Roundups Sexual Health

Sexual Health Roundup: How to Regulate Porn and Profit From It

Martha Kempner

This week's sexual health roundup is all about pornography: city officials in Los Angeles try to figure out how to regulate condom use on porn sets just as filming shuts down because of a syphilis outbreak and business and marketers in many segments jump on Fifty Shades bandwagon. 

Los Angeles Officials Figuring Out How to Police the Porn Industry 

After many attempts by advocates, a new law requiring actors in adult films to wear condoms while shooting will go into effect soon in Los Angeles but city officials are still not quite sure how they are going to enforce it. In August, the Mayor and City Council received recommendations from a working group made up of representatives of the city’s police department, personnel department, administrative department, and attorney’s office. 

The working group suggested that the first step is for Film L.A., Inc., the office that processes film permits, to add questions to the application about whether there will be sexual intercourse and, if so, what kind, as well as a new section that asks if there will be the “transmission of blood and infectious materials” on set. The working group then called on the city to search for a nurse or other health care specialist who would visit the sets where the transmission of blood or bodily fluids is likely to take place and check for condom use. 

Instituting such on-set checks, however, could be very expensive. The Fire Department, for example, estimated that if it were charged with the task of spot-checking, it could cost between $2,204 to $3,472 per set visit. Though the annual totals will vary based on the number of film shoots and the frequency of spot check, the department told the working group that supervising sites could require more than 100 full-time employees and cost more than $1.7 million per year.

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At this point, it seems that the city is hoping to be let off the hook before it ever institutes an inspection policy.  As of now, the requirement that porn stars use condoms (which is based on a ballot initiative that passed eight months ago) only applies within city limits, which is why the city itself is responsible for ensuring that the law is followed.  In November, however, voters may approve a similar measure that applies to the whole county.  This measure would make set inspections the responsibility of the county health department which already inspects bath houses and sex clubs.  City officials could then go back to voters in March with a measure saying they are relying on the county for enforcement. 

Syphilis Outbreak among Porn Stars

The upcoming ballot measure expanding mandatory condom use to adult film sets county-wide did not soon enough for some adult film stars facing the possibility of syphilis. At least nine cases of the sexually transmitted disease were reported to the county health department in August—all of the individuals were in the adult film industry but it was unclear if they contracted the disease on-set or off.  

“It’s not surprising in the adult film industry that we would have transmission of all sexually-transmitted diseases because they’re having unprotected sex, oftentimes with multiple actors,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Fielding added that as the department continues to test the sexual partners of those individuals who are infected, the outbreak will undoubtedly grow. 

As a result of the outbreak, the Free Speech Coalition, an industry-run organization that monitors actors for STDs, including HIV, called for a nationwide filming moratorium.  Actors were required to get tested for syphilis and treated if necessary before returning to the set. Syphilis, which cases sores to appear on the genitals,  can be cured with antibiotics—if caught early, one shot of penicillin is sufficient. 

This is not the first time porn sets have shut down because of STD outbreaks.  Last year, filming stopped for a week because of what turned out to be a false report of a performer who tested positive for HIV.  In 2010, however, production was stopped after an actor was found to be HIV-positive and in 2004 it was shut down when at least five actors tested positive for HIV.

This most recent shut down may add fuel to the fire of those calling for condoms on-set.  Condoms can reduce the risk of transmission but only if the sores are in an area covered by the condom.   

Fifty Shades of Profit—Porn Helps Sales of Books and Everything Else

A few weeks ago as I stood in the park pushing my almost-two-year-old on the swing, I couldn’t help but notice that the mother next to me was reading Fifty Shades of Grey.  While I regretted not bringing a book myself (pushing someone on a swing is, in fact, dreadfully dull), I started to wonder how it was that this pornographic book was considered appropriate playground reading. After all, I can’t imagine anyone whipping out a copy of Penthouse Letters IV or even the Best Erotic Stories of 2012 but this book series has clearly achieved a different place in our culture. Despite the fact that many critics believe them to be poorly written and others say they aren’t even particularly good porn, there is no denying that the Fifty Shades trilogy has struck a nerve and gotten people talking about sex, porn, and pleasure. As such businesses and marketers have jumped all over it.

Barnes & Nobel credits the trilogy with shrinking its losses—it had a $41 million loss this quarter, the same quarter last year saw a $56 million loss. Fifty Shades did not single-handedly rescue the bookseller but with 20 million copies sold in the United States in less than six months it has certainly helped.

As Business Week put it:

“Erotica—or just good old pornography—has a long and proud history of helping other industries. Porn helped fuel the home video revolution of the 1980s. It’s a major revenue center for cable companies, which sell it on demand, and for the hotel industry, which charges exorbitant rates for in-room adult programming….”  

And then, of course, there are the businesses that sell erotica and its accouterments.  The co-founder of Toys in Babeland credits the interest in Fifty Shades for a 40 percent boost in sales of bondage toys. She adds: “Attendance at our free events where we offer sex tips for turning fantasies into reality-based on the sex scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey has been overwhelming.”

The co-owner of the website Bootyparlor.com who is also a wholesaler to about 400 sex shops around the country says:

“I’m hearing everything from 26 to 32 percent increases in sales in the last three months,” she said. And Trojan, the condom company that began selling vibrators in mass market stores in 2009, says it has seen a 14 percent increase in sales of vibrators over the same quarter last year. 

But that’s not all folks. The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon is reaching into every industry with Town & Country Magazine using the teaser “50 Shades of Rockefeller,” for a story about a great-great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller and an architectural firm advertising “Shades of Gray kitchen and bath decor, including a Laufen washbasin with seductive curves and edgy Graff faucets in a brushed nickel.”

The author of the series is also cashing in with official stockings, garters, and printed tights, plus underwear, pajamas, and robes as well as daytime wear like T-shirts, knit tops, hoodies.

It may turn out that talking about sex is not just good for our relationships and our emotional well-being but for our economy as well.  

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