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Pornographic Film and Video: Gay Male  
 
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Pornographic film and video have played an important role in gay male culture. Whereas heterosexual pornography has been accompanied by a serious stigma in the "straight" world, gay pornography has been characterized partly by the high esteem in which it is held in the gay male subculture.

As a group that is both defined by its sexual activity and rejected by the majority culture for it, gay men have often seen in pornography an all-too-rare positive image of gay sexuality. Similarly, they have found in the exaggerated sexuality and marginal artistry of porn a campy rejection of the hierarchies of the heterosexual majority.

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As with straight pornography, gay male pornography can be divided into two categories, hardcore and softcore. Hardcore is the genre commonly associated with the term pornography. It includes explicit imagery of actual sexual activity to the point of climax, including visible penetration and ejaculation.

Softcore is a less explicit alternative, generally focusing on nude or nearly nude bodies in sexual or sensual situations, but without views of penetration or visible climax. The sex is nearly always simulated in softcore, and it is often filmed with an emphasis on romance or mood. As porn diva Gloria Leonard once humorously proclaimed, "The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting."

Because both the production and consumption of pornographic film and video are dependent on relatively high levels of technology, the genre's development has taken place primarily in the industrialized West. The existence of a large and economically advantaged gay community there is another important factor.

Thus, Western Europe and especially the United States have been the centers of gay male porn production and audiences, though in recent years South America and Eastern Europe have also figured as sources of pornography that is consumed mainly in the West.

As technology has spread, hardcore pornography has begun to be reported from such unexpected locations as India. However, the bulk of gay male film and video pornography continues to be made by and for white Western males.

Beginnings

While gay male pornography in literature and still images has a long history, gay male pornography in motion pictures really began in 1971 with the theatrical release of Wakefield Poole's The Boys in the Sand, a hardcore, ironic response to the groundbreaking play and film The Boys in the Band.

Before The Boys in the Sand, filmed images of same-sex activity were limited to a few examples in stag films (some dating to early in the twentieth century) and to the less narrative examples found in underground films of the 1960s such as Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising (1963).

In both cases gay content had to be disguised or excused by some other aspect of the film. In the stags it was incidental to heterosexual activity, or involved a case of mistaken gender identity; in underground films the artistic content and context helped to justify the obvious same-sex activity.

The Boys in the Sand heralded a new era of openness and popularity in gay male pornography and introduced the first gay superstar, Casey Donovan. Grossing more than $800,000 shortly after its release, the film's success helped create a new industry.

The production of gay pornographic films expanded during the 1970s, paralleling the simultaneous expansion of the straight porn industry following the huge success of Deep Throat in 1972-1973. Companies such as Jaguar and P.M. Productions began producing a stream of gay male hardcore features for release in a limited number of specialized gay porn theaters.

Simultaneously, short film "loops" also became common. These descendants of the old stag films were hardcore scenes (often silent) run on projectors as continuous loops in either adult bookstores or movie arcades for the entertainment of customers who dropped coins or tokens for a few minutes of viewing.

As the industry diversified during this period, it became more commercialized than previously. Gay male pornographic films lost their initial formal references to art films and their occasional accompanying aspirations to be something more than "just pornography." Increased explicitness gradually overwhelmed narrative and aesthetic content.

The Advent of Video

These theatrical films and loops, however, were soon to be replaced by a new medium: video. As prices of home VCRs fell during the 1980s, the video market became increasingly lucrative. Producers of both gay and straight products gradually began to shoot their movies directly on video, aiming squarely at the target of the home viewer.

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