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Ensuring condom use on porn sets called challenging

Los Angeles County says the new voter-approved law forces the establishment of a new bureaucracy, complete with inspection schedules and a permitting process.

November 07, 2012|By Rong-Gong Lin II and Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
  • Health activists demand the use of condoms in porn films during a protest last year. L.A. County voters approved such a measure Tuesday.
Health activists demand the use of condoms in porn films during a protest… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Voters told public health officials to begin monitoring the filming of sex scenes in pornographic movies.

On Wednesday, the county was trying to figure out how.

The new law requires porn actors to wear condoms and establishes a permitting system similar in some ways to how Los Angeles County inspects restaurants. Porn producers are required to purchase health permits from the county, which will do spot inspections on porn sets to make sure condoms are being used. The inspectors can close production if the filmmakers don't comply with the rules.

The county has said the law, pushed by AIDS activists concerned about disease outbreaks, forces the establishment of a new bureaucracy, complete with inspection schedules, a permitting process, a training program for dealing with bodily fluids and a special vault for evidence seized from movie sets. County employees could even be called upon to screen X-rated titles for condom compliance.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has been critical of the measure, said it would be difficult for the county to enforce the law because many porn shoots occur in private homes and are never registered with authorities. But he added that the county was obligated to enforce the law, which passed with 55.9% of the vote.

"People voted for it, and they're entitled to have it on the books," Yaroslavsky said. "It's a challenge we're going to have to confront."

The passage of the law created an outcry Wednesday in the adult entertainment industry. Porn producers have long said consumers will not purchase movies in which actors wear condoms and on Wednesday, executives and directors once again threatened to move from long-time production sites in the San Fernando Valley to other California counties, Las Vegas or Hungary, Europe's center of adult moviemaking.

"I love this business, but I feel this is an attempt to drive us out of California,'' said veteran director Kevin Moore.

In a letter to county supervisors, the head of an industry lobbying group called the law "untenable for adult production" and said the group was preparing a lawsuit to stop it from going into effect on 1st Amendment and other grounds.

The measure leaves the details of inspections to the county. The county has estimated that enforcing the law would cost nearly $300,000 in the first year, with fees from the production companies covering its costs.

The Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, also known as Measure B, was the brainchild of the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which bills itself as the largest AIDS healthcare organization in the world.

The group's president, Michael Weinstein, waged a mostly lonely battle for condoms in sex scenes for a decade, ramping up public pressure on officials in 2005 after the HIV infection of three actresses by a porn star.

His efforts were opposed by the industry, which maintained that mandatory actor testing for HIV was effective, and he got little traction with elected officials who seemed reluctant to wade into the unsavory details of pornographic production.

Pressure increased in 2010 when a porn actor was infected with HIV. County officials said they were in favor of condom use, but didn't support new local action because the state had jurisdiction for workplace safety and, in any case, enforcement would be too difficult. Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county health officer, wrote in a report this summer that it would be challenging to identify "underground, inconspicuous, intentionally non-compliant filmmakers." County lawyers also said they worried that the measure violated the 1st Amendment.

Weinstein charged that the real issue for county supervisors was disgust with the world of pornography. Their rejection led him to take the issue to the ballot box, where, he said Wednesday, the public did not reflect any of the government's qualms.

"There was no ick factor among the voters. They were so much farther ahead of the politicians. And they made a considered decision," Weinstein said.

He said the county's worries about enforcement were silly and reflected their distaste for anything related to adult entertainment.

"If you have a hot dog stand, you apply for a permit and periodically a health inspector comes out and determines whether you're operating safely, so you don't give food poisoning to people," Weinstein said. "We have 134 businesses that require county permits. Why is this so exotic?"

He noted that the county has required sex clubs and bathhouses to obtain government permits since 2006.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who had remained silent on the law, declared his support for it Wednesday.

"It's a matter of public health when you have the spreading of disease," Antonovich said.

The porn industry vowed to continue battling the law and made the economic impact on the region a central argument. About 5,000 adult films are shot each year in the county, employing more than 10,000 people according to industry estimates.

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