The Science of Condoms – Pornography, Japan, and Beyond

In the past year, we have seen our fair share of headlines on the decline of condom usage, ranging from America and Finland, all the way to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, even the porn industry has been engaged in a dialogue on whether or not porn actors should be using contraception. You’d think the world would have learned the benefits of condom usage by now, but the fact that there’s even a discussion about this means that there are still people who need convincing. Here in Japan, some professionals are going to great lengths to promote condom usage, including one adult charity event that set out to “save the earth.”

Taking Pornography into Your Own Hands

I probably don’t need to tell you that virtually everyone watches pornography nowadays… but I sure will. Simon Louis Lajeunesse, a professor at Montreal University, in Canada, set out to study the effects of pornography. Every good science experiment needs a control group, so he knew what he had to do next. There was just one problem:

“We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography. We couldn’t find any.”

He had to change his study to instead look at the pornography-viewing habits of single men compared to men in relationships. On an average week, single men viewed porn for 40 minutes, three times a week, while those in relationships consumed porn for 20 minutes, about 1.7 times a week.

One could speculate that the time a single guy spends masturbating with pornography is spent by his counterpart in a relationship having sex with his partner, but that’s beyond the scope of the study. We might, however, want to concern ourselves more with those who don’t watch porn, because guys who masturbate are more likely to use condoms for vaginal intercourse, according to a recent study from the U.S. This masturbation and condom-consumption correlation was not found for girls, but it only takes one partner to use a condom for it to work, so that’s a good thing nonetheless. And no, this doesn’t mean “masturbation causes condom consumption,” but as sexetc.org speculates “Perhaps guys who are comfortable with their bodies are more likely to think about practicing safer sex?”

The Porn Industry’s Great Condom Debate

Why does it matter if people watch pornography? Well… porn has become the new sex education for teens. Remember, the Montreal researcher above couldn’t find a single 20 year old male who hadn’t seen porn, which means everyone was already watching before their twenties. And I shouldn’t even have to say it, but yes, women also watch it. There are plenty of studies that have confirmed this, but just to name one, the British Newspaper The Sun had over 1000 respondents answer questions about pornography consumption. 88% of men and 66% of women reported that they watch porn, and 57% of the women even reported watching it with their male partners.

I have been referring to the sexual behavior of various cultures, and you might be tempted to argue that what’s true for one culture won’t be true for another. While this may be true, depending on what we’re talking about, here’s the fact of the matter: If you give people access to pornography (and privacy), they’re likely to watch it. And if people watch it, they’re likely to engage in sexual activity, whether that’s alone or with a partner. So if people are engaging in sexual activity while watching, and it’s becoming the new sex education for youngsters, the decision to use a condom in pornography may be important for viewers. After all, research published this July found that condoms provide effective protection when used correctly, but even incorrect practices that are clearly defined on condom labels are frequent. Obviously, when we’re “in the mood” we’re reluctant to read condom labels, but evidently there’s still much to learn, considering we’re making such preventable mistakes.

Porn stars seem to be of the opinion that condoms are great, but not for porn. Porn actress Nina Hartley said “If a performer wants to use condoms, that’s great—but we don’t think it should be mandatory.” When male porn actor Darren James tested positive for HIV in 2004, it rocked the adult entertainment industry, and people started demanding mandatory condom usage in adult videos. It was later revealed that James had even infected three other women. And yet, porn stars are still reluctant to use condoms. The porn producer and performer Belladonna believes that what people need to ensure is not condom usage – in fact, she will not produce porn with condoms – but testing for STIs prior to shooting an adult film. Ernest Green, another pornography produce, had this to say:

“Condoms are fine for ordinary folks, but they’re not suited to porn. I allow two and a half hours to shoot a typical boy-girl sex scene. With constant stops and starts, condoms frequently tear—and abrasion on female performers’ vaginas make them vulnerable to STIs. Even condom-only female performers eventually abandon condom use—not under pressure from producers, but because of the constant rawness and endless bacterial infections. […] The term ‘safe sex’ is an oxymoron. Whatever measures are taken, sex is never risk-free.”

While he certainly has a point, porn stars like transgendered performer Buck Angel are intent on lowering that inevitable risk by always engaging in sex with condoms. So while producers juggle their money between testing and treating infections (which many porn stars say are unavoidable), the debate continues in the industry.

And then there’s Japan.

Japanese Porn Stars to Save the Day

“An alarming new superbug may be on its way — an incurable form of gonorrhea,” an article from MSNBC said last year. “The disease, once easily killed with a shot of penicillin, is increasingly becoming drug-resistant. Soon, the world may face a version that can’t be killed by any known antibiotic […].” This article come out about 11 months before scientists announced that they had found exactly that – an incurable form of gonorrhea.

The lead researcher, Swedish professor Magnus Unemo, says that since the 1940’s, gonorrhea has shown a “remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it.” The strain was found in Kyoto, here in Japan, from a 31-year-old prostitute. Luckily, she seems to have eventually overcome the infection (after some rather disturbing symptoms), but the treatments given were reportedly not responsible, and it’s possible that others have been infected as well. It’s stories like these that were likely the motivation for Paradise TV – an adult TV channel – to host an event that tries to help people with such serious problems. I’m, of course, referring to “Erotics Save the Earth.”

This is an annual 24-hour charity event in which ordinary people can donate money for a good cause – to raise money for HIV and AIDS prevention. Paradise TV is basically known (among the minority of people who carry the channel) for its silly and sexy content, and the event – which started in 2003 – now includes such things as panty auctions, orgasm telethons, pseudo-idol breast groping, and the apparently ever-popular “tekoki jinja” (“hand-job temple”).

While it seems this may be nothing more than publicity-grabbing smut, it’s worth it to consider the good this does, not just in raising money, but also awareness. As TimeOut Tokyo reports, “Condom use in Japan is plummeting, and full-blown AIDS cases are at an unprecedented high.” “Maybe,” as Kotaku suggests, “with its emphasis on condom use, it picks up the slack where traditional sex education left off.”

Everyone wants what they believe is best, whether that’s avoiding abrasions from rough sex on camera, or promoting safety in everything you do. Opinions differ from person to person, and methods vary from country to country. But one thing is for certain: Chances are, if you use it right, that condom has got you covered.

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