Porn Safety

L.A.'s Porn Industry Battles HIV and a Condom Law


L.A.'s Porn Industry Battles HIV and a Condom Law

Photograph by Philippe Ughetto/Getty Images

Updates 5th paragraph with information on county-issued health permits.

Adult film producers in Los Angeles are contending with their third health-related shutdown of the year after a performer tested positive for HIV. The news, reported Dec. 6 by a clinic that tests actors in the pornography trade, has reignited a debate about a law requiring condom use in adult films and whether enforcing that law would violate the industry’s rights.

After a second actor tested positive for HIV earlier this year, the porn industry mandated that performers be tested for sexually transmitted infections every two weeks, instead of monthly. “In each case, the virus was acquired offset and was prevented from entering the performer pool by our testing system,” Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, the industry’s trade group, said in a statement posted on the coalition’s website. “Like a ringing car alarm, a moratorium is a sign of a working system, not a broken one. Adult performers—like all of us—have personal lives. We cannot control, and should not look to control, people’s private lives. What we can do is make sure that HIV is stopped at the gate by testing protocols.”

In November 2012, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure B, a ballot initiative that requires porn performers to use condoms during filming. Producers also must purchase health permits as a way to fund the county’s inspections. An effort this summer to pass a similar statewide law failed in the California Senate.

Advocates of the law maintain that the county has failed to enforce it. “The county wasn’t interested in this before it went on the ballot and refused to do anything, and then when it passed they said ‘We’re going to enforce it’ and promptly didn’t do anything,” says Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, which helped to pass the measure. He says the county is deterred by “the ick factor” of inspecting pornography despite “major outbreaks of HIV and syphilis and thousands of cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia.”

A spokesman for the county’s Department of Public Health said in an e-mail that the agency has issued 11 health permits to adult film producers.

Measure B supporters liken it to workplace safety efforts in other industries, such as construction site workers being forced to wear hard hats or television and film stunt actors using safety harnesses on the set. The adult film industry contends that condoms break, can cause skin irritation when used for shoots of several hours, and that performers prefer the frequent testing protocol to condom use.

In August, a federal judge ruled that the measure does not violate adult filmmakers’ First Amendment rights, denying a request for an injunction filed early this year by Vivid Entertainment and two adult film stars. But U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson found that enforcing the law could pose constitutional problems because of the broad latitude it gives county inspectors to infiltrate film sets to enforce the law. “Given that adult filming could occur almost anywhere, Measure B would seem to authorize a health officer to enter and search any part of a private home in the middle of the night, because he suspects violations are occurring,” Pregerson wrote. “This is unconstitutional because it is akin to a general warrant.”

Vivid is continuing its appeals, seeking to block the law.

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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