This is a post originally published in 2011.
Sexual Revolution and Gay Pornography
|MANual Enterprises Publication
During the 1960s, a series of United States Supreme Court rulings created a more liberalized legal environment that allowed the commercialization of pornography. MANual Enterprises v. Day, 370 U.S. 478 (1962) was the first decision by the United States Supreme Court which held that magazines consisting largely of photographs of nude or near-nude male models are not obscene within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1461. It was the first case in which the Court engaged in plenary review of a Post Office Department order holding obscene matter “nonmailable.” The case is notable for its ruling that photographs of nude men are not obscene, an implication which opened up the U.S. Postal Service to nude male pornographic magazines, especially those catering to gay men.
Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand, starring Casey Donovan, can be considered one of the first gay pornography feature films, along with the works of filmmakers such as Pat Rocco and the Park Theatre, Los Angeles, California, circa 1970. Boys in the Sand opened in a theater in New York City in December 1971 and played to a packed house with record breaking box office receipts, preceding Deep Throat, the first commercial straight pornography film in America, which opened in June 1972. This success launched gay pornographic film as a popular phenomenon.
The production of gay pornography films expanded during the 1970s. A few studios released films for the growing number of gay adult movie theatres, where men could also have sexual encounters. Often, the films reflected the sexual liberation that gay men were experiencing at the time, depicting the numerous public spaces where men engaged in sex: bathhouses, sex clubs, beaches, etc.
Peter Berlin’s 1973 film Nights in Black Leather was the first major pornographic film designed to appeal to the gay leather subculture and drew some mainstream gays into this culture.
The 1960s and 1970s also saw the rise of gay publishing with After Dark and Michael’s Thing. During this time many more magazines were founded, including In Touch and Blueboy. Playgirl, ostensibly produced for women, was purchased and enjoyed by gay men and feature full frontal nudity (the posing straps and fig leaves were removed).
The 1980s were a period of transition for gay pornography film. The proliferation of VCRs made pornography videos easily accessible, and, as their prices fell, the market for home videos aimed at adult viewers became more and more lucrative. By the mid-1980s, the standard was to release pornography movies directly on video, which meant the wide disappearance of pornography theaters. Furthermore, video recording being more affordable, a multitude of producers entered the market, making low-budget pornography videos.
This shift from watching pornography as a public activity to doing so in private was also influenced by the discovery of HIV and the subsequent AIDS crisis. Public spaces for sex, such as theatres, became less attended when in the early 1980s it became a much riskier behavior. Masturbatory activities in the privacy of the home became a safe sex practice in the midst of this health crisis.
Gay movies of the 1970s had contained some exploration of novel ways to represent the sexual act. In the 1980s, by contrast, all movies seemed to be made under an unwritten set of rules and conventions. Most scenes would start with a few lines of dialogue, have performers engage in foreplay (fellatio), followed by anal penetration, and ending with a visual climax close-up of ejaculating penises, called a “money shot” or cum shot. Video technology allowed the recording of longer scenes than did the costly film stock. Scenes were often composed of extended footage of the same act filmed from different shots using multiple cameras. The quality of the picture and sound were often very poor.
Major directors such as Matt Sterling, Eric Peterson, John Travis, and William Higgins set the standard for the models of the decade. The performers they cast were especially young, usually appearing to be around the ages of 22 or 23. Their bodies were slender and hairless, of the “swimmer’s build” type, which contrasted with the older, bigger, and hairier man of the 1970s’ gay pornography. Performer roles also evolved into the tight divisions of “tops” and “bottoms”. The “top” in anal sex is the penetrating partner, who would typically have a more muscular body and the larger penis. The “bottom”, or receiver of anal sex, would often be smaller and sometimes more effeminate. The stars of the decade were almost always tops, while the bottoms were interchangeable (with the exception of Joey Stefano, a popular star, who was more of a “bottom”.)
|Joey Stefano (bottom left)
This strict division between “tops” and “bottoms” may have reflected a preference by some of the popular directors of the decade to hire heterosexual men for their movies. Heterosexual men who perform gay sex for monetary reasons (commonly labeled “gay-for-pay”) are considered a rare commodity in the gay sex trade, but the biggest producers of the decade could afford them. Many critics attributed the conventionalization of gay pornography of the 80s to this trend.
The gay pornography industry diversified steadily during the 1990s. In 1989, director Kristen Bjorn started a pornographic business which was considered as setting a standard for gay pornography producers. He was a professional photographer, and the images in his videos were considered to be of high-quality. As a former porn star himself, he directed his models with care, which helped improved the actors’ believability. Other directors had to improve their technical quality to keep up with demands from their audiences.
Another significant change during this decade was the explosion of the niche market. Many videos began to be produced for viewers with specific tastes (i.e. for amateur pornography, Military (Men in Uniform) pornography, transsexual performers, bondage fetishes, performers belonging to specific ethnic groups, etc.), and this led to a diversification of the people involved in pornography production and consumption.
The gay pornography industry grew substantially in popularity during the 1990s, evolving into a complex and interactive subculture. Professional directors (such as Chi Chi LaRue and John Rutherford), technicians or deck operators during the U-matic phase of video technology, and performers started to engage in pornography as a career, their work sustained by emerging pornographic media and influential critics, such as Mikey Skee.
In the 21st century, gay pornography has become a highly profitable enterprise, ranging from the “straight-guy” pornography of Active Duty and Sean Cody, to the ‘twinks’ of Bel Ami. Many niche genres and online delivery sites cater to various and changing interests. For instance much of Van Darkholme’s work contains bondage and particularly shibari, the Japanese art of bondage and knot-tying, a specialty within BDSM cultures.
On the other hand, Lucas Kazan Productions successfully adapted literary classics: Decameron: Two Naughty Tales is based on two novels by Boccaccio, The Innkeeper on Goldoni’s La Locandiera. Lucas Kazan also found inspiration in 19th and 20th century operas, combining gay porn and melodrama: The School for Lovers, 2007 GayVN Award Winner for Best Foreign Picture, is in fact inspired by Mozart’s Così fan tutte.
Some controversy currently exists regarding studios that produce bareback (sex without condoms) videos. Mainstream companies, such as Falcon Entertainment, Hot House Entertainment, Channel 1 Releasing, Lucas Entertainment, Raging Stallion, Lucas Kazan Productions and Titan Media and LGBT health advocates assert that condomless videos promote unsafe sex and contribute to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, both in the pornography industry and in the gay community as a whole. The controversy dates back to the first few years of the HIV crisis, when nearly all gay pornography production companies voluntarily required their models to wear condoms for anal sex.
|Chi Chi LaRue
The premise of industry figures, notably Chi Chi LaRue, is that gay pornography serves as a leading forum for teaching safer sex skills and modeling healthy sexual behaviors. At least one bareback studio agrees that porn should promote healthy sexual behaviors, but disagrees on the definition of “healthy” in this context: speaking about the AIDS crisis, Treasure Island Media owner and founder Paul Morris has expressed his belief that, “To a great extent, the current gay mindset surrounding HIV is a result of a generation of men living with PTSD and not getting the support and help they need now that the war is over. As a pornographer, all I can do in response is to produce work that features men who are openly positive (or negative) and happily living their lives honestly and fully.”