**TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains written references to sexual abuse, trauma, and porn scenes. Reader discretion advised.**
Imagine a job where you’re virtually guaranteed to catch a sexually transmitted disease (STD/STI), some of which could be life threatening, and where you may experience traumatic bodily injury in the process. Oh, and also, there is no worker’s compensation or disability if this happens, and you will likely be pressured to continue if you are injured on the job.
Does this sound like a desirable career?
For most porn performers in the mainstream industry, this is the reality of their situation. Catching a sexually transmitted disease is not a matter of if, but when. In fact, they will likely contract some form of an STI or STD more than once. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, syphilis, HPV, bacterial vaginosis, herpes, hepatitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and mycoplasma genitalium (Mgen) are all commonplace in the porn industry among performers. And for many of these, repeated infection can result in serious conditions, including infertility and cervical cancer.
According to a 2011 study, chlamydia incidence in adult film performers was 34 times higher than in the general population and gonorrhea incidence was 64 times higher than in the general population. Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, Clinical Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, estimates that among porn performers, 90% have genital herpes.
Exodus Cry founder Benjamin Nolot went on a years-long investigation of the porn industry to understand what was really going on behind the scenes. As part of the research for his documentary miniseries Beyond Fantasy, he sat down with producers, performers, and even the head of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the porn industry’s main lobbying organization. What he found was a deeply disturbing trend of the FSC protecting the reputation of the porn industry over the health and safety of its performers.
Episode two of the series, “Unsafe Sex,” tackles the STD crisis the porn industry is facing. During an interview for this episode, former porn performer Brittni De La Mora shares, “my first 4 months in the industry, I caught [gonorrhea] every month for 4 months.” When she told her agent she didn’t think she could continue, he told her she could just get a shot because it was “going around.”
But wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the Free Speech Coalition to protect the health and safety of its core talent?
When director Benjamin Nolot asked popular porn performer Kayden Kross if the FSC was doing enough to advocate for performers she explained, “The FSC does not advocate for performers. They advocate for producers, to be clear. The FSC is not funded by performers. It’s funded by producers and large studios.”
The Free Speech Coalition
The Free Speech Coalition (FSC) is a non-profit trade association of the pornography and adult entertainment industry in the United States. Founded in 1991, it regularly opposes the passage and enforcement of obscenity laws and many censorship laws.
The FSC started an organization called PASS (Performer Availability Screening Services) that is supposed to maintain a database of STI testing results for porn performers in order to help reduce or prevent the spread of STDs in the porn industry.
STI and STD Testing in the Porn Industry
The FSC requires performers to be tested every fourteen days for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and C, and trichomoniasis. And according to PASS, there has not been an on-set transmission of HIV on a regulated set since 2004. However, testing is not fool-proof and the spread of STDs and STIs continues to persist in the industry.
From 2004 to 2009, 22 HIV cases in the U.S. porn industry were reported; roughly half were among men who work in gay films, and the other half were men and women working in heterosexual productions. However, those numbers have risen.
But PASS and the FSC claim the rise in cases are not happening on set and instead are results of outside relationships. However, that is all the proof they care to provide, hoping the general public will simply believe them and move on.
As mentioned above, the FSC requires performers to be tested every fourteen days; however, those tests do not include HPV screenings and they don’t test for herpes. Additionally, asymptomatic HSV-1- and HSV-2-positive persons can sexually transmit herpes to their partners.
Repeated and chronic infection with sexually transmitted infections can lead to infertility, chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancies, and can facilitate HIV infection.
Brittni shared, “Before porn, I never had unprotected sex. The industry promised me safety because ‘we test every 28 days.’ However, just because there’s testing doesn’t mean you’re safe as a performer. Let’s say you get an STI test, but then you have unprotected sex with someone, and they give you an STI that same day. Now, for the next 28 days, you’re spreading the STI you contracted until you get tested again and treated for it.”
STD Testing Is Not Incentivized
Testing is now required two times a month but, as we have already emphasized, this does not mean performing is safe. Even so, performers are not incentivized to test more often even if a risk presents itself.
Each full panel test costs $155 out of pocket and performers are not allowed to use health insurance to cover the costs. What’s even more troubling is that these tests are available for free in California STD clinics, but the FSC won’t allow performers to use them. Additionally, these panels do not include herpes one and two even though many porn performers are on antiviral medication to maintain them.
Performers use one of two testing centers, Cutting Edge Testing or Talentedge Testing. Both have a one day turn around. But because tests are expensive and are valid for 14 days, there’s a two week window where a performer could contract something, not know, and continue to work, thereby passing it on to whoever they are working with that day.
Former porn performer Felicity Feline, states, “Even though performers are tested regularly, [it] doesn’t mean that it’s safer. Why is this? It’s because a majority of performers are so sexually active and are having much more sex than the average person. And they are often having unprotected sex both on shoots, and in their free time… and a lot of performers wind up being escorts… The chances of contracting herpes one and two are extremely high. I got herpes one and two by my third shoot.”
Condom Use in the Porn Industry
This inefficient testing is then used as the excuse to not use condoms in the industry. But as we know, testing itself does nothing to prevent infection.
One study found that 69 percent of porn performers said they never used condoms on the job, despite city and county laws mandating them for porn in most of Los Angeles beginning in 2013. A 2014 study of 100 videos on popular pornographic websites found that condoms were used in just 2% of videos.
Anti-condom advocates argue that prolonged condom use causes chafing, tearing and increased risk of disease. They also say that condoms would hurt their profit and drive the industry either out of LA or underground, creating even more unsafe conditions.
In “Unsafe Sex,” Benjamin Nolot asks Bill Margold, former head of the FSC about his view on condoms, to which he replies “I hate condoms. I think that they absolutely debunk the myth of reality…”
Margold self-identified as the “papa bear” of the porn industry and someone who carried concern for the wellbeing of performers. When pressed on the STD risks to performers Margold was quick to clarify that he cares primarily about “the mental health…. I care about their physical health but they know what they’re getting themselves into.”
Porn is Unsafe Sex
In the opening scene of “Unsafe Sex,” director Benjamin Nolot asks seasoned porn producer Mike South, “Do you know anybody in porn that hasn’t contracted some type of STD?”
South sighs and answers, “I don’t think so.”
That’s an apt summary of the STD crisis the porn industry is currently facing, and it’s why we felt compelled to create this film.
In “Unsafe Sex” porn performers blow the whistle on the appalling lack of industry safety measures and reveal the industry’s complicity in endangering the lives of performers. Watch Episode 2 of our latest documentary miniseries, Beyond Fantasy, for free on YouTube.