Condom Conundrum: Porn Industry Ponders Latex Law
LOS ANGELES - The show must go on, is the entertainer’s credo, and it did just that in the nation’s Porn Capital even after Los Angeles County voted to require performers to use condoms when filming sex scenes.
One of the industry’s biggest stars, James Deen, reported for work, condom-free as usual, just hours after voters adopted the new law.
During a break in the action Thursday, however, Deen raised the same questions on the mind of everyone in LA’s billion-dollar-plus porn industry: Can a planned court challenge get the new law tossed out before it is even implemented? Or, perhaps this time next year, will he be making films like "Atomic Vixens" and "Asian Fever Sex Objects" in some place like Las Vegas or Florida?
The law, listed on the ballot as Measure B, was passed by 56 percent of voters Tuesday. It won’t take effect until election results are certified, which likely will be several more days. It could take months longer before county health officials decide how to enforce it and whether they must begin dispatching prophylactic police officers to keep a close eye on actors.
The Department of Public Health issued a terse statement with no timetable for developing an enforcement plan. There was no hint of whether there would be surprise inspections or if public employees would be paid to watch porn flicks to see if actors were complying.
The nation’s adult entertainment industry, which is believed to generate as much as $7 billion a year in revenue, according to the trade publication Adult Video News, vigorously opposed the new law. It argued it is unneeded because of safeguards that include monthly venereal disease checks for all working actors.
They also maintained it would be costly and difficult to enforce and could drive the business out of Los Angeles’ sprawling San Fernando Valley, taking with it as many as 10,000 jobs, including actors, directors, film editors and crafts and makeup people.
The main problem, they say, is that fans don’t want to see actors using condoms.
"The last time we attempted to go all condom, our industry lost sales by over 30 percent," said Deen. "That’s a huge hit to our economy."
Deen, who has appeared in more than 1,000 hardcore films over the past nine years and estimates he’s been in about 4,000 sex scenes, said he’s never been infected with any disease and he gets tested every two weeks.
"I love condoms, I think they’re great and the safest thing you can do in engaging in sexual intercourse with a stranger," he said, adding he uses them in his personal life but not onscreen.
Industry officials, meanwhile, say the last reported case of HIV linked directly to work was in 2004. Since then, they add, about 300,000 films have been made.
Michael Weinstein, the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s founder and president, disputes those figures, saying there have been other, more recent HIV infections, not to mention numerous cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Weinstein, whose group led a petition campaign to place the measure on the ballot, says he plans to take his campaign statewide.
In the meantime, he says implementing and enforcing the new law should be easy.
"This is no different than supervising restaurants or nail salons or barbershops," Weinstein said. "You fill out forms, you are granted a permit and, periodically, somebody goes out and does spot inspections."
Easy to implement or not, porn producers say the cost of paying for permits will likely be steep and the drop-off in sales could bankrupt them.
"Certainly this is the biggest threat that I’ve seen to the industry in a very, very long time," said Steven Hirsch, chief executive of Vivid Entertainment Group, one of the largest purveyors of porn films, including celebrity sex tapes and popular X-rated parodies of "Batman" and "Superman" films. "There have been obscenity prosecutions, but this is something on a whole different level."
Hirsch, who co-founded Vivid 28 years ago, said he is confident the industry will get the law overturned on the grounds it violates filmmakers’ First Amendment rights of free expression.
If it isn’t overturned, he said his company will simply move production out of Los Angeles County to survive.
Several people who attended an emergency meeting of the industry’s advocacy group, the Free Speech Coalition, last week, said porn producers have already been in touch with officials in Las Vegas and parts of Florida. In some instances, they said, tax incentives have been offered to lure them.
Through a quirk in county law, the industry might even be able to pack up and move just a few miles down the freeway to Pasadena or Long Beach.
Those municipalities, although located in Los Angeles County, have their own health departments, and Pasadena said earlier this week it won’t enforce the new law.
That would be just fine for many actors and directors, who say they don’t really want to leave their home base.
"People forget that porn people are people too," said Kylie Ireland, a veteran actress and director who has appeared in such films as "Being Porn Again" and "Calipornication."
"They forget that we have families and we are married and we have kids and we have lives and jobs and hobbies just like everybody else."