Condoms May Change the Porn Industry, but They Won't Change Porn

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Production companies will adapt to a new Los Angeles law requiring safe-sex practices on adult film sets so that what's on screen remains the same.

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For all the headline-making changes wins for gay rights, women, and marijuana Tuesday night, one social issue that was voted upon has gone less noticed nationally: porn. Los Angeles County's victorious Measure B, known as the condoms-in-porn law, will require any adult-film productions shot in the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Department of Health to make use of condoms and other safer sex practices—a policy that will be enforced by on-set health inspectors and law enforcement. With Los Angeles the capital of adult entertainment, the repercussions from this local law's passage could have a national impact.

In the lead-up to Election Day, opponents of Measure B painted a vision of a post-Measure B world where porn would feature latex-clad actors wearing face masks—a world in which the image of freewheeling, carefree sexuality would be sacrificed for an overzealous quest for safety. The implication of these ads was clear: Measure B will affect anyone who likes porn, replacing carefree bareback fun with something stilted and decidedly unsexy. The truth, however, is a little more complicated. The porn industry may change, but what's on screen probably won't.

Because while Measure B does dramatically change the rules for Los Angeles County, there's no reason to believe any porn producers, who opposed Measure B, will ever actually adhere to the law's complicated requirements. Though public health factored into much of the discussion of the ordinance, porn companies aren't actually cavalier about their performers' health and safety—if they were, the industry wouldn't have invested so heavily in the rigorous testing structures currently in place. No, the actual reason why porn producers hate using condoms is that condom use hurts sales. Over the years, numerous large porn companies (including stalwarts like Vivid) have attempted to go condom-only; almost all have seen a sharp decline in sales that caused them to reverse course. Right now, there is only one major exception to the non-condom rule: Wicked Pictures, straight porn's only major condom-only company, who succeed by producing couples-friendly, plot-heavy porn movies that are easily recut into softcore versions that can be distributed more widely—and that aren't as hampered by use of condoms.

Of course, if all porn companies were forced to go condom-only, viewers' preferences might change or cease to be a factor. For years, social pressure within the gay community has led to an environment in which a big share of porn includes condoms, and non-condom "bareback" porn is often looked at askance. Some have suggested that, given the option of condom only-porn or no porn at all, the straight-porn market could similarly adapt, with consumers more willing to pay for latex-infused scenes. But that theory assumes a market in which all porn (or at least the majority of it), is made using condoms, and that's a situation that is unlikely to ever be the case.

For even with Measure B in place and enforced, there are many places where porn can be—and currently is—produced sans condom. Los Angeles may be the epicenter of porn production, but San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami are home to their own hardcore porn scenes and will remain unaffected by the regulations of Measure B (as, of course, will Europe, where quite a bit of hardcore porn also happens to be shot). Though most full time porn performers make the majority of their money in Los Angeles, work trips to out-of-town studios like San Francisco's Kink.com and Miami's Bang Bros are incredibly common. So if the LA climate becomes less friendly to the adult industry, San Francisco and Miami are well positioned to pick up the slack.

There's no reason to believe any porn producers will ever actually adhere to the law's complicated requirements. Porn producers hate using condoms because condom use hurts sales.

Furthermore, it's possible that porn producers will still be able to skirt Measure B's rules without even leaving the confines of Los Angeles County. As the Adult Biz Law blog has pointed out, Measure B only applies to productions shot in places under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Department of Health. As Pasadena, Long Beach, and Vernon all operate their own health departments, they remain unaffected—and could potentially become the location of a whole new Porn Valley (or, perhaps, Porn Beach). This isn't far-fetched: In a market where consumers are offered a mix of condom-only and non-condom porn, porn companies are right to fear that following the letter of Measure B will ultimately hurt their sales.

But even though Measure B is unlikely to change the content of porn, that doesn't mean it won't have a dramatic effect behind the scenes of the industry. Completely uprooting studios and offices is a costly proposition (as is fighting Measure B in courts, as many have already vowed to do ), and in an industry that's already taken a hit from widespread piracy, added expenses are never a welcome thing. The current trend of fewer, cheaper porn productions will likely continue; big-budget productions like "Pirates 2"(a sprawling 2008 Pirates of the Caribbean porn parody that broke records with an $8,000,000 budget) become harder to pull off in an industry with rapidly decreasing margins. Of course, in a market where consumers are far more likely to view porn on free tube sites than actually purchase digital downloads or DVDs, it's possible that most people won't even notice the changes—and by the time they do, the adult industry may be transformed beyond all recognition.

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Lux Alptraum is editor of Fleshbot, a website about sexuality and adult entertainment. More

She also has worked as a sex educator at an adolescent pregnancy prevention program, an HIV pre-test counselor, and founded Boinkology, a blog about sex and culture.

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