South African porn film delivers 'safe sex' message

The pornography industry in Los Angeles is on edge after an actor tested positive for HIV. Although the incident led to renewed calls for the use of condoms in porn films, this remains a rarity. But as Ian Brimacombe reports, one adult film producer in South Africa has decided to make his actors wear condoms to promote safe sex.

Image caption The actors and actresses in Mapona are all amateurs

"If there are gentle, subtle social messages that wearing a condom is acceptable - that it is normal - then I think, over time, we can all overcome the hurdle of unprotected sex."

In South Africa, views like these have been expressed many times.

It is not every day, though that they are said by a professional pornographer.

And yet, these are the words of Tau Morena, producer of South Africa's first all-black pornographic film, Mapona, which, he says, will promote safe sex and raise awareness about the dangers of HIV/Aids.

Subtlety and pornography tend not to go hand in hand, but Mr Morena says putting a condom in a scene will benefit the black African consumers who will watch his films.

"I don't think any amount of advertising will force anyone to wear a condom," he says. "But we definitely have a responsibility to encourage people."


The South African adult film industry is tiny compared to those of Europe and America.

Between just three and five titles are produced in South Africa a year, and until now, most of the productions have involved white South Africans.

The cast of Mapona is made up of amateurs who responded to auditions advertised on an amateur porn-site.

All the actors selected were tested for HIV before filming, and the two men involved wear condoms in all the scenes.

South Africa has strict censorship laws, but Mr Morena says his film will be sold in adult film stores across the country.

He says the message of safe sex will be taken a step further, with a second volume of the film, currently under production.

"In Africa, information about sex is not readily available, and somehow distorted," he says. "There is all sorts of misinformation regarding condoms and their use."

The DVD package of the sequel will involve audio-visual educational "extras" about sex, like how to correctly put on a condom.

In the United States, federal law requires that all porn actors are tested for HIV 30 days before the start of filming.

The issue of safe sex in adult films was highlighted last week, when a Los Angeles-based performer tested HIV-positive.

That scare resulted in widespread concern across California's multi-billion dollar pornography industry, with productions halting filming, and doctors scrambling to track down those people who had performed with the unnamed infected actor.

The clinic at the centre of the scare had a similar incident six years ago when 14 actors were found to be carrying the Aids virus.

No testing agency

Mr Morena says the episode in the US only underlines how important it is for adult film-makers to take safe sex seriously in South Africa, where Aids kills nearly 1,000 people a day.

"If you look at what they have in America," says Mr Morena, "all the actors get tested regularly. Compare that to our country, where we don't have a testing agency.

"We actually don't even have real porn stars, we just have amateurs who don't mind being filmed. So it's very important from our side that we go out and test our actors and actresses before we shoot."

The experts have mixed feelings about Mr Morena's films.

Director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council Dr Gita Ramjee says people across the adult film industry should be practicing safer sex, and that message should be written clearly in the title sequences at the start of any adult film.

But while she welcomes the move to safer sex in porn, she is confounded by the messenger.

"I've never heard of a pornographic film being used for educational purposes," she says.

"We have a government educational programme at all public health clinics that teach people how to use condoms," she says, "so I don't see how this film would add value to the education already provided."

Mr Morena, though, says he will do what he can until the average African man understands that wearing a condom during sex can be both good for them and pleasurable.

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