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Michael B. Marois writes at www.bloomberg.com – Ela Darling [pictured] quit her job as a reference librarian south of Boston three years ago for a fresh start in Los Angeles starring in such movies as “Lesbian Slumber Party.” Her new career, she says, is under threat from the California legislature, which soon may require pornographic actors to wear condoms and other protective gear.
The adult-film industry, which says it employs 10,000 people in the state and adds more than $1 billion to the local economy, is threatening to move production out of California if the bill becomes law.
“I love my work and I love the people that I work with,” the 26-year-old Darling said in a telephone interview.
“It feels like they are punishing porn for having the audacity to make porn. But it takes more than a porn star to make a porno. It’s not just the porn stars that are going to suffer from this. It’s a lot of people, people with families.”
It’s a business that by some accounts produces 11,000 films a year, 90 percent shot in California by 200 production companies. Golden State porn generates $9 billion to $13 billion a year in gross revenue nationwide, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.
Pornographers say the condom rule violates their First Amendment right to express themselves and would destroy the aesthetics of an industry built on fantasy and writhing flesh. Proponents argue the law is needed to protect workers, who some studies suggest suffer a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases than legal prostitutes in Nevada.
The bill, which a committee will consider tomorrow, would require studios to ensure that performers are safe from sexually transmitted diseases by wearing condoms or other protective barriers during filming. Studios also would have to pay for hepatitis B vaccines and testing for other illnesses for any worker involved in the production.
Larry Flynt said all the latex will wreck the mood.
“People don’t want to see adult films where people are wearing condoms,” Flynt, the porn mogul and publisher of Hustler magazine, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “It’s that simple. They are trying to put the industry out of business through legislation but it’s not going to work.”
Some porn makers, such as Wicked Pictures, the Canoga Park, California-based producer of titles such as “The Booty Pageant,” require actors to wear condoms. That hasn’t pushed them out of business.
Public-health advocates such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the sponsor of the bill, have long pushed for tougher statewide workplace safety regulations in the adult-film industry. The group, whose U.S. headquarters is in Los Angeles, points to HIV scares in the last three decades, including one in 2004 that left four people infected after engaging in on-set unprotected sex.
“Part of our effort is about promoting safe sex and we think that this is a bad influence,” foundation President Michael Weinstein said in a telephone interview.
“We can’t and don’t want to control the content of the films in terms of any speech, but as a public-health entity, we are promoting safer sex and we’ve gotten more publicity about condoms from this campaign around porn than anything else we could have ever done.”
In response to those HIV scares, the industry set about requiring regular testing for performers and a database was built of available actors who test negative. The industry also has been quick to shut down production altogether during such scares, including a 30 day moratorium in 2004 and smaller-scale hiatuses in 2010 and 2011.
Still, producers have resisted requiring actors to wear condoms, saying the protocols already in place work.
“You’re more likely to pick up someone in a bar in suburbia and catch HIV than you would in the adult-film industry,” Flynt said. “All the actors are tested. It’s the safest sex you can have.”
Opponents have keyed in on one phrase in the bill that states that the companies would have to protect employees from blood-borne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials in accordance with current regulations. They say that would require actors to follow the same rules about bodily fluids that emergency-room nurses do.
“If you follow the bill to the letter, nothing short of a hazardous-material suit will do,” said Lydia Lee, a former porn star under the screen name Julie Meadows and spokeswoman for Adult Performers Coalition For Choice, a group opposed to the legislation.
The bill mirrors a ballot measure that voters in Los Angeles County approved in 2012 requiring condoms for acts of anal or vaginal sex during the production of adult films. The law was supported by groups including the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association. Studios that want to shoot in Los Angeles must pay a fee and prove that management and crews have completed a training course about blood-borne pathogens.
Before passage of that measure, many in the business said they would shoot outside Los Angeles County rather than comply. According to Paul Audley, president of Film LA, which issues permits for movies in the city, said adult-film studios have applied for just two this year when typically the agency receives 450 to 500 requests a year.
“They could be just not getting permits,” Audley said. “It would be very hard for us to discover if it was still going on without permits. But we are hearing from neighboring counties and even other states that the industry is filming there and they are getting complaints.”
Location scouts quickly began exploring neighborhoods in nearby Ventura County looking for suitable residential properties. A homeowner can earn $100 to $200 or more an hour to let a house become a temporary sexual gymnasium.
“I am in need of homes for filming in your area. The needs are for very small 4-8 person crews that shoot 4-5 hours or 10-12 hours. It can be frequent if they like your house and if its conducive to the owner,” reads one location scout’s pamphlet found in Ventura County.
Linda Parks, an elected supervisor in Ventura County, said she began receiving complaints this year from constituents seeing and hearing naked people and sex acts.
That prompted her to propose an ordinance requiring safe sex during production of adult films in unincorporated areas. The board approved the measure earlier this month and several local cities have done the same.
“I don’t have a problem if it’s going to force them to go somewhere else,” Parks said in a telephone interview. “If it turns out that they can’t film in these residential neighborhoods, that’s fine with me.”
Vivid Entertainment LLC, with titles such “Sweet and Natural” and “Sex Angeles,” filed a federal lawsuit in January against Measure B, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech. A judge is expected to hear arguments in June.
The Los Angeles-based company says that the industry has since the 1990s enforced a program that requires HIV tests and that “‘high volume’’ producers mandate them every 14 days.
‘‘No law-abiding adult-film producer would allow a performer to participate in the production of an adult film without a current negative-test confirmation, and no performer would agree to film without confirming his or her co-performers’ negative test status,’’ Matthew Peterson, an attorney for Vivid at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, said in court filings.
Vivid President Steve Hirsch declined to comment while the lawsuit is pending. He told a Ventura magazine in February that sales dropped 30 percent after the company temporarily required condoms in the wake of the 1998 outbreak.
‘‘If you take a step back from the ickiness factor, of course, there is a reason you don’t want to drive one of the few really successful parts of the entertainment industry outside of California,’’ said Jeffrey Douglas, chairman of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade group for porn producers.
‘‘This is a very good industry for the state of California and has been for a very long time.’’