L.A. Health Chief: County Can't Force Condoms on the Industry

LOS ANGELES—Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the head of Los Angeles County’s Public Health Department, acknowledged Tuesday that his department was essentially powerless to mandate the use of condoms by adult entertainment performers. The surprise admission comes after years of aggressive maneuvering by county and state officials, as well as private groups, to impose a severe regimen on adult producers that would have included not only the use of condoms, but also dental dams and other protective barriers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the announcement is a serious rebuff to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which had called on the county to mandate an immediate cessation to condom-less shoots, and actually sued the county health department in July in order to force it to "discharge its ... duty to combat an acknowledged epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases stemming from production of hardcore pornography."

Regarding the lawsuit, AVN legal editor Mark Kernes wrote at the time, “There are just a couple of problems: The county doesn't have the power to do what the lawsuit wants, and the claims of an ‘epidemic’ among industry performers isn't borne out by the statistics.” That assertion was more or less confirmed Tuesday by Fielding, who acknowledged the difficulty his department would have in policing the industry.

"It is very, very difficult to implement,” said Fielding. “There are roughly 200 production companies with about...1,200 actors. All you need is a room and a camera and a bed, basically, to do this kind of shoot, and we have no ability to police this.”

Beyond the logistics of regulating the industry, Fielding said there were legal limitations that would have made such efforts less effective.

"We worked closely with county counsel trying to see if there’s some other way that we could effectively do this under existing authority,” he said, “and what we’ve come up with is, basically, we’re unlikely to have an effective approach to prevent them from acquiring preventable STDs. It’s very disturbing to come to that conclusion, but we also have to be realistic.”

That commitment to pragmatism has not quite been extended to Sacramento, where Fielding and others still believe there is a chance to pass a law that would regulate the adult film industry. Periodically, bills to do just that are introduced, only to die in committee. According to Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Diane Duke, who regularly travels to the state capital to lobby against such laws, there is scant expectation that the county health department will back off.

"We are very pleased but not completely surprised by today’s development,” she told AVN. “County health officials keep stating that something has to be done about STDs in the adult entertainment industry. And yet, they continue to disregard the fact that, through self-regulation, the industry has been successfully protecting performers for years." 

That said, Duke is confident that the industry’s lobbying has been effective.

"Legislators won't pick up the bill because we have communicated to our elected officials the efficacy of the adult entertainment industry's self-regulation,” she said. “Not everything has to be controlled by the government to be successful."

Not everyone is getting the message, to be sure. The Times reported that during Tuesday’s meeting Brian Chase, assistant general counsel for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, accused the county of having “done nothing” to protect adult film performers, and also quoted Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the San Fernando Valley, as saying that adult film performers are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and deserve some kind of protection through the law.

“I think the only answer to this at the end of the day is a statewide approach to this, which would also empower law enforcement, and you run sting operations,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is make one or two arrests and the rest of the ... industry will understand pretty quickly that there’s a risk."

Yaroslavsky admitted, however, that not a single California lawmaker has yet been willing to sponsor such legislation.