At first glance, the county's Measure B, which would require the use of condoms in adult films shot in Los Angeles, seems fairly hard to rebut: Other than a few self-interested pornographers, who could be against mandating safe-sex practices?
And yet, the measure is both more and less than it seems. It's a well-meaning attempt to promote safe-sex practices and, at least on the part of some supporters, to protect workers in the adult film industry. But it goes further than many people realize toward stifling what is, after all, a legal business, while doing relatively little to ensure the safety of those who are part of that business.
The measure rests on a premise that is difficult to assess: that adult film performers are infecting one another and endangering the public by incubating and passing on sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, according to the industry representatives and performers I spoke with last week, regular testing of performers has virtually shut down HIV infections in the business. That's hard to verify because some actors have contracted HIV in recent years, though not necessarily on a set.
Still, here's one thing many public health experts agree on: Where HIV is concerned, it is far riskier to be a young, black gay man in Los Angeles than it is to be a porn star.
So, if the public health risk is debatable but there's still value in setting an example through films, is that reason enough to support Measure B? Again, the easy answer is yes, but I spoke with a number of industry representatives last week, as well as two female performers who ostensibly would be protected by the measure, and they made a strong case against it.
Kayden Kross is bright, attractive, articulate. She's also the winner of 2011's "Wildest Sex Scene" award, among others. She's offended that the government would order her to have sex in an approved fashion, even as part of a production.
Kross began her career in 2008, and initially insisted on her film partner using a condom. But she said that after one scene, she was so abraded and uncomfortable by the condom that she feared she could not return for her second, which she was under contract to perform. "This is not making love," she said of her work. "It's athletic. It's sweaty. It's done for the camera."
Does that leave her exposed to sexually transmitted diseases? Of course, but Kross argues that industry testing standards are rigorous — actors are not welcome on a set unless they've received a clean bill of health within 30 days, and many test every two weeks. Kross said she would refuse to work with any actor who didn't arrive on the set with a recent test result in hand.
Kross and another actress, Tasha Reign, said they would leave Los Angeles and film elsewhere rather than comply with the new law, if it is approved.
The threat of the business leaving town is a mixed one. Certainly, some people would just as soon see it go, but it is a significant source of employment and revenue. More than 1,000 actors ply their trade here, and there are camera operators, production companies, editors and the like. All told, it's thought to be a $1-billion business in Los Angeles.
It's also highly portable. Unlike mainstream Hollywood or television productions, which often require a sound stage and the apparatus that goes with that, most adult entertainment is shot in private homes with a relatively small crew. Since it seems unlikely that performers and producers will agree to abide by the county's rule, if voters approve it, the exodus of at least some of that business seems inevitable. Theo Sapoutzis, chief executive officer of the AVN Media Network, a San Fernando Valley-based adult entertainment business, said many production companies have indicated to him that they would leave, though some suspect those threats are more a bluff than a reality and that laws here are more protective of the business than those in other states.
Finally, there is the question of messaging and of whether the acts performed in these films constitute protected speech. I'm no originalist, but it's hard to imagine the framers of the Constitution had Kross' work in mind when they forbade Congress from passing any law that infringes on the right to speak. Still, just because the government might have the power to regulate these acts doesn't mean it should.
Supporters of Measure B believe the government can force the adult film business to be a role model for safe sex. I doubt it. These films, Sapoutzis noted, aren't sex ed, and they're not meant to be emulated.
But then again, that's true of a lot of entertainment. As Kross said, "I wish Vin Diesel wouldn't drive so fast too."
Jim Newton’s column appears Mondays. His latest book is "Eisenhower: The White House Years." Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @newton_jim.