|"Lights, camera, condoms, action," has been the norm on the sets of gay porn films since the early days of the AIDS crisis - and the emergence of video tapes - in the mid-'80's.
Chief Censor Bill Hastings Later, as the DVD porn business flourished in the '90's and the internet revved up in the noughties, porn in motion was increasingly commonplace. With a demand for more 'niche activity' categories and an appetite for stars going to extremes, several well-known international pornography studios now offer condom-free 'Bareback' porn options.
The studios say the stars are regularly tested for sexually-transmitted infections, but is bareback porn, regardless of whether the actors are infection free, promoting a culture unsafe sex and therefore contributing to the gay community's HIV crisis?
Bill Hastings, New Zealand's Chief Censor, is the man responsible for overseeing the Film and Literature Classification Office, which has the authority to ban or restrict what the law sets out as 'objectionable material'. He happens to be gay, and read with interest the NZAF's Gay Men's Health promoter Douglas Jenkin's thoughts on the porn debate, featured on GayNZ.com (see link below).
Hastings says he shares Jenkin's concern about the influence that explicit gay bareback sex DVDs have on viewers, and about the consequential threat they pose to public health and the public good if the practices they depict become normalised through repeated viewing. "Depictions of explicit sexual behaviour, like all other depictions, are capable of influencing viewers - this is pretty undeniable," the Chief Censor explains. "It is the assumption Parliament made when it passed the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 so that words, images and sounds could be classified.
A spokesperson and actor for Hot Desert Knights, an American company which produces bareback videos, has defended bareback porn, using a fantasy vs reality rationale. "I am providing a fantasy so that others who are true to their convictions do not have to take risks,” he says.
The claim that bareback porn on the screen will not encourage sexually active men to lessen their resolve to use condoms is disengenuous, according to Hastings. For instance, "Advertisers wouldn't spend billions of dollars persuading us to switch brands of coffee if they didn't think that words, images and sounds could influence us. Even staunch high school students who say they don't read the labels on DVDs agree that they would be different people if they had never read a book, listened to music or watched a movie. So depictions of explicit sexual behaviour must influence us to a greater or lesser extent, and in a variety of ways. The emergence of bareback porn is, therefore, particularly worrying," he concludes.
Hastings says his Classification Office's ability to do much practically about condomless gay porn DVDs is limited. While bareback porn DVDs are recognised as becoming increasingly common here, he confesses that his office does not tend to see it as it comes through. "None of our censors can remember the last time they examined an explicit gay sex DVD in which condoms were not used," he says. "One censor has just examined a bisexual DVD in which the men wore condoms when having sex with each other, but not when having sex with women. Another censor remembers a straight sex DVD in which condoms were worn, but this is a very rare exception rather than the rule in straight sex DVDs."
Different purchasing patterns between straight and gay men may account for the rarity of bareback porn passing through the censor's office. "The explicit gay sex DVDs that are sent to the Office for classification very rarely, if ever, show unprotected anal intercourse. It is the Office's experience that barebacking is an issue in explicit heterosexual sex DVDs, not gay ones." Hastings suspects that one reason the Office does not receive explicit gay bareback sex DVDs for classification is because gay men order explicit sex DVDs online, whereas straight men make more use of retail DVD rental stores."
So once again the internet, already causing concern by allowing gay men to hook up for sex with minimal or no exposure to safe sex education, is being fingered as a medium that may be facilitating unsafe sex. "The law requiring DVDs to be classified and labelled applies to anyone in New Zealand who offers to rent or sell a DVD to the public," the Chief Censor clarifies. "This includes retail DVD rental stores. Sellers outside of New Zealand however, and purchasers in or out of New Zealand, do not need to label the DVDs purchased for their own use. I would wager that most explicit gay bareback sex DVDs sidestep the classification and labelling laws - and the Classification Office - because they are ordered from overseas distributors by individuals in New Zealand for their own personal use. It may well also be that commercial distributors in New Zealand have decided not to distribute explicit gay bareback sex DVDs."
It is, of course, illegal to possess an objectionable DVD in New Zealand, whether or not it was purchased overseas. Objectionable DVDs generally promote or support one or more the matters listed in s3(2) of the Classification Act: the exploitation of children for sexual purposes; sexual violence; necrophilia; bestiality; torture; extreme violence; and the use of urine or excrement in association with degrading or dehumanising or sexual conduct. "It could be argued that Parliament should add depictions promoting unsafe sex to the list," says Hastings. "This would make it illegal to possess such DVDs and would entitle Customs to prosecute anyone importing them."
Although a ban would send a strong message that depictions of unsafe sex are not officially tolerated and should not be mimicked, Hastings, like Jenkin from Gay Men's Health, is aware that a blanket ban would, for some, make such DVDs even more attractive.There are also problems of defining what unsafe sex actually boils down to under a potential law. "Unsafe sex practices can be ranked on a scale of greater or lesser risk, from unprotected anal intercourse without lubrication, through to fellating a penis that has just come from unprotected anal intercourse, double penetration, the use of shared or unwashed or uncondomed sex toys, unprotected vaginal intercourse, unprotected fellatio, unprotected cunnilingus. Where would the law draw the line?"
Depictions of unsafe sex could instead be used as a reason to restrict, rather than ban, DVDs, suggests Hastings. "They could be classed as depictions of “sexual conduct of a degrading or dehumanising or demeaning nature” in s3(3) of the Act. Occasionally we cut or ban DVDs for depictions of degrading, dehumanising or demeaning sexual conduct, but including unsafe sexual conduct here would require resolution of the definitional issue. Short of a cut or ban, the highest restriction we can give such depictions is R18, the same as for any depiction of explicit sexual conduct."
Subject to resolving the legal definition of “unsafe sex”, New Zealand law could require a label warning viewers that the DVD depicts "unsafe" or "less safe" sex. But the point of purchase becomes an issue affecting the practicality of this move. "We can, however, only label DVDs that are submitted to us for classification," says Hastings, "so any such warning on a label would appear primarily on explicit heterosexual sex DVDs, not the gay ones that are the cause for concern. I also suspect that such labels might produce the unwanted result of making unprotected sex DVDs more attractive and easily identifiable as a genre. There is something to be said for the deterrent effect of preserving the shock that comes from inadvertent exposure to unsafe sex practices, and for making it difficult for those who want them to find such depictions."
Bill Hastings encourages opinions to be sent to his office on the influence that explicit “bareback” sex DVDs, gay and straight, have on viewers and society; about what they think the Classification Office should do about them within existing law; and on whether and how they think the law should be changed.
Office of Film and Literature Classification
PO Box 1999 Wellington, New Zealand
E-Mail: email@example.com Matt Akersten - 6th September 2007