Analysis: Separating Fact from Fiction in Recent HIV Reports

PORN VALLEY —"OUTBREAK!!! 16 ADULT FILM STARS TEST POSITIVE FOR HAVING HIV!!!" screamed the headline on — and its lead paragraph wasn't much better, claiming that, "According to Los Angeles officials, 16 adult film performers have recently tested HIV positive" (emphasis added).

But unless you're speaking in geological terms, most people don't define "recently" as five years ago, and four of the cases included in that 16 are Darren James and the women he infected, Lara Roxx, Merisa Arroyo and Jessica Dee.

But scare headlines are what sell newspapers and move websites up in the Alexa ratings — and editors pushing to get a story up on a website NOWNOWNOW!!! doesn't help matters, when what's called for is objective, factual reporting.

So here are a few of the obvious factual errors and misleading statements contained in news stories of the last 24 hours:

• "In all, 16 men and 5 women who worked as adult film industry performers contracted HIV between 2004 and 2008": As the L.A. Times notes, that number, which it says came from the County Department of Health — an agency which has relentlessly pushed an "all condom all the time" agenda and which total has so far not been verified by AIM — includes both the cluster around Darren James, one transsexual performer who contracted the infection at roughly that same time ... and "10 ... cases involv[ing] men who had sex with other men."

But that "detail" simply raises more questions. It's well known that some men have sex with other men, including both gay and straight male porn stars, but the difference between them is that gay porn stars generally don't get tested for HIV on a regular basis, while the males in hetero movies do. And sadly, that lack of testing combined with the subgenre of "bareback" productions is a volatile combination.

"These little bareback companies start up and they don’t make it and they close down, and then a new barebacking company starts up and then it closes down, but the total number of these companies seems to have remained the same," said one director knowledgeable about the gay porn industry. "But there are some big barebacking companies that are around and they're staying around. I think these little start-up companies , they start and they think they're going to make like a million dollars doing bareback – it's just not that exciting anymore. It doesn't have the cachet and excitement that it used to have when no one was doing it. I use condoms in every one of my movies and I've never had an issue. I didn't want anyone ever leaving one of my sets and saying [they got HIV there]. It's very scary."

L.A. Times, referring to the unidentified most recent HIV victim: "The performer first tested positive June 4, said Dr. Colin Hamblin, AIM's medical director. She worked the following day — June 5 — for reasons Hamblin said are still being investigated. A second positive result came back June 6. And the clinic is awaiting results of a third and final confirmatory test, he said."

And yet, in a later story, AIM's founder Dr. Sharon Mitchell disputed that account: "She [Mitchell] also dismissed rumors in the industry that AIM workers had given the woman a negative result in error allowing her to work and expose others.

"This too, is not possible, as there was no result available either positive or negative until 6/6/09," Mitchell said.

AVN is still investigating which of these versions is accurate, but the earlier impression that AIM would let an actress with a positive test work within the industry has yet to be borne out by the facts.

So: Subtracting the four Darren James-related cases in 2004, the one transsexual case from that time, the 10 cases of "men who had sex with other men," which may be related to the gay bareback industry — that too awaits confirmation — and the one case discovered last week, that leaves a total of seven cases possibly unaccounted for over that five-year period.

AVN's investigation continues, but it couldn't hurt for the mainstream press, and the adult industry at large, to heed Mitchell's admonition that, "Rumor is rampant when the words 'HIV' and 'porn' are in the same sentence; the media is like a moth to a flame. We are finding that many clients, patients and companies are tempted to discuss this delicate matter with the world for whatever personal or professional gain. Fact is, that we are still awaiting final confirmation on the Patient Zero."