Los Angeles voters committed some bad public policy in 2012 when they approved Measure B, which mandated the use of condoms in any adult film shot in the county. Now, state lawmakers are prepared to double down on that misadventure and spread the mandate to all of California.
At first blush, the requirement seems sensible. Who could oppose safe sex? But the effort to require condom use in adult films is misdirected — the porn business isn't the hub of AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, asking people to wear condoms is one thing; having the government order it and enforce it is another. And, most important, it doesn't work. Measure B is taking a fairly safe business and pushing it underground, outside Los Angeles and quite possibly into places that don't honor protocols put into place to protect adult film actors, which require that every performer be tested every two weeks for sexually transmitted diseases and cleared for work only if the test is negative.
Kayden Kross, an actress and director who works in the adult film business, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the condom mandate, opposing it first at the county level and now in Sacramento. Since Measure B passed, Kross and her colleagues haven't quit making movies without condoms, but a lot of production has now moved to places like Ventura County, near where I met with Kross last week during a break from her filming.
Kross' film — the latest in the "Wide Open" series (don't ask) — isn't likely to vie for an Oscar, and it's easy to sneer at the whole industry. But for this recent shoot, she paid a cameraman, an editor, a makeup artist, a sound technician and a production manager. She rented a location for $150 an hour over the course of four days. She herself acted in one scene, and hired other performers for the rest (on average, she said, performers make about $1,000 per scene, with women generally making more than men). All told, she spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000, cheap even by the standards of porn, in part because she served as director, producer and actress, but her crew made decent money, and state and local governments will get their cut in taxes.
The movie isn't one I'll be putting at the top of my to-see list. Kross described a few of the scenes to me, and I can't even describe them without blushing. But it's a legal business.
And it's being driven out. FilmL.A., which issues permits for local film production, estimates that in 2012, the year before Measure B took effect, roughly 480 adult films were shot in Los Angeles. Last year, that number dropped to about 40. It's a safe bet to say that the world didn't lose its appetite for porn during that time. Instead, many of those who produce it are either moving outside the county, like Kross, or filming without permits.
It's time to accept that Measure B's impact hasn't been to encourage condom use; it's been to encourage evasion and flight. Other than the 40 or so films that received permits, no performers were covered by the ordinance, and since some porn productions were already using condoms, it seems likely that the ordinance has protected precisely no one.
Assemblyman Isadore Hall is the sponsor of AB 1576, the bill that would mandate condom use as well as new testing and reporting requirements statewide. He describes his legislation as an attempt to force porn producers to "protect their employees from injury and harm in the workplace." He also, wincingly, dismisses the industry's counter-arguments as "flaccid."
Hall's bill has cleared the Assembly and is scheduled for consideration Monday by a Senate committee. It appears to enjoy significant support, even though the experience of Los Angeles County since Measure B's passage suggests that it could do more harm than good. If it passes, expect some producers to ignore it, and others to move to Las Vegas and elsewhere.
There are plenty of people who would be happy to say goodbye to the porn business in California, but that wouldn't do anything to stop the spread of AIDS, because AIDS isn't a crisis of porn. Experts are far more concerned about its growth in minority communities, particularly among African Americans, and continue to grapple with staggering numbers of people exposed to the virus. Nearly 200,000 Californians, roughly 146,000 of whom are gay or bisexual men, have contracted the virus in the years since researchers began tracking its spread.
In the porn business, meanwhile, the industry reports — without contradiction from the state's legislative analysis or even some die-hard supporters of this bill — that the total number of confirmed cases of on-set HIV transmission over the last decade is zero.