I realize that in my first post I said that I would be writing on here every week, but I’m quickly realizing that between having a full-time job, building skills for a better job in the near-future, a social life, household chores, and trying to figure out how to write a feature-length screenplay, that I don’t have as much time to write on here as I would like. It’s more likely that I will end up writing here on a whenever-I-have-time basis.
But let’s move on to the meat of the matter, tasteless pun intended. About three weeks ago ago I went to a panel at USC about the pornography industry because that’s how I roll. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but I actually found it very fun and enlightening; I could tell it was going to be good when the audience was laughing along with the innuendo-filled opening monologue from a film school PhD candidate. The documentary Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy was a lot of fun, even if it did reveal the sad contrast between the glamorous life Ron Jeremy has lead and his constant search for approval that will leave him feeling forever unfulfilled. The film-student-filled audience also got a huge kick from seeing clips from the Star Wars porn parody, although it got uncomfortably quiet once the threesome began between Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Hans Solo began.
After the screenings there was a Q&A session with Ron Jeremy, the most famous porn star ever; Steven Hirsch, owner of Vivid Entertainment, one of the biggest companies in the porn industry; and Allie Haze, an ex-Vivid actress. While there were a few interesting topics discussed that evening, the one that really got me thinking was Measure B.
Measure B is a referendum that was passed in Los Angeles County in November 2012 that requires pornographic actors to wear condoms in all scenes involving vaginal or anal intercourse. The purpose of the measure is to prevent actors from becoming infected by STDs, specifically HIV. There are some other effects of the measure, but the major points are that porn producers must pay fees for having county health officials on film sets to enforce the law, and that taxes are increased in Los Angeles County.
Of course porn producers and citizens alike don’t want to have to pay fines and taxes, but the porn industry has a history of STD outbreaks that certainly make the measure understandable from a public health point of view. In fact, back in the 1980s, HIV was rampant in porn and killed a lot of people. That’s when the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation was set up, which established a system where HIV tests became mandatory every thirty days and all sexual contact became logged in a giant who-did-who system. The AIMHCF lasted until 2011 which, according to the porn industry, was because it was effective. The industry has managed to go almost completely HIV-free since the 1980s. Almost.
There have been a few outbreaks since the AIMHCF began. There was one case in 1988, when a porn star named Marc Wallice contracted HIV, supposedly from doing intravenous drugs. He then infected several other stars on different sets. There was another case in 2004 wherein an actor named Darren James received the HIV virus while working in Brazil. When he returned to the U.S., he got four other actors infected before the industry discovered what happened and shut down for thirty days while they got a quarantine enacted to get everyone who had sexual contact with James tested. There were 16 more cases reported in 2009, but they were all contracted on independent porn sets (i.e. sets that did not belong to production companies and did not follow industry rules), so I don’t hold those cases as either an outbreak (since no connection between the cases was reported) or as something that the industry is responsible for.
But then came 2010, when a huge scandal broke out. Porn actor Derrick Burts got HIV when working on a gay film set in Florida. It didn’t cause an outbreak, but it did get swept under the rug by the porn industry. At first Derrick was told by the AIMHCF not to tell anyone about it while they figured out what to do, and he stayed silent, but after two months of not receiving any health care assistance from them or even having them return his calls, he finally had a mental breakdown and went to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is when he finally decided to reveal that he had contracted AIDS and that the porn industry did not do anything to protect him from it.
Aside from HIV outbreaks, the AIMHCF claimed that the general STD rate in porn actors remains somewhere around 2.4%. However, independent studies show that it’s actually higher than that—much higher. Around 33%, in fact. That, and the fact that the AIMHCF went bankrupt and dissipated in 2011 has since left the porn industry without any kind of established health standards at all.
From all this data, it seems pretty clear to me that a better system needs to be put into place to protect the health of porn actors. Even if the sex-to-HIV-contraction ratio is impressive, there is still evidence that an unnerving amount of people in the porn industry are getting diseases from their job. But in November 2012, I voted against Measure B, and I still would now.
My concern is not one of First Amendment rights, like Steven Hirsch tried to give at the USC panel. His argument was that if they were trying to film a scene that involved a husband trying to conceive a child with his wife, requiring a condom restricts their free speech. That argument is about as vaild as saying that requiring an actor to wear a seatbelt while filming a car crash is a First Amendment violation. In both cases, you’re risking an actor’s life. Not only that, but as someone who has worked on film sets before, I know there’s almost always a way to shoot around something and make it work. The general philosophy on film sets is to put safety first, no matter what, and I think the porn industry needs to do the same. I just don’t think condom enforcement is the best way to go about it.
The main reason I am against the use of condoms is an economic one. As pretty much everyone in the industry stated before the measure passed, and as Steven Hirsch himself said at the panel, the porn industry will be forced to leave Los Angeles if the measure remains enacted. Why? According to Mr. Hirsch, it’s because they’ve done the research and found that videos that have the actors wearing condoms sell 30% less than the real deal. I suppose that makes sense; pornography is supposed to encapsulate the viewers’ sexual fantasies, and condoms can ruin that for people. To use the stunt car analogy from before, trying to vicariously live through a sexual fantasy where someone is wearing a condom is like trying to get into an intense Hollywood chase sequence where the drivers are stopping at every stop sign; it might promote safety, but it really takes away from the experience, and the experience is the whole reason the audience is watching it in the first place. Add on top of that the fact that the industry has slowly been declining over the last few years due to the rise of piracy and competing online porn companies, and suddenly you have an industry that doesn’t necessarily have the financial luxury of adapting to a law like this anymore.
As Mr. Hirsch stated at the panel, so far the porn industry has gotten around Measure B by filming outside of Los Angeles county, but they can’t keep that up forever; it’s costly. Right now the measure is being fought in the court system. But if they can’t beat the measure, they’ll be forced to leave—probably to Nevada. Essentially, Los Angeles county will have passed a law that forced a $10 billion industry out of its county, and considering how far in debt California is to begin with, never mind the fact Los Angeles county has had budgets that put it in the red for the last five years, then that’s a lot of potential tax dollars flying the coop. And worst of all: nothing will have changed. Porn will continue to not use condoms, and actors will continue contract STDs; they’ll just be doing it somewhere else. And those that continue to do it in Los Angeles will either be forced underground or will have to remain impractically low-budget.
So to me, it seems that we do have a problem with the Los Angeles porn industry continuing to spread STDs to its members (no pun intended), but being forced to use condoms is shooting both the industry and Los Angeles itself in the foot. There have to be other solutions, and while I’m not a political or economic expert by any means, I can brainstorm a few ideas.
Let’s look at what caused the HIV catastrophes in the first place. In the 2004 and 2010 scares, both of the people that started the spread caught it themselves during shoots outside of L.A. that didn’t have the same HIV-checking system that the AIMHCF had implemented. Thus, maybe it should be a law that every time a porn actor leaves the county for work, he has to be tested for HIV before he can work again in L.A. In the case of the 1998 scare, the actor had contracted HIV through needle use. Perhaps more frequent testing should be required in the industry to prevent HIV spreading. For example, it could be a law that actors must get tested every two weeks instead of every month. That way they can discover HIV-positive cases and enact quarantines more quickly. Or, if STDs in general are the issue, perhaps they should use a more sophisticated testing method than just urine samples so that actors can be more accurately diagnosed and treated. Of course, any of these methods are going to cost the porn industry, but hopefully not as much as the drop in sales that condoms would incur.
These suggestions are by no means exhaustive; they’re simply suggestions. But it’s clear to me that while there is an STD problem in the L.A. porn industry, condoms are not the only answer. I propose that we look at what else can be done before we have to arrive at something as drastic as Measure B.
And before I finish (no pun intended), I realize I’ve gone this entire article talking about porn but haven’t shown a single pornographic image for shock laughs. That’s not for lack effort; I looked through Google images, but I discovered quickly that porn stills aren’t really funny within themselves. What is funny is the safe-for-work versions of them, so I leave you with this: