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New research shows a causal link between viewing bareback pornography (in which men have intercourse with each other without a condom) and a reduced intention to practise safe sex. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in collaboration with the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service (GGD) and has been published in the May issue of the academic journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Condooms
Photo: Flickr, peachy92

The acceptability of bareback pornography is a topic of frequent debate. In Los Angeles, for example, the use of condoms has been mandatory in the production of pornography since 2012. There are also ethical discussions about digitally editing out condoms after filming. Besides the obvious issue of the health of the actors, the possible risks to consumers are largely overlooked. While previous research into human imitation behaviour suggested that bareback pornography counteracts efforts to promote safe sex, there was no causal scientific evidence to back this up. But the results of two studies conducted by UvA psychologist Kai Jonas and other researchers now provide evidence. They investigated whether watching 'gay porn' showing unprotected sex has an effect on the intentions of men who have intercourse with other men to take sexual risks.

DVD covers and film scenes

In the first study, subjects were presented with four DVD covers for gay porn films: two explicitly showing sex (one with and one without a condom) and two showing ‘body shots’ (with no sexual act). They were asked to click on the parts of the photos that attracted their attention most. After this, they indicated whether or not they would use a condom if they were to have sex at that moment. Based on the responses, the researchers were able to ascertain that attention to unprotected sex acts negatively predicts safe sex intentions.

The second study looked at the immediate impact of pornographic films depicting protected or unprotected sex on the sexual behaviour of viewers. Here, the participants were shown different film sequences. In one of the sequences, the actors were clearly seen to be using a condom; the other showed barebacking. After watching the sequences, participants were again asked to indicate if they would use a condom were they to have sex at that moment. To promote ecological validity (the degree to which the results of a research study match everyday practice), the research was conducted at a gay club in Amsterdam. The results show that the men who viewed barebacking had a lower intention to practise safe sex than those in the group presented with scenes showing condom use.

Although these findings do not translate into a specific intervention strategy, the underlying mechanisms they expose could be used in designing prevention strategies and in helping to make consumers and sex club owners aware of the effects of the type of films they watch or show.

Publication details

Kai J. Jonas, Skyler T. Hawk, Danny Vastenburg & Peter de Groot: ‘Bareback' Pornography Consumption Negatively Influences Safe-Sex Intentions of Men Having Sex with Men, in: Archives of Sexual Behavior, Issue 4 (May 2014).