Watching Porn That Portrays Condom Use In Anal Sex Scenes Promotes Safe Sexual Behavior Among Gay, Bisexual Men

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Porn with anal sex scenes using condoms promotes safer sex among men. Pixabay, Public Domain

Pornography has earned itself a bad reputation for its misogyny, sexual violence, and for its effects on the brain. However, watching porn can lead to something both researchers and sexual health advocates can back up — safer sex. A recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE found men who viewed sexually explicit porn containing condoms were less likely to have anal sex without condoms themselves.

"Actually one type of pornography was associated with higher rates of condom use — men who viewed more pornography containing condom use engaged in fewer condomless anal sex encounters. Even those who took part in compulsive pornography viewing were not more likely to engage in condomless anal sex," said Eric Schrimshaw, study author and associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in a statement.

Schrimshaw and his colleagues recruited over 200 participants, all over age 18, and living within 50 miles of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington, D.C. via Craigslist and Facebook. They were asked about the amount, compulsivity, and proportion of condomless anal sex and anal sex with condoms in an online survey. In addition, eligible men had to report having viewed gay porn on the Internet in the past three months. The sample was predominantly Caucasian, over 80 percent self-identified as gay/homosexual, and 90 percent reported an HIV-negative status.

The findings revealed over 90 percent of men having sex with men viewed sexually explicit media containing condomless anal sex, and 48 percent agreed that seeing this had contributed to them engaging in riskier sex. Viewing this type of porn led to acting out the things they saw for 70 percent, while 55 percent reported that viewing sexually explicit media led them to seek out sex afterwards. Moreover, they agreed porn containing condomless anal sex contributed to them engaging in riskier sex. This suggests porn can persuade men to engage in more sexual risk behaviors.

"[Condomless anal sex’s] potentially negative consequences on behavior, therefore, has policy implications for pornography directors, producers, distributors, performers, and viewers," said Schrimshaw.

Condom use in the porn industry has been at the center of debate for years. In 2012, The "Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act," commonly known as Measure B, and which encourages condom use on porn sets, was passed into law after several reports of HIV outbreaks in the porn industry emerged. 

Measure B has already led many porn companies to relocate to business-friendly cities like Las Vegas, where shooting can continue without regulation or monetary setbacks. A similar ballot initiative will be voted on statewide in California in November 2016.

However, porn stars argue that they do abide by behind-the-scenes safe sex practices not seen in porn. Nina Hartley, a porn star and director, sex educator, and registered nurse, abides by the bi-weekly STI testing porn stars are required to undergo, which she says  is “incredibly accurate.”

“The testing clinic we use has 400 plus affiliates around the country. Anyone can go out and give blood and find out if they’re HIV-positive,” she previously told Medical Daily. She also said she is aware of her risk of contracting herpes on-set, and she’s OK with it. “Everyone has herpes. That is a risk I will undertake.”

The recent study did find viewing porn that contains condom use is linked to fewer condomless anal sex encounters, but this warrants further research. Studies need to test whether safer sex interventions, including condoms used by actors for sexually explicit media, will result in changes in condom-use behavior among viewers.

A 2015 survey conducted by FS Magazine, a gay men’s health and life magazine in the UK, found an overwhelming majority of gay and bisexual men didn’t use a condom the last time they had anal sex. Among the men who didn’t use a condom the last time they had anal sex with a casual partner, roughly 10 percent were HIV-positive, compared to 90 percent who believed they were HIV-negative. It’s not clear what influenced their condomless sex.

The decision to wear a condom is at the discretion of both partners, but science is slowly unveiling porn may be an influential factor in porn viewers’ sexual behaviors.

Source: Schrimshaw EW, Antebi-Gruszka N, and Downing Jr. MJ. Viewing of Internet-Based Sexually Explicit Media as a Risk Factor for Condomless Anal Sex among Men Who Have Sex with Men in Four U.S. Cities. PLoS ONE. 2016.

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