Syphilis shock for adult industry

Debate rages over how to protect performers.

by Jennie Kermode

The adult film industry was left reeling this week after the discovery that an unnamed Los Angeles performer has syphilis, with a further five cases suspected. Following a recent outbreak in Budapest that left 16 people with the disease, the incident has further inflamed debate over how to regulate sex on screen.

Although no wider outbreak has been confirmed there as yet, it is widely rumoured that the Los Angeles patient continued to participate in sex scenes for several weeks after diagnosis, using a fake certificate to pretend he was disease-free. Similar incidents in the past have been blamed for HIV outbreaks in the industry. A voluntary moratorium on shooting has been called while medical investigations into the current case are ongoing.

Los Angeles legislators have recently moved to try and make condom use in the industry a legal requirement. This has been resisted by many producers and performers, who claim that it will put off their audiences and also that it may increase risks by making some performers lazy about taking regular tests. Research suggests that overall disease rates in the industry are lower than in society at large. Similar arguments were raised within the gay porn industry in the late Eighties, however, and it has now shifted almost entirely toward the use of condoms with no noticeable negative effect on sales.

Where there used to be a clear line between pornography and other parts of the film industry, the taboo against real sex in mainstream films has gradually been eroding, meaning that condoms could also become an issue for Hollywood. Lars Von Trier has advocated the importance of real sex in mass market erotica, and it is rumoured that Shia LaBeouf has agreed to this in Von Trier's next film, Nymphomaniac.

Although not as deadly as HIV, syphilis is a particular worry for the industry because of the relative ease with which it can be transmitted, including through kissing in the presence of infected lesions. It is relatively easy to treat if caught early, but late diagnosis may necessitate ongoing antibiotic treatment. Some specialists are concerned that individuals who fail to keep up with long courses of treatment may breed drug-resistant strains.

Share this with others on...

Stay-At-Home Seven: June 1-6 Streaming and TV highlights this week

That’s the way to do it Mirrah Foulkes on timelessness, theatricality and Judy & Punch

Streaming Spotlight: Sundance With Subtitles This week we look at some world cinema gems from the indie festival

Changing visions Nicholas Ashe Bateman on doing things differently in The Wanting Mare

Forbidden fruit Keola Racela on wholesomeness, horror and comedy in Porno

Wes Anderson ensures Cannes show goes on McQueen, Kawase, Ozon, Vinterberg, Maiwenn and Pixar in the selection

More news and features

We've recently been bringing you coverage of the Chattanooga Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival online selection.

Shortly before lockdown, we were at the New York Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, the Glasgow Film Festival, the Berlinale, Scottish feminist festival Femspectives, and Sundance in Utah.

Read our full for more.

Visit our festivals section.


More competitions coming soon.