UK porn stars halt work amid European syphilis outbreak

Exclusive: ‘Professional performers with big profiles are terrified,’ says campaigner

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Thursday 29 September 2022 11:33 BST
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Related: New syphilis rapid test could slow disease’s spread, doctors say

Adult film stars are calling for a union to be established in the UK as some actors halt production over reports of a syphilis outbreak in Europe.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which can be easily cured with antibiotics but can trigger grave and even life-threatening issues if left untreated – with symptoms routinely mild and difficult to spot.

PASS, which runs a database of sexual health certificates for US adult actors, said they have been “informed of multiple positive syphilis tests” among porn stars in Europe – warning of the “potential for many more exposures, including among US-based performers”.

Lianne Young, a former actor who now provides education on sex education, told The Independent that adult actors in the UK she has spoken to are highly anxious about reports of a syphilis outbreak in Europe.

The 47-year-old, who moved to the US to work in porn in her early 20s but left the industry around two decades ago, said she has spoken to eight professional porn performers in the last few days who have stopped working due to concerns around syphilis.

“They have halted films they were lined up to shoot,” Ms Young, now based in southwest London, added. “Professional performers with big profiles are terrified. They are losing lots of money. A major alert has gone out in Europe. Porn producers and performers operate on a transatlantic basis so STIs can cross borders.”

She warned many non-professional adult actors are not suspending work as a result of concerns of a syphilis flare-up.

“That absolutely worries me,” the campaigner, who said she had been working with Public Health England on outbreak reports, added. “It can spread very fast.”

Ms Young said porn stars have their sexual health checked substantially less frequently in the UK than in Europe due to the porn industry being better regulated in Europe.

“So rules dictate people have to be checked regularly in Europe,” Ms Young added. “In Europe, they are tested around every seven days or at worst every 14 days. In the UK, most porn actors test themselves for STIs every 28 days. They are tested for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and hepatitis in NHS sexual health clinics.”

The campaigner said concerns around syphilis have fuelled calls for a union for porn stars to be established in the UK – adding she has been involved in discussions about her leading the union.

“People have been asking for a union for a couple of years but now it has gone too far,” Ms Young said. “Porn stars are real human beings. There needs to be a union to be a bridge to connect up with Public Health England and the police. It would allow better regulation and better support and safety.”

She has been in discussion with Alana Evans, president of the Adult Performance Artists Guild, a US union for porn stars, about setting up a union in the UK.

A union called United Sex Workers already exists in the UK which porn performers can join - with the organisation working with strippers, hostesses, sex workers and porn stars to improve working conditions. 

Ms Young said: “Lots of adult actors have not heard of this union. They have achieved great results for escorts, strippers and sex workers, but pornography is different and we want a union exclusively for adult actors.”

PASS, which shared its warning about syphilis on Xbiz.Net last week, a global resource for adult industry workers, stated sexual health testing is “not standardised” in the adult entertainment industry in Europe, meaning they “do not yet know the full extent of the exposures or additional cases.”

“PASS does not officially operate in Europe, and has limited access to European studios and labs,” the organisation said in the statement seen by The Independent. “As such, we do not have the relationships necessary to call for or effectively manage a production hold. However, individual performers, creators and studios may want to consider halting production on their own until the extent of the risk is known.”

Jason Maskell, an entrepreneur who has been involved in the adult industry for over 20 years, said he had spoken to UK adult actors who have suspended their work due to reports of a syphilis outbreak.

“This is a live situation being monitored and discussed on a daily basis by those in the industry,” the 53-year-old, a former agent for the adult industry, told The Independent.

“We need to create a union to offer education and support for all. The adult industry has changed over the years, with more people coming into it, to benefit from the revenue it can create, but we have to keep professional standards up.”

His comments come after it recently emerged STIs are increasing in the US - with syphilis seeing a specific rise, going up by 26 per cent from 2020 to 2021.

The preliminary data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released this month also showed there has been a 24 per cent increase of congenital syphilis, which is passed onto foetuses and can lead to birth defects and in worst case scenarios babies dying.

A spokesperson for the UK Health Security Agency has been contacted for comment.

This article was amended on 29 September 2022 to add the reference to United Sex Workers.  

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