The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (January 2008)
Gay pornography is the representation of sexual activity between males. Its primary goal is sexual arousal in its audience. Softcore gay pornography also exists; it at one time constituted the genre, and may be produced as beefcake pornography for heterosexual female and homosexual male consumption.
Homoerotic art and artifacts have a long history, reaching back to Greek antiquity. Every medium has been used to represent sexual acts between men. However, gay pornography in contemporary mass media is mostly concentrated in the making of home videos (including DVDs), cable broadcast and emerging video on demand and wireless markets, as well as images and movies for viewing on the Internet. (For printed gay erotica, see gay pulp fiction).
Homoeroticism has been present in photography and film since their invention. During much of that time, any sexual depiction had to remain underground because of obscenity laws. In particular, gay material might constitute evidence of an illegal act under sodomy laws in many jurisdictions. This is no longer the case in the United States, since such laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.
However, hardcore pornographic motion pictures (stag films, as they were called prior to their legalization in 1970) were produced relatively early in the history of film. The first known pornographic film appears to have been made in Europe in 1908. The earliest known film to depict hardcore gay (and bisexual) sexual activity was the French film Le ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly, produced and released in 1920. Most historians consider the first American stag film to be A Free Ride, produced and released in 1915. In the United States, however, hardcore gay sexual activity did not make it onto film until 1929's The Surprise of a Knight. Other American examples include A Stiff Game from the early 1930s, which features interracial homosexual acts as part of its plot, and Three Comrades (1950s), which features exclusively homosexual activity.
Legal restrictions meant that early hardcore gay pornography was underground and that commercially available gay pornography primarily consisted of pictures of individual men either fully naked or wearing a G-string. Pornography in the 1940s and 1950s focused on athletic men or bodybuilders in statuesque poses. They were generally young, muscular, and with little or no visible body hair. These pictures were sold in physique magazines, also known as beefcake magazines, allowing the reader to pass as a fitness enthusiast.
The Athletic Model Guild (AMG), founded by photographer Bob Mizer in 1945 in Los Angeles, was arguably the first studio to commercially produce material specifically for gay men and published the first magazine known as Physique Pictorial in 1951. Tom of Finland drawings are featured in many issues. Mizer produced about a million images, and thousands of films and videos before he died on May 12, 1992. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the advent of 16 mm film cameras enabled these photographers to produce underground movies of gay sex, male masturbation, or both. Sales of these products were either by mail-order or through more discreet channels. Some of the early gay pornographers would travel around the country selling their photographs and films out of their hotel rooms, with advertising only through word of mouth and magazine ads.
The 1960s were also a period where many underground art-film makers integrated suggestive or overtly gay content in their work. Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising (1963), Andy Warhol's Blow Job (1963) and My Hustler (1965), or Paul Morrissey's Flesh (1968) are examples of experimental films that are known to have influenced further gay pornographic films with their formal qualities and narratives. Also of note is Joe Dallesandro, who acted in hardcore gay pornographic films in his early 20s, posed nude for Francesco Scavullo, Bruce of L.A. and Bob Mizer, and later acted for Warhol in films such as Flesh. Dallesandro was well-known to the public. In 1969 Time called him one of the most beautiful people of the 1960s, and he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in April 1971. Dallesandro also appeared on the cover of The Smiths' eponymous debut album, The Smiths.
During the 1960s, a series of United States Supreme Court rulings created a more liberalized legal environment that allowed the commercialization of pornography. MANual Enterprises, Inc. v. Day was the first decision by the United States Supreme Court which held that magazines consisting largely of photographs of nude or near-nude male models are not obscene within the meaning of § 1461. It was the first case in which the Court engaged in plenary review of a Post Office Department order holding obscene matter "nonmailable." The case is notable for its ruling that photographs of nude men are not obscene, an implication which opened up the U.S. Postal Service to nude male pornographic magazines, especially those catering to gay men.
Wakefield Poole's Boys in the Sand, starring Casey Donovan, was the first gay pornographic feature film, along with the works of filmmakers such as Pat Rocco and the Park Theatre, Los Angeles, California, circa 1970. In fact, it was the first pornographic feature film of any sort. Boys in the Sand opened in a theater in New York City in December 1971 and played to a packed house with record-breaking box office receipts, preceding Deep Throat, the first commercial straight pornography film in America, which opened in June 1972. This success launched gay pornographic film as a popular phenomenon.
The production of gay pornography films expanded during the 1970s. A few studios released films for the growing number of gay adult movie theaters, where men could also have sexual encounters. Often, the films reflected the sexual liberation that gay men were experiencing at the time, depicting the numerous public spaces where men engaged in sex: bathhouses, sex clubs, beaches, etc.
The 1960s and 1970s also saw the rise of gay publishing with After Dark and Michael's Thing. During this time many more magazines were founded, including In Touch and Blueboy. Playgirl, ostensibly produced for women, was purchased and enjoyed by gay men and feature full frontal nudity (the posing straps and fig leaves were removed).
From 1970–1985, commercial gay pornography was just getting set up to become the large industry that it is today. Because it was in the fledgling stage, it recruited actors from the only network it had access to: the gay community. Even among members of the gay community, people willing to act in gay porn were hard to come by due to the social stigma and implicated social risk of being publicly out.
The 1980s were a period of transition for gay pornography film. The proliferation of VCRs made pornography videos easily accessible, and, as their prices fell, the market for home videos aimed at adult viewers became more and more lucrative. By the mid-1980s, the standard was to release pornography movies directly on video, which meant the wide disappearance of pornography theaters. Furthermore, video recording being more affordable, a multitude of producers entered the market, making low-budget pornography videos.
This shift from watching pornography as a public activity to doing so in private was also influenced by the discovery of HIV and the subsequent AIDS crisis. Public spaces for sex, such as theaters, became less attended when in the early 1980s it became a much riskier behavior. Masturbatory activities in the privacy of the home became a safe sex practice in the midst of this health crisis.
Gay movies of the 1970s had contained some exploration of novel ways to represent the sexual act. In the 1980s, by contrast, all movies seemed to be made under an unwritten set of rules and conventions. Most scenes would start with a few lines of dialogue, have performers engage in foreplay (fellatio), followed by anal penetration, and ending with a visual climax close-up of ejaculating penises, called a money shot or cum shot. Video technology allowed the recording of longer scenes than did the costly film stock. Scenes were often composed of extended footage of the same act filmed from different shots using multiple cameras. The quality of the picture and sound were often very poor.
Major directors such as Matt Sterling, Eric Peterson, John Travis, and William Higgins set the standard for the models of the decade. The performers they cast were especially young, usually appearing to be around the ages of 22 or 23. Their bodies were slender and hairless, of the "swimmer's build" type, which contrasted with the older, bigger, and hairier man of the 1970s' gay pornography. Performer roles also evolved into the tight divisions of tops and bottoms. The top in anal sex is the penetrating partner, who, in these films, typically has a more muscular body and the larger penis. The bottom, or receiver of anal sex, in the films, is often smaller and sometimes more effeminate. The stars of the decade were almost always tops, while the bottoms were interchangeable (with the exception of Joey Stefano, a popular star, who was more of a bottom.)
This strict division between tops and bottoms may have reflected a preference by some of the popular directors of the decade to hire heterosexual men for their movies. Heterosexual men who perform gay sex for monetary reasons (commonly labeled gay-for-pay) were considered a rare commodity in the gay sex trade, but the biggest producers of the decade could afford them. Many critics attributed the conventionalization of gay pornography of the 1980s to this trend.
1985 was a pivotal year for gay porn because by then, the market had grown enough to make it a desirable field of work for not only gay men but also straight men. According to one estimate by porn director Chi Chi Larue, 60% of the actors in gay porn are actually straight. This incidence of straight men in gay porn is known as gay-for-pay and the ethics behind it and implications of it are highly disputed.
The gay pornography industry diversified steadily during the 1990s.
In 1989, director Kristen Bjorn started a pornographic business which was considered as setting a standard for gay pornography producers. He was a professional photographer, and the images in his videos were considered to be of high-quality. As a former porn star himself, he directed his models with care, which helped improved the actors' believability. Other directors had to improve their technical quality to keep up with demands from their audiences.
Another significant change during this decade was the explosion of the niche market. Many videos began to be produced for viewers with specific tastes (i.e. for amateur pornography, military (men in uniform) pornography, transgender performers, bondage fetishes, performers belonging to specific ethnic groups, etc.), and this led to a diversification of the people involved in pornography production and consumption.
The gay pornography industry grew substantially in popularity during the 1990s, evolving into a complex and interactive subculture. Professional directors (such as Chi Chi LaRue and John Rutherford), technicians or deck operators during the U-matic phase of video technology, and performers started to engage in pornography as a career, their work sustained by emerging pornographic media and critics, such as Mikey Skee.
In the 21st century, gay pornography has become a highly profitable enterprise, ranging from the "straight-guy" pornography of Active Duty and Sean Cody, to the 'twinks' of BelAmi. Many niche genres and online delivery sites cater to various and changing interests. For instance much of Van Darkholme's work contains bondage and particularly shibari, the Japanese art of bondage and knot-tying, a specialty within BDSM cultures.
On the other hand, Lucas Kazan Productions successfully adapted literary classics: Decameron: Two Naughty Tales is based on two novels by Boccaccio, The Innkeeper on Goldoni's La Locandiera. Lucas Kazan also found inspiration in 19th and 20th century operas, combining gay porn and melodrama: The School for Lovers, 2007 GayVN Award Winner for Best Foreign Picture, is in fact inspired by Mozart's Così fan tutte.
Some controversy currently exists regarding studios that produce bareback videos (videos of sexual penetration by the penis without a condom). Mainstream companies, such as Falcon Entertainment, Hot House Entertainment, Channel 1 Releasing, Lucas Entertainment, Raging Stallion Studios, Lucas Kazan Productions and Titan Media and LGBT health advocates assert that condomless videos promote unsafe sex and contribute to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, both in the pornography industry and in the gay community as a whole. The controversy dates back to the first few years of the HIV crisis, when nearly all gay pornography production companies voluntarily required their models to wear condoms for anal sex.
The premise of industry figures, notably Chi Chi LaRue, is that gay pornography serves as a leading forum for teaching safer sex skills and modelling healthy sexual behaviors. At least one bareback studio agrees that porn should promote healthy sexual behaviors, but disagrees on the definition of healthy in this context: speaking about the AIDS crisis, Treasure Island Media owner and founder Paul Morris has expressed his belief that, "To a great extent, the current gay mindset surrounding HIV is a result of a generation of men living with PTSD and not getting the support and help they need now that the war is over. [...] As a pornographer, all I can do in response is to produce work that features men who are openly positive (or negative) and happily living their lives honestly and fully."
Emerging research has suggested that pornography is a possible source of education about sex and relationships. In the absence of inclusive same-sex relationship education in traditional sources (i.e., schools, parents, friends, and mainstream media), gay pornography may be used by men who have sex with men as a source of information about intimacy, while serving its main purpose as a masturbatory aid. Contrary to popular views that pornography doesn't depict intimacy, a recent study showed that gay pornography depicts both physical and verbal intimacy.
The authenticity and ethics behind gay-for-pay porn are highly disputed, even within the gay community. Viewers of gay porn in a survey by Escoffier reported a preference for authentic porn, which they define as exhibiting both erections and orgasms. Escoffier argues if straight-identifying actors are able to deliver erections and orgasms to the set, their performance is classified as situational homosexuality; therefore, the porn itself is authentic gay porn. Simon and Gagnon examine authenticity through scripts, arguing that porn actors follow learned behavioral sex scripts, so no porn is any more or less authentic than any other porn.
Because the term "gay-for-pay" implies a motivation that is solely economic, Escoffier argues it is not a fitting title. Other reasons certain gay-for-pay actors report for their career choice include latent homosexual fantasy and curiosity.
Among gay-for-pay actors, there is divided preference for the performance roles of top vs. bottom. It is common for gay-for-pay porn actors to start out as tops before they eventually give in to fan and industry pressure to shoot a scene or more as a bottom. Gay-for-pay actors are typically more comfortable being tops because the role of top is analogous to the "less gay" penetrator role of the man in straight sex. On the other hand, some gay-for-pay porn actors prefer to act as bottoms because they can do so without maintaining an erection. The implication here is that they are not even necessarily aroused during sex, making this the "less gay" of the two positions.
Even though they are acting in gay porn, some gay-for-pay actors hold homophobic views, causing tension in the workplace. Additionally, gay actors often find it difficult to perform with straight actors due to the lack of attraction. Tommy Cruise, a bisexual actor in gay porn, is quoted saying, "A lot of straight guys, they don't even want me touching them. I'm like 'Why are you even in this business?'" However, some gay and bisexual porn actors, such as Buddy Jones, do enjoy working with straight men in some circumstances because as long as the sex is good, it doesn't matter to them how the other actor identifies sexually.
In August 2005, adult star Jenna Jameson launched "Club Thrust", an interactive website featuring gay male pornographic videos, which was shown to attract a female audience as well. Yaoi comic books and slash fiction are both genres featuring gay men, but primarily written by and for straight women. Some lesbian and bisexual women are also fans of gay male pornography, specifically yaoi, for its feminine-styled men. An analysis by Mother Jones found that Pakistan leads the world in gay porn searching on the Internet.
Bareback gay pornography was standard in "pre-condom" films from the 1970s and early 1980s. As awareness of the risk of AIDS developed, pornography producers came under pressure to use condoms, both for the health of the performers and to serve as role models for their viewers. By the early 1990s new pornographic videos usually featured the use of condoms for anal sex. However, beginning in the 1990s, an increasing number of studios have been devoted to the production of new films featuring men engaging in unprotected sex. For example, San Francisco-based studio Treasure Island Media, whose work focuses in this area, has produced bareback films since 1999. Other companies that do so include SEVP and Eurocreme. Mainstream gay pornographic studios such as Kristen Bjorn Productions have featured the occasional bareback scene, such as in "El Rancho" between performers who are real-life partners. Other studios such as Falcon Entertainment have also reissued older pre-condom films. Also, mainstream studios that consistently use condoms for anal sex scenes may sometimes choose editing techniques that make the presence of condoms somewhat ambiguous and less visually evident, and thus may encourage viewers to fantasize that barebacking is taking place, even though the performers are following safer-sex protocols. (In contrast, some mainstream directors are conscientious about using close-up shots of condom packets being opened, etc., to help clearly establish for the viewer that the sex is not bareback.)
Some scholars argue that while "barebacking" and "UAI" technically both mean the same thing, they have different undertones. With the increased use of the term "barebacking", the term has been adopted for marketing purposes. This is because "Unprotected Anal Intercourse" makes a direct connection between unprotected sex and the risk of contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS. However, although "bareback" seems to have become the favorable term, studies show that both terms ultimately have equally negative implications. In a study where participants were shown two different scenes featuring anal sex, the significance of the words "bareback" and "UAI" became apparent.
The first scene featured group sex in which several men were on top engaging in intercourse with one man on the bottom. The men on top were in their mid-30s and of varying ethnicities while the man on the bottom was around 18 years old. The second scene featured two men both in their 20s in a living room setting. During the interview, the participants were much more reluctant to classify the second scene as "bareback" or "UAI", than they were for the first scene. Participants readily used "bareback" to describe the first scene in which there were clear contrasts in race, age, and power. The participants described the second scene as being more "meaningful and romantic" and hence more likely to use a condom to protect the other. The implication of this study is that the term "bareback" ultimately does have a dark meaning as it relates to HIV/AIDS, regardless if it does not mention protection in its name. Thus, studies have shown that barebacking is decreasing in popularity within the gay subculture. Bareback pornography does not necessarily encourage more unprotected anal sex in reality, nor do all men who participate in anal sex necessarily want to have unprotected sex. What is clear is that there is still a sense of risk among participants of anal sex.