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February 22, 2001 09:41am
Ex-Porn Star Runs California Medical Clinic
Source: Reuters
by: Jon Kalish

(LOS ANGELES, CA) -- In a modest storefront in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, a former porn movie star and drug addict operates a medical clinic with a unique mission: to serve performers in the adult film industry.

Sharon Mitchell, who shot heroin and X-rated sex films for more than 20 years, runs the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) HealthCare Foundation in Sherman Oaks with a small staff and contributions from the valley's porn industry titans.

``What my plan was and what God's plan was were apparently two different things,'' said Mitchell, a slim weightlifter in her mid-forties. ``It is really clear that I was put here to do this. Here my life makes sense.''

It is a life with some serious ups and downs, including a debut in explicit sex films at the age of 17 -- ``I remember seeing my genitalia 16 feet high on the silver screen and thinking, 'Wow, this is great!''' -- and a nearly fatal attack in 1996 by a fan who had stalked her. ``He bit me all over my body, cracked my larynx and broke my nose,'' she said.

It was after that attack, which Mitchell stopped by hitting her assailant with a dumbbell, that she finally kicked her heroin habit and ended her porn career.

``There were a lot of people in the porn business that were in 12-step programs and they were there for me,'' she said.

``These were people who I had seen get loaded the way I got loaded and ran large porn companies and lost everything through free-base or alcoholism, and they would come by. There were people showing up for me and they were willing to help me.''

She attended a community college and got a certificate for counseling people with chemical dependencies. In 1998, during a field placement for one of her courses, she hooked up with a San Fernando Valley physician and founded AIM. Valley porn companies initially contributed $30,000 to start the clinic.

'Only Doing Girl-Girl'

On a recent weekday afternoon, Mitchell interviewed a woman in her early 20s who had come in for a blood test. ``You're only going to be doing girl-girl?'' Mitchell inquired.

The young woman said she was going to do lesbian photo shoots. Still, her employer required that she take an $85 AIDS (news - web sites) test that the AIM clinic offers with next-day results. AIM uses the PCR/DNA test, which shows negative status within the last 28 days but is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites).

``HIV (news - web sites) is not very prevalent in the porn industry right now, although we did find someone HIV-positive on Saturday,'' Mitchell said, adding AIM catches 5 or 6 HIV-positive performers a year. They are quarantined by the industry and Mitchell tracks down other performers who have had unprotected sex with them.

AIM also offers support groups for adult film performers and produces videotapes such as ``Porn 101,'' a kind of orientation for the estimated 100 newcomers each month to the pornography business in Southern California.

In the video, adult film star Nina Hartley demonstrates the proper way to put a condom on a male performer and advises those who are just starting out in the business that when auditioning ''being asked to get naked is not improper. Being asked to touch the person trying to cast you is improper.

``It's not necessary. By the way, if anyone calls you in for an interview and discourages you from bringing a friend, run the other way. If anyone says you can't bring a boyfriend or a girlfriend to the set, run the other way.''

Big porn companies are quick to point out they do not have to recruit new talent to appear in explicit sex videos. Jane Hamilton, who started out as an actress using the screen name Veronica Hart and is now a producer/director at VCA Pictures, says her phone never stops ringing.

Hamilton, who estimates there is a talent pool of between 500 and 700 performers who appear in X-rated films, praises AIM for helping the industry protect the health of its talent.

``The major manufacturers got together and we've come to the safest rules and guidelines we can operate by,'' she said. ``Those people who care about their talent will insist on condoms being used and insist on their talent being tested. And that's why AIM is so invaluable to us.''

Wendy Nitz, VCA's director of records, who deals with AIM and Mitchell on a daily basis, recalls dealing with her before she kicked her heroin habit. ``She actually used to scare me,'' Nitz said. ``She was extremely self-destructive, but she's come a long way and she's done a lot of good for a lot of people.''

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