SOCIETY

Why Porn Shouldn’t Get The Blame For Charlie Sheen’s HIV Status

Even before Charlie Sheen publicly admitted that he is HIV-positive, people were poking fun at his dalliances with adult stars

Nov 17, 2015 at 10:11 AM ET

Even before Charlie Sheen went on the “Today” show Tuesday morning to officially reveal that he is HIV-positive, and that he had paid tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to keep that secret, rumors about the announcement had seemingly inspired the Internet to prove that humans are the absolute worst. Scores of people took to Twitter Monday to mock Sheen. There were sarcastic jokes at Sheen’s expense about “tiger’s blood” and “#winning,” of course, but another target soon emerged: porn performers. Dozens of tweets linked Sheen’s reported HIV status to his past dalliances with female porn stars.

“Given his love for pornstars, don’t think anybody is surprised,” wrote @WaywardBoy. A user by the name of @JustLivingBK tweeted, “Damn Charlie Sheen HIV positive. Messed with too many of those pornstars.” Wrote another, “Fuck around with porn stars … and you’re bound to have HIV.”

Are you, though? Sheen said on the “Today” show that he doesn’t know how he contracted HIV. It is possible that he got it from a porn star, but they would be no more likely to have the virus than any other person.

“There is obviously a misconception about porn stars, that we are ridden with disease, which is really absurd if you know anything about the industry,” says Chanel Preston, an adult performer and a founder of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. “We have an extremely rigorous testing system in place. There isn’t any other community that tests as frequently as we do.”

The so-called “straight side” of the industry currently mandates testing for sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) every 14 days. The same cannot be said outside of the adult business: Less than half of the U.S. adult population has reported ever receiving an HIV test. Earlier this year, the CDC reported that less than one-fifth of teens and young adults had been tested recently.

This is part of why Eric Paul Leue, director of sexual health and advocacy at Kink.com, says porn performers are “the safest population” there is. “If someone is trying to declare that you are more likely to become infected with HIV because you slept with an adult film performer, then that person is clearly misled by their own prejudice,” he says.

In fact, it has even been argued that the industry’s HIV rates are lower than the general population’s. There’s no peer-reviewed data on this, but the Competitive Enterprise Institute attempted to crunch the numbers based on 2009 data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Adult Industry Medical Center, the now-defunct testing center for the porn business. They estimated that the incidence of HIV was 0.0007 percent among porn performers, compared to 0.0016 percent in the general population. (There has been research finding a higher rate of other STIs in porn, but it has been contested by the industry.)

When it comes to HIV transmission, it is often people outside of the industry that porn stars worry about, not their rigorously-tested co-stars. “They’re much more cautious of sleeping with non-porn ‘civilians’ than they are other performers,” says Mike Stabile, a spokesperson from the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association for the adult industry. “And if you look at the shooting moratoriums in the past few years, it bears out: they’re almost always triggered when someone attempts to return to work after contracting an STI off-set.”