, noting, "We haven't previously seen a lot of performers testing positive, and three seems like a huge number, but if you put it in perspective, just in LA County alone, there are five new cases of HIV daily, and when you look at these performers who have tested positive, this is nationwide... Only one of them is in the LA County area, so that tells you something, that it is really very rare for a performer to test positive, and then we found out that these transmissions did not occur on-set, so we've been able to show that, and so what is true is, you've got 4,000 performers and with those numbers, it's inevitable that somebody's going to end up positive for HIV. The good news is, because the program works, we are able to call a moratorium to make sure no transmission occurs on-set."
Duke's statements later led to a discussion of how the recent moratoriums had led AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) president Michael Weinstein to claim that the industry was now "in crisis," with Hirsch noting, "Hundreds of thousands of scenes have been shot since the last case of HIV that was contracted in the industry."
"I think the bottom line is to look at the group of people that work in the adult business and see if there's a greater incidence of HIV within that group—and remember, these are very sexual people," Stagliano added. "Diane has access to better data than I do, but I just found out that five people a day test positive for HIV in the LA County area, and if you multiply that by the number of days since the last time someone was infected on a set ten years ago in the adult industry, you find that we're clearly a safe place."
Cambria was on hand to recap the progress of Vivid's Measure B lawsuit, and while he noted that some provisions of the law, including the ability of the county health department to pull a company's shooting permits, had been struck down by Judge Pregerson in his most recent ruling, he nonetheless upheld the basic requirement that if there's sex, condoms must be used.
"A lot of my clients are not producing at all in LA County because it isn't a level playing field, because you have competitors from non-LA County places who can shoot without condoms," he said, adding that some productions have even "gone underground" to avoid inspectors.
"Ignorance is a big factor," he added. "A number of people on the street have no idea as to the detailed testing that went on and how effective it was and how there was a remarkably less incidence of HIV in the adult industry than there was the population as a whole, but to someone who doesn’t know that, it's like, 'Gee, how could it not be true? A condom would just solve all our problems.' Well, it doesn't work that way. There are issues here that are larger than that. The question is, are there other avenues that can be taken which would be just as effective if not moreso, and at the same time not violate fundamental constitutional rights, and that's really where we are here."
But for Holland, the Measure B fiasco was symptomatic of far deeper issues, some of which affected her personally.
"I believe that we are the vanguard of a very political voice for free speech and privacy," she stated. "I was a feminist when I got in this business and I'm still a feminist. I see no contradiction between pornography and feminism. Why don't I? Because at the base of all of this is a prevailing rule, law, standard, however you want to characterize it, which is, 'My body, my rules.' ... The bottom line on set is, do what you're comfortable with... But if you're comfortable with it, how arrogant for AIDS Healthcare Foundation or the public health department to think that these performers don't understand the risk. Is there risk? Statistically, almost none. Our cases don't happen inside this industry; it's outside activity and they bring it into the industry and public health and AIDS Healthcare Foundation should be thanking us and partnering with us at every level because we are intercepting those high-risk sexual behaviors and testing them every two weeks, and we're the ones that are the first line of defense... We're capturing all this information; the health department should be using it."
After noting the analysis of the county health department's statistics conducted by Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, which found little difference between STD's in the adult industry versus the population at large, Duke agreed with Holland's stance.
"Every time we call a moratorium, AIDS Healthcare Foundation will come out and say 'There is a crisis. See? There's all this incidence of HIV in the porn industry'," she noted. "What's really important to understand is those people that contracted HIV this year would have contracted HIV whether or not they were wearing condoms on a set, and if the testing was not in place, those people may still not know that they have HIV and they would be having unprotected sex or thinking that they were safe and so, Kelly's right: We should be thanked because we are protecting people, we are encouraging people to have tests regularly, and I think our industry is an example... Every time a moratorium is called, it's proof that our system works."
Stagliano commented that considering the recent studies published in the news media about head injuries, it was clear that it's safer to be a porn star than a professional football player.
"No environment has zero risk," Holland stated, adding, "I think somehow we just inherited society's vision of us and are just a little apologetic. 'Well, you know, we're doing a really good job even though we're pornographers.' I feel that behind everything that we say, we still come out a bit apologetic and we can't get out in front of this issue."
Holland then brought up the fact that getting Measure B enacted cost AHF millions of dollars—money that could have been put to better use serving LA County's multitude of low- and middle-income HIV patients. Duke agreed, reminding the audience that that poor decision led a number of AHF workers to go on strike a few months ago, claiming that AHF was wasting its resources on political actions.
The actual discussion was much further-ranging than can be encompassed by one news story, but those who find the topic interesting can tune into Sirius XM Channel 102 for a rebroadcast—and check their schedule for future shows, the next of which will likely be Friday, January 31.
"It's not only going to be about condoms and Measure B," Hirsch told AVN. "I want to talk about celebrity sex tapes—how does that work? The history of pornography, that's a pet project of mine that we're going to get started on. We're going to go all the way back to the Sixties and talk to the producers, the distributors and the performers. I know it goes back further than that, but I wanted to start with Reuben Sturman, who is the original porn king, and sort of the tree that he laid out, and everybody who's come as a result of that, and I know that I owe a great debt to him, and I think it would be fascinating for people to understand what it was really like in the Sixties and then the Seventies and the Eighties."