In recent months, a number of popular all-male adult entertainment video production companies, including Lucas Entertainment, have opted to delve into the production of bareback films. This has sparked heated responses from both the pro and con camps on a variety of matters. Some have pointed out that straight adult videos have almost always been condom-free and no one has said a word. Perhaps they have; but two wrongs don’t make a right. Others have said that there is plenty to choose from—safer sex productions or raw films—so if you don’t like it, don’t watch. I insist on the use of condoms in my own intimate life and most certainly prefer to see that level of responsibility in my adult entertainment. Falcon Studios has tossed their hat into the bareback ring as well. While keeping condoms in use, they have announced that they will digitally remove condoms from the productions, prompting some to cry false advertising. Falcon has always been one of the major studios promoting condom use in the gay porn industry, and, while I commend them for remaining a studio that films safer sex productions, digitally removing the condoms from the films still glamorizes unsafe activity in its own way.
If you ask any of the major players in the health field, such as the NIH, CDC or GMHC, you will find that each and every one, plus countless more, advocate the use of condoms. A document released by the CDC called “Condoms and STDs: Fact Sheet for Public Health Personnel” states the following:
“Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, consistent and correct use of latex condoms reduces the risk of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including diseases transmitted by genital secretions, and to a lesser degree, genital ulcer diseases. Condom use may reduce the risk for genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and HPV-associated diseases, e.g., genital warts and cervical cancer.”
No matter what reputable source you consult, the percentages of HIV and STI prevention are considerably higher when condoms are used correctly and consistently. It seems time that someone not only reminds the adult film industry of that fact, but of the impact they have on their viewers and fans.
It’s no secret that the demand for raw films is alive and well. In my Internet travels I often see “raw” and “bareback” as the top search words. This demand, along with the onset of PrEP, seems to have wooed adult film companies to produce more bareback films. “PrEP” stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. The word “prophylaxis” means to prevent or control the spread of an infection or disease. The goal of PrEP is to prevent HIV infection from taking hold if you are exposed to the virus. This is done by taking a pill that contains two HIV medications every day. These are the same medicines used to stop the virus replicating in people who are already infected.
Michael Lucas, the self-proclaimed human rights activist, owner and often performer in adult films for his own adult entertainment company, Lucas Entertainment, was one of the last hold-outs on producing bareback films; throughout his career he has been a staunch advocate of condom use. Not too long ago he had a change of heart after discovering PrEP and singing its praises in an interview with Out magazine. Lucas states:
“I am advocating that we look at both the social and medical science, and [to] begin responding accordingly….I’m now 41 years old, and have been sexually active for at least 23 years. I’ve lived through the horrific period when AIDS was untreatable. It’s a memory that will never go away. But since this disease is no longer a death sentence, our daily fear of it has diminished, and we have become more likely to slip up. That’s why the possibility PrEP offers our community is one we need to be talking about.”
While I agree with the concept that HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be, I would urge readers to make note of the statement “our daily fear of it has diminished, and we have become more likely to slip up.” Indeed. Should we live in fear? No. But we should thrive in awareness. By glamorizing unsafe sex, whether it be truly raw or a digitally manipulated fantasy, aren’t we giving people more of an opportunity to “slip up”?
In addition, Lucas tells AVN: “It is mandatory for our models to undergo full panel testing no more than two weeks prior to a shoot regardless of the type of scene. A full panel test covers syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and of course HIV. We don’t shoot unless the models have a clean bill of health. Models can verify their partners’ results if they desire. In addition, as a second level screen, we provide rapid HIV tests on the day of the shoot if the models request this additional verification.
“We don’t discriminate against HIV-positive models. We pair HIV-positive models in condom free shoots as long as both are comfortable. Obviously we do not pair sero-discordant models in condom free shoots.”
To add insult to injury, Lucas Entertainment goes so far as to put HIV-positive men in a place where re-infection or super-infection is possible. While I commend Lucas Entertainment for not discriminating against HIV-positive performers, Lucas might have lost sight of the fact that there are many different strains of the virus and pairing positive models with positive models in raw films puts both parties at further risk and may make an already difficult situation worse.
In 2011, former adult entertainer Jack Ryan had a commentary published on Advocate.com. It began:
“Someone just messaged me on Facebook to say I am a role model to them, and that excites me and scares me at the same time. I did porn to rebel and not be normal, but even in rebelling, you gotta keep boundaries. Safe sex is a must.
“For those of you who don’t know, I did a bareback movie in 2008. I’m not gonna even mention the studio or the title, because I do not want anyone to purchase it, and I don’t want to promote it.”
It was the only raw film he ever did. Later in the commentary he continued:
“But promoting bareback sex, which I was outspoken against throughout my porn career, could have possibly caused one gay man to replicate my on-screen behavior, resulting in them contracting HIV.”
Kudos, Mr. Ryan.
Adult film entertainers are often revered as celebrities. In a world that often places perfect bodies and sexual prowess on a pedestal, is it any wonder that many try to emulate those who seem to stand out above the rest? They have the kind of lives, at least from what we see on film and in their public personas, which many long for. They are beautiful, well built men living an arousing and exciting life in the spotlight. They are seen as stars. That being said, what message does appearing in a bareback film send? Does it sway the most vulnerable and impressionable of our community? When the mighty in the adult entertainment industry remove their condoms, do our young or impressionable view that action as they would their favorite superhero donning a cape?
What prompts a production company to produce bareback films; a new customer base, taking hold of a new genre, higher sales? What leads a performer to appear in these films; higher rate of pay, new fans in a different category? Perhaps, but my concern is what sways viewers. What happens to the impressionable who want to be just like their heroes?
Celebrities are used to promote and sell everything from cell phones to life insurance to their adoring public. Hair styles, fashion, fragrances, gyms and gadgets alike; we strive to be like those we admire. Consumer see, consumer do. Does it not stand to reason that celebrities in the adult industry equally impact their followers and that indulging in raw sex may be just another way to be like those they look up to? What is the outcome of emulation if you are wooed to put your condoms aside by the actions of these men you admire? An article published in USA Today in January states: “The rate of HIV increased 22% among gay males ages 13 to 24 from 2008 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Teens and young adults accounted for more than a quarter of the 47,500 new infections recorded in 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available.”
It takes a village, my friends. Each of us, in our own way and in any way we can, including the adult entertainment industry, should be promoting safer sex to our young and impressionable and reinforcing self preservation to all the members of our community.
Rob Zukowski, a New York native, has spent twenty-five years in LGBT activism, both personally and professionally. He is a published writer and photographer and is currently pursuing a degree and licensing in complementary and alternative medicine.