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Why LA County’s Condom Requirements Are Terrible for the Porn Industry

Why LA County’s Condom Requirements Are Terrible for the Porn Industry: © David McGlynn / Alamy

© David McGlynn / Alamy

When watching Hollywood films, our ability to distinguish fantasy from reality is assumed. No one is ever wearing seatbelts, leaping between high-rise buildings is totally possible, and safer sex practices are almost never mentioned. And if we leave the multiplex without buckling up, blaming Dominic Toretto isn’t going to fly. Adult films, however, are not granted the same pass for suspended reality.

In November 2012, 59.96% of LA County voters approved Measure B, which mandated the use of barrier protection (read: condoms) in adult content shot in LA County. Developed under the guise of performer safety, but with no input from current performers or an understanding of the mechanics of adult content production, the “condom mandate” has been hotly contested ever since. Industry attorneys question its overbroad language and general unenforceability. Performers cite the increased potential for injury during workplace sex (from chafing, etc.), as well as the simple right to choose what goes on and in their bodies. Porn producers talk about consumers and the negative impact condoms will have on their bottom lines.

Others have turned their attention to the story the numbers tell: of the roughly 7,000 new instances of HIV in LA County (population: 9.8 million) between 2010 and 2013, not a single transmission occurred on a porn set. Since the 1990s, porn performers have been required to test for HIV and other STIs (currently every two weeks) which has managed to keep HIV transmission in LA County porn to just two instances, in 1998 and 2004.“

While the data shows that Measure B is an arbitrary solution to a largely nonexistent problem, in December 2014, it was further cemented into LA’s pornoscape when The Ninth Circuit Court of California declined to issue an injunction to stop Measure B because the law did not have a major impact on performers’ or producers’ freedom of speech. And then, in late December 2014, it was reported that two male performers contracted HIV in September, with one most likely infecting the other during an unprotected sex scene shot in Nevada. According to the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade organization, the infections occurred on a set using tests that do not detect HIV as early as tests done on sets that fully comply with industry standards. But the media went wild, presenting this instance to an uninformed public as one the supports the need for Measure B.

If anything, the incident is only evidence of a disturbing trend in the aftermath of Measure B: porn producers are simply fleeing LA or California altogether to locations where there are fewer regulations to ensure performer safety in place. After Measure B was passed in 2012, the number of film permits issued for porn productions immediately nosedived by 90 percent, to just 40 permits in 2013, according to FilmLA. Many productions have moved to Las Vegas (even though it’s illegal to shoot porn in Nevada); others have stuck around to secretly shoot without permits. This means paring down crews to obscure locations while ramping up the number of hours of work per day to compress production times. Clearly this has a deleterious impact on the local economy but what’s more, it’s dangerous and exhausting for those working in porn—the very same workers Measure B claims to protect.

The business of porn is not perfect; some formal parameters and operations standards most certainly make sense, as the effectiveness of regular STI testing shows. But Measure B is not the way. It was developed without an understanding of the business; it capitalized on our discomforts with sex in general. If LA County and the State of California can economically gut one community while simultaneously glossing over individuals’ rights and autonomy under the auspices of a very specific vision of what sex should look like… well, who’s to say they can’t do the very same to yours?


Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist living in Los Angeles. Visit her at chauntelletibbals.com or on Twitter at @drchauntelle

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