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The British Debate on Barebacking

Sun 6 Jul 2008 In: Safe Sex View at Wayback View at NDHA

In New Zealand, we're fortunate that our own erotic DVD entertainment industry is tiny -and there seems to be no bareback product on the gay market from our own shores. Not so in the United Kingdom, United States and Eastern Europe, as Gay Times noted in its May issue. Tim Teeman opens an excellent article on the subject with a chilling story about a gay male participant in one barebacking (penetrative sex without condoms) DVD, who alleges that he was infected with HIV after unprotected anal sex with another participant, and he himself claims to have never had unprotected sex in his own private life, which ICreme, the producer, debates. However, and commendably, ICreme has withdrawn the offending DVD from sale, and has also curtailed production of any further bareback erotic DVDs. Commendably too, Teeman doesn't flinch away from the issue of Gay Times own Millivres Prowler Group, which may be about to decide to cease further distribution of bareback erotic DVDs from its Prowler sex shops. The above incident, also reported on Newsnight, a BBC Current Affairs programme, has made them think twice about selling the DVDs, and they're talking with another UK gay sex shop chain, Clone Zone, about withdrawing their on-sale bareback DVDs from sale. Could this happen in New Zealand? Probably not, as the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 imposes strict liabilities on any sex work management to insure that sex workers use condoms during vaginal or anal sex. In the United States, industry heavyweight ChiChi La Rue also refuses to make bareback DVDs and includes a saucy safe sex segment before each of his videos. Insofar as censorship policy debates go, the British Board of Film Classification notes that it isn't against the law to have unprotected anal or vaginal sex in Britain, and any state prohibitions would mean the emergence of a substantial black market. At present, the Prowler sex shops estimate that one-third of all gay erotic DVDs sold are bareback. What is to be done about this? I noticed an odd sense of disconnection in this article, with comments about P/crystal meth use as if it hadn't already been shown to be implicated in new HIV/AIDS cases through cognitive short-circuiting when it comes to unprotected anal sex. There were some useful suggestions, though. One ex-bareback DVD participant argued that gay male sex workers should be unionised. I support this idea, but sadly, compared to its praiseworthy advances in LGBT rights matters, the United Kingdom appears to be heading backward when it comes to sex work. Instead of debating decriminalisation of sex work in this context, it now seems to be envisaging Swedish style prohibitionist curbs on the occupation. There are also issues related to lack of communication about HIV status amongst positive and negative male sexual partners, with one assuming the other shares their status because of willingness to have unprotected anal sex, whereas it might be simple ignorance when it comes to the negative partner. It may also be possible that the United Kingdom is experiencing the delayed fallout from decades of age of consent inequality for gay men, and poor gay-specific content in school sex education programmes. However, what would that mean in the New Zealand context, where we've had age of consent equality since decriminalisation back in 1986? One UK Gay Men Fighting AIDS spokesperson suggests a consumer boycott, and educating younger men about safe sex, although many new HIV+ results come from gay men over thirty-five who may be showing "safe sex fatigue," blasé about the role that protease inhibitors play in maintaining the lives and health of HIV+ people. Teeman isn't satisfied with the above, and argues that we should be far more insistent when it comes to organised boycotts of gay DVD sellers, or even insisting that censorship bodies ban bareback DVDs. And what role does P/crystal meth use play in facilitating bareback sex onscreen and off-screen? This is a praiseworthy and sober look at barebacking as a problem within gay male communities, and I recommend it to anyone seriously contemplating what could be done to blunt its ersatz pseudo-transgressive appeal within our communities. Strongly Recommended: Tim Teeman: "Raw Deal" Gay Times 356: (May 2008): 54-58. Craig Young - 6th July 2008    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Sunday, 6th July 2008 - 10:45am

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