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Regulators on collision course with porn industry over condoms

Two regulatory initiatives are aimed at forcing adult film performers to wear condoms for high-risk sexual acts depicted on-screen. Porn producers say such a requirement would threaten their livelihood.

November 02, 2011|Michael Hiltzik

Moreover, in past years the health and safety regime in the industry has been a mess. Starting about 1998, testing and treatment of performers was centralized through the nonprofit Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation. But the organization was driven into bankruptcy this year after its database was hacked and private medical and personal records of as many as 15,000 performers were posted online. The more secure replacement website established by Duke's organization allows producers to determine simply if a performer is available for work — meaning he or she hasn't tested positive — without divulging the performer's personal or medical details.

The industry position that individual performers are adults capable of making decisions about condoms for themselves may overstate the choices available to the on-screen rank-and-file. Often they're paid chump wages and have careers lasting a few months. They're exploited as "independent contractors" and often end up in the escort business, a dangerous route for the passage of infections between the film industry and the general population. Unlike workers with the formal status of employees, adult film performers are stuck with the bill for their own tests, which can run $150 a pop. That could be an obstacle to one possible regulatory compromise, which would be stepping up the test frequency to twice a month.

Still, no one is sure how bad the health crisis is in the industry, or if there even is a crisis. You could go blind trying to find undisputed statistics on STDs among performers. One study by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health placed the incidence of gonorrhea in the industry at 60 times that of all county residents and 18 times that of the county population aged 18 to 29, but those estimates have been attacked as "fatally flawed" by Dr. Lawrence Mayer, a consulting epidemiologist for the industry who is on the faculty at Johns Hopkins medical school.

Mayer observes that the county couldn't say how many performers were in the industry or how many cases it counted were reinfection suffered by the same individuals, which made its analysis "not only inaccurate, but also misleading and inflammatory."

"Is there a plague? I don't know," he says, though he adds that purely as a public health measure, "I would prefer that all performers use condoms."

For the industry, a confrontation with the implacable force of regulation is looking inevitable.

"We would like to find a way that the industry can be in compliance, and we want to find a way to protect employees," says Deborah Gold, a Cal/OSHA official working on the rule revision. But she says there is no dissent among OSHA medical advisors that no testing program can substitute for condom protection for high-risk sexual acts.

And an even more implacable force may be Weinstein, who has made forcing condom use upon the adult film industry a crusade. "We're not going to rest until this is dealt with," he says.

Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. His latest book is "The New Deal: A Modern History." Reach him at mhiltzik@latimes.com, read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik, check out facebook.com/hiltzik and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.

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