Adam Bink

Bareback porn and effective organizing for a healthier community

Filed By Adam Bink | April 13, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: bareback porn, gay porn, HIV virus, HIV/AIDS, pornography, signalling

On Friday, contributor Joe Mirabella wrote a piece discussing the death of bareback gay porn star Chad Noel due to HIV complications and condom.jpgciting viewers of bareback porn as responsible, in part, due to their role in consuming such content.

He also called for consumers to view safer porn in order to send a message to companies that produce gay porn.

In the extended entry, I explore whether that is an effective call to action, finding other methods of organizing that may be more effective, and meeting consumers where they are rather than where many wish them to be.

Signaling and consumer behavior

Joe wrote:

You have to own your role in the system. You know who you are bareback porn fans. When you watch bareback porn online you are voting for more bareback porn production. When you watch safer sex porn from the companies I listed above or others, you are supporting a system that promotes healthier sexual behavior.

Young actors like Chad Noel should not have to die, just so you can get your rocks off. Millions of youth do not have to be taught that bareback is ok. Simply, choose safer porn and you will be helping more than you will ever know.

What comes to mind in this is the concept of signalling in economics. Signalling refers to when one party sends information about itself to another party when there is asymmetric information, e.g., one party has more information than the other. A simple example is in the job market- while a potential employee may know his/her own level of skill, the potential employer does not, and therefore cannot distinguish between a good employee and a bad employee. Signalling helps corrects this- an advanced educational degree can send a positive signal to the employer, while a criminal record can send a negative signal, allowing the employer to distinguish between good and bad job applicants.

In the porn industry, producers lack information about consumers' preferences. So, consumers have to send signals. The purchasing level for a certain type of film is one signal. The number of video playbacks on a preview video for a bareback film titled "Pound Me Raw" is another. This helps producers determine what kind of porn to produce, including whether to produce bareback porn.

Why a Call to Action Needs a Specific Signal

Where signalling isn't effective, though- and the problem with Joe's call to action- is where signals cannot be correctly interpreted. If a porn manufacturer sees sales of DVDs or preview playbacks decline on a certain film, it may mean many things. It may mean the scenes as choreographed were not very, shall we say, stimulative; it may mean the actors were not very hot; it may even mean that in a bad economy, consumers are spending less money on porn. Joe's hypothesis is that if consumers choose to not "click" on bareback porn, producers will get the message.

What is required for that is a specific message. Think of when you found out Nike used child labor. I remember when I did- I told a bunch of friends "I'm never buying anything from Nike again!", and that was the extent of my activism. So if I chose Adidas or The North Face instead of Nike, I expected that Nike would get the message.

I was wrong. My abstaining from consuming Nike products probably did not make so much as a dent and certainly did not influence the company because in an asymmetric information environment, they did not know why I was choosing other products. One reason is that I did not send a specific signal.

If one wants to send a message that here are xyz number of consumers, all of whom are going to pledge to choose safe-sex porn, and they are only going to spend their dollars and clicks on such porn (or abstain from your company altogether until you make non-bareback porn), and gin up earned media around it, that is a better way to organize. Otherwise a porn manufacturer can't tell one signal from another.

In other words, don't just send a signal- send a specific signal and make sure the company hears it.

Performers As Role Models and Influencers

Even then it gets dicey. Some porn manufacturers make both condom porn and bareback porn. There are even films where some scenes have performers with condoms and others do not- even some orgy scenes where some performers wear condoms and others do not! Even with massive numbers of consumers sending specific signals, it is hard to boycott something where there is a mix of good practices and bad practices in it.

Also, as several commenters noted in Joe's post, public shaming will not cure everything, and there will always be those willing to exchange their dollars for fantasy. Given this, another tactic that may be effective is working directly with performers themselves to announce they are only willing to do non-bareback scenes.

Many of the larger stars have their own websites and loyal followings. If activists are trying to influence the masses- especially youth just learning about sex, condoms and HIV/AIDS- using their favorite performer as a role model may be an even better way.

Meeting a Community Where It Is Rather Than Where You Want It To Be

A lot of this debate reminds me of the debate in the gay community during the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis on whether or not to close "gay" bathhouses in order to lessen the spread of HIV/AIDS- a debate which continues today. One argument against is that closing bathhouses would simply force men to have sex in other illegal or unsafe environments- e.g., a public park or bathroom- including environments less likely to have condoms, lube, STD and HIV testing, which many bathhouses now do offer for free. Other bathhouses also require participants to use condoms and post information on-site regarding safe sex and STDs.

While frequenting a bathhouse and engaging in sex with multiple sexual partners may make one more likely to contract a disease, it also serves as a place for individuals to have sex in an environment that is safer than if a bathhouse did not exist, and have access to medical services they would not otherwise have or even consider.

In other words, rather than trying to eliminate environments featuring anonymous sex with multiple partners, safe health practices adapted to the propensity to have that kind of sex, instead of the other way around.

In this vein, since it is unlikely bareback porn will ever be fully eliminated- even as you read this, individual user videos on XTube featuring bareback sex are being uploaded- perhaps adapting to consumers' unrelenting demand for this type of porn is more appropriate.

Perhaps an on-screen message stating that the film is intended to be fantasy, and reminding viewers of the dangers of bareback sex and the importance of using protection is one way. Packaging bareback DVDs together with free condoms and pamphlets on the topic when shipping to customers may be another.

There will always be consumers of bareback porn, and one way to organize may be to work with that community by meeting its members where they are, instead of where they would be in an ideal world.

There is no one answer to tackling this problem, but there are effective ways to do so, and our community must find the best, most effective ones among them in order to meet our goal. We can do so with a little creativity.

I write and organize action campaigns on LGBT issues at my home blog, OpenLeft.com.


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I left my thoughts on Adam's piece over at Facebook, and I wanted to make sure I copied them over here:

Great piece. However, I think our community needs to realize that this problem isn't just about condoms and educating people on how to use them. Its 2010; most sexually active people know what a condom is, where to get them (for free many times) and how they are used. I think it goes back to the HIV epidemic in which we find ourselves today: one in which many people erroneously believe HIV is a "manageable" disease and that there's simply no use for condoms anymore.

And some further comments...

As I've written at my own blog, I also think our community needs to start addressing these issues head on. I'm not saying some groups or leaders don't already do this. I just think we need to do more of it. Fuck what the religious right thinks or says -- they are going to say whatever they say anyway. We know that increased risk comes with increased sexual activity and the number of partners one has. Why are we so afraid to acknowledge or admit that a lot of gay guys like to sleep around? How are we any different from straight guys? The answer: We aren't. If we could address these issues head on more often -- instead of tippy-toeing around them -- we might get more accomplished. Kind of like Adam's point about HIV education/awareness and bathhouses -- meet them where they're at.

P.S. -- I think the DC FUKIT campaign (http://www.fc-kits.org/) is a phenomenal campaign reaching out to gay men and "meeting them where they're at." Plus, DC FUKIT is using porn stars as role models -- one of Adam's suggestions.

A large part of it too is that the community seems to want to divide everything into acceptable/serious/just-like-you or sexy/exciting/outrageous and na'er the twain shall meet. It's stupid. We need to be addressing all members of our community in a way that speaks to them.

Great point on perception of HIV as a manageable disease, Matt.

FUKIT is a great campaign, I see them around town all the time.

Uh, sorry barebacking is here to stay. There are a lot of us that love barebacking and bareback porn. We will not stop exercising our constitutional right to view what we want to. Your efforts to censor and force people to accept unnatural sex (i.e. safe sex only) is doomed to fail. People have the right to choose whether or not to wear condoms or how many sex partners they want. Public health officials need to stop the censorship and lecturing. If you don't like bareback porn you are not required to view it. Please see my blog in response AHF’s efforts to stop the filming of bareback porn in Florida at http://ggkein.blogspot.com/2010/01/barebacking-is-here-to-stay.html.

Actually, I agreed that it's here to stay.

In this vein, since it is unlikely bareback porn will ever be fully eliminated- even as you read this, individual user videos on XTube featuring bareback sex are being uploaded- perhaps adapting to consumers' unrelenting demand for this type of porn is more appropriate.
There will always be consumers of bareback porn, and one way to organize may be to work with that community by meeting its members where they are, instead of where they would be in an ideal world.

If I wanted to ban and censor, I would have actually said "ban and censor". Notice that I didn't, but rather called for education around those who choose bareback porn- especially aimed at youth coming of age- and community organizing for those who wish to see a change. There's a difference.

I'm sorry, but it's really nobody else's business what a person watches for porn, unless it's illegal. The year is 2010. People know what a condom is, they know how to use it and they know how to obtain them. Most men know how HIV is transmitted and most people make their decisions about sex accordingly. Watching a movie about bareback sex isn't going to contribute to people practicing it in reality, anymore than a movie about S&M is going to make everyone run out and buy a whip. Saying that Chad Noel died of AIDS complications due to people watching the type of porn he performed in is a specious argument. It is a thinly veiled scapegoat for those who wish to censor what people watch, read or hear. Censoring bareback porn is not going to do anything except trample on other people's freedoms to view and see what they wish. If you don't like bareback porn, or the idea of bareback sex, then, simply, don't watch it and make the decision not to do it. The same goes for any other specialty or fetish. Personally, I get very bored at all the twink films out there (yawn!). I think the right-wing nuts do enough with attempts at policing what people do and do not do in our community. We don't need it from within.

I think dissenting opinions that revolve around the idea of personal liberties and freedoms are short sighted. Is the immediate decision to watch bareback porn or participate in unsafe sex a personal one? Yes, of course, but it is not only a personal decision. We are all members of a community (most of us are members of several). And the gay male community has been disproportionately effected by a substantial margin since the virus first spread in the U.S. This decimation of a community was caused almost entirely by the personal decision to not practice safe sex (which is not to fault these men, as there was much less public information on the virus at the time).

In terms the way people throw the word "censorship" around. I don't see anywhere Adam's thoughtful article where he suggests banning bareback porn, or even limiting its availability. I see, most clearly, a focus aimed on providing education from both the companies that create and distribute bareback porn, and the actors that star in these films.

Furthermore, I would like to respond specifically to the assertion that watching porn does not effect behavior of the viewer. As with most things, I don't think a black or white approach to this issue is accurate or progressive. Do media (including porn) images that promote sex without a condom always influence the behavior of those who see them? Of course not. But it is similarly absurd to say that producers who describe such behavior as "fearless" (ahem), do not create a culture that glorifies unsafe practices. And even more specifically: the analogy of watching SM porn. As an active leather boy who has been interested in BDSM since I was 11, I can tell you unequivocally that what I have seen in porn has VERY much influenced the thoughts and fantasies I have when it comes to BDSM. Will seeing an SM flick make you go buy a whip? Probably not. But will it make you consider the possibility of playing the way they do? Absolutely.


What sadly will happen is there will be another outbreak of worse strain of HIV or just another VD that will cut barebacking out completely.

It's one thing to bareback in a committed relationship.

But when people are having unsafe sex with strangers, including married men, which spreads it to their wives & partners, then we are just constantly giving fuel to the Right Wing to continue to believe that homosexuality is a crime against nature, because in 2010 barebacking is a crime against society.

And all those men who died in the 1980's not knowing what HIV was if they had the chance to live it again would condemn all who participate in careless sexual conduct.

I'm glad to see the topic addressed and I think Mr. Bink does a pretty good job of addressing most aspects of the debate. To my thinking tho; not enough emphasis is on the notion of personal responsibility. I agree with another poster here; that the argument that the porn star died of HIV is the porn afficionado's fault is full of holes. That's patently ridiculous in my mind. How do we know that this guy didn't get HIV even prior to his porn career, or outside of it on his day off? It's disheartening to me when gay men start attacking institutions or - in this case - a nameless and nefarious 'class' of gay consumer instead of stating the obvious: Each man alone is responsible for his own health and his obligation to remain HIV-free. In this day and age, blaming others for your preventable, transmissible disease is not gonna get you a discount at the funeral home. We need to do more to build self-esteem in gay men so that they value their lives and their health over titilation. Simply taking away the candy is not going to extinguish a 'sweet tooth'. It requires self-discipline - not external enforcement.

Great post, Adam--and great discussion! Reminds me we have some educational work to do in the community yet!

Thank you for continueing the conversation. I think you bring up some excellent suggestions about how we can both satisfy the fantasies of viewers, while still sending a strong single to the community that we need to think about our role in safer sex and risk reduction.

guyseattle | April 17, 2010 3:49 PM

Instead of calling for bans on bareback porn which is basically censorship how about calling for better sex ed so there uneducated kids who are so easily led astray by watching a bareback porn as some claim can learn a think or two. This is America a free country where we have the right to star in and view bareback porn!

Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.