LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Some of the most prominent purveyors of porn say they'll start packing up their sex toys and abandoning the nation's Porn Capital if authorities really do carry through with a nascent effort to police their movie sets and order that every actor be outfitted with a condom.
That effort took a serious leap forward Tuesday when the Los Angeles City Council voted 9-1 to grant final approval to an ordinance that would deny film permits to producers who do not comply with the condom requirement. The measure now goes to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for approval.
Before the measure can take effect, however, the council has called for the creation of a committee made up of police officials, the city attorney, state health officials and others to determine how it might be enforced.
"It's going to be interesting to see how in fact they do try to enforce it and whose going to fund it and all of the time and effort they're going to spend," said Steven Hirsch, co-founder and co-chairman of Los Angeles-based Vivid, one of the largest makers of erotic movies.
"Ultimately I think what they will find is people will just stop shooting in the city of Los Angeles," added Hirsch. "That's a given."
His company, founded in 1984, would be among those that would consider leaving, he said.
Other industry officials condemned the measure as an unneeded exercise in political correctness that cannot be enforced in the city known in the industry as the Porn Capital of the country.
"The only thing that the city could potentially achieve is losing some film permit money and driving some productions away, but you can't actually compel an industry to create a product that the market doesn't want," said Christian Mann, general manager of Evil Angel, another of the industry's largest production companies.
The ordinance would require filmmakers pay a permit fee, the amount of which is still to be determined. The money would be used to pay for surprise inspections at film shoots. Who would carry out those inspections is to be determined by the committee the City Council is setting up.
Mann said smaller productions involving only a handful of people can probably fly under the radar and just ignore the permitting requirement. Larger ones, he said, will likely just leave town.
Approximately 90 per cent of U.S. porn films are made in Los Angeles, almost all of them in the city's San Fernando Valley, said Mark Kernes, senior editor of Adult Video News. When films, Internet downloads, sex toys and admission to dance clubs are counted, Kernes said, it's an industry that produces about $8 billion a year in revenue.
It has been battered in recent years, however, by the recession and the increased popularity of free Internet porn, and Kernes and others say requiring condoms would further erode business.
They say consumers, particularly those overseas, have made it clear they won't watch films when the actors use condoms, complaining that it is distracting and ruins the fantasy.
Ged Kenslea, spokesman for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the measure is needed because the industry has failed to properly police itself. For years, he said, filmmakers have ignored state health laws mandating the use of condoms when workers are exposed to blood borne pathogens.
"Let's make one thing clear: Condom use on adult film sets is and has been the law in California under blood borne pathogens regulations," he said. "It is just a law that has not been uniformly enforced or followed. This film permit ordinance that the City Council approved today provides another enforcement mechanism to make sure that adult film producers are complying with existing California law."
The council's second and final vote to approve the law was taken without public discussion on a day when most of the porn industry's major players were in Las Vegas preparing for Wednesday's opening of the Adult Entertainment Expo, their industry's largest trade event. They said they weren't surprised to hear the news, however.
The ordinance will not affect unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, but Kenslea noted his organization is gathering petition signatures for a ballot initiative that would require condoms on porn films shot throughout the entire county. The City Council passed its condom ordinance after his group gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in Los Angeles.
If condoms are required on film shoots throughout the county, several filmmakers said they'll likely just go to neighbouring counties. The Los Angeles bedroom community of Simi Valley, for example, is in Ventura County but only a 10-minute drive from the west San Fernando Valley, where many porn films are now made.
Condoms aren't needed, filmmakers say, because the industry already polices itself. Production companies require that actors be tested for sexually transmitted diseases a minimum of every 30 days when they are working.
Industry officials say no cases of HIV have been directly linked to porn films since 2004, adding they fear if the industry scatters to areas outside of Los Angeles that testing could fall by the wayside, exposing performers to more risk.
"If someone is going to catch an STD it's usually out of the business because we are tested so often," said veteran porn actress and producer Tabitha Stevens.
In her 17 years in the business, Stevens said, she has worked both with and without condoms. Although she prefers to use condoms, acknowledging they do increase safety, she said the choice should be left up to the performers and not mandated by a government agency.
"If you want to wear them, wear them. If you don't, don't. That's up to the talent to decide. It shouldn't be up to the government to decide," she said.