On Tuesday, Los Angeles County passed a controversial new law called Measure B, or, to use the propaganda-y nickname its framers have given it, the Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act. While it sounds like a good idea — who doesn't like safer sex?! — its passage has been met with strong protests from porn studios and adult film actors, who claim the Measure is much worse than meets the eye. Rather than promoting safer sex, they argue, Measure B is a solution in search of a problem, an overreach into the artistic expression of people who have sex on camera. And, once enacted, it could actually make the day-to-day life of porn actors worse — or prompt the industry to just pick up and move.
More than 55% of Los Angeles County voters cast their votes in favor of Measure B on Tuesday. In addition to the condom requirement, once the law's enacted, adult film studios will have to apply and pay for public health permits before shooting. Studios will also have to shoulder the cost of paying for a public health inspector to visit shoots to make sure that the law's being followed. So how do the actors that the law is supposedly "protecting" feel about it? Not excellent!
Jessica Drake, a performer and director with Wicked Pictures, told me that the law is more than what it seems. The Measure goes further than requiring just condoms, and language that mentions "barrier protection" doesn't specify what type of barrier protection is required. Full application of Measure B could mean that barrier protection is required for all penetrative activities, including digital penetration or oral sex. And while I'm sure gloved butt fingering has its place in the masturbator's pantheon, porn audiences don't want all latex, all the time. The porn industry peddles fantasy. And there's no reality check quite like watching a guy playing a randy pizza man producing a dental dam before going down on a housewife.
Drake herself works for a studio that requires condom use, but she's not in favor of an external law mandating that all performers make the same choice. "I've built an entire career on using condoms, but that's my personal choice," she said. Adult film actor James Deen told me that, additionally, mandated condom use can be incredibly uncomfortable for female performers, and can even lead to anal or vaginal tearing during hours-long shoots.
Deen and Drake both argue that Measure B is a solution in search of a problem. Framers of the legislation say there are specific examples of non-use of condoms leading to disease outbreaks on set, but Drake points out that the last time there's been HIV on-set has been 2004. Performers are tested often, and they're not allowed to shoot unless they get a clear bill of health.
"People want people generally to be safe, but they don't understand that we already are safe," says Deen. And recklessness when it comes to disease is just not part of the culture, he added. "We do care about each other. We are a small community."
Drake told me that she believes that public misunderstanding and prudery about the porn industry drove LA County voters to impose restrictions that don't make sense. "When you mention porn to some pople you just see the sleazy guy with the gold chains and some young helpless girl in a hotel room and that's not how it is at all," she said.
On a larger philosophical level, Deen says he has a problem with the law because it unfairly singles out the adult film industry and infringes on his right as a performer to free speech. "What bothers me personally about it is that I don't like the fact that someone is telling me what I can or can't do while I'm making movies." He's got a point. To borrow an analogy Deen used, the law requires motorcycle riders in the state of California to wear a helmet. But the movie industry isn't subject to the law, provided the helmet-less stunts are executed in a controlled environment by professionals. Having sex without a condom is a risky behavior, but it's much less risky when you consider the voluntary testing actors undergo and the controlled environment of a shoot.
Still, Deen admits the self-policing of the industry isn't perfect, and that maybe public health groups would be less motivated to police the industry if there was actually official protocol written down somewhere instead of a widely agreed-upon set of behaviors governed by an honor system. And Drake admits that there was an instance of a performer testing positive for syphilis recently, which gave proponents of B fodder, even though condom use isn't 100% effective in preventing the spread of syphilis.
In an anti-Measure B op-ed, the LA Times called the law "well intentioned, but it is likely to stymie county government and bring little benefit to performers." From speaking to performers, we're inclined to agree.
The Free Speech Coalition sent a letter to Los Angeles County on Wednesday, announcing that they intended to challenge the law in court. And if that challenge fails? Expect the adult film industry to pick up and move a county over, or to Nevada, where localities are eager for the tax revenues that come along with hosting a billion dollar business.