In April of 1995, the year she won AVN’s Best European New Starlet award, Barbara Doll twice tested positive for HIV. The French actress insisted she’d caught the virus working in porn. “I don’t swing. I don’t fool around,” the 23-year-old blonde told AVN. ” I have my husband and kids. I don’t do drugs.” Had it finally happened? A performer catching AIDS from working in sex movies?
The industry’s response was immediate. VCA head Russ Hampshire declared that all performers in VCA Platinum productions would henceforth wear condoms. Ed Powers, president of 4-Play said his company, too, would make condoms mandatory. Many performers swore they’d no longer work without them, and most producers agreed to a “condoms optional” rule. The Free Speech Coalition allocated $10,000 to reimburse performers for taking the DNA test, the most accurate- -and expensive–way of detecting the HIV virus.
Barbara Doll had tested positive through the “Elisa” method, which only detects the presence of antibodies. After the announcement of her positive results, she underwent two DNA tests, which detect the virus itself. Both tests came back negative. The earlier Elisa positives were explained as Doll’s immune system response to the removal of genital warts from her vagina two months before the testing. The DNA test results of her on-screen partners were also negative. The industry could now relax. Or could it?
The Doll scare pointed up the fallacy of relying entirely on AIDS tests for safety. The requirement that performers present recent test results (no older than a month) before having sex on a shoot ensured only that someone with the AIDS virus would not be able to continue working long, as John Holmes had in the mid-’80s. A test could be done before the virus is detectable. A performer could contract the virus between the time of the test and the day of the shoot. Tests could give false results. Papers could be fraudulent.
Marc Wallice was caught forging his name on someone else’s papers. The discovery of Wallice’s HIV-positive status came too late for Tricia Devereaux and Ashley Brooke, both of whom tested positive after working with Wallice. In her suit against the producers of The World’s Biggest Anal Gangbang , Brooke charged that Wallice knew he was positive at the time he worked with her.
A three week old test could be ancient history for a hot new actress running the gamut of end-to-end shoots, particularly if she works in gang-bang scenes or “pro-am” videos with nonindustry “amateurs” who don’t have test records. Newcomers may be afraid to confront moviemakers or established stars over tests older than 30 days.
The semi-frequent testing does mitigate against the tidal wave of industry AIDS cases doomsayers like actor Jerry Butler have predicted. An HIV-postive actor would be stopped before spreading the virus to epidemic proportions. But even minimal proliferation is tragic. There’s no such thing as “detecting it in time;” a positive test is a sentence of death.
Beneath the surface of publicly-uttered assurances, an undercurrent of fear flows through the porn industry, sometimes rising in a wave of terror.