How Is Porn Dealing With Coronavirus? - Rolling Stone
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Will the Porn Industry Be Disrupted by Coronavirus?

An outbreak among adult actors “could be catastrophic,” says one porn producer — so even though filming continues, some stars are sitting out

Porn Industry & The Coronavirus

Images used in photo illustration by Shutterstock / Lucky Business

For the past two years, Giselle Palmer has been shooting adult films in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, the epicenter of the porn industry. Then at the beginning of this year, she started hearing about the coronavirus. It was, she says, a large part of her decision to move away from L.A. back home to Texas and stop shooting scenes for a while.

“I’ve shifted my focus to content platforms and streaming; things I can do with no physical contact with other performers. And I’m pretty happy with that decision,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I think I’m gonna wait until we have a better idea of how this will play out.”

By opting out of shooting scenes, Palmer is taking a significant financial hit; she estimates that she is leaving tens of thousands of dollars of revenue on the table. Yet she considers it a small price to pay for maintaining her health in an industry that, she believes, is like many others in the United States right now, in that it’s not well-equipped to deal with the looming threat of the spread of coronavirus.

Currently, there have been no reports of coronavirus within the adult industry specifically (though there has been coronavirus-inspired porn on Pornhub). “For the most part we’re in a purgatory state like everybody else,” says Bree Mills, director and chief creative officer at Adult Time, an adult streaming service.

On Wednesday, however, LA County announced a public health state of emergency following seven coronavirus cases there and the death of a patient — the state’s first, and the country’s first death outside of Washington state. Considering the majority of adult shoots in the United States currently take place in Los Angeles County, the question of whether coronavirus will affect the adult industry is on many performers’ and directors’ minds.

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“My plan is to get back on cam a lot more and be able to reach my fans that way and not put myself at any kind of risk of exposure,” says Lexi Luna, an adult performer and cam performer.

Luna is currently taking a break from shooting to recover from a surgery, but she says the hiatus “came at a good time.” “I’m taking some time off to see what’s gonna happen,” she says, adding that she’ll likely spend more time on platforms like Sextpanther, which allows fans and performers to sext directly, to compensate for the lost income from shooting scenes. “I know there are many ways to make money in the industry and they don’t always involve face-to-face contact with performers.”

In Europe, where COVID-19 has been spreading rapidly (particularly in Italy, which just reported 4,000 cases, and Germany reporting 500), many studios have already placed temporary holds on shooting, prompting the European social network FanCentro, which allows content creators to directly sell social media subscriptions to fans, to issue onboarding guidelines for performers who want to join the platform in lieu of shooting scenes, as well as organize outreach for performers who may be quarantined during the crisis.

“We noticed unrest in the industry and heard from some of our influencers, as well as other performers and sex workers that were concerned about potential travel restrictions or set closures,” says Kat Revenga, VP of Marketing for FanCentro. “[We] decided to make it easy for any sex workers or performers that suffer any effects of the coronavirus that want to create an income from the comfort of their own home.”

It is not uncommon for performers to travel to Europe, either to shoot for a European production company or to engage in escorting, says Palmer; the threat of coronavirus has rendered them more hesitant to do so. Luna also says that she knows many performers who have decided not to travel to conventions like Exxotica out of concern with interacting IRL with attendees, who fly in from all over the world to meet performers.

In the United States, which has only 233 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (much fewer than in countries like Italy or China), many adult industry members remain sanguine about the threat of coronavirus. “While it is possible that porn sets might be affected by this, I believe it is imperative to remain positive,” says performer Sarah Vandella. “[We should continue] to be as health-conscious as we are while maintaining impeccable hygiene to prevent the spread of germs.”

Yet considering the close contact performers have on film sets, the threat of infection is nonetheless present on many minds. “When you’re looking at a sexual situation where there’s lots of physical contact, there’s a lot of fluid exchange and saliva exchange, so I imagine that would be a great concern,” says Mills. (While the WHO says that it does not currently have enough data to determine if the virus is sexually transmissible, it can be transmitted via droplets of mucus or saliva, meaning that kissing and other forms of intimate contact can likely spread the virus.)

Even if COVID-19 was found to not be transmissible via sexual contact, Palmer points out that because most porn is shot at a handful of locations in the San Fernando Valley — and because it is as yet unclear how long the virus can survive on various surfaces — it’s still likely someone could contract it on set. “You’re shooting in the same locations again and again day in and day out with different people, and bodily fluids on the couch,” she says. If COVID-19 entered the talent pool, she says, “it could be catastrophic.”

That’s compounded by the fact that most performers are independent contractors, meaning they do not have health insurance or another safety net should they get sick. Palmer says she knows of many performers who have gotten minor illnesses — say, a cold, or ringworm — and shown up to work regardless for this reason. “When you’re working for yourself, you have to put yourself first just to survive,” she says. “I’ve come into work and my scene partner has looked sick or had a cold sore. It’s definitely not an uncommon occurrence.”

The financial impact on the adult world at large, which has already struggled under the weight of piracy and massive industry consolidation, would also be immense. Although many performers have shifted to an individual content-based model, camming and creating custom clips from their own homes, shooting traditional partner-based porn is crucial not just for their income, but as an advertising tactic for their other sources of revenue. A moratorium on shooting brought upon by a COVID-19 case would “have a huge effect” on production companies as well, says Mills. “Our main business is providing a steady stream of new releases to our audience,” she says. “It’s kind of like imagining if Netflix had every single new project they were working on would be cut off.”

The adult industry, however, has one advantage that many other types of industries do not — it’s dealt with public health scares before. In 2013, for instance, four porn actors tested positive for HIV, prompting a moratorium on production and the implementation of new testing protocols; performers are now tested for STIs every 14 days, as opposed to 28.

Such scares have arguably led to the porn industry becoming more health-conscious than most, which could work to its benefit should it encounter its own COVID-19 scare, says adult performer and director Lena Paul. “Due to the extremely physical nature of our labor, our regulatory body [the Free Speech Coalition, or FSC, which administers the PASS testing system] has been known to call quarantines over lesser illness outbreaks, things as comparatively minor as ringworm,” she says. “So yes, I am reasonably confident that if a performer contracted coronavirus then we would call a halt on production.”

On its website, the FSC confirmed this, stating that it was currently monitoring jurisdictions where performers shoot and/or travel, including LA County, and that it would call for a halt in production “if the public health authorities in one of these areas indicates that the spread of the virus has created a significant risk of infection to the general population.” It also encouraged performers to stockpile content in the event of a production moratorium and not call into work if they are feeling sick, though it noted that this “may not be an easy decision when faced with the need for a paycheck” — an issue that many independent contractors outside of the industry are also currently facing.

Given the current shortage of COVID-19 test kits, it’s fairly unlikely that it would become part of the standard adult industry testing protocols, or PASS tests, anytime soon. Still, there are those within the adult industry who believe that despite the relatively small talent pool and the close contact on set, should a suspected COVID-19 case pop up, “when it comes to dealing with a public health crisis the adult industry certainly has a better equipped tool set to do so,” says Vandella.

Update Fri., Mar. 6, 2020, 5:00 pm EST: This piece has been updated with comment from the Free Speech Coalition. 

In This Article: adult industry, coronavirus, covid-19, porn

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