Protection Racket – California Mandates Condoms for Consenting Adult Film Performers
Posted by Enrique on 01.26.2012
Lack of sensitivity
One recurrent theme of government regulations intended to protect public health is they have no noticeable impact on public health. But they make a lot of busybodies feel good about themselves for forcing restaurants to put calories on their menus, or banning smoking in private businesses, or banning soda in public schools, even though such measures don't accomplish anything.
The latest example comes from Los Angeles, where the city council recently passed an ordinance requiring adult film performers to wear condoms. Although the local AIDS activists who pushed for the law seem to think it will protect porn actors, it will probably only result in driving the porn business out of L.A.
The story so far…
Only tasteful picture I could find with Google to illustrate the idea of someone being happy to wear a condom
The issue of compulsory prophylactics in the porn industry has been a topic of increasing interest for some time in California. I last touched on this subject in 2009, when an actress tested positive for HIV. Since then, there have been some other instances of performers testing positive—one in 2010, and another last year (although in that case a second test came back negative).
I suspect that porn performers don't have higher rates of HIV infection than the population at large, but my unsubstantiated suspicions aren't important. When you have a few widely publicized cases of HIV infection in a profession that most folks don't consider respectable, it's only a matter of time before the government intervenes in the name of the common good:
In a significant defeat for the adult film industry, the Los Angeles City Council has given final approval to a city ordinance requiring porn actors to wear condoms while performing.
The 9-1 vote Tuesday marks a significant victory for the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been rallying for years to protect the health of porn actors by asking agencies in California to mandate condom use during film shoots. In the past decade, porn shoots have been suspended several times after high-profile cases of porn performers infected by HIV.
"It's a great day for the performers and safer sex in our society," said an ebullient Michael Weinstein, president of the foundation, which has been waging a largely lonely battle for mandatory condom use for years. "This is the first legislative body to take up the issue, and the near-unanimous support is very gratifying."
That may be the first time the word "gratifying" has been used to describe condom usage (*rimshot*). While it may seem intuitive that forcing porn actors to wear condoms is going to make their jobs somewhat safer, it's a stretch to say this ordinance means anything for "safer sex in our society." That's the problem with public health busybodies and those who always want the government to "do something" – they continually assert their schemes have some transformative effect on society, even in the absence of any supporting evidence.
Despite what Mr. Weinstein may think, if people are going to try a few things they saw in a porn movie, wearing condoms ain't going to be in the top ten. There's a very obvious reason the U.S. porn industry by and large doesn't use condoms – consumers don't want condoms in their porn. There's a reason they call it the money shot – people are willing to pay for it. People aren't so willing to pay to watch some poor guy awkwardly yank off a rubber before achieving orgasm.
As you may be aware, men are the target audience for porn movies. If I could level with you for a moment, a big part of the fun of watching porn is imagining oneself in the position(s) of the male performer – a man who lives in an incredible fictional world where women want to have sex for the same reasons men do. It's a vicarious thrill that's ruined if the guy has to put on a condom in the middle of it. In the fictional universe of porn, no one would wear condoms because sex is in that universe is supposed to be ideal. Using condoms is inconsistent from a narrative standpoint, like breaking character.
When the porn actor wears a condom, it's not a fantasy anymore – it's too close to awkward, suboptimal reality. Who wants to watch porn about anything less than terrific (however unlikely) sexual encounters? No one wants to watch a boy-girl scene where the girl won't take her clothes off until the boy promises to help move his mother-in-law's sofa later, and the whole thing only lasts two minutes before they're interrupted by one of their children.
As long as the market wants condom-free porn, there will be condom-free porn. It just won't be made in L.A.:
"It's going to be interesting to see how in fact they do try to enforce it and who's 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 would be among those that would consider leaving, he said.
Rather than protect male performers or contribute to safer sex in society, L.A.'s condom mandate will simply drive jobs out of the city. And if California were to pass a statewide condom mandate, the porn industry would just relocate to Nevada, which I'm sure would welcome it with open, um, arms.
L.A.'s condom mandate isn't just a public health regulation, it's also a targeted employment regulation affecting a specific profession. This is the perfect occasion to remind ourselves about the limitations of these kinds of government regulations.
Employment regulations result in jobs moving, jobs being cut, or jobs not being created. It's no secret that California is a lousy place to do business, and that many companies have left the state as a result. Regulations like the condom mandate are just the latest example of how government efforts to make some jobs better actually result in those jobs moving out of state or being eliminated altogether. Forcing porn actors to wear condoms might make them safer from STDs, in the sense that some of them will have to start new careers, since their employment opportunities in L.A. will be greatly diminished. And obviously the condom requirement won't stop them from acquiring STDs on their own time, or guarantee that their new jobs won't have their own risks.
Public health regulations typically don't have much impact on public health. A few months ago, I wrote about how public health regulations like limiting soda in public schools or forcing restaurants to put calorie counts on menus don't actually improve public health. The condom mandate won't be any different, since porn performers will still work au naturel outside of L.A. No matter what public health busybodies do, people will do what feels good, even if regulations mean they have to do it elsewhere or do it differently.
Government regulation of risky occupations is arbitrary. Porn actors are grownups who understand that their line of work entails certain risks. It's silly for government to pick and choose which risky occupations they are going to regulate. Race car driver Dan Wheldon was killed last year while engaging in a risky occupation. Does that mean the government should do more to regulate auto racing? Why would anyone assume government busybodies know more about racing safety than professional drivers? Why should we assume government busybodies know the best way to protect porn actors? Condoms have failure rates of anywhere between 2% and 15%. Why is that a more acceptable risk than the porn industry's current STD testing standards? It's completely arbitrary.
It remains to be seen whether or not L.A.'s condom mandate will cause a dislocation of the domestic porn industry. We can, however, be confident that condom-free porn will continue to be widely available to anyone who wants to see it. If the point of the condom law was to protect porn actors and promote safer sex, then it's a self-evident failure. If the point was to make some do-gooder busybodies feel good about themselves, then it's a rousing success. That's the one objective government regulation consistently achieves.