Baring the Truth
By James Gavin
For some, seroconversion can feel liberating'in the short term, anyway. Though himself negative, 'Morningwood''the assumed name of a San Francisco'based 24-year-old member of the Radical Faeries'has seen the 'reward' claimed by so many who contract HIV, including one of his past lovers. 'A surrender of fear happens,' he says, 'and the sense that now you're free to have whatever kind of piggy bareback sex you want.'
I watch bareback sometimes, even though I feel it's politically wrong and potentially harmful. Danger is hot'hotter, often, than glossy commercial porn, much of which features escorts robotically going through the moves. By contrast, bareback films make me think I'm missing the party. And I wonder whether they have influenced my handful of slips from safety.
Michael Brandon, a partner in the studio Raging Stallion, might say yes. He dotes on fans who worship his porn persona: a lanky, bearded, horse-hung embodiment of his company's name. At home he's in a long-term condomless relationship. 'We've been tested, and we're comfortable with each other's health issues,' he explains, but on-screen is another matter. 'I feel I have a huge responsibility. If one of my fans or a teenager sees Michael Brandon fucking without a condom, they may think, Michael Brandon does it, so why can't I?'
That's not Sam Dixon's concern. Dixon runs 1 Distribution, a Los Angeles'based DVD distributor, along with Tipo Sesso Productions, which produces cut-rate bareback video. Doesn't he feel that porn filmmakers have some obligation to promote safe sex? 'We're an adult industry,' he states with nonnegotiable firmness. 'We're not an educational industry. I think the best you can do is try to put a little PSA at the beginning of your films. Beyond that, I truly believe that one's sexual practices are cemented by the time they're watching porn.' As for his actors, he says, 'If they don't do it for me, they'll do it for somebody else. It's not my position to chastise them. That's censorship.' Blame the rise in barebacking not on porn but on crystal, he says, and on neglectful parents. 'Way before someone's watching adult films, the education has to start: Here are the facts. Be responsible. And save bareback sex for your life partner.' Who's communicating those messages today? 'No one.'
Certainly not the Bush administration, which preaches abstinence and insists that condoms are unreliable. 'We have this government that's so sex-phobic it's destroying safe-sex education all over the world,' says Howard Grossman, an eminent HIV specialist. Ignorance also pervades the bareback porn world, as Tim Valenti knows. As cofounder of NakedSword.com, a Shangri-la of gay video on demand'none of it bareback'Valenti has met lots of the subgenre's young models. 'I found them to be extremely naive about what they were doing. Young people were being pushed into participating in something without having a clear understanding of the ramifications. I didn't want to be part of it.'
In the Czech Republic, where bareback rules the industry, both gay and straight actors undergo regulated HIV screening. In the United States testing of gay actors is sketchy. Some producers do only quick screenings for antibodies, which may not appear until six weeks after infection. But if gay porn were to shut out HIV-positive performers, as straight porn does, the business would crash. 'You're looking at an industry where easily 50% of the actors are HIV-positive,' says Michael Stabile, NakedSword.com's marketing director. 'I've talked to some of them, and they say, 'The only time I ever have sex with a condom is on-screen.' So bareback isn't any huge fall from grace for them.'