Mandating Condoms In Porn Is Bad for Public Health

By Scott Wiener

A few days ago, a statewide ballot measure requiring that adult film actors wear condoms qualified for the 2016 ballot. While perhaps superficially appealing, this measure is terrible for public health, and we need to defeat it. It’s a gimmick measure that has no support in the HIV advocacy community other than from its sponsoring organization, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which also opposed and advocated against pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), perhaps the most powerful HIV preventative in existence.


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This ballot measure — which allows people to sue the actors who don’t wear condoms — will not result in a single additional condom being used in adult films. Rather, it will simply drive the adult film industry underground or out of state, to states with less public health infrastructure than California. Indeed, since this same organization sponsored and passed a similar ballot measure in Los Angeles County a few years back, permits for adult film production there dropped by 90%. Those films, of course, are still being shot, but they’re being shot either without permits or in other states. In other words, this measure will cost California jobs and tax revenue (tens of thousands of people are employed in the adult film industry) without any public health benefit whatsoever.

The adult film industry has stepped up and engaged in aggressive HIV and STD testing, and there hasn’t been an on-set HIV infection in more than a decade. Yet we continue to see this counter-productive effort. Indeed, the same organization that’s pushing this measure is also trying to get Cal-OSHA to adopt workplace safety standards for adult films that would require not just condoms but also goggles and dental dams for oral sex. Yes, you read that right — goggles. So much for public health policy linked to the real world. (I joined State Senator Mark Leno in writing a letter opposing the rule.)

We need to stop using moralism to guide public health policy. Public health is about meeting people where they are, not where you want them to be. We learned long ago that denying women access to birth control or HPV vaccines doesn’t stop them from having sex. It just makes them less healthy. Similarly, mandating condoms in adult films isn’t going to change how these films are shot. Instead, such a mandate will simply drive the industry underground or out of state, with the actors having fewer health protections and support.

This ballot measure, of course, isn’t about public health, since it won’t have any public health benefit. Rather, it’s about a moralistic, ideological crusade that will do great damage to this California industry and to the health of its employees. It needs to be defeated.

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