Does anyone track the sex lives of porn stars?

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Oct. 14 2010 6:46 PM

Porn Star Zero

Does anyone track the sex lives of adult-film performers?

How great is the risk of HIV for porn professionals like Jenna Jameson? Click image to expand.
Former porn actress Jenna Jameson

Los Angeles porn companies are shutting down temporarily after a male actor tested positive for HIV. Is there any easy way to figure out which performers the infected actor had sex with?

You'd have to ask him. While some independent databases, such as the Internet Adult Film Database (NSFW), maintain lists of porn films, there's no official industry database with complete, up-to-date information. Clinics and public health investigators therefore rely on the actor and his production studio for a list of recent professional sexual partners. (Every adult film studio has a custodian of records who keeps track of the actors' personal information.) When an actor tests positive, health care workers also ask him to report any sexual contact with people outside the film industry. To encourage honesty in this all-important interview, clinics try not to reveal the identity of the actor when informing sexual partners that they may be infected. If those partners test positive, the clinic then informs their partners, and so on.

The system is far from perfect. Industry standards require that adult film actors be tested for sexually transmitted infections every 30 days. Most actors go to the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation in Los Angeles, which enters their test results into a database, AIMcheck.net. Film producers can subscribe to the service and log in to make sure their actors have gotten tested recently. The problem is that HIV has a "window period" of 10 to 14 days, during which a person who has contracted the virus will not test positive for it. Public health officials have therefore long pushed for the porn industry to start using condoms.

While sexually transmitted diseases are common in the adult film industry—between 2004 and 2008, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department logged 2,847 STD infections among 1,884 performers—HIV is pretty unusual: About 22 performers have tested positive since 2004. That year, public health officials conducted an investigation after porn star Darren James contracted HIV. Of the 13 women he had sexual contact with in the weeks before he tested positive, three of them also tested positive. Based on interviews with James's partners, officials created a map of his sexual life prior to testing positive. (See slide 25 of this PowerPoint presentation.)

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Explainer thanks Ged Kenslea of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Mark Kernes of Adult Video News.

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Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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