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Thursday 09 October 2008

When porn 'fantasy' meets reality

Posted in: Features, Safe Sex
By Matt Akersten - 24th October 2007

Staff at New Zealand's all-male sex-on-site venues are well aware the best way to keep their clientele safe and well is to keep up the "put a rubber on for anal sex" message.

Condoms and lube are handed out, AIDS Foundation and other safe sex posters are blu-tacked to walls, and first-timers are often given a frank talk on what the 'rules of engagement' are.

But what about the porn they show? Does that always depict safe sex with condoms?

After many years of commitment to showing condom use as a natural part of gay sex, a number of overseas porn producers are making a fortune producing videos, showing bareback, ie condomless, fucking. Knowing how visual men are, and how influential porn is on the real-life sex lives of gay and bisexual men, we wondered if New Zealand venue operators understand the consequences of presenting risky sexual imagery in places where that behaviour could well be put into practice.

Here's what venues around New Zealand had to say when we asked them about bareback porn on their screens:

GuyZ bathhouse in Hamilton

Owner Gavin says:

"We just buy our various DVDs, we don't go out looking for bareback or condom DVDs… we buy what is current, and we play them. But if we had an option - if DVD 'A' was bareback, and DVD 'B' was non-bareback, I would buy 'B', because I do believe we need to have the safe sex message out there.

If we had a bareback DVD, I wouldn't show it for that reason."

Wakefield sauna and Out Bookshop in Wellington

Manager Paul says:

"We're not playing it, because it goes against the safe sex policy that we have, and we don't sell any modern DVDs that are marked 'unsafe' or 'barebacking'. We're not retailing that at all."

Centurian Sauna in Auckland

Manager Mark Wheelan-Lamont says:

"Yes we have some in the collection. We choose to leave them in the collection that was there when we purchased the premises back in February.

So they were already there, and we've chosen to keep them there. It's a moral call - it's not up to us what material is there for fantasy purposes.

We do state quite clearly it's there for fantasy only.

We do have lots of signage up promoting safe sex."

Menfriends sauna and shop in Christchurch

Manager Matt says:

"No we don't. Not at all. We don't play or lease any DVDs at all that have bareback sex in them. And we're very strict on not allowing bareback sex at all - even to the point of if we find out our clients are doing it, we actually kick them out."

Basement cruise club and shop in Auckland

Co-owner Stuart says:

"We mostly only play all the new releases, which don't have bareback porn in them. We get all the newest DVD's in and play those out the back.

It's individual choice whether people want to watch it, but we don't sell it here."

Checkmate sauna in Wellington

Day manager Wayne says:

"No. None at all, it's all been withdrawn. We're not into barebacking at all. That decision was made some time ago.

I've lost two partners with AIDS, so I'm quite against barebacking. So I'm pleased that this venue doesn't play it."

Urge bar in Auckland

Urge isn't a sex-on-site venue, but they do play porn on TV screens inside. Co-owner Paul Heard says:

"Well, we do not play bareback porn at Urge intentionally. No videos marketed as 'bare backing'. Although we do sometimes show vintage porn filmed before the HIV epidemic, and there are a few scenes in some videos we show that are possibly unsafe sex practices.

We have to remember that these are shown as fantasies, and as they are shown in adult situations, we must assume that the viewers are able to determine for themselves that some practices are unsafe.

We often show the “safe sex” DVD at Urge during the night - although this DVD has become rather scratched and skips badly!

Banning all bareback videos is also wrong. As prohibiting something only makes it more mysterious and ‘desirable'.

Maybe this is a problem with the 'soft and caring' approach we seem to be taking to safe sex education. People need to be given a severe reality check; like the road safety campaigns. They then have to really own the decision to ‘bareback' or practice other unsafe sex. Look at what anti drink driving campaigns have done. It is now totally unacceptable in most of society to 'drink and drive'."

Bodyworks sauna in Dunedin

Duty manager Mark says:

"No we don't show them, and we don't buy any bareback ones. It's just not the way to go."

Westside sauna in Auckland

Owner Tony Katavitch says:

"It's there - but you don't have to watch it if you don't want to.

I haven't really gone into it, because I don't know whether [the actors] are using sprays or anal inserts to protect themselves.

It's come back into favour and getting quite widespread. I don't know how to stop it - perhaps the government will outlaw it.

We know unsafe sex is a problem and we tell our visitors to wear condoms.

They know the consequences and they are adults."

Lateshift cruise club in Auckland:

Owner Jay Bennie says:

"Whilst I cannot 100% guarantee that any of the hundreds of videos we show are completely free of bareback sex, any that we notice, or that our customers draw to our attention, are withdrawn immediately.

We definitely do not purchase any that we know feature unsafe sex. Additionally, we play our own customised safe sex messages at the start of every video, highlighting the risk of contracting HIV and how to avoid it, messages based on AIDS Foundation research into gay men's sexual habits and vulnerabilities.

The attitudes of our staff, the messages we present and the videos we play all contribute to the general sexual culture of our customers, many of who are quite closeted and have very few other constructive examples of commitment to safe sex. It's a moral thing really."

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation's National Campaigns Coordinator Douglas Jenkin recently presented on the topic of bareback porn at their recent community forums:

Jenkins says that one of the many factors cited as a reason behind recent increases in HIV infection and the return of the STI's is bareback porn.

"At the beginning of the epidemic it would have been unthinkable to market risk commercially in such a way," he tells us. "Today there is little outcry amongst gay and bisexual men protesting its existence, and it's easily dismissed as "fantasy" or "a choice."

"While bareback porn might tap into masculine fantasies of sex without consequences, the harsh reality is that unprotected anal sex is what continues to drive new HIV infections in our communities.”

Share your thoughts about the bareback porn debate on our message board.

Matt Akersten - 24th October 2007