by Bob Armstrong
For the first time since the outbreak of AIDS almost 20 years ago, the adult film industry is running scared. In the last six months, five porn stars--one man and four women--have tested positive for the HIV virus. As a result, most of the major production companies recently mandated the use of condoms in all their films. In the past condom usage has been optional, but rubbers are few and far between in suck & fuck films. The skin trade has relied on performers protecting themselves against AIDS by taking regular HIV tests prior to making films. Until now this system has proved reliable. Tests are required every 30 days.
Porn producers met last spring and agreed to implement the condom-only policy. The major players include VCA, Vivid, Wicked, Metro, Video Team and Odyssey. "We don't think sex on film should be life threatening," said Scott Stein, a spokesman for Metro. "Our business mirrors society so why should it be any different for us?"
Although Metro and the other heavy hitters are now producing condom-only films, they all have a huge backlog of older videos which are still available. One company, Vivid, is taking an extreme measure with the old vids. The condom-free footage will be reedited and replaced with safe sex scenes, according to David Schlesinger, a Vivid producer.
The major producers can try and set an example for the entire industry, but that's like asking a bunch of communists to sign a petition supporting the Constitution. The porn industry is filled with in-your-face, up-yours libertine characters who went AWOL in the Army to spend a week with a piece of ass on the Highway to Nowhere. After getting fired from numerous jobs for telling the boss to fuck off they found a home in the one industry where everybody is a loser, where everybody knows how to have a good time, and they all consider the scam a high calling. This is not conducive to policies dictated from above.
No sooner had the ink dried on this agreement, a hue and cry arose from those who will not go along. "The industry was built on the right of free choice," said Jeff Marton, an occasional actor and troubleshooter at Evil Angel. "If the people in the films choose to use condoms, fine. If they choose not to, that's okay too." The head of Evil Angel, John Stagliano, who is HIV-positive, agrees. Stagliano said he contracted the virus two years ago from a transsexual while making a film in Brazil.
Evil Angel and the other companies resisting the trend do not think consumers will want the new product. In short, they say porn is a fantasy and condoms do nothing more than bring home the reality. Indeed, the bottom line will decide if this policy stays in force. Will viewers accustomed to salivating on all bodily orifices penetrated by everything from unsheathed dicks to neon dildos playing "The Star Spangled Banner" accept rubberized vids? Scott Stein says yes. "We think our films are just as hot and erotic with condoms." So too, Mark Kernes, the features editor at AVN, the industry trade publication. "The better condoms made today are so thin and transparent you can barely see them. I think people will buy these videos with the same enthusiasm they've bought videos in the past."
The condom panic began when word circulated among the hose monsters in "Porn Valley" (Van Nuys--the center of the porn industry) last March that performer Marc Wallice was HIV-positive. Shortly thereafter, three women, all of whom romped with Wallice in sex vids, tested positive. "We haven't figured out who infected who," said Sharon Mitchell, an official of the Protecting Adult Welfare (PAW) organization which monitors HIV testing. She added that Wallice is "likely patient zero," a reference to an airline attendant years ago who was thought responsible for introducing AIDS into the United States among the gay community. The fourth actress, whose positive HIV status was posted on the Internet in late May, never made a film with Wallice.
That on-line message and the first posting on Wallice popped up on Luke Ford's web site (www.lukeford.com). Ford, the Matt Drudge of the porn industry, is a man with many sources who tends to get the story out first and verify it later. When Ford nailed Wallice on April 23 he retracted it three days later, then retracted the retraction on April 28 when Sharon Mitchell at PAW confirmed Wallice was indeed HIV-positive.
Mitchell is not "outing" the people who come through PAW for tests. They sign release forms stating that if their tests come up positive PAW is obliged to quarantine them, that is, not allow them to continue making films. Porn producers are notified of the person's HIV status. All the performers who had sexual contact with the infected person are quarantined until their HIV tests come up clean.
Although Mitchell is not standing before a battery of microphones announcing who is HIV-positive, this system insures the word speeds far and wide. Mitchell makes no apologies: "I don't give a damn if the general public knows. They think we are all animals in a zoo anyway, and they get their kicks off the doom and gloom of our people who are sick."
This openness is commendable, yet by no means fail safe. Producers have acknowledged they don't always ask to see test results and performers admit they sometimes let a partner slide because they know the person and don't want to hassle him or her for showing up on the set without clean paper. In Wallice's case, it was up to him to come clean since he produces his own films. Rumors are flying all over Porn Valley that the fast-living splooger may have faked negative test results to show to his film partners, but this remains unconfirmed.
Wallice, sometimes called Mr. Anal, has been cranking out the vids since the early eighties, over a thousand to his credit. He recounted how he earned that moniker in an interview with Hustler, noting he did his first butt at 14. "I fucked her in the ass and I didn't even know what I was doing...She's laying in a spoon on her side and I put my dick in her. She squirreled off my dick onto the floor screaming. How'd I know? I knew my calling before I knew I had that." Wallice added that his slightly hooked dick is designed for this special task: "I follow the track right up."
He has tracked mightily in Anal Savage, Anal Anarchy, The Creasemaker, a series entitled Tales of Perversity and in Thai Me Up, where, as an AVN reviewer put it, we "can't forget Marc Wallice as lead henchman in his anal-er with Brooke Ashley."
Ashley is among the women who turned up HIV-positive, though Luke Ford, in one of his web page musings, wonders: "How does it connect? Brooke took 50 penal-colony work release types up the wazoo. Was one of them Wallice?"
Some people in the industry have suggested allowing non-condom scenes in films except for anal sex, and no doubt some producers will operate that way. Over the last few years, the woman's butt has increasingly become the hot spot in porn films, prompting one ex-porn star, Brandy Alexander, to post this warning on the web: "Widespread condom use would not be necessary if it wasn't for the widespread violent anal." (Perhaps the vid featuring Jasmine St. Clair belching flames out of her asshole was intended to send that same message, but I don't know.)
Wallice has been unavailable for comment since the news broke, but at the outset he responded to Luke Ford's charge that he was a notorious IV drug abuser and made numerous gay films under the name Don Webber. Wallice claimed he had been free of drugs for seven years and he made only one gay film back in 1981. Ford retorted that others had told him Wallice was still into drugs and that he "took it up the ass in three videos, including Matter of Size."
I don't think Ford is shifting the AIDS outbreak in porn onto the gay community. He's questioning the veracity of Wallice's claims. In addition, Ford has posted a lot of rumors on IV drug use by the HIV-positve actresses who performed with Wallice. One of them, Tricia Devereaux, who has acknowledged she contracted the disease, emphatically denies she was ever an IV drug user.
Despite the AIDS outbreak, one thing is certain: the industry is not going to vanish. No matter how reviled by the moralists on the right and the p.c.-ers on the left, in one respect porn is dead center in the American landscape: according to figures released by AVN, the adult video and rental sales in 1997 topped 4.2 billion dollars. That's High Capitalism blowing a long green flame out of its asshole.
Bill Margold, an ancient creature who has worked in every aspect of the porn industry for many years, says it's time for a change: "I used to call this industry the playpen of the damned with everybody on permanent recess. Recess is over."