Bare-backing Films and Their Influence
By Steven Toushin
Due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Bijou Studios and all other major studios producing gay porn were using condoms in making their films by 1987-88. By 1992, condoms had become the norm in all gay films. Bare-backing films (an industry term for having sex without a condom) did not exist between 1992 and 1999. It was in 1999 when the bare-backing films started to appear. Bijou Video does not sell films made after approximately 1991 unless condoms are used when filming the sexual scenes.
In 1985, Bijou Video published a booklet of safe sex guidelines called, “Safe Sex: It Can Save Your Life,” and we followed those guidelines in our business practices. Up until 2004, Bijou Video sold either pre-condom vintage films made prior to 1991, or we sold films in which the performers used condoms. In 2004, Bijou Video inadvertently sold a few bare-backing films because I (Steven Toushin) didn’t pay attention to the content of those films or the message they conveyed. That was my mistake; I should have been more aware of the content of the films in question. When I did review them and saw what they were, I immediately stopped selling them.
Thus, in 2004, I instituted the official policy that Bijou Video would not carry or sell bare-backing films. I put this policy together because I was greatly concerned about the disturbing trend involving bare-backing in the gay porn industry. In late 2005, I put Bijou’s bare-backing policy in writing, and then updated it in 2006 and again in 2007.
Although there is very little in filmmaking that I object to, I feel the existence of bare-backing in gay porn is morally wrong, socially irresponsible, and motivated by greed, ignorance, denial of reality, and maybe some self-loathing on the part of homosexual filmmakers. Bare-backing films were started in 1999 by people who wanted to get into the adult business, but they didn’t have the experience, contacts or talent to be successful in an already saturated porn market. So they needed a gimmick, something that was not being offered to the gay public, something that would give them instant recognition and create a market for their films. Since the rest of the gay adult industry was responsibly promoting safe sex with condoms, the producers of bare-backing films found their gimmick by intentionally promoting unsafe sex (without condoms) and thus, risking the lives of their models, actors, and others who may be influenced by these films. Their desire for money did not take into account the price that was paid in human health and lives.
The only purpose for the creation of Bare backing films was to make money by emphasizing the non-use of condoms, to emphasize the fantasy of unsafe sex in a safe sex era. The only purpose of making bare backing films is to focus on the non use of condoms and the dropping out of sperm from the ass or mouth of the recipient. There is no regard for the safety of the models or the effects of the message through visual erotic imagery that unsafe sex has on the sexual habits of the general public. The only purpose for making bare backing films is to make money at all cost.
I don’t fault the general public for buying the bare-backing films. These films offer the excitement of one form of forbidden and dangerous sex, but unlike other forms of forbidden or dangerous sex, bare-backing is like playing Russian roulette with your life. Still, the freedom and fantasy of not using a condom is so strong that it has stimulated sales, which has stimulated the production of more bare-backing films and solidified the genre.
Due to the success of bare-backing films, these films have also found their way into some of the established gay porn studios that don’t want to miss out on the potential to make an extra dollar. Even so, greed and being irresponsible are not limited only to the filmmakers and studios producing and distributing bare-backing films. Retail companies, not wanting to miss out on the potential profits, got into the act by selling these films via mail order, video rental stores, e-mail, retail websites, and VOD (Video on Demand) websites. Have we, as an industry, become so callous, so jaded, that money has become more important than human lives?
The Effects of Bare-backing
The current trend of bare-backing in gay adult films sends a negative and dangerous message to millions of gay men around the world. The message they receive is that unprotected sex is pleasurable, good, safe and fun; there is nothing to worry about; and there are no consequences to be paid for taking the risk of unprotected sex. However, in reality there are major health consequences from having unprotected sex, not the least of which is HIV infection.
The people filming bare-backing scenes are creating potentially lethal sexual situations to satisfy their own greed. Although the performers will not die during the filming, having unprotected sex puts them at high risk of becoming infected with HIV, for which there is no cure.
Many people still don’t seem to understand how HIV is transmitted. When a person has unprotected sex with another person, he is having sex with everyone that person has ever had sex with in his life. If just one of those people from his past was HIV positive, he can be infected, so the virus can be passed on to you, and you can pass it on to another person if you have unprotected sex. Furthermore, a person infected with HIV having unprotected sex with another person also infected with HIV can potentially produce new and drug-resistant variations of the virus.
In all cases, people infected with HIV must take powerful drugs (usually 6 to 20 pills) on a daily basis just to stay alive. Early drugs like AZT, introduced in 1987, offered a slim chance of survival, but with the introduction of protease inhibitors in 1996, HIV can be suppressed for a longer period of time. However, living longer may mean living with considerable disability and/or toxic side effects of the medication.1 2 In addition, as many as 24% to 48% of people continue to lose weight despite using HAART.3 These new medications offer no guarantee of longer life. “The crude mortality rate for patients with access to HAART early in the course of infection is 6.7% at 28 months.”4 Ten years after the introduction of HAART, “the death rate from AIDS continues to be significant at approximately 15,000 to 16,000 per year in the United States.”5 “Even after the heady optimism of the late 1990s following the introduction of protease inhibitors, few if any researchers are currently speculating about the likelihood of viral eradication or ‘cure’ for HIV infection. In fact, a more sober assessment would suggest that HIV/AIDS is now a chronic, progressive disease that still causes considerable morbidity and mortality.”6 Currently, we do not yet know the long-term effects of HIV drugs on the virus or the body. Still, we do know there are serious and deathly consequences for participating in bare-backing sex.
Since 1981, I’ve employed many gay men who were infected with HIV and eventually died of AIDS. Far too many of my employees and dear friends have died from this devastating disease. I have seen the fear on their faces; and I have tried to comfort their fears. It is not only the fear of pain, suffering and death, but also the fear of rejection and of dying alone. It is not only the tragedy of a life cut too short, but also despair over the loss of a future and the loss of hopes and dreams. I have employees today who are HIV positive, some who have recently become infected and had their lives turned upside down as a result.
Although we now have better medication to control HIV, there is still no cure. People continue to become infected with HIV and they continue to die from AIDS. Over 500,000 people have died of AIDS so far in America; and over 40 million are HIV positive in the world today.7 HIV/AIDS is not a myth, a joke, or something to be taken lightly. People such as Bill Gates (founder and chairman of Microsoft), Michael Dell (founder and chairman of Dell Computers), and Bono (an Irish musician) believe that AIDS is serious enough to invest their time and money in promoting AIDS awareness on the world stage.
Yet, despite all the education about safe sex, there has been an increase in the incidence of both HIV and other STDs over the last four to five years. Why? I believe the increased incidence of HIV infection and other STDs is at least partially due to the popularity of bare-backing films.
Newcomers to the Gay Adult Industry
Bare-backing films promote the illusion that HIV is no longer a health problem or a death sentence. Where did this new philosophy of making unsafe sex films come from? Where did this disregard for the models’ health and lives come from? Where did this disdain for gay sexuality come from? This blindness to reality?
From 1992 to 1999, the gay adult industry followed a safe sex standard with its models and its message to the viewing public. Then in approximately 1999, a new group of people became involved in gay filmmaking. These new people realized they could not compete with professional filmmakers and large studios. They were amateur filmmakers with no contacts in the adult industry, so the Internet was their door to the buying public.
When these new porn filmmakers learned that the gay film industry practiced condom safe sex in its films, they envisioned an easy, new niche market in non-condom films. From their perspective, if the industry was stupid enough to ignore such a moneymaking opportunity, they would take advantage of it. If the actors wanted to risk their lives, why should they say no? So, the niche market called “bare-backing” was born.
In the late 1990s, with the expansion of the Internet, new porn markets opened up around the world. As a result, thousands of new people entered the adult industry as models and filmmakers; and millions of new consumers entered the marketplace. As the worldwide market grew, American companies became involved in foreign markets with much needed cash. Originally, most of the bare-backing films were produced and sold by Americans and Europeans taking advantage of the poverty following the break up of the Soviet Union, and also taking advantage of the poverty in countries, like Brazil, where the standard working wages were pitiful. For a few extra dollars, American and European porn producers could convince young men from these poor countries to perform sexually without condoms.
Some of the excuses used by bare-backing filmmakers to justify themselves have included: 1) The models don’t have a problem with not using condoms; 2) The models have consented, so why should we object? 3) It’s the model’s choice; 4) We only allow HIV-positives to have sex with positives; 5) We make films the public wants; 6) I have the right to make films anyway I want; 7) People don’t want to see a mysterious condom suddenly appear; 8) There is nothing wrong with going natural; the spontaneity of sex feels good; 9) Condoms are such a hassle to put on in a scene; 10) As far as myself getting HIV/AIDS, I doubt it will happen to me. The older folks who’ve gotten AIDS have died off and the ones who have it now I wouldn’t want to have sex with anyway; 11) All the propaganda about AIDS is coming from drug companies so they can sell more drugs; 12) People have the right to see what they want; 13) Those who object to choice are promoting censorship; 14) These kids are going to be making bare-backing films – if not with me, then with somebody else, so it might as well be me; 15) I have a First Amendment right, the freedom of expression to create what I want even if some people find it objectionable.
In an interview in Out magazine, Paul Morris, the owner of a bare-backing company (Treasure Island Media), states his philosophy as follows: “To me sex is a religion…I want to make porn that comes from a place even I don’t understand. Porn from a place that’s wild, forbidden, that’s absolutely secret. That to me is gay. Not filtered through what the government says you should be. Not according to what the industry says you should do or not do” 8
What the hell is he talking about? The only part of his statement that even comes close to the source of controversy in bare-backing is when he says, “Not according to what the industry says you should do or not do.” In fact, the gay adult industry does not dictate the use of condoms or have a formal written policy on condom use. The industry does have a voluntary, commonly understood code of ethics that it follows to show respect both to the models and to gay men throughout the world. There are many gay men who have HIV/AIDS and work for porn companies whose philosophy includes the strict use of condoms in all of their films. These companies respect their performers as well as their audience of gay men – and I applaud their integrity.
Bare-backing filmmakers like Mr. Morris have absolutely no respect for the industry’s voluntary code of ethics; and they have no respect for the destruction that HIV/AIDS has caused in the lives of gay men. They have no respect or concern for the men who work for them or for gay men in general. The men who make bare-backing films willfully ignore their moral responsibility. It doesn’t matter if the model wants to be a receptacle for infected sperm, even though it’s a tragedy that a person with HIV/AIDS wants the world to see him shoot his infected sperm into another man. It is the filmmakers who should be morally and ethically responsible – the filmmakers should never give models the choice to harm either themselves or other people.
The following disclaimer is posted on a reseller’s website to justify the selling of bare-backing films:“
These films do not use condoms. This movie depicts consensual ‘bare-back’ (condomless) sex between informed adults. Bare-backing, anal sex without a condom is considered an unsafe sexual practice. The Producer and Distributor of this movie make no judgment as to the type of sex a person chooses to have and present this movie only as a fantasy and an alternative to unsafe sexual practices.”
In response to the statement, “This movie depicts consensual ‘bare-back’ (condomless) sex between informed adults,” I want to ask – What are the models being informed about? Are they told they are at greater risk for HIV infection by not using a condom? Are they informed that an estimated one million people are currently living with HIV in the United States? Are they informed that approximately 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year? Are they told that 70 percent of these new HIV infections occur in men? Are they informed that half of all new HIV infections in the United States occur in people 35 years of age or younger?9 Are they told that there is no cure for HIV? Are they educated about the modes of transmission for HIV? Are they educated about how HIV will eventually destroy their body and mind? Do they know that despite taking medication every day for the rest of their lives, they are likely to eventually die from AIDS? Are they told that the filmmaker is only using them for his own profit and doesn’t care whether they get sick or die?
The disclaimer states, “Bare-backing, anal sex without a condom, is considered an unsafe sexual practice.” I ask, if bare-backing is considered unsafe, then why are they asking the models to be unsafe?
According to the disclaimer, “The Producer and Distributor of this movie make no judgment as to the type of sex a person chooses to have.” I say that the producer paid these kids not to use condoms so he could potentially sell more movies. Greed is the only reason these films are produced and distributed. The disclaimer goes on to say, “The Producer and Distributor present this movie only as a fantasy and an alternative to unsafe sexual practices.” My response is that – No, it is not a fantasy. These movies show kids who are, in reality, involved in unsafe sex in the era of HIV/AIDS.
Pre-condom films 1970-1992
What about the gay films from the 1970s to the early 1990s showing cum eating and sex without condoms? Is selling these videos/DVD’s also sending a bad message to gay men?
The films from the 1970s were made before the existence of HIV/AIDS; and the films from the 1980s were made before HIV/AIDS was well understood. When the dangers of HIV were understood the gay film industry adopted an unspoken policy of safe sex condom use.
Gay films from the 1970's to the early 1990's would never have been called classic bare backing films if the term bare backing was not created and emphasized in the era of safe sex. The intent of film making back in the pre-condom era was to create erotic sexuality and make money, but it's intent was never to put the model in harms way or send a dangerous message to the viewing public. Sex in those years did not kill or leave a person to be on drugs to save his life, for the rest of his life. A point should be made that there are many film companies today that have an ethical and moral philosophy of safety in their making of films.
Should we throw away the first 20 years of gay adult cinema? No, we need to preserve those films as an important part of the history of gay culture. The films created during the 1970s through the early 1990s are promoted today as “pre-condom” films, which identifies them as being made before the safe-sex standard was adopted by the gay adult filmmaking industry around 1991-92.
Setting an Example
HIV/AIDS reared its ugly head in 1980, but not much was known about it in the beginning. During those early years of the epidemic, debates about safe sex and safe sex awareness raged on within the gay community. The gay film industry went through the same debates until 1992 when condoms became the established norm. In 1992, 100% of all the established gay filmmakers conformed to a safe sex policy, meaning that condoms were worn in all films when the models were performing sexual acts with each other. This policy was adopted by the gay adult industry because many actors, producers, directors, and product consumers had already died, while many more were infected, sick or dying from AIDS-related illnesses.
The gay adult film industry realized the impact of unsafe sex practices on the participating models; and they also realized the consequences of the negative message these films were sending to the viewing public. To demonstrate their respect and concern for gay men, the filmmakers voluntarily adopted the use of condoms on film sets to prevent the spread of infection and to set an example of healthy, safe sex for the viewing public.
To quote from a recent speech I gave at the GAYVN awards show, “Gay films, starting with the very first X-rated film, have been the unspoken, unheralded leader in the evolution of gay rights, in the social acceptance of gay men in America, the changing of laws, and in pushing gay society out of the closet around the world. The gay adult film industry doesn’t realize the importance of gay porn in society. In one respect, it has reduced the negative self-image that many gay men had of themselves, and it has also desensitized the general public about gay sex. Secondly, gay films have a profound effect on gay men coming out. With the initial conflict of sexual identity and the feelings of disappointing father, mother, and family, gay men now have a positive image of healthy sexuality, brought to the forefront by gay adult films. The films you make let gay men know that they're normal and healthy, that being gay makes you slightly different only in the bedroom, but it does not hinder your ability to love and to be loved by another person, to be a good son, a good person, and a good American.”
In other words, excluding the bare-backing films, the sexuality and images found in gay XXX-rated films have produced a profound positive influence in the lives of gay men. Thus, if the sexual images on the screen are negative, as in unprotected sex, they will have a profound negative impact in the lives of gay men. If the men starring in gay films don’t project a positive self-image and don’t respect themselves enough to use condoms, they are setting a negative example for others to follow.
Filmmakers are Responsible to Gay Men
As filmmakers, we need to understand the power of the images we project. Gay films have a tremendous influence on gay men. Therefore, our responsibility as filmmakers is to present gay sex as wonderful, pleasurable, exciting, lustful in every way, healthy, and necessary for our well being. We need to present gay sexuality in a positive way, without shame, guilt, or harm.
Most gay adult filmmakers and studios have accepted their responsibility and their moral obligation to gay men worldwide. They have shown respect to gay sexuality. These responsible filmmakers and studios should be congratulated for following a policy of using condoms when making their films.
The people making bare-backing films are destroying the image of healthy sexuality found in other gay porn. The producers and distributors of bare-backing films cry for their right to freedom of speech as guaranteed in the First Amendment. They try to justify their greed and their contempt for gay men by hiding behind these noble tenets. What a crock of crap! No one has denied them the right to make these films; no one has shut them down; no one has arrested them; and no one has sentenced them to prison. Their freedom of speech is intact. However, with freedom comes responsibility; and with responsibility comes ethical decision-making. The first rule of ethics in human interactions is to do no harm. By knowingly, intentionally, irresponsibly, and unethically making the decision to put others in a situation at high risk for harm and death, the producers of bare-backing films have sacrificed their right to freedom of speech on the altar of the almighty dollar.
The transmission of HIV is both an ethical and a health concern in the gay adult industry as well as an entire culture of gay men who have been decimated by this virus. Bare-backing filmmakers do not discuss these higher issues because they have blatantly thrown safety, responsibility, and morality out the door for the sake of their own self-interest.
How will these filmmakers respond when a performer who contracted HIV while making a bare-backing film files a lawsuit? How will the performers respond when they are arrested for intentionally infecting not only one, but potentially many people with this deadly disease? In South Dakota, the state senate has approved legislation that would require people convicted of intentionally spreading HIV to receive a maximum of 15 years in prison and to register as sex offenders.10 How long will it be before other states do the same?
Filmmakers are Responsible to Gay Models/Actors
My position has always been that a person has the right to choose what he reads or watches. Likewise, he has a right to choose how to express his sexuality – as long as it doesn’t infringe upon or harm another person. I don’t care who has sex with whom or with what, or what kind of sex they have, as long as it is not with children, it is with consent, and it does not cause permanent harm. Bare-backing causes permanent harm.
Here in America today, many young people are still ignorant about HIV, how it is transmitted, and the serious consequences of AIDS, so they take a cavalier attitude about themselves contracting the virus. The new generation of young gay men sees AIDS as an old man’s disease. Like young people from all cultures and walks of life, they see themselves as invincible. This attitude makes young people susceptible – and easy prey for filmmakers offering money and sexual stardom.
Although I have difficulty understanding why anyone would knowingly consent to be infected with HIV, I do know there are some people who want to become infected with the virus. These people have come to be known as “bug catchers.” Some of these “bug catchers” have even been quoted as saying that becoming HIV positive relieves them of the stress of having to worry about HIV infection every time they have sex. I’ve been told that other “bug catchers” consider HIV infection to be a badge of honor, evidence that they are without sexual fears.
Because I don’t fully understand the mindset of risking one’s own life or the lives of others for the sake of short-term gratification, I have some questions that I need to put forth for discussion. By following along with the bare-backing trend, are some gay men trying to fulfill their worst fear, the fear that they are somehow not as good as heterosexuals? Are they trying to self-destruct by way of their sexuality? Are they trying to prove to all those people who hate and fear homosexuality that, as homosexuals, they are not worthy of respect? Are they trying to rid themselves of shame and guilt by destroying their own lives? During the 1980s, conservative and religious Americans were happy to frame HIV/AIDS as a gay disease that would wipe homosexuals off the face of the earth. Is the generation born in the late 1980s trying to fulfill the wishes of these bigoted people by eliminating themselves as predicted?
Even when our models are not concerned about their own health and well being, filmmakers/film studios making gay adult films have a responsibility and an obligation to protect the models’ health and safety. Other than making money, our purpose in making gay adult films is to cater to all aspects of sexual taste for people to watch and enjoy in a safe and healthy manner. Our purpose is not to promote unsafe sex practices that could lead people to become infected with a deadly virus.
Lack of Responsibility Could Result in Government Intervention
A few years ago, it was reported in the news that a few female porn stars might have contracted HIV on a movie set. The story caused an uproar in newspapers around the country and probably around the world. The straight adult industry was upset that this could happen to them and to their stars. They emphatically reassured the female porn stars that all safety precautions were taken and this was a very isolated situation. Yet, here in America, gay bare-backing companies can’t wait for the next load of HIV-saturated sperm to be shot into another man and then to show it dripping out of him.
In most aspects of American culture, safety in the workplace is a primary concern. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) specifically governs safety in the workplace. OSHA’s blood borne pathogen standards must be adhered to throughout the health care industry as well as any other occupation in which a worker may be exposed to blood or other body fluids. Employers are subject to stiff fines and even criminal charges if they fail to provide for the safety of their workers.
The adult industry is very fortunate that the federal and state governments do not recognize adult sex businesses as a legitimate industry. If they did, we would be regulated by federal and state health and safety standards. Government regulations would mean mounds of paper work, along with audits, inspections, licensing, credentialing, workers compensation, etc., resulting in increased production costs and decreased profits for the studios. On the other hand, government regulations would hold each studio and individual making sex films accountable for the safety, health, and well being of their models, as well as the message presented to the viewing public.
I am not advocating government regulation of adult films. I don’t want the government to have anything to do with my business or any other part of the adult industry. However, if we don’t regulate ourselves in the portrayal of safe sex, it is inevitable that the government will step in and do it for us.
Until HIV/AIDS (or if there should be another disease) is no longer life threatening, we in the gay adult industry – filmmakers, producers, distributors, and resellers of gay films – have a moral responsibility to the models, to gay men, and to the viewing public worldwide. We have an unsurpassed ability to influence the sexual practices, the social acceptance of safe sex with condoms, and thus, the health and well being of gay men. We have the ability to save lives. If we care about gay men, we will take a stand against bare-backing films. If we despise gay men, we will continue to make and sell bare-backing films, gay men will continue to suffer and die, and the world will miss out on their valuable contributions to the betterment of mankind.
1: “For some, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has meant the possibility of full return of function and health, while for many others, treatment has meant the ‘conversion of death to disability,’ with the emergence of a chronic disease phase characterized by exacerbations, remissions, and eventual death as the survival time from diagnosis to death has lengthened.” Source: http://www2.edc.org/lastacts/archives/archivesMay02/ovessay.asp. Palliative care for AIDS: Challenges and opportunities in the era of highly active anti-retroviral therapy.
2: While many people receiving HAART experience marked improvement in their clinical condition, others are not as fortunate. Some have irreversible deficits (usually neurologic, cognitive, and/or motor deficits) and live at a level of considerable disability and incapacity. Others experience persistent treatment toxicities that make remaining on HAART difficult or impossible. Even for those who do experience improvement in clinical status, there is not necessarily an improvement in quality of life in areas other than depression. Over time, the burden of treatment often outweighs its benefits. New therapies increase the chances of living longer, but often with diminished physical or cognitive capacity and onerous treatment-related symptoms. For some patients, living longer in this diminished state is less desirable than a shorter life.” Source: http://hab.hrsa.gov/tools/palliative/chap23.html. A Clinical Guide to Supportive & Palliative Care for HIV/AIDS 2003 Edition.
3: Source: http://hab.hrsa.gov/tools/palliative/chap5.html. A Clinical Guide to Supportive and Palliative Care for HIV/AIDS 2003 Edition.
4: Source: http://hab.hrsa.gov/tools/palliative/chap24.html. Clinical Guide to Supportive and Palliative Care for HIV/AIDS 2003 Edition.
5: Source: http://www.aidsetc.org/aidsetc?page=cm-602_palliative. Palliative Care and HIV. July 2006.
6: Source: http://www2.edc.org/lastacts/archives/archivesMay02/ovessay.asp. Palliative Care for AIDS: Challenges and opportunities in the era of highly active antiretroviral therapy.
7: Source: http://www.avert.org/usastaty.htm. AVERT is an international AIDS charity, avert.org - bringing you information on HIV & AIDS.
8: Gavin, J. (August, 2007). Baring the Truth. OUT. 58-62.
9: Source: http://www.avert.org/usastaty.htm. AVERT is an international AIDS charity. avert.org - bringing you information on HIV & AIDS.
10: www.kaisernetwork.org 1/24/08.