We Need to Rethink Our Approach to HIV in Porn

December 1, 2020 5 min read


We all know that porn can be hot as fuck, but could porn also be educational? I’m not talking BlowJob 101 classes from busty MILFs, but studies have shown that, when it comes to our own sex lives, porn fills the gaps of sex-ed – or, in most countries, a complete lack thereof.


In a world where fucking is synonymous with sin, shame and stigma – especially if you’re in any way queer or kinky – these on-screen depictions of lusty, carnal joy across different communities and demographics are important. Yet there is one community the porn industry still largely discludes: those living with HIV.


Over the last few decades, researchers worldwide have proven that if you’re HIV+ but your viral load is undetectable, you can’t pass it on even through unprotected sex. There’s now an enormous body of evidence to prove that anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is 100% effective – and better still, this progress has come alongside other breakthroughs like [HIV prevention drug] PrEP, also known by its brand name, Truvada, and PEP, a kind-of HIV ‘morning-after pill’.


Crystal-clear science sis half the battle, but rallying for social acceptance and calling out misinformation is the other half. Activists across the globe use hashtags like #NormalizingHIVChallenge to share candid, inspirational stories and prove HIV in 2020 is not a death sentence. Essentially, on effective treatment you can live, love and fuck freely – and, if the industry truly embraced representation, porn could show this in action.



Despite the consensus that undetectable HIV+ performers pose no actual threat, producers’ doors are still routinely slammed in their faces. Current testing systems – which performers usually have to pay for themselves – have been either critiqued for not being effective enough or disputed in favour of a parallel testing system which doesn’t blacklist undetectable HIV+ performers, (as the mainstream PASS system does). These debates are driven by complex science around testing windows, antigens and other medical factors – summarised in meticulous detail by Re:Wire – but at their core is a steadfast, fear-driven refusal to believe undisputed science.


So, why the fear? In-depth documentary, Porndemic delves into the chaos that erupted in the porn industry in the late 1990s, when a wave of HIV infections sparked a frenzied hunt for ‘Patient Zero’. Even in 2020, the story still reads like a reality TV wet dream: with deceit, hedonism and controversy. But beneath the sensationalism is a key takeaway: testing protocols at the time were not suffficient, and that's largely because the industry thought it was invincible.


The real irony is that fear and stigma helped these lies to snowball – even in the ‘90s, when HIV treatment was nowhere near as advanced as it is now, it was the deep-seated, cultural fear of ‘the virus’ that turned it into an industry-wide disaster.



The aftermath of such scandals lingers on in the bifurcation of 'gay and straight' sectors of the adult industry. In a 2018 interview with PAPER Magazineperformer Lance Hart explains there’s still HIV-related fear around gay sex, that's cemented over decades of homophobic press and consistent erasure of women living with HIV. Bisexual performers get fucked over by this rhetoric, too. “It’s getting better, but there’s still a disconnect,” he explains. “[If a straight performer] becomes HIV+, no one in straight porn is going to work with them again. Everyone learns in middle school that HIV is the worst thing ever. You’re dead, you’ll get cancer, stay away. That fear is there.”


No amount of hashtags and peer-reviewed research can undo decades of conditioning, so porn stars have taken matters into their own hands. Performers including Kayden Gray, Alejandro Castillo and Jacen Zhu have all spoken openly about being HIV+, driving projects like Zhu’s volunteer-led PrEP Squad, a performer-led sex-ed tool, and Jason Domino’s Porn4PrEP, which campaigns for access to preventative meds and shows – in hot, graphic detail – that fucking an undetectable, HIV+ performer isn’t a transmission risk, especially with PrEP as an added factor.


At the minute, the bulk of activism is concentrated in queer communities and communities of colour, but can you imagine the ripple effect if horny film-makers across the board made it their mission to fight these myths? Reactions to the possibility of a new, parallel system that wouldn’t blacklist undetectable, HIV+ performers and would allow studios and stars to opt-in to working with them, prove fear still takes precedent when it comes to HIV. But this could gradually change with a combination of education, advocacy and truly fucking sexy porn scenes which stick to safety protocols and treat HIV+ performers like any others. (Some gay studios place a premium on ‘poz’ performers, specifically fetishizing them.)



COVID’s impact on the porn industry is yet to be fully understood, but these next few years will raise questions – especially as even big-name publications are advising industries to learn valuable lessons from porn’s testing protocols. Safety doesn’t have to come alongside stigma, and the tireless work of activists will change public perceptions of what it means to live with HIV. By swapping out the studies and stats for sticky, oiled-up flesh and hot, passionate sex scenes, porn could give us a blow-by-blow account of what it means to love and fuck as an undetectable HIV+ person in 2020.

Jake Hall
« Jake Hall is a London-based freelance writer fascinated by everything from sex and sexuality to music and culture. » All posts →