Friday, January 24, 2014

Condomless Controversy

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.


Coop said...

I have never known a world where AIDS is not a threat. So, I think there should be no controversy.
The performers should wear condoms and if the condoms can be airbrushed out, that's fine.

Frankly, I'm surprised that the gov't does not require certain safeguards. If it ever does, I'm sure that the porn industry will pack up and leave the country. But at least a statement will be made.

We need to remember that the performers are people too. They deserve respect.

Anonymous said...

"but many producers dropped the practice when drugs became widely available to control, but not cure, HIV." I thought studios began doing bb prone because HIV+ actors became available. Remember how there was an up roar about using such healthy looking models in the HIV meds ads? If you were already + then why use condoms? Of course now you have HepC as being a bigger heath risk then HIV and you still have all the other STD's.

As for photoshopping the condoms - Falcon will do better because of it and it shouldn't change the look of their cum scenes but their cum scenes will still be drastically different then those of actual bb pornos.

Anonymous said...

Coop - in 2013 some cities in CA, and CA it's self, tried to mandate condom use for all pornos but the industry has resisted (mostly straight) and it's easy enough for them to move production to other states. I'm not sure where things stand currently.

RB said...

I think you're obsessed with Noel. Maybe you should apply for a teaching job in Cocoa Beach?

Here's a topic for another post: the absolutely staggering amount of gay porn out there. It's astounding. How do <10% of the people account for 90% of the porn? At least is seems that way. So many guys are in this business. You can watch 100 or more vids and never see the same guy! What's interesting is the amount of gay porn is increasing, but I don't know anyone who pays for it. There's so much online for free I don't know how these studios say in business. I never spent much money on porn, but it's probably zero for the last ten years.

Anonymous said...

Boy, RB, you make a lot of sense. I don't think I've ever paid for porn. But it's big business. There's a site called Broke Straight Guys, and the cameraman/director/owner talks to the young men first, and offers them $800-1000 or more for a scene lasting 15-20 minutes, and always with condoms. Think how many times that video alone has to be "sold" or how many memberships to a website must be sold to make it back up? And he must be selling them, as low budget as these videos are.

In my teens, bareback was the only way, but way back then, there was no HIV/AIDS to worry about, and penicillin cured the rest. I can't imagine performing in porn (or having any sex)without a condom, top or bottom (especially bottom). Testing, as you mention, is no panacea, nor a true preventive. I truly hope that guys like Noel don't catch anything from their well-paid play.

Peace <3

Joe said...

Coop, Sean is right, there have been attempts within California municipalities to require condom use, but not much has resulted from it. In my opinion it is a workplace hazard, and I would think it should fall under OSHA and health regulations, but I think it would be hard to enforce. Besides, you're right, there is a demand for it, otherwise porn companies would not be doing it, so they would just find somewhere else to make the videos. HIV/AIDS became a reality when I was just a kid, and since my mother was a public health nurse, she instilled a certain fear of the virus in me. I've never really known a world without it, and though the drugs prolong life, it is still eventually a death sentence and the drugs also decrease the quality of life, so I think it is just too risky. These videos show a fantasy, yes, but it's a fantasy that many want to live out.

Sean, medical professionals agree that if you are HIV positive and become infected by a different strain of the virus (each is unique) then you run the risk of creating a virus that is more resistant to medication. As for Falcon photoshopping out the condoms, the main problem I have with it is that it sends the wrong message. It leaves the appearance that condoms aren't being used, which for a major studio like Falcon to do so, the perception might just be that barebacking safe and is okay. The cum scenes will be drastically different because as barebacking increases in porn, they are getting edgier and edgier with creampies and so forth.

RB, I wouldn't say obsessed, but fascinated by the story and thought it would make a thought-provoking post. When I wrote Monday's post, I assumed that would be the end of it. However, when he was allowed back in school, I wanted to do a follow-up. Today's post was suggested by Sean in one of his comments, and I just went with it. I did find it interesting how there was a contrast in the gay media's coverage of the story and the mainstream media's coverage of the story when it came to Noel performing bareback porn. You are right there is a large amount of gay porn out there. In fact since we have become more and more connected to the internet, the truly vast amount of porn (straight and gay and everything else) that is out there for consumption. I'm not for sure how they stay in business either with all the competition and the amount of free porn. Part of it is the quality of the porn most of the studios produce and the variety of porn they produce. Furthermore, porn itself is become more and more mainstream.

Jay, just as Sean said, there are other diseases out there such as HepC, and I have always been particularly careful about other STDs because I am highly allergic to most antibiotics. I'd be screwed no matter what I got. I hope these guys like Noel aren't catching anything either for their well-paid play. Furthermore, I don't know how stringent these studios actually are about testing, but they should also be making sure that they are educating their models on the dangers. I suspect they are not.

JamTheCat said...

Barebacking is russian roulette, plain and simple, and too many people will wind up catching some form of venereal disease because they didn't use protection, not to mention all the unnecessary pregnancies that happen.

Amanda said...

I can remember being in high school and condom use was very much promoted in music, television, movies, etc. I would hope that these performers would be safe in the industry. But, I know that's not always the case. I agree in that airbrushing to me sends the wrong message. I don't want my sons growing up thinking it's okay to practice unsafe sex. I talked to my oldest son repeatedly and tell him all the time, "Just assume everyone you meet has the 'herpacephalitis' and use condoms." I work in healthcare and see people making unhealthy decisions all the time (gay and straight). But, I don't judge how others live their lives. I just want us all to be healthy and be here to enjoy the golden years. :)

Anonymous said...

In terms of watching porn, I can't really understand why someone would be less turned on by seeing a condom. I feel like the condom isnt the reason why I'm watching, I want to see two+ guys have sex. I think that they should be wearing condoms for their safety. I just don't understand my going bareback is such a "hit"

Unknown said...

God gives U.S. free-will, thus, what we mortals do with it determines our destiny. Think about that. God bless