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Shots - Health Blog
12:53 pm
Wed January 18, 2012

Porn Industry Faces Condom Requirement In Los Angeles

Advocates for the mandatory use of condoms in the production of porn films moved a step closer to victory in Los Angeles.

The city council there voted 9-1 in favor of an ordinance that would require use of condoms to protect performers from sexually transmitted diseases.

Under the new rule, filmmakers wouldn't get a permit to make a movie unless they comply with the condom requirement. The measure is expected to be signed into law, the Los Angeles Times reports.

A trade group for the filmmakers has opposed the mandate, saying it could actually weaken existing safety measures, including regular testing of performers. And the companies worry it will hurt sales.

"The easy headline here is that L.A. protects workers," says Tristan Taormino, a director and producer of porn films for Vivid Entertainment, one of the biggest companies in the industry. "Who doesn't want that?"

But she tells Shots, nobody has asked the workers what they want. "I want to empower the sex workers who are doing the actual work to assess the risks and to decide how they are going to take care of their own bodies and health," she says.

She would like to see testing performed every 15 days instead of 30. And condom-optional policies on the set should be "truly optional and transparent," she says. She says actors are concerned that condoms can interfere with their work.

It's difficult to describe the problem without getting graphic. "Some of these people are having intercourse for maybe two hours, and they could be doing that maybe 20 days a month," she says. Scenes take longer and there's discomfort for the workers from condoms, she says.

Overall, Taormino says, the industry's approach to "self-regulation worked as well as it could."

Supporters of the condom requirement disagree. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, prime mover behind the measure, pushed for a ballot initiative that gathered more than 70,000 signatures and would have put the condom rule to a vote this year. The foundation says the porn industry hasn't policed itself adequately and that sexually transmitted diseases remain a problem in the business.

As the foundation's president, Michael Weinstein, told NPR in 2010, "We know that testing, while important, is not a substitute for condom use." People can become infected between tests.

Back in 2004, for instance, three female film performers became infected with HIV after having sex with a male performer who had tested negative shortly beforehand.

The Los Angeles City Council moved to make the rule an ordinance, eliminating the need for a expensive ballot measure.

Enforcing the rule could be a challenge. The council asked the city administration to put together a working group, including police and occupational health and safety officials, to figure out how the condom rule would be put into practice.

Some porn producers say they'll leave Los Angeles to film rather than comply. But that's not so easy to do, Taormino says. "I live in New York. I go to L.A. to make porn. I do that because L.A. is where all the talent is, and where it's 100 percent legal to rent a location and shoot sex. That's not true in New York."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.