Safe But Soggy: Australian Gay Porn Videos

OutRage, February 1992

First we lose the America's Cup, then Speedo gets taken over by Americans, then we lose our wheat markets. Is there no end to our national humiliation? It would seem not. In a further blow to Australia's honor and export industry, foreign video-makers have had to show us how to make hot gay porn videos starring Australian men. Our videos may be safe, while the naughty foreigners are still showing unsafe sex, but some of them are a bit soggy when it comes to the hard-on department. Let's hope Paul Keating's sectorial industry policy includes some stimulus to the flagging members of Australia's infant porn industry: they sure need some on the evidence so far.

Two years ago in this magazine I wrote an article on the gay pornography industry ("Gay porn: where fantasy meets reality," March 1990), in which I looked, among other things, at some of the ethical issues this industry raises for gay men. One of the issues I looked at was the conflict between the gay community's campaign for safe sex and its support for an industry which pays young gay men to engage in unsafe sex. In that article I wrote that "the record of the gay porn video industry in facing up to its responsibilities in the age of AIDS is pretty piss-poor."

That comment earned me a letter of rebuke from Nik Brodie of the Mandate Video group in Canberra, pointing out that members of the Australian Adult Video Industry Association (AVIA) were at that time circulating 40,000 hours of safe sex education material throughout Australia, in the form of educational "trailers² at the start of all their videos. This rebuke was quite justified, since my article had not distinguished, as it should have done, between the American and European makers of porn videos and the Australian distributors of them. I replied to Nik Brodie's letter by acknowledging this, and by saying that "I look forward to the day when I can watch Australian-made, AVIA-produced safe sex gay porn videos."

That day arrived much sooner than I or anyone else expected. During 1991 a flood of Australian-made (or at least Australian-located) gay porn videos was released. Canberra's Capital Media has produced The Boys from Koala Beach and Aussie Roustabouts. The Brazil-based director Kristen Bjorn has produced A Sailor in Sydney and Jackaroos. An outfit called Eye of Horus Pictures have produced Going Down Under, set in Sydney. And the veteran American producer William Higgins has graced our shores to make William Higgins Down Under (obviously the "Down Under" pun is rapidly getting worked to death).

These videos are very different in style and of very uneven quality (something I will return to in a minute), but they have one thing in common: they all show exclusively safe sex (with one exception). Australia thus now appears to be the only country in the world with a gay video industry with an (almost) complete commitment to safe sex, another first in this country's excellent record in the fight against HIV/AIDS. While the record of the American and European gay video industries in the area of safe sex is better than it was two years ago, there is still some evidence of the absence of a similar complete commitment in the overseas porn industry.

In the United States, while all the major porn video companies now appear to be insisting on condom use for all anal sex scenes, there are still videos appearing from less well-known outfits which do not. I suspect that there is now a commercial incentive for non-mainstream video-makers to show unprotected anal sex, because some viewers get their kicks watching it (one of the thrills of pornography in general is that it allows the consumer to experience forbidden activities vicariously). Since these viewers are accordingly prepared to pay more for the pleasure of watching unsafe sex, this means that there is still both an opportunity and a financial incentive for gay porn actors to engage in unsafe sex for the camera, just as there is a financial incentive for male and female sex workers to have unprotected sex with clients who are willing to pay more for it.

On ne parlent pas safe sex

Since, as I noted in my 1990 article, many gay porn actors are very young men who are working in porn because they need to pay for drug habits, and who are also working in the sex industry (the nice way of saying they are prostitutes), this means that some of them are still being forced by economic necessity to expose themselves to the risk of HIV infection for the arousal of gay men who buy gay porn videos. Obituaries of gay porn actors appearing in the trade press continue to testify to the consequences of this (of course, it cannot be proved that these men acquired their infection while making videos, but some undoubtedly did). Gay men who find themselves seeking out new videos which show unsafe sex should have a little think about the ethics of this.

Sadly, the biggest offender of all in this area is not any of the American companies, but the king of European video-makers, Jean-Daniel Cadinot. He continues to turn out new videos showing unprotected anal sex in loving detail. His newest release, Service Actif II , full of unsafe anal sex, was made and released this year. This in France, a country with nearly 15,000 diagnosed AIDS cases and perhaps 100,000 HIV-infected people, the majority of them gay men. There seems to be little pressure in France for Cadinot to change his attitudes. This is not very surprising. The French gay community was the last major gay male community to take HIV/AIDS seriously (they spent the first five years blaming the Americans), and French HIV/AIDS organisations seem to be more interested in debating the philosophical meaning of it all than actually stopping French gay men getting infected.

Cadinot is defiant in the face of criticism of his videos, maintaining that all his actors are HIV-negative. There are of course two things to say about that. The first is that Cadinot cannot possibly know that his actors are uninfected (and nor can they), unless he keeps them in solitary confinement for six months after their first negative test result and then tests them again, in order to eliminate any possibility of their having been tested during the window period or of their having acquired infection between the first and second tests.

The second, and more important, objection is that this rationalisation encourages test-fetishism: the elevation of the HIV antibody test to a sort of sacred totem, capable of magically protecting the tested person against infection. If Cadinot tells his actors it's okay for them to have unprotected sex with each other because they have had a negative HIV test, they will not unnaturally assume that it's okay to have unprotected sex with anyone else who has tested negative, and so will some of his viewers. Gay community HIV/AIDS organisations have spent a lot of effort opposing the delusion that it is okay to have unsafe sex with someone if you "know" that they do not have HIV infection, because they tell you they have been tested. By now many of us will know of people who have got themselves infected by falling for this line: I personally know five.

The one exception to the safe sex rule in an Australian video is a scene in Going Down Under , in which two of the actors have anal sex without a condom. Andrew Kirk, the video's director, says that the two actors concerned are off-screen lovers and that the decision not to use condoms was their choice. Well, I would argue, that's fine for them: off-screen. But on-screen they are not lovers, they are strangers having anonymous sex. I think an all-condoms rule should be applied in all scenes, regardless of whether the actors think it's a good idea or not.

Land of sun and limp dicks

Despite this quibble, the infant Australian gay video industry deserves a great deal of credit for establishing the principle of safe sex in all its products from the start. Unfortunately, the very patchy nature of the products the industry has produced so far may well undermine that achievement. Australian gay men are not going to fork out $60 for videos just because they're Australian-made. "Buy Aussie" campaigns don't work in this or any other area of consumer choice: consumers buy for price and quality, not origin of product. Nor can we hope to export Australian videos into a very competitive world market unless they are a world-class product. At the moment, sad to say, they are not.

"Just how big a continent is Australia, anyway?" asks leading American video reviewer Dave Kinnick, writing in Advocate Men. "How is it that Kristen Bjorn can go Down Under and produce titles like A Sailor in Sydney and Jackaroos and fill them with wall-to-wall hard dick, and this new production company comes along from the same locale with an entire video filled with tiny limp dicks?" Kinnick asks this very pertinent question in his review of The Boys from Koala Beach. Sadly, he has no answer to it, and nor do I. It is a great shame that Koala Beach , the first all-Australian made gay porn video, should be such a dismal flop as a piece of erotica, but there it is.

This failure is very strange, because in many ways Koala Beach is a very well-made video. The cast are all quite cute (although I must say that the charms of the star, Guy Fosters, seem to me somewhat over-rated), the color and sound quality are good, the locations are attractive and well-chosen, the scenes are imaginatively presented and passably well-filmed. The video's only failure is the inability of most of the cast to perform for the camera. Only the opening scene shows any real sexual enthusiasm, while the culmination of the video, a big living-room "orgy" with most of the cast in attendance, is almost devoid of erections. Some cast members look quite embarrassed at their limp performances, as well they might.

Now I am the first to admit that getting and keeping an erection in broad daylight in a room full of people while being filmed and sound-recorded cannot be easy, particularly when you have to do the same scene half a dozen times, which is commonly the case. But part of the art of producing a porn video is the ability to find actors who can and do get it up for the camera. To quote another reviewer (Rod Pounder in OutRage's Men): "Gay video buyers are prepared to put up with a lot: bad color, dubbed sound, poor camera work, lousy acting, corny dialogue. They will put up with all these and more, provided they get two things: hard dicks, and actors who know how to use them." If aspiring actors don't possess these virtues, there's not much point in using them, no matter how cute they are.

Aussie Roustabouts , Capital Media's second go at a gay video, is something of an improvement, but not much. There are a few erections here and there, and the actors show some enthusiasm for their work. But there are still too many limp dicks, and some of the scenes lack any real zip. Again, the cast is quite cute, especially the young station-hand who narrates the "plot," although we again see rather more of Guy Fosters than his looks merit. If Capital Media's products keep improving at this pace, they should make a decently hot video by the fourth or fifth attempt. But by then, I imagine, they will have gone broke.

Tim Lowe's Aussie adventure

Kristen Bjorn and William Higgins don't need to be told anything about making hot videos. They've both been doing it for years: in Higgins's case, about 15 years. Both bring to their Australian videos their characteristic styles. Bjorn, most of whose earlier videos have been set in the Caribbean or Brazil, features very muscular, ethnic-looking or deep-tanned men, while Higgins (who never ventures out of the English-speaking world) favors somewhat younger, more obviously Anglo and more lightly built men. Bjorn's men are mostly unknowns, while Higgins always has a star or two to show the youngsters what goes where. In A Sailor in Sydney , Bjorn mixes some local talent with a couple of spectacular Black and Hispanic imports, while in Jackaroos the cast all seem to be locals. In Down Under , Higgins lets the American star Tim Lowe loose among the Sydney talent.

The results in all three cases are spectacular. These videos prove that the limp dicks of the cast of Koala Beach etc are not the result of some defect in the penile tissues of Australian gay men: there are wall-to-wall erections here, including some in steamy group scenes which make the orgy in Koala Beach look like a tea-party. This is some consolation to our wounded national pride. But why does it take foreign-born directors to show Aussie men how to get erections?

A Sailor in Sydney is the sort of video an Australian video-maker should have been able to make and sell to the world. It features great views of the Harbour and the Opera House, lots of gorgeous Sydney men, and acres of hard-hitting sex. One of best scenes is filmed in a high-rise apartment with a million-dollar view of the Bridge and the Opera House. Another features two spectacular young Greek guys: Bjorn videos are nothing if not multicultural. The orgy scene at the end is particularly effective. The only criticism to be made of this video is the soundtrack. Some very strange Aussie accents have been dubbed over the action: it sounds like it should be called Chips Rafferty Gets Fucked.

The star turn of William Higgins Down Under is the luscious American star Tim Lowe, who has made a string of videos for Vivid and other American houses in recent years. Tim combines boyishly cute looks with a superb body and great sexual style. But his multitude of fans have always felt there was a gap in his performances: he never gets fucked. Well, his virtue doesn't seem to have lasted long in sinful Sydney. In this video, he gets soundly done over, not once but twice. And he obviously feels every inch of it. One suspects this was the price of his ticket to Sydney. We should be proud that our own Aussie shores were the locale for Tim to lose his cherry to the camera.

Tim gets plenty of help from his locally-recruited costars. The video is set in a gay hotel, where everybody from the cook to the yard-boy get in on the act. There are some very imaginative scenes, including some mild S&M, and a hilarious threesome between Tim and two Aussie toughs in Rugby League jumpers: very authentic they are too. This is a slickly-made video in the tradition that Higgins fans will have come to expect. It, like the Bjorn videos, has some fine footage of Sydney that should bring the American gay tourists here in droves. It's a great pity that we had to get overseas producers in to make these videos to show us off to the world.