When I was reading up on the suspension incident with “Noel” from Sean Cody, the first websites to report on the situation were gay news websites, the mainstream local and national did not begin to report on the situation until after the holiday weekend. I found one thing particularly interesting in the difference between how the mainstream media and the gay media treated the story. The vast majority treated it fairly and pointed out the inconsistencies among the principal and school board and “Noel” and his family. Nearly all of the reporting was the same, but with two main differences. First, most of the gay media sites reported the story about “Noel” of Sean Cody, while the mainstream media used his real name and mostly referred to Sean Cody as an adult gay website or as a gay pornographic website. Just a quick note on this, I think the gay media understands why porn names are used, and the mainstream media does not care. The second main difference is how Noel’s work was portrayed. Nearly all of the gay media sites mentioned that he performed bareback sex, whereas the mainstream media just said that he had done a number of videos, never mentioning what type of performance he did.
The second difference is the main topic of what I want to discuss. A few years ago, anytime bareback sex was brought up, it was generally a condemnation of the practice. In 2008, Chi Chi LaRue responded to the increasing number of bareback gay porn movies being made. LaRue is a well-known, award-winning, longtime director of (gay and straight) porn who stopped working with Vivid Entertainment when they went condoms-optional. LaRue is a powerful voice in the industry and in his mission to promote safer sex started a website called “Safe Sex is HOT Sex!” LaRue made the following statement about condom use or the lack thereof in the gay porn industry:
I have always promoted on my sets the same thing that I feel every gay man should practice in his personal life. ASSUME EVERYONE YOU ARE HAVING SEX WITH IS HIV+. Some companies say that they test their models, which just gives a false sense of security. There is no way to 100% protect the health of models by testing only. What if the test was taken a day before the persons HIV became detectable. What if the model caught HIV a day after he was tested? Unfortunately, this way of thinking is why I had to quit working in the straight industry. I walked away from a lucrative contract with Vivid Video when they decided to go “condom optional” so don’t ever say I don’t put my money where my mouth is!
The fear I have is that when we are silent and choose to ignore issues as serious as this, then perhaps barebacking in porn will just keep increasing like HIV infection rates. Then more and more models will be sucked into putting their health at risk to make porn!
Interestingly though, if you do a search for about condom use and Chi Chi LaRue, you won’t find anything more recent than 2010 stating LaRue’s views on the issue. In fact, you will not be able to go to the website she had set up “Safe Sex is HOT Sex!” anymore either, since it no longer exists. In a recent study by GMFA, the leading gay mens health charity in the UK, about gay porn viewing, the following results were presented:
*87% of gay men report watching porn at least once a week (1 in 4 watching porn every day)
*the most popular act watched was anal sex (91%)
*69% reported actively choosing bareback porn with 96% having ever watched bareback porn.
From the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s until the mid-1990s, the adult entertainment industry voluntarily adopted the requirement that performers practice safe sex in porn films, but many producers dropped the practice when drugs became widely available to control, but not cure, HIV.
Some producers never returned to the days before AIDS, when condoms were hardly ever seen in pornography. (They still aren’t in straight porn where most content – both vaginal and anal – is performed without the use of condoms.)
The fact is barebacking is an issue in gay porn. It is such an issue that Falcon Studios, one of the oldest gay porn studios and one that adamantly uses condoms in its films, has begun to airbrush the condoms out of their films. Gay porn megastudio Falcon have always been pioneers, leading the way with hot content and always staying abreast of what’s going on in the porn and non porn world around them. Now, with condoms in porn the major issue of the day, they have found a way to appeal to lovers of bareback porn without putting their performers at risk or giving into filming “raw” sex. In their upcoming release, California Dreamin’, they’ve airbrushed all the condoms out of the movie. In the promotional stills for the movie, the condoms used in filming are clearly visible. Yet when the final stills form the movie were released the airbrushed condoms were invisible.
Director Tony Dimarco said in a press release that the technique has created “a completely safe sex movie that mostly appears to be a bareback release.” Dimarco continues:
With this movie I really wanted to capture the essence of that time, when life seemed more carefree and spontaneous. In keeping with this concept, I felt that condoms need to be addressed. I wanted to give the impression of a pre-condom movie, but use condoms as we do in every scene we film. I found a way to film the movie safely and effectively, while giving the experience that I had intended and using the hottest modern stars.
Nearly every “amateur” gay porn site has gone to bareback videos. Corbin Fisher began doing so without even a mention of it. Chaos Men promoted their videos as “Raw,” and Sean Cody flatly calls it barebacking. Up until recently the gay porn blog QueerClick showed a few preview pictures of “condomless” videos but you had to their sister blog and more extreme QCX for the rest of the preview images that showed condomless sex. Their only exception was Bel Ami Studios which bareback sex has become the norm, and I am sure because of the popularity, QueerClick did not want to relegate them to another blog. However, over the past year as Sean Cody and others have begun producing more and more bareback videos, QueerClick has begun using QCX for only the most extreme BDSM posts and bareback has been put on the mainstream blog.
The question as to why barebacking has become increasingly popular, both in adult films and in everyday life, has become something of the elephant in the room in the gay community: something that’s going on despite the health risks, but really not discussed.
In an article on the website The Body (the Complete HIV/AIDS Resource) Rick Sowadsky, a communicable disease specialist studying AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, looked at the pro and cons of barebacking, as well as the reasons why men continue to do despite the health risks.
Sowadsky concludes: “For some gay men, the benefits of unprotected anal intercourse (intimacy, pleasure, etc.) outweigh the risks (HIV and other STDs). On the other hand, if two gay men have unprotected anal intercourse, and neither of them is infected with HIV, nor any other STD, then barebacking would be completely safe as far as infectious diseases are concerned. But if either partner has HIV or another STD, then there are significant risks of infection for these diseases through barebacking. Future HIV and STD prevention efforts targeted toward the gay community must incorporate the issue of barebacking.”
Just as the adult male video industry (hit hard by the recession and the growth of amateur and pirated porn on the Internet) is shrinking, barebacking is more popular than ever. While the major adult male video companies continue to produce condom-only content, smaller companies produce nothing but condom-free product. One reason is demand.
“Bareback? I don’t even consider that a fetish anymore, it’s become so big,” said the owner of one Los Angeles gay video rental store to writer C. Brian Smith in the Advocate in May 2009.
Yet barebacking remains a highly debated issue, partly because many feel that barebacking videos encourage the behavior, making it seem commonplace and desirable. This brings forward the question if gay men are being exposed to regular bareback sex, in particular anal sex that is considered the highest risk sexual act for transmission of HIV, is there likely to be a wash over effect to actual behavior? Does watching bareback porn promote actual bareback sex?
Interestingly 7% of GMFA survey takers said that yes, watching bareback porn lead to them having unsafe anal sex, with almost all (96.8%) saying that this would not stop them watching bareback porn.
By far the most interesting question I found was “do you think watching bareback porn can lead others to having unprotected sex?”. More then 50% of the people taking the survey said yes, watching bareback porn was likely to make other people have unsafe sex. Is this a case of “well clearly I can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, but I can’t speak for others…”?
What we can say is that clearly there is money to be made in the production of bareback porn. When production houses like Sean Cody who used to be staunchly “safe sex only” start producing bareback the question has to be asked why? High demand from the already subscribed members? A decline in members with the current porn dollar being spread ever thin by sites like x-tube?
The act of barebacking however, is it liberating, a right, an act of defiance as reported by gay anthropologist Eric Rofes? Or is bareback porn an act of exploitation of vulnerable actors in a fickle market throwing demands where increasing competition means anal sex without condoms is the only way to make money? Are models being put at risk for the sake of public demand?
Are the public being placed at risk with depictions of raw sex separate from safety measures that may be in place to reduce risk of HIV infection? Is porn purely about the depiction of sex or can it have a role in education?
I’d love to hear your thoughts guys.