This article by Stewart Haggas originally appeared in FS Magazine, a publication of GMFA, here.
It’s perhaps to be expected that previous generations of gay men, when homosexuality was legislated against, had to look beyond obvious channels for information about gay sex and relationships – but what about the gay youth of today?
Recently, the Government announced that it wouldn’t be requiring schools to provide Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), despite widespread support for the proposal. With sex education off the classroom agenda, many gay teenagers may have no choice but to learn about sex through porn, but is porn helpful or harmful when it comes to learning about sex by watching porn.
This month we asked 1,023 FS readers about porn, health, and their experience of sex education. Of the men we spoke to:
- 82% didn’t get any education about gay sex at school.
- 16% got little or no information.
- 1% said that gay sex was spoken about many times at school.
- 1% were taught at school about gay sex.
If our school system provided just 2% of FS readers with rudimentary information about gay sex and relationships, what about the other 98%?
Of the men we surveyed, 41% said they learned about anal sex, and 34% said they learned about oral sex, from watching porn. Other significant sources of information include sex partners (35% learned about anal sex, and 28% learned about oral sex, from sex partners) and friends (14% learned about anal sex, and 23% learned about oral sex, from friends). Only five percent learned about oral sex from school, and only two percent learned about anal sex from school.
In an era where virtually every gay teenager has access to the internet, many are likely accessing porn as a way of educating themselves about sex and all things gay – especially when other sources aren’t providing answers. If porn really is the number one source of information, what did it teach us – and what are young gay teenagers learning today when they watch gay porn?
LESSONS IN GAY PORN
Of the men we surveyed who watch porn, the vast majority watch porn several times a week or more (52% watch porn a few times a week, and 29% watch porn every day).
With a massive variety of porn available, we asked our readers what type of sex they mainly like to watch, and the results were:
- 88% anal
- 71% bareback (no condoms)
- 71% oral
- 69% group/orgy
- 55% amateur
- 54% gangbang
- 38% role playing (police officer/prisoner, etc)
- 31% uniforms
- 30% watersports (piss)
- 29% vanilla
- 29% safer only (condoms only)
- 28% voyeur
- 25% solo
- 25% bondage
- 19% rubber/leather
- 17% fisting
- 15% men and women
- 13% SM/CP
If gay men are using porn as an unofficial educational resource, it’s noteworthy that watching bareback sex is the second most popular choice, with 71% admitting they like to watch bareback porn compared with 29% who like to watch porn with condoms?
Of the guys surveyed, 56% acknowledge that they find bareback porn more appealing. Many said that it’s because they see it as more ‘natural’, free of the burden of condoms.
“I just find it more aesthetically pleasing to watch without a condom in the way,” says Jay, 18 from Kildare, “if both actors are aware of the other’s status and are okay with shooting the scene without the use of a condom.”
“It’s raw and natural and realistic,” says Matt, 31 from Rotherham. “Seeing cum ooze from a man’s arse and knowing he’s taken a load up him is a real turn on.”
“It’s more like the sex I have with my long term partner,” adds Ryan, 23 from Birmingham. “It’s more natural. Also the ejaculations are more relaxed as there’s no condom to remove.”
Several guys admit that the taboo of bareback sex makes it more thrilling to watch.
“There is something very primitive about bareback sex,” says Jamie, 26 from London. “Perhaps it’s because we all know it’s something we shouldn’t be doing.”
“It’s the forbidden thing to do, so it’s very exciting,” says Sebastian, 37 from London. “I particularly enjoy bareback anonymous sex scenes. They really turn me on. This is probably because I would never do it in real life. But it’s a great fantasy.”
“People tend to gravitate towards danger, and barebacking is certainly full of risks,” adds Rob, 17 from Dublin. “I think that in certain situations it makes it ‘sexier’ but also adds a sense of intimacy.”
“It is mainly the mixture of forbidden fruit,” agrees Liam, 33 from London, “along with the desire to have the perceived intimacy of bareback sex, but I’ve only started watching bareback porn as it has increased and become more popular.”
MORE BB PORN
Is bareback porn becoming more popular? Liam Cole produces bareback porn in Europe for Treasure Island Media (TIM), the US-based gay porn studio that specialises in bareback films.
“Bareback gay porn continues to merge back into the mainstream,” he says. “This has been an ongoing process for at least the last fifteen years, as condomless fucking is reinstated as standard industry practice for gay porn.”
Steven Chinnery, Managing Director for Eurocreme Group, acknowledges that porn studios across the board are producing more bareback porn now than they have in recent years. “Bareback has become the norm once more, with many previously staunch anti-bareback studios becoming avid supporters of it,” he says. “Advances in medication and knowledge of HIV here helped this become less of a stigma for performers of bareback porn, which in turn makes it a bit easier for the studios.”
Although the main Eurocreme brand and its sibling studios DreamBoy, Dads Fucking Lads, Bulldog and Alphamales focus on condom-style porn, they’ve also started to make bareback porn. “We have since introduced Bulldog Raw, which takes the modern fetish style of Bulldog (condom) and adds the bareback element to it. This was the most obvious choice for us to go bareback. And we have added a Daddy Fucks Raw title to the Dads studio, and started a Back Alley studio which is bareback, realtime sex with a hot amateur style.”
So why are studios such as Eurocreme, whose content always featured condoms, following the likes of TIM by introducing bareback content? And does this signify the end of condoms in porn? “We wish to cater for as wide an audience as possible, and bareback is a fundamental part of this task,” Steven explains. “At the moment, I don’t think there would be a time when the majority of our content is bareback – there are models who prefer to film condom-only, and there are viewers who prefer condom-only porn. This isn’t a politically charged answer. I see bareback as a choice to watch and condom as a choice to watch – and since we have introduced bareback, it hasn’t blown revenues sky high, nor has our condom porn fallen off a cliff. It’s a pretty decent balance. If it happens, and bareback becomes the majority – as long as we follow our guidelines on safety and keep our models educated, that’s all we can hope for.”
Another reason cited for preferring to watch bareback porn is as a substitute for actually having bareback sex.
Watching porn is an easy way for me to fantasise about bareback sex without having to have bareback sex with a stranger when I’m horny,” says John, 27 from Ireland. “That would be reckless and unsafe.”
“Because it’s something I don’t do in real life, I use porn to play out that fantasy,” adds Ryan, 29 from London.
“It gives me the thrill without having to partake in bareback sex,” says Jack, 29 from Dublin.
“It allows me to see skin on skin sex, which I don’t actually do for safety reasons,” says Gavin, 48 from Brighton.
“It helps keep me on the straight and narrow, and stops me from seeking out riskier sex,” says Aaron, 28 from Leeds.
“I wish I could have every guy I sleep with cum in me,” admits Daz, 32 from London, “but because it is risky I fantasise about it in porn.”
However some of the men we surveyed admit they worry that watching bareback porn may lead to them having more risky sex. “It’s definitely more of a turn on, including the perceived horniness of doing something you shouldn’t,” says Jay, 28 from Manchester. “But it also scares me and reminds me of the risks – sometimes with associated guilt and worry that enjoying this type of porn may mean I could be more prone to putting myself at risk.”
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Despite Jay’s concerns, 78% of those surveyed say that watching bareback porn hasn’t led to them personally having unprotected sex.
“I have watched bareback porn on many occasions,” says Simon, 28 from Bedford, “however not once in the years of having gay sex have I ever had bareback sex.”
“I know the difference between fantasy and reality,” says Sebastian, 37 from London. “I also enjoy playing video games shooting people, but it doesn’t make me want to shoot anyone in real life.”
“Definitely not,” says John, 22 from Reading. “If you want to know why people bareback, look at alcohol and substance abuse. The only time I have taken risks is when I’ve not been in a state of mind to think clearly.”
“The times I’ve had bareback sex wasn’t to imitate porn,” adds Aidan, 35 from Wiltshire. “It was spur of the moment, because I was horny.”
However, 13% believe that watching bareback porn affected their decision to have unprotected sex.
“I’ve let my guard down a couple of times with men I think I can trust,” says Paul, 35 from Sheffield. “Would I have done that had I not watched bareback porn? I can’t be certain, but I suspect it’s encouraged me to want to try what I’ve been watching.”
“To some degree we are led by example,” acknowledges Peter, 39 from London. “And so we are able to be influenced by the experiences we expose ourselves to.”
“I think the two have developed together,” says Bruce, 35 from Leeds. “As my preference for bareback sex developed, so did my preference for bareback porn.”
“We have also seen studies that show that men who favor porn with condoms are more likely to have protected sex – although it’s hard to say whether it’s the porn that dictates the behavior or the behavior that dictates the porn.” -- GMFA’s Matthew Hodson
“Although it’s difficult to say with certainty that there’s a causal relationship between bareback porn and unprotected sex, it’s clear that many men perceive that watching bareback porn makes it more likely that they’ll have unprotected sex,” says GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “We have also seen studies that show that men who favour porn with condoms are more likely to have protected sex – although it’s hard to say whether it’s the porn that dictates the behaviour or the behaviour that dictates the porn.”
If condom-free porn is becoming the standard industry practice, does the normality of bareback porn affect gay men’s attitudes towards sex?
“I believe that watching other people have sex without condoms, whether that’s in a video or in your front room, does at the least serve to normalise that behaviour,” GMFA’s Matthew Hodson adds.
“I do think bareback in ‘real life’ has become more prevalent,” says Steven from Eurocreme, “and maybe this is a generational thing more than a porn thing, where those born after the tombstone-era of HIV just aren’t aware of the condition as much, or that it’s not seen as the death sentence it once was – and so bareback is seen as socially acceptable while still risky. Porn always relates to what people want to see, or like to do themselves, so bareback can be seen to cover both those bases now.”
“Porn provides an outlet for sexual fantasy,” Matthew acknowledges. “For some, protective behaviors, like wearing a condom, take you out of that fantasy and into the real world where sex comes with risks. For others, unprotected sex just reminds them of the potential for harm that the actors are exposed to, and that takes them out of the fantasy. In recent years we have seen indicators of a gradual increase in unprotected sex. Uninhibited sex, sometimes fueled by chems, has contributed to this. However it’s also true that we know much more about treating HIV now, so it’s become a manageable long term condition, and I’m sure that has also played a role in the reduction in condom use.
“But it’s important to remember that sexual safely is not defined by condom use alone,” Matthew adds. “Someone who is undetectable on treatment and who has maintained that low level of virus for about six months is very unlikely to transmit HIV to their sexual partners. Condom use has become so totemic that it’s often used interchangeably with safer sex. In reality, there are a number of different ways that you can protect yourself and your partner against HIV infection – although condoms carry the crown for their ability to also protect against so many other STIs.”
Besides the concerns around bareback porn, some of the men we surveyed identified a variety of other negative effects from their porn-viewing habits.
“Watching porn reduces my sex drive and affects sexual performance if I watch it too much,” says Chris, 35 from London. “Because of this I cut down on watching it, as it raises the amount of stimulation I need to get aroused. As I know it is bad for me, if I do end up watching porn I have felt guilty on occasions.”
“I even struggle to stay hard for real sex. Real sex just doesn’t match up to porn. I’ve become too used to the perfectly choreographed scenes and unrealistic men."
“Sometimes I wonder if watching too much porn is affecting my intimacy with others,” says John, 27 from Ireland. “I find it difficult to ejaculate when in the company of someone else, and I can now time when I’ll ejaculate when watching porn.”
“I’ve lost control over my porn use, and can rarely go a day without it now,“ admits C, 30 from London. “I even struggle to stay hard for real sex. Real sex just doesn’t match up to porn. I’ve become too used to the perfectly choreographed scenes and unrealistic men. I’m addicted to porn, and have porn-induced erectile dysfunction. I’m trying to quit, but it’s a struggle.”
“Porn has always been about fantasy,” explains GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “The dominant gay porn fantasy appears to be about men with amazing bodies and huge cocks, enjoying sex without any discomfort, mess, or sexual health consequences. Real life rarely lives up to that.”
“Gay men who struggle with their use of chems for sex often say that it’s as a result of wanting to live up to the porn fantasy of sex,” Matthew adds.
“It’s a part of the struggle of modern life that our expectations are often raised far beyond what we are likely to achieve.”
Steven from Eurocreme disagrees, adding: “Gay porn, I believe, doesn’t set the standard for sex. It acts as an access point to find what you’re into. Some people may be disappointed in sex at times – even porn stars get that from time to time – but that’s life. Not every day will be a blast, so why should we expect the same to happen in sex?
“If you feel down in the dumps regularly in life, you should talk about it with someone and inevitably try changing your perception or find what’s bringing you down and change it. The same goes for sex.
“If you watch god-like hardcore action and find yourself unable to orgasm with your husband, boyfriend or latest hookup from Grindr, perhaps it’s not porn that’s the problem. Porn may act as a focus, but it shouldn’t be regarded as an all-out cause.”
Several guys also worry about the amount of porn they watch – in fact, 20% of the men we surveyed think they watch too much porn.
“Sometimes watching porn in the mornings makes me late for work,” admits James, 27 from Manchester, “therefore maybe I’m watching too much.”
“I think I should be spending my time doing something more useful,” says Peter, 35 from London. “Or just having sex instead of watching.”
“I work from home, for myself, and it can be easy to get distracted and spend time watching porn,” says H, 39 from London, “when I know I should be working or getting ready to go out.”
“I feel guilty for wasting time watching porn,” admits Matt, 31 from Rotherham. “I fear being judged, and that my boyfriend will think I don’t find him attractive because I watch porn.”
But it’s not all bad – some see positive effects of watching porn.
“Porn is a way to explore fantasies and sexuality without being unfaithful,” says Mike, 22 from Ipswich.
“Porn makes my relationship healthier,” says Chris, 37 from Cheltenham. “It’s an outlet, it serves a purpose and is a fictional release. It makes space for intimacy.”
No matter what we may take from porn, watching a gay porn video is probably not the best way to learn about real-life sex and relationships.
“I would hope the education system would change soon on this topic and offer advice,” says Steven of Eurocreme. “I remember at school the only information we got about gay sex was that men have sex in saunas, and everyone then looked back at me as the only out guy in the class.”
“It’s a damning indictment of the lack of inclusivity in our sex education that so many gay men feel they got little or nothing of value to them from school,” says Matthew of GMFA. “Considering the high levels of health inequalities that gay and bisexual men and women suffer, ensuring that all pupils receive honest, inclusive sex and relationship education should be a priority.”
“I believe that education comes from schools as well as at home,” adds Steven. “It’s a very ‘pass-the-responsibility’ culture we live in now. Porn is always the first to get attacked. I think it’s a very easy assumption to make that people emulate what they see, but I don’t think that is the case at all. Porn is a way of finding what you are into, what floats your boat, and sometimes that might be something that you prefer to keep in the realm of fantasy. You might be into something that your friend, parent, MP or priest may find disgusting or abhorrent, but you find it a portal to pure pleasure – who is to say what is wrong, what you should and shouldn’t try or enjoy? As long as it’s all consensual, and done as a pleasure point for all, what’s the real harm, self-expression or censorship?”
“Commercial pornography is primarily a consumer product, not an educational tool,” adds Liam of TIM. “Attempting to emulate porn by imitation is unlikely to be the best way to enjoy your own sex life. Young people should be educated about gay and straight sex, non-judgementally, and a critical approach to pornography should be part of that education.”
Until our education system properly addresses the needs of gay teenagers, we will most likely keep relying on porn for information and education. If this is the case, is there anything that studios like Eurocreme and TIM might do to help young gay men be better informed about real gay sex? “I would love it if all porn at the very least provided signposting to GMFA’s site, so that gay men could get better information about the risks of different sexual acts,” says Matthew, “as well as advice on how to have the best sex with the least harm.”
Although it’s created purposefully as wank-fodder to arouse us, gay porn looms large across the gay scene – both as an unofficial educational tool, and as a mirror that reflects our changing habits, tastes and interests. And it takes more than a Kleenex to mop up its far-reaching effects.
We asked all those who responded to our survey who they thought is responsible for sex education.
- 56% believe ‘The responsibility for gay sex education lies with the government.’
- 51% believe ‘The responsibility for gay sex education lies with parents.’
- 44% believe ‘The responsibility for gay sex education lies with sexual health charities.’
- 25% believe ‘The responsibility for gay sex education lies with friends.’
- 19.5% believe ‘The responsibility for gay sex education lies with porn companies.’
- 84% agreed that ‘sexual health charities should be supported more by the current government.’
- Only 8% of gay men believe ‘The sex education system for gay men is good.’
We reached out to Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, for a comment but at the time of publishing we had failed to get a response from her and her office. However, in a previous interview she responded when four key House of Commons committees wrote to her pressing for sex education to be made statutory in primary and secondary schools. She said the government will continue to keep the subject’s status under review.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust said she was extremely disappointed with Nicky Morgan’s actions. She said the decision meant the subject “will continue to be delivered according to the whims of individual head teachers rather than the needs of young people”. But Nicky Morgan said that while she agreed that personal, social and health education (PHSE) was crucial, making it statutory “would do little to tackle the most pressing problems with the subject.
“As such, while we will continue to keep the status of PSHE in the curriculum under review, our immediate focus will be on improving the quality of PSHE teaching in our schools.”
We asked FS editor, Ian Howley, for his response. He said: “We now live in an era when the vast majority of young gay men will access the internet to find out about all things gay. It’s very possible that these gay teenage boys are accessing porn when curious about their sexuality.
“If the government doesn’t want to roll out mandatory sex education that will benefits the thousands of gay teenagers who are seeking this information on the internet then they should think twice about cutting the funding of charities that are providing this service. Porn is meant for adult entertainment, not education. We need to make sure those who seek out sex education, no matter what age, get the best and most appropriate information possible.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat addiction. For more information, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous follows a 12-step model similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous. To find a meeting in your area, visit www.slaauk.org.
Sex Addicts Anonymous in the UK runs local support groups where people can help each other recover from sex and porn addiction. For more information, visit www.saauk.info.
For more information about sex and sexual health visit, www.gmfa.org.uk/sex.