You may have heard there’s an election going on today. But while all the attention is on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, there’s another big vote going on in Los Angeles county at the same time. This particular referendum is likely to decide whether the city will continue to be one of the world’s hubs for pornography production.
Los Angelinos will be voting on something called Measure B, also known as the Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, which – if passed – will force porn performers to use condoms. What seems like a fairly innocuous motion to laypeople has actually resulted in a fiercely fought war between the industry and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the act’s primary proponent.
The AIDS awareness organization believes the adult industry is rife with sexually transmitted diseases, which not only poses a threat to the larger public, but also adds to the taxpayer burden for health-care costs.
The adult industry, on the other hand, says the organization has been spreading misinformation and that its own self-regulating measures – which include vigourous, regular testing – means performers are already safe and disease-free. The New York Times has a story detailing the industry’s testing efforts that is well worth checking out.
The industry’s key argument against Measure B is that the condom requirement is bad for business. Steven Hirsch, founder of Vivid Entertainment – one of the largest adult film producers – told the Times that his company used condoms for two years after an HIV outbreak in 1998, only to see sales decline by 30 per cent.
Gay pornography, meanwhile, has routinely used condoms since the 1980s, but so-called “bareback” films where they’re not used are on the rise for the very same reasons. Porn consumers simply don’t like to see condoms in what is essentially fantasy escapism.
In a carefully considered editorial, The Los Angeles Times has come out in support of the adult industry. The newspaper says there are some overblown arguments on both sides, but ultimately it believes that Measure B would be un-enforceable. Larger businesses such as Vivid would likely move production to other states or countries (Canada, anyone?) while smaller, less reputable types would shoot their films, disassemble their companies and then re-incorporate under different names before any enforcement efforts could be leveled against them:
If Los Angeles County could demonstrate that it was ready, willing and able to enforce a permit and condom requirement or that producers would not simply evade the requirement by leaving the county (and if audiences would choose to watch explicit sex scenes depicting condoms), Measure B could merit support. Instead, it’s impossible to predict the results of passage. Measure B then falls into the category of ‘Let’s pass it and see what happens.’ That’s a bad way to make law because it puts government, or voters, on a track toward regulating all kinds of conduct without any hope of enforcing the requirements fairly and equally, and that in turn undermines the power of government.
The newspaper sums up its position by suggesting that the adult industry should voluntarily adopt condoms, but it also accepts that’s unlikely given the public’s tastes. The real solution, then, seems to be a societal change. If there is real concern over the health of adult film performers, for whatever reasons, the better place to start might be in trying to change peoples’ expectations over what they see in porn.
That’s a tall order, but it may just be more doable than enforcing Measure B.