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...

Keeping his word Michael Apted in conversation on 63 Up

Talking about juxtapositions Thom Powers on dreams, fashion, identity, nature and bright spotlights in DOC NYC

Dedicated to DA Pennebaker Thom Powers on Martin Scorsese, Michael Apted, the Masters and Winner’s Circle in the tenth edition

Free to become someone else Costume designers Ann Roth and Carlo Poggioli on The English Patient

Oscar documentary feature longlist announced 159 entries under consideration for 92nd Academy Awards

Glasgow announces country focus and retrospective Iceland and dystopian futures take centre stage

More news and features

We're bring you coverage of the London Korean Film Festival and DOC NYC and the French Film Festival.

We're looking forward to Tallinn Black Nights and Welsh horror festival Abertoir.

We've recently been at the Valencia Film Festival, New York's NewFest, the Cambridge Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the London Film Festival, the Iris Prize Festival in Cardiff, Manchester's Grimmfest, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival and the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Read our full for more.

Visit our festivals section.


More competitions coming soon.