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Male porn stars have been known to don all sorts of interesting attire, but one thing you'll seldom see them wearing is a condom. For years, a group called the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has been lobbying to make condom use mandatory, and it's been a difficult fight.
But as Alex Cohen of member station KPCC reports, change may be on the way.
ALEX COHEN: L.A.'s San Fernando Valley is known as the epicenter of porn. It's here where you'll find Vivid Video. The studio produced "All Star Big Butts," "Debbie Does Dallas Again" and "The Better Bosom Bureau." But Vivid also made this lesser-known video in which a young woman, fully clothed, looks into the camera and says...
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): Workers in the adult film industry face particular hazards because actors perform sex acts in the course of making the films or videos.
COHEN: No, it's not the sexiest video ever, but it is required viewing for all Vivid employees. The video goes on to explain the studio's rules: Performers must be tested for HIV and other diseases every 30 days; sex toys will be disposed of after one use; and condoms will be made available to all performers.
Mr. STEVE HIRSCH (Chief Executive Officer, Vivid Video): And if girls choose to have condoms used in their scenes, then obviously we accommodate them. And some girls choose to, and most girls don't.
COHEN: Steve Hirsch, Vivid Video's CEO, says many performers, both male and female, find it physically uncomfortable to do their jobs using condoms. And, he adds, most performers seem content with the current protocol for STD testing through a local clinic.
Mr. HIRSCH: They put the results online. We can log in with a password. We can see whose tests are current, whose tests aren't current, and off we go.
Mr. MICHAEL WEINSTEIN (President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation): We know that testing, while it is important, is not a substitute for condom use.
COHEN: Michael Weinstein is the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been lobbying for years to make condom use mandatory. He points out that performers can have sex in between the time they get tested and when they're shooting a film. That can raise the risk for spread of disease. Weinstein says since 2004, nearly two dozen adult film performers in Southern California have tested positive for HIV.
Mr. WEINSTEIN: HIV is not the only lifelong infection. You have herpes among many of the performers, women who are getting chlamydia, which is making them infertile, or other diseases which may make them susceptible to cervical cancer, etc.
COHEN: Most porn producers agree these health risks are serious, but they don't think condoms are the solution. Steve Hirsch, of Vivid Video, says his company tried it before - for nearly seven years.
Mr. HIRSCH: When we became a mandatory-condom company, we saw sales drop by about 20 percent.
COHEN: Hirsch fears a condom mandate would wipe out the region's multibillion-dollar adult film industry. He says in a state where unemployment tops 12 percent, California can't afford to lose more jobs.
Mr. HIRSCH: People will shoot in Europe; people will shoot in Mexico. People will go to other places to shoot, and you'll see an industry move out of this state.
COHEN: The AIDS Healthcare Foundation counters that most gay adult films use condoms, and that sector of the industry seems to fare just fine. The group's president, Michael Weinstein, says he'd even be willing to make some accommodations for straight porn.
Mr. WEINSTEIN: Based on the data we have, the risk for oral sex is far lower than it is for anal or vaginal sex. And for that reason, I think that regulations would make condom use for oral sex optional. I think it's a fair compromise.
COHEN: Weinstein says it's obvious that Americans are watching porn, but few people want to talk about the issue. So far, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has been unable to find a lawmaker willing to support legislation requiring condoms. They've sued the L.A. County Health Department, but the judge dismissed the suit.
But then, last winter, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation filed a petition with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA. The organization's board recently took the first step in requiring condom use: They voted in favor of setting up an advisory committee to study the issue.
Deborah Gold is a senior safety engineer with Cal/OSHA.
Ms. DEBORAH GOLD (Senior Safety Engineer, California Division of Occupational Safety and Health): It's our job to make sure that a person goes to work in the morning - or whatever time they go to work - and leaves work whenever they leave work, and they - their health and their safety has not been jeopardized. And that applies to lead poisoning every bit as much as it applies to HIV transmission.
COHEN: Gold says a condom mandate would support Cal/OSHA's mission of safety. But, she adds, it could be hard to enforce. For example, porn shoots can be hard to track down since many happen in private locations instead of at established movie studios. These challenges are sure to come up when Cal/OSHA's advisory committee meets for the first time in June.
For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen in Los Angeles.
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