Law on Condoms Threatens Tie Between Sex Films and Their Home

March 8, 2012 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES -- Since the early days of X-rated films, this city's San Fernando Valley has been the industry's home. With year-round sun, access to Hollywood filmmaking expertise and beautiful young people flocking to the region from around the country, pornographic studios have filmed thousands of movies here each year.

But a new ordinance requiring actors in pornographic films made in Los Angeles to use condoms could drive the multibillion-dollar industry from the city. The law took effect this week.

While sexual health advocates have hailed the requirement as a milestone in protecting the health of sex-film performers, pornographic film executives, who have long maintained that condom use in their movies cuts sharply into sales, have said they will have to consider relocating their operations.

"Clearly, the viewing public doesn't want to watch movies with condoms," said Steven Hirsch, an industry veteran and the founder of Vivid Entertainment. "If they mandate condoms, people will shoot in other locations."

But despite the new restrictions it now faces, the pornographic film industry may struggle to find another home as welcoming as Los Angeles has been.

Officials in some nearby cities so fear becoming the next capital of pornography that they have already set about trying to ward the filmmakers off. Simi Valley, just across the hill from the San Fernando Valley in neighboring Ventura County, issued only one permit for a pornographic film last year, according to city officials there. But the City Council will vote this month on its own, even stricter condom requirement.

"This is a family-oriented community, and we don't want the smut industry in our town," Simi Valley's mayor, Bob Huber, said.

By contrast, pornographic movies accounted for about 5 percent of all film permits issued in Los Angeles last year, according to Film L.A., the nonprofit agency that handles permits. Until the new city ordinance took effect on Monday, pornographic film companies had largely been allowed to police themselves, requiring performers to get tested for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted infections at least once every 30 days.

In addition, in 1988, the California Supreme Court ruled that pornographic filmmakers could not be prosecuted under prostitution laws. The only other state with a similar ruling is New Hampshire, while in many states the issue has not been litigated.

For the moment, film production has continued largely unabated here, as the city works to determine how to enforce the condom requirement. And production companies say the ordinance does not require them to use condoms when filming at certified sound stages, which are permitted differently than shoots on location.

First Published 2012-03-07 23:12:04

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