Originally created 04/28/04

Brazil has safe sex lessons for U.S.



SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Flush with dollars, American porn film directors swoop into Brazil for its exotic and uninhibited women, dazzling tropical backdrops and cheap production costs - a phenomenon that has turned South America's largest country into a prime destination for adult film outsourcing.

But the infection of an American porn star with HIV last month after shooting unprotected sex scenes with more than a dozen Brazilian women is sending shockwaves through the industry's California heartland and prompting Brazilian performers to criticize their American counterparts.

America's adult film industry relies on testing to prevent the spread of the virus. But testing is scoffed at in Brazil as expensive and unreliable. The Brazilian porn industry, Latin America's largest, has long depended on condoms to prevent actors from getting and spreading HIV.

Darren James, the American actor who contracted the virus, apparently in Brazil, and infected at least one actress after returning to the United States, "took a risk that many Brazilian actors won't," said Evaldo Shiroma, who heads the Brazilian Erotic Industry Association.

Brazil, like many countries, does not require HIV testing for porn actors, and American actors who work in the country often immediately go back to the United States to film more movies, boosting the infection risk.

James performed with 13 actresses after returning to the U.S. before a blood test two weeks ago showed he was HIV-positive. One partner, Lara Roxx, also tested HIV positive.

Since then, more than 50 performers who had contact with the two or their on-screen sex partners have been barred by the American industry pending new tests. Thirty companies halted production, virtually shuttering a business based in California's San Fernando Valley that generates at least $4.4 billion annually.

Brazil's adult film industry produces a much lower $100 million (290 million reals) yearly, industry players estimate. But the business is thought to be the second-largest in the world after the U.S. and is growing rapidly.

Dozens of porn production companies operate in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city. The films are so widely accepted that videos and DVDs are showcased on corner newsstands.

In recent years, a growing number of American and European adult film directors headed to Brazil - looking for new talent and taking advantage of the 2002 collapse of the local currency, the real, that made outsourcing more cost-effective.

"It's become the place to go," said Tim Connelly, publisher of the California-based AVN, an adult film industry magazine. "What drives it is economics and beautiful women."

But producers chose the country with the most people in the hemisphere with HIV or AIDS after the United States. They usually head to Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro - home to 60 percent of the 540,000 Brazilians with HIV or AIDS, according to a recent World Bank study.

Though the Brazilian porn film industry is unregulated, most production companies honor a gentleman's agreement requiring actors to use condoms. Actors could not afford regular HIV tests that cost $140 each, and producers feared being sued by actors getting the virus while working.

"They can have the test and then go out for a wild night and get HIV, but the test would be negative," said Norberto Brunni, marketing director for the Buttman Brasil production company. "We use the best condoms in the world, and that's the safety of my business."

While roughly 80 percent of Brazilian porn films are made with actors using condoms, about the same percentage of American movies feature actors not wearing them. Brazilian industry executives say most Americans who film in Brazil require their actors to film unprotected sex scenes.

Brazilians are more accepting of erotic films with actors using condoms because the government's internationally renowned HIV prevention program has handed out millions of free condoms annually for years and bombarded the country with advertisements encouraging their use, particularly during Rio's world famous Carnival.

At Sao Paulo's 8th annual Erotika Fair last week, Brazilian porn actors said American directors often bring in their own male talent but usually hire Brazilian actresses who often moonlight as prostitutes and are willing to have sex without condoms.

The Brazilians make about $175 (500 reals) for sex scenes with condoms, but can double their pay working with actors not wearing them. Established Brazilian porn stars, however, say the work is too risky.

"I think the way the Americans do it is absurd," said Lana Starck, a 28-year-old actress, before performing a striptease on Buttman Brasil's stage at the conference. "They should learn from us because the HIV test doesn't mean anything. I use condoms with actors and with my husband, always."

Some American adult film industry players say the Brazilian model for preventing HIV in movies should be adopted in the U.S. to ensure the safety and survival of the industry.

"We thought we were being smart with testing, but we were naive," said Suze Randall, a California-based adult film producer. "No one wants to work with condoms, but that will probably be the way to go."

Would American porn consumers keep on buying videos and DVDs with male actors wearing condoms?

"The marketplace is going to take what we give them," she said.