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Sex & Relationships

Should Porn Stars Be Forced to Wear Condoms?

Porn studios are heading elsewhere since a 2012 law requiring the use of condoms in adult film shoots in LA County.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Los Angeles has been called the porn capital of the world, but a bit of controversial legislation may actually strip the city of that dubious title.  

In 2012, Los Angeles County passed Measure B, a law requiring the use of condoms in all adult film shoots.The measure was primarily backed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

It didn’t take long before pornographic film production company Vivid Entertainment filed a lawsuit in federal court to get the legislation overturned. The company claimed the law was in violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free expression. Attorney Paul Cambria Jr. explained, “Let's assume that we're filming an adult movie and it was taking place in the swashbuckler times. All of a sudden, Captain Jack slips on a condom.”

He added, "Obviously, that would basically destroy the movie, because it would be fake. Obviously, people would know that couldn't have happened then.”

While the judge eventually ruled that making actors wear condoms during porn shoots doesn’t violate the First Amendment, he did admit that enforcing the law raises some constitutional questions.

By 2013, the number of permits issued for pornographic films had dropped by a startling 90%. The porn industry had begun its exodus out of Los Angeles County. 

The following year, Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton) penned AB 1576; a bill that would introduce the Los Angeles condom requirements to the rest of the state. When the bill was eventually shelved, porn producers rejoiced; its supporters, however, began gearing up for future deliberations. 

"We will reintroduce the bill next year and are proud of the fact that we moved this legislation farther along in this session than any previous year," Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said. "By way of comparison, it took over a decade to get a needle exchange bill passed on a statewide level, so we are prepared for a long haul, if that’s what it takes.”

The organization has started in on efforts to place the issue on the 2016 ballot.

But not everyone is sticking around to see what happens. Kink.com, one of the country’s most popular pornographic websites, opened up an office in Las Vegas soon after Measure B passed.

The company’s founder, Peter Acworth, said in a press release, “Vegas is looking more and more attractive as time goes by.” He added, “The cost of doing business out there is lower. The resources are slowly moving there. It’s becoming easier and easier to do business … I think that a lot of companies are doing what we’re doing. They’re setting up satellite offices and getting their feet wet with Vegas as a potential place to shoot.”

Other major companies like Brazzers and Bluebird Films have also started filming in Las Vegas.

Acworth explained, “We don’t want to move out of California, but we will if we have to. This bill not only denies performers’ choice, it would effectively render most existing adult film production illegal.”

Porn star Ron Jeremy told Fox News, “We don't mind condoms. Not a problem. The thing is it's the competition of Europe, Asia, Scandinavia that makes it difficult.”

In 2014, the AVN Award Show introduced two new categories: Best Safe-Sex Scene and Best Condom Manufacturer.

The use of condoms during adult film shoots is required by California law. Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace health and safety regulatory organization, requires employers “to protect workers from serious diseases including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which can be transmitted through exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials." In porn terms, that means condoms are a must.

Industry insiders, however, have been able to dodge such requirements thanks to a lack of effective enforcement by Cal/OSHA. But those in the industry deny this puts performers' safety at risk.

The Free Speech Coalition, a Canoga Park trade organization that represents the porn industry, emphasizes the importance of self-regulation. Executive director Diane Duke has said, “Performer health is important. But performers, the most tested population on the planet, should have the ultimate right to control their bodies and their health.”

She added, “They don’t deserve to be shamed or treated as a public danger or to have their rights trampled.” Duke has asserted that performers, public health experts and civil rights groups collectively oppose the push for mandatory barrier protection in adult productions.

But Michael Weinstein and others who support the passage of laws like AB 1576 are armed with four names that might help make their case: Cameron Bay, Rob Daily, Derrick Burts and Darren James.

In 2013, porn actress Cameron Bay announced she had tested positive for HIV. She explained that during her last shoot before testing positive, costar Xander Corvus sustained a cut on his penis (inflicted by Bay's teeth). Though the cut began to bleed, a group decision was made to continue shooting without a condom. Corvus has repeatedly tested negative for HIV since the shoot.

Shortly after Bay’s announcement, her boyfriend, Rod Daily, a performer in gay porn, also came forward with a positive diagnosis. The two never performed on set together but had been involved in a romantic relationship for two years. Neither knows how, or from whom, they contracted the virus.

Former performer Derrick Burts came out with a positive HIV diagnosis in 2010. He claimed that during his four-month stretch in porn, he had also contracted chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes. He has said, “As a worker in the adult film industry, I was not protected. I don’t want more people to end up infected like me.”

Darren James, who says he became infected with HIV back in 2004 while working in the industry, told the Huffington Post, “The industry has failed and continues to fail. We all need to wake up.”

Porn performer Patrick Stone also tested positive for HIV in 2013, though he isn’t one of the names frequently mentioned by AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Stone, who was employed through Kink.com, told reporters he was asked to perform in a shoot after he had tested positive for the virus. He later tested negative twice, having likely received a false positive. According to an article published by NSFW Corp, Stone had also worked as a male escort in the past. 

Following the string of announcements, the Free Speech Coalition called for an industry-wide halt on production. It was the third moratorium to have taken place in the past year. The industry began requiring STD testing of performers every 14 days — twice as often as before. Some insiders maintain the infections occurred in the private lives of actors, rather than on set. 

But in 2014, there was news of two more infections. Two adult film actors tested positive for HIV during a shoot in Nevada, with one most likely infecting the other.

Unsatisfied by the industry’s attempts to protect its workers, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation began filing complaints against the industry. In 2014, Kink.com was hit with a $78,710 fine issued by Cal/OSHA for “workplace safety hazards.” The majority of the fines were for allowing performers to work without using condoms. A $20,485 fine against Treasure Island Media followed, though a judge later lowered the fine to $8,670.

Some porn producers worry that if the AIDS Healthcare Foundation succeeds in implementing AB 1576, the number of safety standards will continue to pile up. In May of this year, OSHA proposed a new set of standards, which include but are not limited to gloves, dental dams and goggles. 

Duke argues, “These are regulations designed for medical settings, and are unworkable on an adult film set—or even a Hollywood film set.” She added that the rules would risk “shutting down an entire industry.”

There are also those who worry that such laws will lend themselves to the practice of of state-mandated HIV testing, a process, they argue, that could lead to discriminatory hiring practices and the further stigmatization of people living with the virus. HIV testing is required under industry rules. Those in favor of self-regulation argue it should remain an industry responsibility.

The condom conundrum has already driven several major players out of California. And while the state’s right to require condoms on set is up for debate, the financial implications of such moves aren’t so obscure.  

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. told the L.A. Times, "Losing an industry like that is going to have hugely negative consequences.” He added, "We're not just talking about actors or the filmmakers, but everyone from the grips and caterers to assistants. These are people who live in the San Fernando Valley, buy homes, cars, send their kids to school and go to the dry cleaners. If they move, all the money goes with them."

The Huffington Post reports that the adult film industry, "which has been estimated to be worth $6 billion in California and $11 billion nationwide, creates around 10,000 production jobs in the county, including makeup, lighting, carpentry, transportation, food service, payroll, web design and acting."

Some in the adult film industry argue that the condom laws are not neccesary; that a "code of honor" exists among performers to abide by the industry's testing regulations for the sake of keeping one another safe.  

The question we have to ask is, how far does that “code of honor” really stretch?

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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