condom

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A sizable minority are totally indifferent, according to new research.

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BY TRACY CLARK-FLORY

When it comes to condoms in porn, the prevailing wisdom is that viewers, and men in particular, simply do not want to see those things. Get that boner kryptonite outta here, man. A new study largely confirms that perception—but it also suggests that male viewers’ preference for condomless porn might not be quite as extreme as you would think.

The study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that most men do show a preference for porn without condoms, but that a not insignificant percentage either prefer condoms or don’t care either way. This could prove to be fuel on either side of the ongoing debate around requiring prophylactics in porn, which has hit a fever pitch as a California initiative mandating condoms in the adult industry heads to the ballot.

Researchers surveyed 821 gay, straight, and bisexual men about their experiences and preferences around “sexually explicit media.” When it comes to heterosexual guys and watching vaginal sex, 65 percent preferred condomless, 3.3 percent preferred condoms, and 31.7 percent essentially gave a big shrug. For porn featuring anal, those numbers were similar: 61.7 percent preferred condomless, 5.3 percent condoms, and 33 percent didn’t have a preference.

When it comes to gay men and watching anal sex: 64.4 percent preferred condomless, 6.4 percent with condoms, and 29.2 percent didn’t care. For watching vaginal sex, 50.5 percent of gay men preferred condomless, 4.3 percent said condoms, and 45.1 percent were indifferent. (You might wonder why they asked gay men about vaginal sex: the researchers found a not at all insignificant amount of what they called “identity discrepant” porn-viewing. Twenty-one percent of heterosexual men reported viewing male same-sex porn and 55 percent of gay men reported watching heterosexual content.)

Bisexual men showed relatively consistent preferences for both vaginal and anal sex: Around 50 percent preferred watching condomless content and roughly 41 percent had no preference.

The researchers also found an association between the kind of content that men had recently viewed and their condom or no condom preference—for example, those who recently watched porn featuring condomless vaginal sex were more likely to have a preference for wanting to see condomless vaginal sex in their porn. That doesn’t tell us anything about cause and effect: It could be simply that people who prefer condomless porn watch condoles porn (duh). Or it could be that having seen condomless porn somehow encourages a preference for condomless porn.

That’s a question that especially interests these researchers. Lead author Martin J. Downing told Vocativ in an email that this paper could have implications for “research or public health efforts to reduce the potential negative influence of viewing high risk behaviors in pornography” and “HIV and STI prevention strategies in (and around) pornography.” In other words, does condomless porn encourage condomless sex, and could seeing condoms in porn encourage people to use condoms?

Earlier this year, Downing published a study finding a positive association between watching condomless porn and having condomless sex. The study did not demonstrate causation, only correlation—although slightly less than half of participants reported believing that porn had contributed to their having “riskier sex.” Adult industry insiders critiqued the study’s methodology and small sample size, and argued that it is not the job of porn to educate the public about safer sex. Although some prior research has shown a similar association among gay and bisexual men.

The potential for the adult industry to effectively function as a public service announcement has often shown up in arguments for mandating condoms in the porn industry. (It’s worth noting that the industry has a mandate of STI testing performers every 14 days, which is far more rigorous than what the general public typically follows, but that is largely invisible to viewers.) That is a debate that’s particularly hot right now ahead of a vote on the much-contested Proposition 60, which requires condoms in porn filmed within California and allows for lawsuits of producers and distributors of condomless content.

One of the arguments against condom mandates in the adult industry has been that there is a high demand for condomless material, and that banning such content will push productions underground, making performers less safe. Mike Stabile, spokesperson for Kink.com, says this study demonstrates the larger market for condomless porn—specially that, when it comes to straight men watching vaginal sex and gay men watching anal sex, there is approaching twice as much interest in condomless content, as opposed to indifference and preference for condoms. Even still, he says that “seems a low estimate” and adds, “based on what I know about the market, I’d say that the ‘no preference’ contingent defaults to non-condom films when given the choice between the two.”

But he says the bigger issue is performer choice. “Regardless of the safer sex messaging that the proponents of Prop 60 want, condoms are not always workable on every adult set,” he said. “They break, they come off, and they can become dry and abrasive on long shoots.” So, regardless of how open or not viewers may be to condomless porn, Stabile says that “performers should have control over their bodies.”

This story originally appeared on Vocativ and has been republished with permission.

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