Wednesday, Aug 8, 2012 12:00 AM UTC

Ethical porn

A new X-rated gay website aims to do good. Can socially conscious smut survive in the era of piracy and tube sites?

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Performer Devon Hunter had “very unpleasant” experiences in the world of gay porn — from having to feign attraction to virtual strangers to encountering homophobia on set. That was just the start of it, though: He saw broader industry problems, like exploitation of workers, the unreliable use of condoms and a lack of diversity. He didn’t leave the business, though: Hunter decided to change it by starting his own ethical, socially conscious gay porn company, Anteros Media.

The aim isn’t just to adopt more ethical business practices — like giving co-stars a chance to get to know each other before a scene and requiring condoms in the interest of positive example-setting for viewers — but to change the representation of gay men in porn. Hunter was troubled by the explosion of straight — or “gay-for-pay” performers — in the industry and the message it delivered about homosexuality. As the site’s intro video explains, “We think gay men are attractive, valuable and complete.” The company has also pledged to donate a percentage of profits to LGBT charities. The idea is for viewers to “enjoy sexual pleasure and psychological peace.”

I talked to Hunter by phone about porn’s social responsibility, fetishized homophobia and why he’s trying to court straight women.

You emphasize that Anteros is trying to set an example for viewers by being condom-only. Is porn responsible for promoting safe sex?

Yes, I think it should be. Although there are at least two camps in the industry. There’s one that says that as long as they’re testing and making sure the models are STI- and HIV-negative that they are protecting them and not putting them at risk. And then there’s the camp that I fall into that says, yes, that might be true on that set, but the behavior itself is what people are watching and they don’t see the testing. It’s just like in the car commercials: At the bottom they have to say, “This is a closed road with a professional driver. Don’t do this at home.” But they’re not doing that [in porn]. They’re just showing unprotected sex and a lot of high-risk behavior without any context.

What about other forms of sexual education — do you think porn is responsible for that?

I don’t know that people have a responsibility, unless they choose to pick it up, and I’ve chosen to pick it up. People are going to the Internet to learn about sex; that is the way it is done now. It used to be magazines, now it’s the Internet. And I wish other people would think more clearly about the example they set, but they can’t be forced to. So we’re trying to offer an alternative. We don’t go out looking for underage subscribers, but we know they’ll find us — and what impression are they having of sex? And how will it color their sexuality for the rest of their lives?

What don’t you like about how gay men are generally portrayed in porn?

Number one, I object strongly to the fact that so few gay men are in gay porn. There is a real epidemic of straight men in gay porn. That is problematic on many many levels. It reinforces the idea that heterosexual men are better at everything than gay men, including gay sex — which is absurd! It reinforces the idea that gay men should desire straight men. I believe it’s incredibly dysfunctional when people try to live that fantasy, when people bring it into their lives and start treating other gay men poorly because they don’t measure up to this straight barometer.

I knew gay-for-pay was a big phenomenon, but can you talk a bit more about how pervasive straight guys in gay porn is? I didn’t have an awareness that it was so pervasive.

It’s extraordinarily pervasive. And it’s not just porn, it’s throughout gay adult entertainment in general. I was a club dancer for 12 years and there would be many nights where I’d be the only gay dancer. During Gay Pride in 2008 there were 75 dancers and only three of us were gay — for gay pride at a gay bar. When you look at porn, I would say it’s somewhere between half and three-quarters of the models are not gay.

So straightness is fetishized.

It’s fetishizing straight men, fetishizing homophobia and, because of the lack of diversity, it’s also fetishizing white people. It also fetishizes youth, it fetishizes muscles. Part of what we have done is cast only gay models but also models of many races, ages and body types. We’re trying to portray gay sex as it happens in real life. If you were ever to go to a gay club and watch guys hook up, you’ll see that there’s interracial, cross-generational, different body types attracted to each other. That’s not what’s generally portrayed in porn.

It’s interesting, the site’s tag line is in part “embrace fantasy,” but you’re also interested in producing socially responsible fantasy material. When is fantasy just fantasy and when does it have meaningful real-world implications?

We’re working under the very specific notion that the best fantasies are inspired by reality. I find it difficult to access the videos that go to great lengths to construct these impossible scenarios. I don’t connect with them personally. I find also that I’m having more trouble connecting to porn if I can’t see the guys’ faces. There’s no connection to the people. It’s so anonymous. They’re a bunch of shark attack victims, they have no heads! The way the camera frames the action, these people have no heads, they have no arms, they sometimes don’t have legs — all they have is a torso. Everything about the texture and quality of many of the scenes that I was in myself don’t feel tangible, they don’t feel real. They don’t even feel friendly.

I really want to believe that people other than myself need that kind of connection.

In an age of tube sites and pirated porn, how are you going to get people to consume ethical adult material?

Well, that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now. If you look at the [porn] message boards, you see a lot people being critical of the videos they’re watching. So now it’s my task to find a way to build the critical mass of awareness that will start feeding the site.

Part of our process is that I use one camera and one take. I don’t direct. I get what I can get and that means that I cannot generally capture a lot of the really intense ram-rodding and stuff. I can’t stop and say, “OK, put your leg here, move the light here.” I have to get what I can get. Normally what that means is that I have to focus on the breathing, the kissing, the touching, the body contact, and the mechanics of the sex is not on full display. It creates a very different type of video and part of what we have to do is reach out to people who are dissatisfied with the lack of connection in most porn but who don’t necessarily need to see such graphic depictions of the sex itself. That’s part of the experiment.

It’s interesting hearing you talk about the emphasis on kissing and touching. It makes me think of what I’ve heard some straight female friends say about what they would want to see in porn. I know gay porn actually attracts a lot of female viewers — are you intentionally courting that audience?

We created this material with them specifically in mind. For most gay porn sites, women are somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the membership base. Ours is more like 50 or 55 percent thus far. The fact that it reverberates with heterosexual women, that’s fine. As long as you’re LGBT-affirming and sex-positive, you’re welcome here.

I hope that more gay men will come and embrace what we’re trying to do. But a lot of gay men, for better or worse, are suffering some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder and internalized homophobia, and they might not even know how to look at what we’re doing yet.

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