Prevention educators recognized early on the potential of sexually explicit media (also known as porn) to provide instruction in the mechanics of safe sex and, they hoped, increase the use of condoms and practice of safe sex among gay and bisexual men.
In the late 1980s, Boston’s AIDS Action Committee attempted to produce a safe sex film featuring porn star Al Parker. Cindy Patton, who today teaches sociology at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, worked on the project. Writing about it in her 1996 book Fatal Advice: How Safe Sex Education Went Wrong, Patton explained that the video wasn’t intended to “eroticize” safe sex, but rather “to retrieve already and always safe activities” gay men might do together that seemed to have been lost in the shuffle as everyone focused singlemindedly on eliminating unprotected anal sex.
“Porn videos,” wrote Patton, “are useful if they suggest positive attitudes about gay male sexuality because that helps create and sustain a social environment in which safe sex is practiced because it is viewed as a positive aspect of gay male sexuality.” The group at AIDS Action Committee reasoned that gay men would practice safe sex if they were persuaded to view it as something positive rather than as a kind of punishment for being gay — as many men seemed to see it.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “men who have sex with men” (MSM) comprise only 2 percent of the American population, we consume as much as 50 percent of the porn produced and sold in this country, annually spending as much as $6.5 billion on it.