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The Health of Pornography in LA, Part 2: Sex is Safer in Nevada Brothels than Porn Sets

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Dr. Sharon Mitchell of Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation talks to audience members at Zócalo's Cocktail Hour

With all the talk of the economy and morality (see Part 1) at last night's panel, Dirty Business: Should the Porn Industry Be Saved?, one subject prevailed during cocktail hour among the audience that as comprised of the curious, the perverts, health officials, and industry folks: sexually transmitted diseases.

And that tone of that was set largely due to an outburst by pornstar Anita Cannibal (myspace) during Q & A that led to security ejecting her from the auditorium:

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Classic line of the night: "Thank you for not tasering me, I appreciate that."

However, as security escorted Cannibal outside, audience members became more interested in what she had to say. So why was it that Zócalo staff avoided her when she raised her hand for a question? Despite her emotional demeanor, Cannibal is somewhat of an expert in pornstar sexual health safety, previously speaking as a panelist on topics at UCLA and other engagements.

And her talking points were confirmed by employees at the County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services. Peter Kerndt, the director of Sexually Transmitted Disease Program also spoke during Q & A, but only because on Tuesday, panel moderator Marial Garza kicked Kerndt off the panel, giving the terse reason that there were "unforeseen events," according to County employees.

"This was the most one-sided panel of all the Zócalo events so far," one regular attendee, who wished to remain anonymous, mentioned. When it came to the health issues in the porn industry, it was obvious. If one were to believe the panel at face value, the industry is nice, safe and "la di da."

Former actor and now head of the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation, Dr. Sharon Mitchell brought out the numbers proving the good health of the industry. She stated that STD rates are 80% below the general population. But Dr. Kerndt at the county says there's no proof of that and estimates that it is far above the general population. After all, he should know since there are six diseases that doctors and labs must report to government by law including HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia.

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And with these reporting laws, it has been found that participating in licensed and legalized prostitution in Nevada is safer than acting in porn:

Legislators can look to Nevada for a model for the successful regulation of a legal sex-related industry. Since the institution of mandatory condoms in Nevada's brothels in 1988, not a single sex worker has contracted HIV. Workers must be repeatedly tested for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia to maintain a state health and work card. There are numerous other international models for condom enforcement in sex work, from Mexico City to Amsterdam. While there is no clear model for mandatory condom use in adult film, Brazil boasts an 80% condom usage rate in their adult films, while still maintaining a large share of the international market as the world's second largest adult film industry. This suggests that condom use in adult films does not have to erode profitability. It is also possible to use filming techniques to reduce the visual effect of condoms, by using flesh tone-colored condoms or by digitally removing them post-production. Facial ejaculations could be simulated through the use of inert materials such as liquid antacids combined with filming techniques, which would eliminate any health risk to the performer. [The Adult Film Industry: Time to Regulate?]

There's been a lot of sex in Nevada for the past 20 years and still, the brothels have a 100% track record in preventing HIV. Put that up against the 2004 HIV outbreak in the porn industry where four actors tested positive. One of the four was a woman from Montreal who told the production that she would not perform anal scenes without a condom. Upon arrival to the set, she was told to leave or perform sans condom, with anal. Needing to pay a VISA bill, she went ahead and flew home to Canada HIV positive.

In another case reported to the county, a young woman found on an online dating site was flown into Los Angeles under the impression that she would be modeling. When she arrived she was told she could only make it doing porn due to her small breast size. Tight on money, she made a quick $400 and flew home with herpes of the oral cavity, vagina and anus, costing her $4000 in medical bills. Remember, porn actors are under contract and are not employees; therefore, no health benefits.

And that leads to a major problem. AIM, as wonderful and supportive as it is, is only half of the solution. Testing is not prevention. "Screening is a measurement of when there is a failure," explained Dr. Kerndt, who emphasized that the County's opposition to the current industry's standards is not a moral one, but purely a health one. "We don't care about the content. It is a legal industry."

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While it sounds like a broken record, Kerndt emphasizes his point about condom usage a lot. "If condoms and screening were done, STDs would be effectively eliminated." Just like the Nevada Brothel system, if the porn industry were to go that way, the health of its actors would improve, while not 100%, but drastically.

Yet there seems to be an industry consensus that non-condom sex sells. Only a handful of companies are considered safe sex companies: Venetion, Bang Bros. and Wicked, the company that made ultra pornstar Jenna Jameson famous.

"Jenna is a pathetic excuse of a pornstar," Anita Cannibal fired over the phone in an interview with LAist. "She could lead the pro-condom movement because she has the power, authority and fanbase to change the industry." The fact that Jameson rose to stardom using condoms proves that sex sells, condom or no condom.

When Jameson left Wicked to found her own production company, Club Jenna, she went with a no condom policy. And it did not affect her because she began to only star with her husband rather than having multiple partners on the set. Club Jenna is now with Playboy, who has not instituted a condom policy.

At last night's panel, former actor Ira Levine agreed that condoms are a good thing, stating that there may be some economic impact, but not much. Think about it, if the porn industry went condom universal, would the world stop watching porn? You've got to be kidding me.

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Though, his wife, Nina Hartley, later said condoms were not effective anyway -- other diseases can still be transferred. True, but what a blonde moment... head smack.

In California, it is actually illegal to spread disease on the work site per Cal/OSHA law. The law requires workers to be protected from blood born pathogens at work. Imagine if doctors and nurses were forced not to wear latex gloves. People would freak.

The problem in the porn industry is that being forced to perform non-condom sex can only be enforced when there is a complaint. Once made, an officer can start the lengthy process, sometimes taking up to 2 years. Then add in the fact that an actor who complains risks not be hired again. It is rare that complaints are filed and make it through the process. One of the few companies that got fined was Naughty America for not having an exposure and control plan, among other violations. And the company that caused the 2004 HIV outbreak was fined $30,000.

Some chalk all this up humorously, saying that life is risky and there are occupational hazards. On a construction site, you risk broken bones; in the office, carpel tunnel; on a porn set, sore muscles and STDs. Yet construction workers wear helmets and office workers get wrist pads. Condoms are still not used widespread on porn sets.

During the 2004 HIV scare, Republican Assemblymember Tim Leslie introduced AB 2798, which would have compelled all performers to use condoms. However, Paul Koretz who represented West Hollywood and parts of the southern San Fernando Valley tabled it saying it was put together too hastily. In turn, he wrote a letter to 186 porn producers: ""I fully expect the adult entertainment industry to require the use of condoms. Failure to do so ... invites the legislature to exercise its authority to mandate more stringent actions." In the end, no action was ever taken.

Some believe this sort of action would lead to the unintended consequence of the industry going underground, where even the rate of STD screening would decrease. In response to threats of legislation, Larry Flynt told Gay.com that he appreciates what Koretz was doing, but challenged him. "I want to know who is going to put the condoms on the actors. Is he going to come down here and do it himself?"

Anita Cannibal, who already has two bachelor degrees and is currently in law school so she can eventually start her own multi-million production company has been doing research on the technology side of things. She approached the Editor's Guild asking how much would it be to edit out condoms. At $28/hr, a full one-hour film would cost production companies an estimated extra $1300 to the normal budget. Normal editing costs around $2500 per one-hour film.

As for Cannibal herself, when she finishes her law degree in 2011, you can expect her to walk her talk with her production company. For now, she will continue making her documentary, "Pornstar Goes to Law School," and pay for school at Nevada Brothels and a handful of films. Before she stepped into a party during our phone interview, she half jokingly asked "how many dicks does a girl have to suck to buy a school book?"

Photo and video by Zach Behrens/LAist