What You Know About the Porn Moratorium is Wrong
By Diane Duke
On Friday, one of the testing facilities that serve the adult industry alerted us to a positive HIV test by an adult film performer. While we don't yet know if the performer acquired the virus in his or her personal life, or while working in adult film, we’ve called a moratorium and immediately halted all production. Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of misinformation in the media, and some truly reprehensible behavior on social media over the past few days, and felt it was necessary to explain how a moratorium works, and call for compassion for the positive performer.
A moratorium is a preventative measure used to protect adult performers. Over the past year, we've called two other moratoriums when performers who wished to work tested positive for HIV. In each case, the virus was acquired offset and was prevented from entering the performer pool by our testing system (known as PASS). Like a ringing car alarm, a moratorium is a sign of a working system, not a broken one. Adult performers — like all of us — have personal lives. We cannot control, and should not look to control, people's private lives. What we can do is make sure that HIV is stopped at the gate by testing protocols.
Once a moratorium is called, all production stops so the genealogy of the virus can be traced. The performer who tested positive is interviewed. All sexual partners — on-screen or off — who fall within the transmission window are contacted and tested. This allows doctors to trace the transmission history of the virus: how it was acquired, if any other performers were exposed, and if there is any further threat to the performer pool. What doctors don’t disclose is the performer’s identity.
Sadly, almost immediately after the moratorium was called, members of the media began searching for the positive performer's name, in what can be described as a witch hunt. This weekend, on social media and on blogs, a man was 'outted' as the positive performer. This is disgraceful.
First, we don't know if the named performer was the source of the positive test or not. HIPPA regulations rightly prevent the testing clinic from disclosing a patient's identity to anyone, even the Free Speech Coalition, unless the performer allows it. And we shouldn't need to know a name. We only need to know if people are at risk. Everything else about the performer’s health should be between the performer, that performer's partners, and a doctor.
HIV is a virus, not a moral issue. Yet both blogs and mainstream media unwittingly rushed to blame the victim. By assuming that adult film work is responsible for the virus, the mainstream media essentially resorts to slut-shaming. On the blogosphere and social media, it can be even worse — unfounded assumptions about escort work, or drug use, or "cross-over" sex (that is, sex with men or transgender performers) are the most common scapegoat. At a time when we most need to support someone in need, we rush to find a villain. I understand that at a difficult time like this, everyone wants to find an explanation. But in doing so, we must respect the performer's privacy, and restrain ourselves from moralizing over a medical issue.
Whoever the performer is, we need to be there to support them — not shame or attack them. No matter how the virus was acquired, the performer is one of our own. If the performer does choose to speak publicly, the industry needs to rally behind him or her — perhaps provide interim support or help find work elsewhere in the business. An adult performer who tests positive for HIV faces not only a life-changing diagnosis, but the loss of his or her livelihood. If we truly care about performers, we need to do so not only when they are on a box cover, but also when they are at their most vulnerable.
Any positive test rightly spurs discussions as to how to make the industry safer for the performers. (Currently, every fourteen days, a performer must be tested for a full slate of STIs, including HIV, in order to be cleared to work in adult film.) We can have honest disagreements as to how to best do this. I only ask that these discussions involve the performers themselves, rather than politicians and pundits who sometimes claim to speak for them. We have a vital, intelligent, engaged performer base with strong opinions about their own health and sexuality. We — the media, the industry, the doctors — need to listen to them, and accord them the respect they deserve.
Over the next few days, we'll learn more about the current positive test. If the virus was prevented from entering the performer pool, retests will begin and the industry will slowly return to work.
I only hope that the discussions that come are substantive, not sanctimonious — and that everyone remembers that we're dealing not with a cautionary tale or a talking point, but a real person who is struggling, and needs our compassion and support now more than ever. Thank you.