Sex sells. Is that a problem?

Jim Burroway

April 16th, 2010

There’s an interesting minor dust-up taking place over on the Bilerico Project. Publisher Bil Browning published a post about “Hot Mormon missionary boys masturbating” and that led one of his contributors, David Badash, to quit the site.Badash explains his reasons this way (while helpfully providing links to the content he objects to):

I recognize the need to “pay the bills,” and sadly, I understand that “Prince William’s penis pictures,” “First all Israeli gay porn movie,” and even “Top 10 Stores to Pick Up Gay Men” (three of the top-ten most popular posts on The Bilerico Project) may serve that purpose, but as a journalist, I have to believe that these are the easy way out, and, just as I wouldn’t expect to see that type of content coming from a think tank, or mainstream journalism site, I don’t expect to see it coming from what I thought Bilerico was. And perhaps that was my mistake.

Browning counters that the Bilerico Project is sex positive, and his editorial decisions go beyond merely figuring out how to “pay the bills.” He denies that any of the posts amounts to porn, and besides that, he posits that such criticisms stem from the desire to maintain a facade of respectability which he calls “the losing strategy behind the closet”:

The reason we have been ostracized for centuries from “normal” society is because we don’t conform to the community expectations about penises and vaginas. We need not neuter our sexuality to advance the cause. The best way to press our movement onward is not by trying to convince the public that we’re “just like them.” We’re not. We do not need to assimilate to gain acceptance; respect is not won by submission and false exteriors.

I would have to agree with Bil’s reasoning. And I’d also add that defining and maintaining a particular tone on a web site is both the Publisher’s responsibility and prerogative. And yes, we do need to pay the bills; that’s why you see advertising on this site as well. And I believe we do see ourselves as sex-positive, but that kind of judgment is always in the eye of the beholder. We certainly don’t avoid topics touching on sexuality, but we tend to approach those topics with a certain seriousness. That’s probably because BTB sees itself as an oh-so-serious web site that resists stooping to the lowest common denominator of base sexuality to promote our site. Are we too serious? Maybe. Personally, I’m a big consumer of what could be described as lowest common denominator-type stuff, and I can’t say I have any qualms about it whatsoever. But our readership doubles in size every nine months quite dependably simply by providing you with what you’ve come to expect: news, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric.

And speaking of news and analysis, the world welcomed singer Ricky Martin as he publicly declared that he was no longer in the closet. Which brings up an interesting question: when a performer comes out of the closet, it’s natural to speculate on how it will affect that performer’s art. After all, if sexuality is something that all people see as one of their core traits, it would seem that escaping the closet would be a freeing experience and that this experience would be reflected in the artist’s work. So in an attempt to provide further data to this artistic theory, we present Ricky Martin’s very first promotional video since coming out and let you be the judge.

Analyze away!

Update: The promotional video isn’t exactly new. It was filmed in 2007, but Martin tweeted it to his followers this week. Featuring tatood messages like “find yourself” and “change your life,” Martin said, “It’s all about positive affirmations.”

Timothy Kincaid

April 16th, 2010

That’s probably because BTB sees itself as an oh-so-serious web site that resists stooping to the lowest common denominator of base sexuality to promote our site. Are we too serious? Maybe.

Perhaps. Personally, I’d rather have the number of readers which we have and be effective in combatting Kill the Gays bills in Uganda or accrediting policies in Canada than to have five times the number of readers and only feed them the fluff.

But, for me, the issue it less about seriousness and more about respect for the reader. I know that they don’t have endless time in their day, and the BTB readers don’t want to wade through Hot Guys of the Day postings to find out what’s untruthful about the latest bogus “scientific” claim by the anti-gays or to consider a perspective about faith. You don’t go to the grocery store to buy furniture and those that make their shoppers wade through patio sets to get to the milk soon lose my business.

We also respect that many readers may not be gay and may have absolutely no interest whatsoever in sex stories. We decided long ago that while we would not shy away from our perspectives and our opinions, we would try not to have a blogsite that was unwelcoming to non-gay readers.

And finally, none of us have the time. It is tough enough getting up real postings with real content and real ideas. I just don’t have the extra hours in my life to chat about Prince William’s penis.

David Roberts

April 16th, 2010

I think it depends much on your target audience. XGW could never get away with even the ads that appear on BTB without eliminating a good portion of the people who probably need to see our information most – they would simply avoid the site at first glance. It’s already quite a niche readership, and I want that group we would lose.

Bilerico is a larger operation and I’m sure they do have serious bills to pay. That said, I can understand the confusion over having serious news and magic underwear silhouetted genitals in the same space. I don’t think it’s prudish, just a matter of venue.

I’ve used an ad blocker for years so I never see most of this stuff. I will admit to being somewhat surprised when I turned it off to view BTB just now. Perhaps that is just the contrast to never seeing anything (I did know the ads were there, as others have commented to me occasionally).

Mike Airhart experimented with ads on XGW a few years ago, but the income wasn’t worth it and the systems (at least then) didn’t provide the selectivity we needed to filter out what they inevitably pushed to any site with the word “gay” in it.

Advertisers seem to have a very narrow idea of what gay people want to see. That does bother me a bit.


April 16th, 2010

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’. The one who believe that being gay means ‘different’ and ‘special’ than the rest of the people.

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’. The one who believe that being gay means being ‘sexually liberated’.

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’. The one who do not believe that there are people who identify as gay, but also disagree to promiscuous behavior just like any other people.

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’. The one who thinks that ALL gay people should be exactly like them.

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’. the one who clearly doesn’t understand that sexual orientation has NOTHING to do with their choice of lifestyle, and their view of morality.

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’, a relic from the last generation of gay people. who fight for the rights to be ‘different’, instead of being ‘equal’.

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’. The new type of homophobes. Another kind of Rush Limbaugh…..but with gay issues.

Aww….here comes the ‘gay supremacists’. Who clearly doesn’t understand the diversity of gay people.

Aww….look……here comes the ‘gay supremacists’.


April 16th, 2010

Never in my life that I feel that I am different than my other straight buddies. Yeah, my object of desire is of the same sex. But that’s the only differences I have.

I still want children just like most people, I still want to get married just like most people, I am still pressured to be monogamous just like most people. Only the object of my desires is of the same sex. But that’s the only differences I have.

I see porn, just as much as my friends see porn. I flirt at guys, just as much as my friends flirt with girls. I went out on a date, just as much as my friends went out on a date. Only the object of my desires is of the same sex. But that’s the only differences I have.

All of my friends doesn’t see me differently. Even though that I am completely out. My friend teases me when there’s a cute guy passing by and they noticed that I was noticing him. I teases my friend when I noticed him noticing a cute girl passing by.

Like it or not. Gay people can be just as normal as someone else. LIVE WITH IT!!!

Emily K

April 16th, 2010

I second everything said above. “sex positive” does not mean “nobody is allowed to be squeamish when I post articles about Mormon boys engaging in sexual acts.”

I think XGW and BTB are very sex positive. Sex positive means you don’t look at sexuality as being something negative. And it isn’t. But not everyone has the same turn-ons – this needs to be respected. Bil obviously doesn’t know how to do this.


April 16th, 2010

I definitely do not think BTB is “too serious”. Please continue doing what you’re doing and keep up the good work!


April 16th, 2010

After reading the post I was prepared to comment, but then I watched the Ricky Martin video and just completely forgot everything that I was planning to write here.

Jason D

April 16th, 2010

I agree with Emily to a point. Too often people see things in an either or position.

Either you’re okay with PG to X-rated ads or you’re a sexaphobe!

It’s all about context, appropriateness, time and place. You can object to the timing and placement of sexualized content without objecting to sex altogether.


April 16th, 2010

I “unfanned” them on Facebook after that post. The last thing I need is for my friends (all of whom know I’m gay – I tend to be obnoxiously out!) reading that kind of stuff. I still look at the blog, but no more Facebook for me with them.


April 16th, 2010

I think every blog fills a niche… If I want to see pin-up boys, I’ll go to Queerty. If I want to to see breaking news, I’ll go to the Advocate’s Web site or JoeMyGod. If I want to see serious and thought-provoking commentary and analysis, I’ll read Box Turtle Bulletin or Pam’s House Blend.

I read Bilerico sometimes, but I’m not a huge fan of it… There’s some good and insightful stuff on there, but they lean a little too heavily on post-modernist navel gazing for my tastes. But I did enjoy the masturbating Mormon boys and Prince William’s penis (after I got home from work, of course).


April 16th, 2010

I think it all depends on your audience and what you see your site as. It’s the internet. There’s plenty of choices for everyone, whether it’s pure analysis and activism or simply a general destination for a community’s interests.

Perhaps Bilerico Project’s problem is it’s not being honest with itself or really making a choice. Being sex positivist isn’t really a reason to publish those things, IMO. It would be a reason to publish things that actually discuss sexual topics in depth, rather than titillating pictures or subjects.


April 16th, 2010

Having “known” both Bil Browning and David Badash, abeit on twitter, I can only hope that the split will be an amicable one. I think it has less to do with gay men watching porn, then it does with how David saw Bil and his site. Obvioulsy,porn, sex, relationships and how we go about them can be vastly different from person to person. I was always taught as a child “the law begins at home”. It was the case in my mom’s house anyway. lol. I guess they will both agree to disagree as to site content. Whether they will or not is another matter.

Emily K

April 16th, 2010

Being sex positivist isn’t really a reason to publish those things, IMO. It would be a reason to publish things that actually discuss sexual topics in depth, rather than titillating pictures or subjects.

Burr’s comment makes me think: Maybe an argument could be made that Bilerico is actually being sex negative.

Why? Because they might give lip service to the fact that sex and sexuality are complex, but they present it in an extremely superficial manner.

A regular visitor could see all the beefcake pics and develop narrow views of what makes someone attractive. This could affect their self esteem or their treatment of others – potential partners would only deserve a second look if they looked like underwear models.

Maybe that same regular visitor would see everyone in the comments section talking about the size and girth of so-and-so-famous-person’s penis and think, “why isn’t MY penis like that? I must be malformed and a freak who will never be good in bed.”

At an extreme end of things, they might feel isolation because said particular person might not feel “part of the gay community” because they don’t find certain pornographic images pleasant to look at or talk about. The pressure to conform is great.

And overall, there is quite a lacking of sexual variety with Bil’s explicit posts. They’re about “hot guys” doing “hot things.” That could drive home an idea in someone’s mind that gay sexuality is actually not at all “different” or “diverse,” and if you are not into these things, you are an outsider and a freak and don’t have a prayer of finding a romantic partner – or even solidarity – in the gay community.

That doesn’t seem very “positive” to me.

And of course, feel free to vehemently disagree and say I’m out of my mind for positing such an argument.


April 16th, 2010

I don’t know if I would call it negative, as that’s reserved for the truly prudish, but I definitely feel you there, Emily. One of the things that kept me at a distance from my sexuality at first was the fact that I didn’t find terribly attractive most of what was popular among the gay outlets I knew about. As positive as I am about sex and as gay as I am, I have a hard time objectifying men to the extent I see on many websites and apparently a different taste as well.

Lynn David

April 16th, 2010

Bilerico seemed to ‘grow up’ awfully fast. Bil always had a playful side to his posts when early in the earlier time of his blog. Ok, now comes the third sentence when I’m supposed to come to some profound conclusion; but it just is what it is.

Paul in Canada

April 17th, 2010

The wonderful thing about the internet is that there are a gazillion choices that are merely a ‘click’ away. I don’t want a one-stop site to try and give me all the things that may interest me.

Don’t change BTB – you’re great just the way you are.

Now, where are those Mormon boys located?



April 17th, 2010

why porn?

why not theatrical performance? why not entertainment website? why not green card ads? why not health clinics? why not charity? why not Greenpeace? why not WWF?

why porn?

Is it because it’s ‘gay-related’ website?

*sigh* so many questions left unanswered.

Jason D

April 17th, 2010

Burr, Emily, yeah “sex negative” isn’t quite there but it seems…immature? Sometimes when I’m on a site (not BTB) and the conversation turns to, say, how hot Constance McMillen’s father is, we suddenly get an eyeful of someone’s latest sex fantasy about him with minor attempts at discretion. Makes me wonder if some folks work at home and are therefore naked in front of the computer 24/7. Or if it has been several decades since they’ve had sex, if they’ve had it all.

But I think when the sexuality related stories are more on the superficial, porny side of things, that it’s more immature than it is sex negative.

Emily K

April 17th, 2010

Hmm, ok. “sex-negative” is not the correct definition. But calling it “sex positive” to me feels incorrect. It’s like saying french fries are “healthy” because they are made from simple, maybe even “all natural” ingredients (potatoes, oil, salt) and because they are made of vegetables (potatoes, which are starchy but contain vitamins).

On an extreme possibly straw-filled end, I don’t call exploitative and violent pornographic images, in which the subjects are reduced to objects, “positive.”

One member of my family was caught by his Mom looking at online porn. But he was a teenage boy, so she didn’t freak out. But at the same time she was disappointed and alarmed, because she didn’t want his primary sexual education to come from images that exploit women. So she bought him a book about sexuality called “The Big Bang.” She used education to combat myths spread by pornography. This way even if he still looked at porn (probably), he would have a positive force in his life to counter-act those messages. True story.

The book, and the mother’s actions, I would call “sex positive.” But the porn, it’s something else, something superficial and misleading. But I don’t know what to call it.

I found this quote about sex-positivity on wiki:

Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent.

Diversity, huh? But everyone on Bil’s site seems to enjoy looking at roughly the same kind of stereotypes: buff men, penises (big ones, those are the “good” hot ones!), and people engaging in sexual acts that are not immediately gross-looking (e.g., masturbating with your clothes still on).

Maybe Bil is too insecure to call it what it really is: titillation that makes him feel good in his erogenous zones. Instead he claims it’s some sort of “liberation.” But this is the internet. It is defined by how liberated it is all by itself without anyone’s help. You want to see hardcore stuff you don’t even need to go to a true xxx site, you just need to go to “encyclopædia dramatica.”


April 19th, 2010

Well, I wouldn’t say everyone on Bil’s site, just the largest segment of the readership.

But then, I’m biased. I read both BTB and TBP, and I write for one of them.

I’m also a self described Prude who avoids such things. The majority of the advertising (and articles) do not have much, if anything, to do with porn. There are near daily peeks at life in a past tense through postcards and posters, there are the weekly looks at entertainment and music, there are the large number of trans related posts, there’s the consistent ENDA effort, and there’s more on top of all of that in terms of content.

The split is decidedly amicable when it comes to Bil and David — not so much when it comes to the readership (and the non readers, who often don’t realize that Bilerico features far less porn or sexually themed material than, say, the Advocate, IONAZ (a local mag), or Queerty.

As a bi trans woman, I’m kinda getting a chuckle out of all of that, especially in light of the fact that one of the things many folks at Bilerico are wanting to see but few are talking about is the relatively light voice of lesbians.

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