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Condom law might force porn producers to decamp from California

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Can condoms cause the hugely profitable California porn business to go limp? In November 2016, state voters may be asked to pass judgment on a ballot initiative that would require actors in adult films to wear condoms when they engage in onscreen sex acts. Supporters of the initiative say it will protect thrusting thespians from contracting diseases. Porn producers insist condoms would be a total buzz kill.

Pornographic filmmakers warn that, if the initiative becomes law, they will pack up their cameras, lights, high heels, hair removers, handcuffs, vibrators, lubricants, strap-ons and other exotic paraphernalia and leave California. On the plus side, that means residents from the San Fernando Valley to Ventura will be assured that the high-pitched yowling from the house next door is coming from a distressed cat, not from a porn actress in mid-performance. On the negative side, state and local tax revenue could drop by tens of millions of dollars.

Since the passage of a countywide condom mandate in 2012, Los Angeles County has seen a 90% decline in applications for filming permits from porn producers, so the threat of a revenue slump is real. Still, would dirty-picture impresarios and their merry troops of naked performers really decamp for Oregon or Arizona and leave the glitz of L.A. just because of condoms? Is this about art, health or money?

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The pornography industry is layered, very much like Dante’s nine circles of Hell. The deeper you go, the darker and more perverse it becomes (and the more everyone seems to have an Eastern European accent). In the upper circles, though, the inherent abuse and misogyny of the business is much less overt. There is a low-rent glamour and lure of quick celebrity in the higher-level porn world that mimics the legitimate film industry. There are awards ceremonies, there are branding opportunities, and there are the thrills of signing autographs at car shows. Filming goes on in pleasant suburban neighborhoods, by sunlit swimming pools and in the bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens of upscale Spanish colonial homes.

The young women who perform in California-made porn do not seem blessed with great intellect or formidable acting skills, but they exhibit boundless enthusiasm for their work. It may be naive to say this, but the most surprising thing about the women in porn is how many of them there are — a seemingly endless stream of pretty twentysomething females coming to L.A. from all parts of the country with a willingness to strip off their clothes and do just about anything in front of a camera, no matter how acrobatic, ridiculous or challenging to the elasticity of human flesh.

These young women are the focal point of porn. They get all the screen time. The men in the movies almost do not count. Their faces are rarely shown, which is probably a good thing since a lot of porn performers look as if they are on work release from state prison. There is really only one reason the men are even there, only one thing they contribute to the artistic enterprise. And that one thing is usually inordinately large.

It is no wonder porn producers are upset about being forced to cloak that one thing with a prophylactic sheathe. It is as troubling for them as it would be if a regular Hollywood filmmaker were told his lead actor were required to put a bag over his head. Imagine Daniel Craig running through his paces as James Bond while blinded by a Whole Foods sack. It wouldn’t be what the audience paid to see.

Condoms are not what the porn audience pays to see, either, and the porn producers know it. If they have to leave California to keep their profits high, they just might do it. And that means there is a big economic opportunity waiting for a more libertarian state. Texas? Wyoming? Oklahoma? Are you ready to be the new porn capital of the world?


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