The Condom Link
Lots of our clients produce gay content. For some it’s a small part of an otherwise straight enterprise, but for others, it’s their main focus and has been for years. Living and working in adult in Los Angeles, I’ve been following Measure B with particular interest because, as anyone who enjoys gay porn knows, condoms have been completely integrated into that content niche for quite a long time, with a few notable exceptions — outlier studios that have always produced exclusively bareback gay video. Condom use is almost never integrated into a storyline, whether the production is straight or gay — because let’s be honest — much of the content our industry puts out involves storylines having to do with casual sex, unplanned encounters with strangers, or falling victim to seduction or sudden animal urges. Think about it: hot housewife bangs the burley plumber, college athlete seduces the sexy cheerleader, or hunky biker receives special lubrication service from gas station attendant. The scene is never interrupted for a moment while the male (or one of them in the case of gay porn) puts on a condom.
Condom use in the gay community at large has always been addressed differently than safe sex in the straight community, and for good reason. HIV/AIDS began in the gay community. Tens of thousands of men became infected and died before the broader community took much notice, and there was even initial public reaction suggesting that this plague was punishment for a lifestyle choice. Hard to believe looking back from 2013, but some folks thought the gay community actually deserved HIV/AIDS. So the community itself took up the cause alone, as a profound matter of life and death.
“We need to protect ourselves, because no one else will,” some said. That was the reality until women became infected, and intravenous drug users, and transfusion patients fell victim.
So what’s condom use got to do with piracy?
Well, everyone’s revenues are down as a result of content theft across the industry. Some small studios have shut their doors entirely. Content producers have it hard right now — production costs are up, profits are down, and everyone is looking for ways to leverage new revenue streams. Much of this is due to the proliferation of free, stolen content that’s available online. What we’ve seen in the last five years are an increasing number of gay studios distributing bareback scenes — not because safe sex is less important than it was 10 years ago, but because bareback sells, and quite frankly, they need the money. Some gay studios have introduced bareback scenes as a kind of special segment of their overall release schedule. And they observe very quickly that bareback scenes attract a larger audience share. HIV and STD testing now has become accurate enough that transmission risks can be reduced to near zero, according to health care and testing authorities, provided the tests are properly administered and accomplished within 10 days or so prior to contact on set.
In an environment where profits generally are slim and sometimes non-existent, it’s no wonder that some gay studios that always used condoms in the past have recently started to include some bareback scenes in their libraries, and they advertise them as such, hoping to turn their financials around. Can’t blame them. The best of these studios include a detailed disclaimer in the initial credits that talks about the importance of safe sex and the fact that their performers have been tested and performer health is the studio’s primary concern.
Some of the really large gay studios still do not produce bareback content. Their brands remain strong, even with eroding profits due to rampant piracy, and these studios are able to hang on with barrier protection and traditional safe sex policies in place and visible in the content they produce. That’s not to say that condom use is celebrated in these productions — putting the thing on always happens between takes prior to penetration and removing it for the money shot sometimes involves a performer less than discretely yanking it and tossing it out of the frame. But continuing to show safe sex in gay porn even without celebrating the specific practice seems to me more in line with the community’s public stance — which has been that safe sex is a critical piece of maintaining one’s health, and it can be just as hot as bareback. This seems to me to be a particularly important message when the storyline is about a spontaneous encounter, a chance meeting, or a quickie between strangers who will put their underclothes back on and go their separate ways afterwards.
But many of the less than large gay studios are struggling with this as a direct result of the damage piracy has done to their businesses. I’ve spoken to many of them in recent months that have begun to film some bareback scenes, and some who still refuse, but wonder if they can survive without taking that path. For some of these producers, it’s a matter of principal. They don’t want their audience to get the message that safe sex is no longer important. But will these smaller studios be able to survive if they stick to these principled stands? That’s yet to be determined.
Measure B in Los Angeles is still a fight in front of us. Mandating barrier protection on set is going to be almost impossible to enforce, of course, and recent court decisions requiring warrants but still not allowing for permit fees further complicates how the County can move forward. But my issue here is not entirely the financial benefits that accrue to productions that decide to go raw. My issue is the one of messaging and principals and what individual producers and performers stand for.
All of this should get the industry thinking about the financial impact of principals, and ethics and how piracy affects our ability to hold on to our integrity in the face of such devastation to our financial condition. No one should compromise their principals because they have to do so to survive. Intellectual property theft forces us to make a Sophie’s Choice in this instance. And that’s one more reason why we need to come together and say we’ve had enough, and we’re going to work together to stop piracy.
Peter Phinney runs Porn Guardian with business partner Dominic Ford. The company offers a full suite of anti-piracy services to the adult industry and currently represents more than 370 individual brands across all content niches.