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New York Times
Pornography and AIDS: A History
<p>Donald G. McNeil Jr.</p>
November 5, 2012

Suze Randall and Humphry Knipe, a British married couple, are Southern California pornography pioneers.

Ms. Randall, 66, a former nurse and fashion model, shot nudes for The Sun’s Page 3 girl feature and became the first female staff photographer at Playboy and, later, Hustler.

She switched to 16-millimeter films and now has a well-known hard-core Web site, Mr. Knipe, a writer, is her business manager. Their daughter Holly is part of the business, too. Last month, she directed a pornographic film on their remote ranch in the hills above Malibu.

They remember the torrent of fear when performers began dying of AIDS in the 1980s.

“It was petrifying,” Ms. Randall said. “You didn’t want to be responsible for someone making love and then dying a lingering death. It took all the fun out of it.”

The first AIDS test was released in 1985, and the industry adopted it, but not very effectively.

“We had the ‘Blood Truck’ at casting calls,” Mr. Knipe said. “It was an ambulance that drew blood. But you’d have to wait two weeks for results.”

Worse, early tests were for antibodies to the virus that did not develop for months after an actor would have already been infected.

Heterosexual performers knew the disease was mostly among gay men and drug addicts, but actors who did both gay and straight films worried them. John C. Holmes, for example, the most famous male actor of that era, also did some gay films. He was given an AIDS diagnosis in 1985, withered away to 90 pounds and died three years later.

“We’re a small, very gossipy industry,” Mr. Knipe said. “If the word got out that a guy was bi or did drugs, no girl would work with him.”

Some producers, the couple included, stopped filming penetration scenes.

Some actors changed what they would do.

Nina Hartley, a registered nurse and an actress since 1984, said she has not let a male co-star ejaculate inside her since 1986.

“Just too risky,” she said.

Pornographic films typically end with ejaculation on the actress’s skin; while feminists find that demeaning, Ms. Hartley said, she credited that “trope” with saving dozens of lives between 1984, when AIDS first entered the talent pool, and 1998, when industry-regulated testing was imposed.

That year, 1998, saw the industry’s worst scandal. Until then, producers accepted test results on paper from many doctors. Then one woman after another suddenly began testing positive for H.I.V. Sharon Mitchell, a former actress with a doctorate in human sexuality and training in taking blood samples, was hired by the industry to investigate. She figured out that all eight women had done anal sex scenes with an actor named Marc Wallice — someone she herself had once worked with.

In an interview, Dr. Mitchell said she got one of Mr. Wallice’s producers to entice him to his office with an offer of $10,000. “And then we kind of kidnapped him and I took his blood,” she said. “It came back with a very high viral load.”

At a news conference at the Adult Industry Medical clinic in Sherman Oaks, Calif., which she started with support from the industry, she named Mr. Wallice as the likely “patient zero.” In interviews he gave at the time to industry publications, Mr. Wallice denied accusations that he had changed a positive result from an obscure Burbank clinic to a negative.

Studios switched to condom-only shoots for a while, but dropped that as Dr. Mitchell’s clinic ramped up testing. It eventually did 1,200 tests a month, and had a database on which producers could check results.

She remembers testing Darren James in 2004, just after he had returned from performing in Brazil, and again 26 days later. The first was negative, but she said he looked unwell. “I told him, ‘Please don’t work,’ ” she said. “But he did internal ejaculations with 13 women. When I heard that, I knew there would be three to five positives, and there were three.”

Those were the industry’s last confirmed transmissions. Mr. James has since endorsed the campaign to make condoms mandatory on the sets of pornographic films.

Then, last year, the clinic’s database was hacked; the medical records, names and addresses of hundreds of performers were posted online, creating a furor. Actors threatened to sue for invasion of privacy, and the state ordered Dr. Mitchell to get a new clinic license. Instead, she closed down.

In January, the industry created a new system, overseen by an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Peter Miao. It certifies which labs may do tests, and its database has only two bits of information: a green check indicating a negative test in the last 14 or 28 days, or a red X telling producers the actor is unavailable. (Actors can make themselves unavailable for any reason, including vacation.)

The new tests pick up H.I.V. and syphilis within 14 days of exposure.

“That’s not perfect, of course,” Dr. Miao said. “But it closes the window a lot.”