|As pornography featuring unsafe sex becomes more and more prevalent through the efforts of video producers in the USA and eastern Europe, the debate over its morality and dangers is heating up.
GayNZ.com invited Douglas Jenkin of the NZAF's Gay Men's Health unit to kick off community debate here in New Zealand. A fierce debate is taking place over bareback porn – both within the American porn industry and without. Mud has been flung by men on both sides of the issue but little has been heard from those in the middle – including consumers. And now that you can rent bareback on-line here in New Zealand (and watch it in some saunas and cruise clubs), the debate is closer to home. The subject first emerged in early 1999 in the USA when the first mainstream video – Bareback Buddies - was released by a studio that specialises in bareback themes. In an interview in 2003 Chad Adams, associate editor and sometime actor in Hot Desert Knight's bareback videos, defended the company's specialty: “If the first film had collected dust instead of flying off the shelves, it would have been obvious that there was no market for bareback films. Today, there are scores of companies making gay bareback films. Regarding whether I am being irresponsible by performing bareback, I simply cannot agree; I am providing a fantasy so that others who are true to their convictions do not have to take risks.” Will Clark, a former porn star turned AIDS activist, has been one of the most vocal opponents of bareback porn. “Sadly, showing unsafe sex and slapping a trendy name on it is big business,” Clark writes. “How important is it to show images that are promoting safer sex in porn? We all learn things consciously or subconsciously from watching gay porn.” Butch Harris, publisher of ManNet.com, told GayHealth.com: “A sub-market has come to the fore. Barebacking has become a fetish, just like fisting or watersports. Like all fetish tapes, there's always a group that wants what they want, and someone says, ‘Let me exploit this niche.' Harris said that the emergence of barebacking videos hasn't created much of an outrage among his readers or in the porn industry itself. “I wouldn't say this trend is being challenged at all.” Recently, however, bareback porn has been challenged, sometimes by uneasy allies. In 2005, the premiere of a new barebacking DVD at the Eagle, New York's only remaining leather bar, sparked outrage among local gay activists and health care providers. The event was the launch of Meat Rack in which one man has unprotected sex with nearly a dozen others. What particularly outraged activists was the second reason for the event: to recruit models for a sequel. The Executive Director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, Ana Oliveira, criticised companies that would “rather make a fast buck” than “promote the long-term health of their customers.” [The gay segment of the American porn industry generates between 8 and 10% of the total revenue, which is said to be about $US13 billion a year in sales.] “While barebacking videos may tap into fantasies of sex without consequences, the harsh reality is that unprotected sex continues to drive new HIV infections in our community,” she said. Also opposed are bigger, more mainstream, porn companies. Titan Media has issued a statement saying it will not knowingly hire performers who have appeared in films that feature anal sex without the use of condoms. “Today's ‘bareback' films depict and eroticise high-risk behaviour as the centrepiece of their sensuality,” the statement said. “We find this reprehensible and an attempt to profit at the risk of the health and safety of the performers and the community at large.” Where does Gay Men's Health in New Zealand stand on the issue? While recognising that it would be impossible to ban depictions of unsafe sex in porn - and perhaps this might make such videos even more attractive - it is certainly not something that we support. To say that men aren't influenced by porn is incredibly naïve. For some men, porn is the only way they get to learn about sex, and this behaviour is then imitated in their private lives. We always stress in our workshops for gay and bisexual men that porn is not a documentary - there's less ‘special effects' in Star Wars than your average porn film. Unlike fantasy, real life has consequences, and some men aren't able to differentiate between the two. We believe all porn DVDs sold in New Zealand should have a safe sex message at the beginning, and in an ideal world would also be distributed with condoms and lube. Movies which depict unsafe sex should carry an extra warning. We have also encouraged (and will continue to encourage) sex-on-site venues not to show films depicting fucking without condoms on their video screens. While for some it may just be “flesh for fantasy”, the reality of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections bites when these fantasies are enacted in real life. Douglas Jenkin - 27th July 2007