NPR logo Should Porn Stars Use Condoms? California Grapples With Regulation

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Should Porn Stars Use Condoms? California Grapples With Regulation

A workplace safety tool, or a restriction of artistic vision? iStockphoto hide caption

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A workplace safety tool, or a restriction of artistic vision?

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Updated at 8:11 p.m. E.T.

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health rejected proposed regulations Thursday that would have required actors in all pornographic films statewide to use condoms.

Cal/OSHA's Standards Board voted 3-2 to accept the new regulations, but needed four "yes" votes to pass them. The board then voted to ask Cal/OSHA staffers to get to to work on new regulations for the porn industry.

The standards board heard five hours of testimony from scores of actors, writers, directors and producers at the hearing in Oakland.

Several said doing so would force the industry underground, prompting it to film in secret, which would essentially make criminals of all those involved. They added that it might also put an end to the industry's own requirement that actors be tested for sexually transmitted disease every 14 days.

"I ask you not to approve this policy that will endanger me and my colleagues," actress Maxine Holloway said during the hearing.

The problem, several speakers said, is that a large segment of their audience loses interest in a film when they see actors with condoms. "Like it or not, there a very real market demand for condomless sex," said one woman who identified herself as a sex worker.

Our original post continues below:

Adult film executives are complaining that proposed state health and safety regulations threaten to drive the industry out of the state.

California regulators with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health will vote on new rules Thursday that would require performers to use condoms, dental dams and even eye gear on set.

Some industry insiders say the rules go too far.

"If you think about how porn is looking today, and how it'll look after Feb. 18, we're talking about gloves, full body cover and goggles," said Eric Leue, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn industry trade group. "It's going to turn into surgical porn."

The majority of adult films globally are produced in California. In 2012, Los Angeles County passed a local law mandating condom use on adult film sets. But statewide, the rules are more vague.

The adult film industry is regulated by the same health and safety codes that govern hospitals. Film producers are required to protect actors against certain infections that can be sexually transmitted. But the regulations don't specify that performers must use condoms.

The new proposed regulations clarify this. If passed, they will take effect this spring.

"The industry had been complaining that the reason they were violating the regulations was because they didn't apply to them," said Adam Cohen, a public health consultant with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit that has been pushing for the new rules since 2009. "This will put on the books, officially, that the state of California sees adult film employees as deserving of worker health and safety protections."

The industry fears the requirements could hit their bottom line.

"For the consumer, there's not going to be the fantasy, there's not going to be the artistic vision and the expression of sexual freedom," Leue says. "It's going to be hazmat suits."

Supporters of the rules reject that.

"That's 100 percent hyperbole," says Cohen. "There are many studios that film exclusively with condoms and have stated publicly that their sales are fantastic."

Twenty-eight percent of adult film workers tested positive for chlamydia and/or gonorrhea, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

The proposed Cal/OSHA rules would also require producers to pay for medical visits for performers and offer vaccines for hepatitis B and HPV. They also require testing performers for sexually transmitted infections every three months. Film executives say they already test more frequently than that, and that should be enough.

"Testing is not prevention," says Cohen. "Taking an STD test to prevent an STD is like taking a pregnancy test to prevent pregnancy. Testing, and condoms, is the best form of prevention."

This post was produced by KQED's blog State of Health.

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