(Safe) Sex on our screens

  • Kim Johnson - 30 April 2013

DSTV competitor TopTV made news this week after the broadcaster’s bid to add three paid porn channels to its bouquet was successful.

Given that TopTV was relegated to the business rescue basket at the end of last year, the broadcaster is no doubt hoping that its raunchy repertoire will live up to that age old premise: sex sells.

But what about porn’s potential for selling safer sex?

Media coverage on TopTV’s bid to bring X-rated porn channels to South African screens has largely focused on fierce opposition by organisations like the Family Policy Institute and Sonke Gender Justice Network.

Specifically, coverage has zeroed in on the debate around pornography and possible links to increased sexual violence – Icasa subsequently ruled that there was no research which linked increased access to porn with increased levels of sexual violence.

This debate, showcased in this week’s media reports, indicates that there has been some consideration of the effects that increased access to pornography could have on South African society.

It is surprising then that civil society organisations and the media seem to have forgotten that pornography could potentially influence what South Africans get up to in the sack and that that is inextricably tied to our sexual health.

It could be argued that screening pornography that features unprotected sex in a country where HIV continues to be highly prevalent is irresponsible.

But on the flip side of the same coin is the potential for pornography as a tool for normalising, and perhaps even more importantly, sexualising safe sex.

The disconnect between readily available HIV prevention methods and people’s failure to make use of them – even in the face of serious chronic disease - is an issue that has plagued HIV prevention since its inception.

Many organisations involved in sexual health have found that prevention methods like the time-honoured classic condom are just not synonymous with good sex and as a result are working towards making proven prevention methods (like the condom) sexier.

The absence of any debate on how easier access to pornography could affect safe sex behaviour is surprising given not only the severity of South Africa’s HIV epidemic but also the short jump between porn and sexual behaviour and sexual behaviour and sexual health.

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“It is surprising that civil society organisations & the media seem to have forgotten that porn could influence sexual behaviour”