01.20.12

The Porn World Says No to Condoms

At this week’s annual adult film convention in Las Vegas, Richard Abowitz has found confused and rebellious reactions to L.A.’s new condoms-in-porn ordinance.

As the adult-film industry held its annual gathering in Las Vegas this week, back in Los Angeles, where a large percentage of commercial porn originates, the city council had voted 9-1 earlier this month to require condoms on male actors in film shoots within city limits. In the aftermath of the ordinance, the reaction at the Adult Entertainment Expo convention floor at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas was predictable–outrage mixed with confusion and concern.

But also, performers, producers, and directors speculated that there would now be a range of rebellious responses from an industry that sees itself as proudly nonconformist and has largely been allowed to operate independently for years from state regulation in California.

“A lot of the studios right now are confused,” says Steve Javors, managing editor of industry trade publication AVN (which brands the award show at the Vegas convention). “Who is investigating? Who is enforcing? Who is levying the fines? There is still a lot up in the air we don’t know.”

Still, Javors offers a list of three likely responses to this move from the adult industry. “One possibility is that not much will change and that companies will go about the business as they always have. I also think you will see some studios move production out of the city. Otherwise you will see a lot of off-the-grid shooting.”

Interestingly, one option seemingly not being considered by anyone The Daily Beast interviewed: starting to use condoms.

That last option means shooting in Los Angeles without paying for a location permit under the theory that no condom inspector can show up without knowing when and where to go inspect. Indeed, one big producer at the convention said he did not wish to comment on the condom issue to The Daily Beast precisely because not getting permits for shoots is his current plan in the face of the new rule. “They are going to go after the guy that speaks out,” the producer says. Meanwhile, an industry attorney speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is currently in discussions with potential clients about the condom ordinance, suspects that there will soon be a lawsuit by one of the big adult companies to block the ordinance, as well as an industry attempt to lobby politicians on the issue.

Interestingly, one option seemingly not being considered by anyone The Daily Beast interviewed: starting to use condoms.

“I am sure you will see some people do that,” Javors concedes when asked. Yet he says he has not yet to talked to a single company, director, or performer even thinking about going all-condom to comply. The main reason for the resistance, Javors avers, is the widespread industry belief that condom scenes do not sell.

One producer willing to speak out on the record against condom regulations is Dan O’Connell of Girlfriend Films, a company that features only women. While the L.A. city ordinance might not seem to have an impact on his products in the same way, O’Connell notes that Cal/OSHA passed regulations back in 2004 that require not only condoms on sets but, by most interpretations, also demand barriers like dental dams that would transform how he makes his movies. Due to weak enforcement, the industry has almost totally ignored Cal/OSHA regulations. O’Connell says, “I think we are probably in noncompliance with Cal/OSHA.”

O’Connell has been a vocal critic of all attempts to regulate the industry. He agrees with the consensus view that “customers don’t want to see condoms.” He also argues that an unintended consequence of such rules will be to move the industry back from organized companies to a more marginal underground business that will make any protection regimen impossible to standardize or enforce. This, he says, would include the testing system adult companies already use to screen for STDs. “You will see a lot of cam shows with girls bringing the guy into her home to shoot and that will not be with condoms and might even be without testing,” O’Connell says. Currently the industry self-regulation requires performers to test every 28 days for STDs. “For testing to work as protection you really need to have the industry organized,” he says.

As for the performers at the convention, almost everyone The Daily Beast spoke to was against mandatory condoms. The porn star objection, though, is more pragmatic and less about sales. Diminutive porn princess Kayden Kross, taking a quick break from signing autographs for fans packed around, says: “We have the choice already to use condoms and most don’t. The reason why is that it is painful. Normal sex lasts about 15 minutes and it is slower and it is done in more natural positions. We do sex for 45 plus minutes, faster, and in more hardcore positions while opening up for the camera. That kind of friction with a condom is very painful. As a performer, I used a condom twice and never again.” She believes that the current testing system is the best approach. And, like many of the company owners, Kross also exhibits the anti-authority libertarian streak that runs through the industry. “This is about my freedom and this is government taking it away.”

Porn star Chanel Preston has a more benevolent interpretation of the ordinance, feeling that ignorance of officials is behind the effort. “In an ideal world you would think condoms would be great because it would eliminate a lot of contact which causes issues sometimes,” Preston says. “But government is saying this would be best when they have no idea what is best for the industry. They don’t realize that we can shoot for five hours in a day and condoms are really painful on our bodies to use them for so long. Someone should not be coming in telling us how to do our job best.”

Ultimately, Girlfriend Films’ O’Connell and Preston both think this ordinance (as well as other ongoing efforts to mandate condoms in the state), if successful, would drive those wanting to continue working within the law out of California. Both think Nevada (where brothels are legal in many parts of the state, a lot of adult content is already filmed, and this AEE/AVN convention takes place annually) is a strong alternative.  

But, no matter what happens, AVN’s Javors does not see the industry bending to the will of authorities when it comes to condoms. “People in the business like to work outside the line and dance to the beat of their own drummer,” he says.

Or, as one longtime director put it: “When I started shooting in California, it was a crime to make adult movies and so this will just be going back to my roots.”