Ccc
Search icon Facebook icon Twitter icon Instagram icon

Watching Bareback Porn Linked to Sexual Risk Taking, Study


Oscar Wilde wrote “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Following this logic, one could argue that the actions people view in pornography may correspond to the behaviors they emulate in real life sexual encounters. Researchers recently tested this hypothesis and, indeed, found that gay and bisexual men who view a high percentage of bareback (condomless) pornography engage in significantly higher rates of bareback sex.

The One Thousand Strong study, a longitudinal survey of 1,071 gay and bisexual men from across the U.S., found that 96% of surveyed men had watched pornography in the last three months. These men reported an average of 3.5 hours of pornography consumption per week, 60% of which depicted bareback anal sex. About one-third of surveyed men reported having bareback sex with a casual male partner in the past three months.

The data show that for every 1% increase in the percentage of bareback pornography consumption, there was a 3% increase in the viewer’s frequency of bareback anal sex with casual partners.

Interestingly, factors like age, race, education, income, relationship status, and geographic region did not have any significant association with the amount of pornography men watch. However, partnered men did report watching 5% more bareback pornography than single men. Likewise, men currently taking PrEP reported watching 13% more bareback pornography than men not taking PrEP.

Thomas Whitfield, a doctoral student at Hunter College and lead author of the study, highlighted the need for comprehensive sex education that includes information on pornography.

“If we do not educate our citizens about how to engage in safer sex practices and we ignore those of differing sexual orientations, where are they going to look for information? Pornography. These findings highlight that pornography may be providing messaging to its viewers that engaging in health risk behaviors with multiple partners is expected and just another part of sex,” said Whitfield.

Only 13 states in the U.S. require that the information provided to students in sexual education classes be medically accurate, and only 20 states require that condoms must be discussed. In terms of sexual orientation, only 12 states require a discussion, 9 states require it to be inclusive beyond heterosexuality, and 3 states require only negative information on sexual orientation (Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas – all places where HIV rates are among some of the highest in the U.S.).

Before condemning bareback pornography due to its link with viewers engaging in bareback sex, we must note that the study did not prove that watching bareback pornography causes one to engage in bareback sex. As Oscar Wilde suggested, the relationship between art, media, and life is often messy and far from straightforward. Similarly, Whitfield emphasized that “pornography is not the enemy.”

“With this type of research, the first thing readers often look for is where they can point a finger and place blame,” added Whitfield. “It’s just not that simple. Pornography has been reported to have many benefits for gay and bisexual men including helping individuals to understand their sexual orientation, increasing both enjoyment and interest in sex, and providing sexual knowledge.”

Instead of condemning the viewing of pornography, the study authors proposed solutions – including better sex education – for how to reduce sexual risk-taking in people who view pornography.

“Pornography is everywhere and people are going to continue to consume it; our attention needs to turn to determining the protective features that some viewers may have that deter them from engaging in risk while still enjoying their media. Pornography is not meant to mimic real life situations and I’m not convinced that the average viewer knows this.”

This study shows that watching bareback pornography – not all pornography – is linked with higher rates of bareback sex among gay and bisexual men. Future research is needed to determine how studios can improve their sexual health messaging to viewers.