January 06, 2006

Unsafe sex, DVDs and censorship

Further on the barebacking in porn videos issue, as a coincidence, the Office of Film & Literature Classification, i.e. The Censor, commissioned research on the attitude of porn viewers towards (I presume heterosexual) unprotected sex depicted in porn videos. The full research report is available in [PDF] format.
The people who found on-screen unsafe sex inappropriate had five broad opinions:
* It was wrong or did not portray a good image of sex movies.
* It was a bad example.
* It could increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases among actors.
* Porn film-makers were hypocritical by prefacing their movies with health warnings promoting safe sex but not demonstrating it.
* The adult movie industry had a responsibility to promote safe sex.
I've written to the Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, on any implication in the classification of DVDs and whether the gay barebacking videos will be included or singled out for special treatment (which may see them banned for "being injurious to the public good", the main legal phrase to ban films). Here's what he wrote back to me:
Hi Hans,

Nice to hear from you, and thank you for your thoughtful message. I am in the process of writing a small media-digestible options paper for our website on this, but the option you suggest, an “R18 – contains unsafe sex scenes” label, seems the most sensible option to me at this stage. I agree that an outright ban is likely to create huge compliance issues, but I also think it would be legally defensible on the ground, as you say, that such videos are likely to injure the public good by undermining public health initiatives. We legally only need to establish a likelihood, not actual proof, and our research does seem to indicate that people believe unsafe sex videos might encourage viewers to have unsafe sex. It is much easier to disclose an opinion about other people than to disclose a fact about one’s own behaviour though. I don’t know whether people would ever be honest enough to disclose that they actually did engage in unsafe behaviour as a result of watching an unsafe sex video, or that a questionnaire could be developed to maximise the likelihood of an honest response one way or the other. But I keep an open mind.
As for your question about gay videos, our research did not specifically include them, but it did not exclude them either. Of the 110 people interviewed in Wellington and Hawke’s Bay over two years, 20 were non-heterosexual, and many answers reveal more than a passing familiarity with gay sex videos. One of the comments I made to the Herald reporter that she did not print was that a consequence of banning unsafe sex videos would be that the composition of the market would shift dramatically in favour of gay sex videos because the vast majority of heterosexual sex videos depict only unsafe sexual behaviour, particularly in the form of anal penetration without a condom.
You can download a copy of the research. I’ve also bookmarked your blog. Stay in touch, and happy new year.

Bill Hastings is a lawyer from Canada and he is gay. Him being the chief censor is such a delicious expression of (depending on your point of view):
- New Zealand's inability to trust its own citizens to decide what they can watch or read;
- New Zealand political correctness gone mad by appointing the gay fox to guard the henhouse of Christian civilisation;
- New Zealand's liberal attitude in tolerating members of minority groups to apply and interpret the law.

I have met Bill a few times and a very amiable and jolly fellow he is, but I don't envy him his job at all: the Christian bigots can be terribly illogical in their criticism of his office's decisions. They object to sex on screen such as in films like "Anatomy of Hell", which shows nothing but good old-fashioned lovemaking, while they lobbied actively to have the age restrictions lowered on a dirge like "The Passion" so their kids could watch the most atrocious violence and torture.
I have also met one of his predecessors, Jane Wrightson, who is currently CEO of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and with whom I have to deal professionally on occasion. She and I were at a seminar in the early 1990s on film censorship and we had a spirited discussion on the merits of her banning Pasolini's film "Salo", a film which I had seen several times in Europe, and for the life of me could not understand why other New Zealanders were not allowed to watch it. The only reason I can see to ban it would be for being such a bore but then 99% of all cinematic output would be in danger too. (The film has since been un-banned here in NZ)

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