Barebacking: Wave of the Future?
This past October Treasure Island Media - the leading adult male barebacking studio - won the Best American Studio citation at the David Awards, the European porn awards in their second year. What made this so significant is they won over Titan, Channel 1 and Hot House - studios that have firm policies against barebacking. Controversy ensued, when Channel 1 and Titan condemned Treasure Island's winning of the award, and both Channel 1's Chi Chi LaRue and Titan's Bruce Cam refused the awards they were given. LaRue had planned on using his acceptance speech to denounce barebacking, but said the event organizers didn't allow him to.
Barebacking is the elephant in the room within the adult gay male industry - everyone sees it there, but doesn't know what to do about it. Most apparent are the dangers of filming unsafe sex. Recently a British magazine reported that three male actors working on a barebacking video were infected by a fourth, who did not know he was HIV+ at the time of the shooting. According to a report in Boyz Magazine, the actor had tested negative during testing prior to shooting, but it turned out to be a 'false negative.' (In Europe mandatory testing of models is required.) This turn of events will not influence the release of the DVD, which means that audiences can witness an HIV-transmission in real time, but will likely never know since the DVD's title and the actors involved will not be released due to confidentiality agreements.
Nonetheless when an American porn company that specializes in portraying sexual behavior that's been taboo for two decades wins an industry award, has barebacking been given a new respectability? And has barebacking finally crossed the line and become part of mainstream adult gay male films? "Indeed, the horse is out of the barn," reported JC Adams on his website Gay Porn Times. "Just recently, Kristen Bjorn's Sarava Productions released a director's cut version of EL RANCHO that contained a condomless duo scene between real-life boyfriends Pedro Andreas and Daniel Marvin. BelAmiOnline.com offers condomless sex scenes to their members that features many of their big stars." It has also been reported that Raging Stallion is digitally removing condoms from sex scenes.
But with barebacking becoming more respectable, what effect do these DVDs have on the sexual behavior of those who watch them? Have gay men transitioned from watching barebacking on a HDTV to doing it in real life? It's an undeniable fact that raw sex feels great. It's natural and totally hot; and, well, wrong on many levels. But even if we could all agree that it's inadvisable behavior, what's the harm in having a look? Edge spoke to both sides of the fence - only to find that bareback porn's champions and critics each have a righteous axe to grind, a legitimate point to make, and not much respect for the middle ground.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Are those who consume bareback porn likely to have bareback sex? Would I (or YOU) ever in the hazy, horny early morning hours choose to have unprotected sex just because we invited the notion into our bedroom via the DVD player?
Like all of the murky questions raised by bareback porn, the short answer is yes; and, no. Adult entertainment news & gossip columnist, porn blogger and radio host Jason Sechrest (JasonCurious.com): "I know a lot of people who watch bareback porn because they know it is unsafe to do in their personal lives. It's an outlet for a fantasy for them ... I don't know that you can pinpoint or generalize that people get off on bareback porn or bareback sex for that matter because it is dangerous or risky. It just feels better and looks better. Period. There's no denying that. Though someone may prefer to be safe, no one prefers sex with a condom."
Porn impresario Michael Lucas, who along with Chi Chi LaRue has been a high-profile advocate of safe sex in film as well as everyday life, says: "The majority prefer to watch movies without condoms because it is more natural. When people watch porn, it's about imagination; and condoms are distracting the imagination."
Dr. Perry N. Halkitis, Professor of Applied Psychology & Public Health, NYU, doesn't necessarily think that watching bareback videos leads to barebacking. "It is likely that some may choose to act upon what they see, but certainly it is not the video which in and of itself is the direct cause of their unsafe sex ... the problem is that the videos may normalize and legitimize it ... For some, it is their only sexual outlet ... if men choose to act out their barebacking fantasies by watching porn instead of their sexual transactions with others, then this is a safer approach for their own heath and that of their community. Thus, the porn might act in a protective manner as well ... There is no simple linear route to explain why gay men continue to engage in unsafe sex practices. However, it is more likely that it will 'give permission' to men to bareback. This problem parallels similar discussions about cigarette smoking by characters in major motion pictures."
Raging Stallion's Chris Ward put it even more bluntly: "I am often told the argument that barebacking is all about fantasy - just like Hollywood," he told the Gay Porn Times. "But in Hollywood, they do not use real bullets to make war movies. They don't kill real people when making horror movies."
There ought to be a Law?
As Cyndi Lauper eloquently put it in She Bop, "There ain't no law against it yet." But should there be? Done habitually, barebacking is just as sure of a health risk as cigarettes, alcohol, and overeating - which, combined, make the human/financial/social cost of AIDS pale in comparison; but unlike these other self-inflicted, self-indulgent maladies, barebacking can deliver its fatal flaw in one single event. There's no denying that unprotected sex is a (bad?) habit that many will continue to indulge in; so maybe we need laws and regulations that parallel the federal oversights imposed on smokers and drinkers. I for one would love to see unedited C-Span coverage of the Senate hearings on regulating the porn industry ("The Chair will now hear from our esteemed representative from the great state of Pennsylvania, who will walk us through a screening of Dawson's Twenty Load Weekend.").
Although we're still a few more Bush family administrations away from the policing of our bedrooms, it has been suggested that requiring the porn industry to test for STDs and HIV is not an entirely unreasonable idea. That way, the actors would be safe and viewers could pat themselves on the back while watching-and still have one hand free. It's also been suggested (now, by me) that bareback videos should be exclusively populated by POZ and/or monogamous couples. But really, would that seriously impact the talent pool? Perhaps Big Brother is the way to go. Lucas: "I would be for regulating the porn industry. It would be nice if the government would step in and request all models to use protection. We will all be in the same situation." But this is still (for now) the land of the free; and there's an equally valid argument that consenting adults can, and should, be able to fuck raw with impunity-knowing, accepting, and even inviting risk.
Paul Morris, of Treasure Island Media, is an unapologetic advocate of barebacking. He talks about the scorn his studio has faced for its honest and frank portrayal of male sexuality: "My work is about one thing, really. It's about the exhilarating and transcendent wonder that is men having creative, consensual and mature sex with other men ... And the dynamite I use is the extraordinary and vertiginous sex that I celebrate, a sex that's powerful and beautiful beyond logic ... this, not the fact that there are no condoms, is what critics find most disturbing and frightening. The men in my work are absolutely euphoric, out of control with lust and a passion for sexual communion. Neither they - nor I - will lie about who we are, nor will we be ashamed of what we do."
Having been called everything from a frank and brave sexual outlaw to a manufacturer of snuff films, Morris is, in the eye of the beholder, either an admirable or demonic mix of Libertarianism, hedonism and nihilism.
Morris: "There's often a more or less disingenuous effort to focus criticism of porn like mine in terms of the safety of the models. Enormous generalizations are made about how I work, how I treat the models and what I represent in my movies. They are, for the most part, wrongheaded and simplistic. The angry critiques from other studios seem to be actually based in an odd rage centering around the fact that the men in my movies are engaged in sex with a commitment and passion that can only poorly be represented by the mainstream and money-driven productions ... The vast majority of the men in my movies approach me, eager to take part in sex that is actually about them, that honestly and explicitly celebrates what they've chosen to do with themselves. One of the principle jobs of my men who are in 'casting' is to keep the files of the legions of men who volunteer in good order. A good number of these men either refuse to accept payment from me for their work or they actually offer to pay me."