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Working In These Times

Monday, Oct 18, 2010, 10:21 am

Jenna Jameson Calls for Porn Star Union After Actor’s Positive HIV Test

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

Jenna Jameson has promoted unionizing porn stars after last week's HIV scare shook the industry.   (Photo by FRAZER HARRISON/Getty Images)

Jenna Jameson, one of the adult entertainment industry's biggest names, is calling for a porn star union after an actor tested positive for HIV last week.

The news caused widespread alarm among performers because the actor had worked extensively in an industry where condoms are the exception rather than the norm. It is not clear how many people he may have exposed. In the meantime, several major studios have halted production until the actor's partners and his partners' partners can be notified and tested.

"There's going to have to be a union put in place, and having safe sex is mandatory," Jameson said in an interview with RadarOnline.

California law requires condoms or equivalent protection on porn sets, and Cal-OSHA has successfully fined companies for breaking the law. But unless someone complains, there's little Cal-OSHA can do.

Actresses fear being blacklisted if they insist on protection, Jameson noted. When Jameson ran her own porn production company, she gave actresses the option, but some studios ban condoms on set because they are afraid porn with visible condoms won't sell.

Unionization could make it much easier for regulators to enforce work safety laws on set. Cal-OSHA investigations are usually complaint-driven, but performers seldom complain because they are afraid of being blacklisted. Performers might feel empowered to report abuses if they had the protection of a union.

The industry insists that condoms aren't necessary on set because actors are required to test every 30 days for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections through an industry-allied clinic.

Common sense says that testing can't possibly provide the minimal level of protection that workers in all industries are entitled to. A performer can test negative in the morning, get infected on a date that night, and work for a month with HIV.

In 2004, actor Darren James tested negative but went on to infect 3 of the 14 co-stars he worked with before a test finally picked up his infection. Two of the infected actresses also got early false negative tests and kept working, though luckily they didn't infect anyone else.

More frequent testing won't solve the problem, either. That's because there's always a lag period of several days between infection and detection. James chose to test every 2 weeks, and the test still missed his infection at first.

"It was like a ticking time bomb before something like this happened," Jameson said.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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