Porn Moratorium Preparedness Kit: What’s Hot When the Popshot Pops Not

nina elle moratorium-survival
After a few years of practice, it turns out Porn Valley knows how to handle the occasional filming shutdown brought on by an STD scare: now it is coming to terms with blame, compassion, and moving forward.

They are like earthquakes, these porn moratoria. They shake everything up, put the fear of God in us, and go easier when we are prepared for them. Now let’s extend the metaphor a little further. Like seismic disturbances, are these occasional shooting blackouts inevitable because we live on the faultline of exposure to risky behavior, and will the “Big One” eventually wipe us out?

This Labor Day, Porn Valley has returned to work following last week’s 24-hour shooting moratorium. But savvy porn performers are less vulnerable to shutdowns because now they have contingency plans in place. Not only that, but the frequency of shutdowns over the past few years — there were three in 2013 alone — has engendered a kinder, gentler community spirit that has only grown in the face of public scrutiny and oppressive legislation.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still frustration and finger-wagging when performers, staring down cancelled shoots and the possibility of weeks without work, speculate online about the behavior that might have left their beloved industry open once again to public condemnation.

“I’m a different person since the first moratorium [I experienced],” says Dana DeArmond who, just a few weeks after entering the porn industry in February, 2004, lost work in a shutdown that April. That was the month in which Darren James, who is believed to have contracted HIV in Brazil, infected Lara Roxx on the Canadian set of “International Booty 8.”

Darren James and Lara Roxx

Darren James and Lara Roxx, Canada, 2008

Since then, DeArmond grudgingly admits, she has softened in her outlook on the causes of these shutdowns. She no longer focuses on blame but education.

“People then were panicked, and frightened, and uninformed,” she says. “And there was no Twitter to get the word out. But even yesterday I felt the need to tell people to calm down, stop pointing fingers, and educate themselves.”

Last week’s one-day moratorium was prompted by the (eventual) HIV False Positive diagnosis of Nina Elle, whose agency sent out the following tweet as soon as the ban was lifted.

Nina Elle False Positive

What happens in between the moratorium and its lifting, and how do performers spend their time? I talked with Courtney Trouble while the moratorium was still in effect.

“I had to cancel a shoot in L.A. yesterday,” says Trouble, the Bay Area-based founder of Trouble Films and QueerPornTV. “Luckily we had a week’s worth [of video] in the can. But I’ve got five movies I have to edit, so I can spend the time on them that I wouldn’t have if I were shooting.”

“And I can make a lot of money camming [hosting private shows on webcam],” says DeArmond. “Being in movies helps to get your name out there, but a lot of girls are making more money camming anyway.”

Some backstory: Since 1998 the American porn industry, largely headquartered in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, has responded to outbreaks of HIV through occasional cessations of shooting it calls “porn moratoriums.” The industry’s compliance with these shutdowns, the quarantine of partners under the direction of testing centers like the former AIM (Adult Industry Medical, shuttered in 2011) and PASS (Performer Availability Screening Services, AIM’s replacement), and the real social stigma that would come with violating the moratorium in this small community, have coalesced to stop the spread of HIV within the porn industry here.

Adult Industry trade group Free Speech Coalition (FSC) is quick to point out that there has not been a single on-set transmission of HIV in the Los Angeles porn industry. Indeed, it is because of quick identification at testing centers within the AIM/PASS network that HIV contracted elsewhere never tainted the performer pool.

But the industry is frustrated by the well-funded and organized, strenuous efforts by porn opponent AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to paint the L.A. porn scene as a hotbed of disease. [Not waiting for the False Positive, AHF released a “How Many More?” press release August 29 — the day the moratorium was announced — and as of this writing has not amended the release, showing that it would rather the public believe another porn performer has HIV]. In 2012 AHF used fear and misleading information to ram the condoms in porn bill (Measure B) past L.A. County voters, and found in Compton-based Assemblyman Isadore Hall III — the bearer of two Bible College doctorates — a champion in the stalled AB1576, a bill crafted to enforce barrier protection on adult films statewide but which, like Measure B, was introduced without the participation of and opposed by the community it allegedly sought to protect.

It is telling that AHF was only able to enlist Hall and not any of the Assemblymembers whose districts actually contain adult companies.

It’s dangerous, however, to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, AHF counted on the ignorance of voters in 2012 and gleefully misled them, suggesting that AIDS-ridden porn stars in the seroconversion dens of Chatsworth would become a public health threat. But notwithstanding the cocktail party favorites of Big Porn sparking the VHS and internet revolutions, the famously insular adult industry often only improves its self-regulation under pressure and scrutiny. While AHF hounded and harassed AIM to closure, the final nail in the testing facility’s coffin was a database breach that released the names of thousands of porn performers and others who had tested there over the years. PASS, its successor, has much tighter control, responsiveness, and accountability.

“When I first worked at Kink.com in 2004, they had an honor system,” DeArmond says. “‘Do you have HIV?’ ‘No.’ ‘OK.’ That’s all changed.”

Still, people like Trouble say the industry could “do better” keeping things safe.

“I have Safer Sex protocols in place on all my little indie porn shoots in San Francisco,” says Trouble. “In terms of on-set safety, it doesn’t take a lot to make things safer. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same [protocols].”

And now the talent pool in L.A. is increasingly the talent pool in the Bay Area, Vegas, and points east due to the diaspora spawned by Measure B and the constant threat of its successors; what happens in Los Angeles reverberates around the country.

“During last year’s L.A. moratorium I could still shoot in Oakland because no one in my cast had worked in L.A.,” Trouble says. “This year it’s different. People travel back and forth much more often.”

Just as DeArmond notes the increase in camming when moratoria come around, Bondage producer Tim “Pro Villain” Woodman points out that one doesn’t need an STD test to pretend to murder someone and then fondle their corpse.

Pro Villain and Alison Tyler

Pro Villain and Alison Tyler during the moratorium

“It’s less money for a model,” Woodman says of his shoots, which often involve his “Villain” character kidnapping women, tying them up, and fondling them, “but there’s no test needed if there is no penetration or fluid exchange.”

Even with alternative revenue streams available, though, performers still take a financial hit during shutdowns.

Performer Sinn Sage, a popular “Girls Only” actress, says she lost $2400 in cancelled bookings last year.

“[These were] well-paying jobs that were never rescheduled once [the moratorium] was lifted,” she says, and the loss of work prompted her to re-evaluate her career. “I’m not ever trying to retire, but I need to get out and try other ways of living. With stuff like this happening randomly and seemingly more often, it’s just more sustainable.”

Sinn Sage

Sage will have completed massage school by next summer and will then move to Humboldt County, hoping to travel to L.A. just a few times a year for shooting.

Since the recent moratorium was so short, the financial impact was minimal. Immoral Productions CEO “Porno Dan” Leal said he had several months of footage on reserve, and that seemed to be general around the industry.

But what did emerge was a call for solidarity and education, not only as a token of compassion but also for the industry’s image.

From the blog of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) during the moratorium:

APAC is also asking fellow performers to show compassion towards each other and to our unnamed peer who is currently waiting for the results of their confirmatory test. Their entire life has just been turned upside down and shaken. Any one of us could be in that person’s shoes. Think about what it might be like to be in those shoes before you point fingers, throw accusations around, or tweet about who you might guess they are.

While the HIV-infected porn stars AHF employs to further its message all contracted the disease outside of the L.A. industry, DeArmond says pointing fingers is counterproductive.

“Hookers gonna hook, haters gonna hate,” she says. “HIV is something to be taken seriously. When the moratoriums come, people point fingers: ‘Why are you costing me money?’ instead of ‘How can I help you?’ I’ve seen people tossed aside because of HIV, and people can be such assholes to each other. People look at this diagnosis and only think of themselves — they brush it off like they got a bill in the mail.”

Woodman agrees.

“People in the industry badmouthing and gainsaying end up justifying everything the outside says about us,” he says.

This is why Trouble sees statements like APAC’s as a step in the right direction.

“APAC’s statement was so beautiful,” she says. “Use the moratorium as an opportunity to educate yourself.”

Following the lifting of the moratorium and a sleepless night, APAC Board chair James Deen is more circumspect.

“I would like to take this moment to say ‘Fuck Yeah for false positives,'” he says.

2 thoughts on “Porn Moratorium Preparedness Kit: What’s Hot When the Popshot Pops Not

  1. moratorium blues Gram….finger pointing, soap boxing, groaning of lost income… there’s a dollar in the middle of all of this, which is why everyone takes the low road. That’s not exclusive to porno, but since porno has NO rules and is NOT an industry you have people from all sides saying how it should/shouldn’t be. There’s no high-horse to ride here since we’re ALL disposable porno scum.

    Nobody cares about us, and they shouldn’t, because WE are the ones that took the low road first in our quest for a way of earning money outside the confines of a time clock or regimented weekly schedule. We deserve to rip, and be ripped apart, and anyone in this business who doesn’t see that is living in a fools paradise.

    God Bless America. ~ T.von Swine.

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