Safe sex scenes: California Assembly passes bill mandating condoms in adult films

05/27/2014 6:03 PM

05/27/2014 6:03 PM

Condoms or similar protection would become standard in pornographic movies under a bill the California Assembly approved and sent to the Senate on Tuesday.

The movement toward mandating condoms in adult films has gained traction over the last few years, with proponents seeking to curb the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases. In 2012, Los Angeles County voters resoundingly passed a measure requiring condom use for adult movies filmed within county lines.

In the Legislature, the debate has demonstrated the multibillion-dollar porn industry’s political potency and desire to safeguard its bottom line. Assembly Bill 1576 garnered the bare minimum 41 votes necessary for passage, with several Assembly members from the Los Angeles area abstaining from voting.

Protecting adult actors has become a recurring focus for Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, whose condom bill last year died in committee. Hall argued that unsafe sex poses an imminent health hazard, pointing to a number of porn performers who have contracted HIV. The industry imposed multiple production moratoriums last year after performers tested HIV-positive.

“This industry has been largely self-regulated and has done an inadequate job of protecting its employees from disease infection,” Hall argued on the Assembly floor.

During floor debate, Assembly members described adult film production as a legitimate industry that, like other enterprises, should be regulated to safeguard workers. They framed the bill as a matter of workplace safety.

“California prides itself in our worker safety rules, and we apply them to construction workers, food service, emergency services, health care,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “This is an industry like any other.”

Adult film stars expose themselves to a higher risk of sexually transmitted disease, studies suggest. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found that adult actors carry sexually transmitted diseases at seven times the rate of the general population. A much-circulated 2012 study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases found that adult film stars in California had higher STD rates than their counterparts in Nevada brothels.

Opposing the bill is California’s powerful adult entertainment industry, represented by a group called the Free Speech Coalition. It warns that new restrictions would muffle an economic engine that generates $9 billion to $13 billion a year, according to a committee analysis.

“It’s a waste of funds, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and it will be driving an industry out of state that contributes a great deal,” said Diane Duke, the coalition’s chief executive officer.

If the rule is extended to cover all of California, opponents warn, pornographic movies will join the trend of film productions relocating to other states and taking with them a variety of support jobs, from caterers to grips.

“A lot of people cross over. They’ll work on a movie one day, a TV show the next day and an adult film after that,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Sherman Oaks-based Valley Industry and Commerce Association.

Hall countered that a mass exodus is unlikely. He pointed to California’s dominance of the porn production market and restrictions in other states as signs that the adult film industry will stay put.

“The fact of the matter is that the bill does not drive business out of California,” Hall said. “For (opponents) to say this business will leave California, due to an industry that requires condom use, is a complete, utter lie.”

Rigorous testing standards that are already in place render Hall’s bill unnecessary, Duke argued. She said the bill’s supporters have exaggerated the risk of STDs spreading. The three performers who tested positive for HIV last year contracted the disease in their personal lives, she said, and did not infect other performers thanks to the industry’s vigilance.

“Our program is designed to reduce risk and it does, because it’s been very effective,” Duke said.

Critics have also raised constitutional issues with the testing regimen the bill would impose. Employers would need to document that employees had consented to the release of testing data, an imperative skeptics called unworkable for studios.

“What this is is a mandate, and this is a mandate that I’m afraid these businesses are going to have trouble meeting,” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said during Tuesday’s floor debate.

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