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LA City Council expected to mandate condom use in adult films

A bill that would require adult film actors to wear condoms during productions anywhere in California and to be tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases is advancing through the Legislature.
peachy92/Flickr/Creative Commons
Los Angeles adult film performers may soon be required to use condoms for some film shoots.

The Los Angeles City Council is expected to approve an ordinance on Tuesday that requires condom use in adult film production. The L.A. City ordinance would require adult film performers to use condoms on film shoots that require a city permit. Health workers would do spot checks to enforce the new law.

Its passage means that a measure slated for June will come off the ballot. That would save Los Angeles more than $4 million in election costs. But, more importantly, proponents like Michael Weinstein, president of the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, say the condom ordinance will save lives.

"I think we're setting a great example. Why shouldn't Los Angeles be the safe sex capital of America?" he said.

Weinstein's group sponsored the ballot initiative to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the multi-billion dollar porn industry that's based in the San Fernando Valley.

"You really can't argue that people who go to work at a job really ought to be putting their health at risk," Weinstein said. "I mean, we put a thing at the conclusion of a film saying no animal was hurt in the making of this film. We can't say that about these films when it comes to people – real life people," Weinstein said.

People like Darren James, a former adult film performer whose life changed eight years ago.

"I was going to try to put myself back in school, save my money and get out – and the worst thing happened: I contracted HIV. Right at the time I actually decided to get out of the business. It was the worst week in my life," James explained.

He got the diagnosis via phone call right before the weekend.

"From what I remember, it was just devastating," James continued. "I was numb because I figured what? Chlamydia? No, I've got HIV."

So did three women who performed with him. The outbreak shut down the adult film industry for a month. James, who's now an HIV counselor for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the condom law is the right thing.

"If you're working, you're gonna get something eventually. And a lot of people will tell you they never got nothing. That’s a bunch of BS," he said.

Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, said the law will hurt performers more than it will help.

The coalition is the trade association for the adult entertainment industry. It's consistently opposed mandatory condom use for its performers. According to Duke, there have been no HIV outbreaks in the industry since the one involving Darren James eight years ago. She says that's due in part to stringent testing adopted after the 2004 outbreak.

"What we have in place works. Undermining what we have in place and the self-regulation that we've imposed and that the industry goes by rigidly is unfortunate. And by mandating condoms and trying to regulate from outside, I think that's only going to hurt our performers," she said.

Duke said adult film producers require actors to undergo testing every 28 days. The results determine whether they work. She fears the condom law is government over-reach that will hurt an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 adult film performers.

"We look at the possibility of diminishing protocols in place and it's going to make our performers much less safe then they are now," she said. "Some folks may just say 'screw it' and go underground."

But Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation disagrees. He says condoms are key to sexual health and adult film industry profits won't suffer from condom use.

"I don't believe that all of the consumers of porn really like the idea that someone is being harmed in the making of these films," he said.

The L.A. city law won't apply to adult film shoots at studios; they don’t require city permits. But Weinstein's group is now collecting signatures to fix that. They want to put a measure on the November ballot that would give the L.A. County Health Department the power to enforce a condom law at all film shoots. Michael Weinstein said it would cover all cities in the county except for Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.