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Porn and social networking: tracking STD transmission

Behind closed doors…It’s the ultimate social networking scenario: who’s been having sex with whom? I remember a health class exercise to demonstrate the power of viral transmission of STDs: the teacher secretly told one of us we were “infected” and then asked each of us to shake hands with three people in the class. The “infected” person had to use their middle finger to scratch each of the people they shook hands with, thereby “infecting” them. They then had to scratch any subsequent hand they shook. At the end of the exercise, 8 people in our 12 person class were “infected”, showing us how quickly diseases can spread.

This is illustrated with my little stick people below (the red ones are “infected”):

Beginning of the game First handshake
Beginning of the game After the first handshake
Second handshake Third handshake
After the second handshake After the third handshake

Now, let’s take it to a real world: the adult entertainment industry. Those in adult entertainment, by the nature of their jobs, are “connecting” with all kinds of people. Once you throw a disease into the mix, as our teacher did hypothetically in my Health class, it’s vitally important to track who else is in their network in order to keep the disease from running rampant through the group.

This situation came to light when adult film star Darren James tested positive for HIV in 2004 (see Porn Faces Reality from the Village Voice of 30 April 2004). Like the rest of the industry, James tested every 30 days (if not more often), tests generally supervised by the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM). The AIM not only handles medical testing and care for porn stars, it also acts as the independent authority, verifying and distributing results to producers, agents and other filmmakers. They are the Verisign of the porn industry.

Because they have the “industry standard” position of overseeing most, if not all, of the adult industry’s testing, and are connected enough to the film production to know who’s been acting with whom, the AIM was in the “all seeing” position of being able to draw a similar chart to the ones I have above: Who had Darren James slept with?

They pulled the records of everyone James had worked with since his last clean test and then those of everyone that list had worked with. (Two degrees of separation.) Once notified, these 53 performers voluntarily quarantined themselves until they could be tested and verified. From the articles I’ve seen, only one person in this network has tested positive.

Very much like Friendster and LinkedIn will show you your network, and the people you are connected to through them, and so on, AIM acts as a “network manager”, keeping track of who’s been with whom in order to track (and hopefully prevent) the progression of diseases.

233494_syringe1.jpg

But this is all old news. Similar to how the porn industry drove the development of the VCR and quality improvements on online video streaming, this is yet another necessity-born technology that is now benefitting the mainstream. Wired News is reporting that the medical brains behind AIM have brought the technology model to the rest of us.

SxCheck is a joint project between Stanford Computer Science graduate student Doug Whiteman and AIM, and is intended to be an AIM for the masses. “The SxCheck process is simple. You decide which STIs you want to be screened for, order your test online, go to a local blood draw station, and access your results on the website. It differs from its sister AIMCheck in one way: Your results are not sent to producers and agents,” says the article.

Whiteman hopes that having results available web-based will allow people to share them with potential partners before having sex. He expects that ultimately we’ll embed our SxCheck status on dating sites and use them as criteria for judging partners. While I think he may be a bit optimistic on how much we’ll share and how quickly, the independent authority idea could be useful.

Stimulating dialogue on the subject also can’t hurt. “We don’t want to force anything down anyone’s throats, and by no means are we reinventing the wheel,” Whiteman says. “We want to encourage people to get tested and share their results, to promote dialogue and understanding.”


1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    Hadley,

    really impressed with your blog – how do you find the time?! mmm STD transmission – you’ve given me an idea for a new CoP!

    Steve



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