The Bareback Porn Renegades

The Bareback Porn Renegades

The TV screens of a gay bar, club, sauna or sex club might still be showing porn, but more often than not it’s ‘safe sex’ porn that’s on display. Whilst the TV screens display condom only fodder (at least as anal penetration goes), sexual transmission rates continue to rise, along with HIV infection rates. It seems we enjoy the ‘civilised’ space of bars and clubs with their safe sex imagery, only to arrange a quick fuck on Fitlads and end up spending the rest of the evening in a condom-free three-way.

The Bareback Back-story

In June 2009, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton released stills from a sex-tape video involving the ultra symbol of respectability; the young gay Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black. Black was forced to apologise, not for the tape/photos which he regarded as ‘embarrassing’ but rather the acts they depicted stating:

More important than the embarrassment of this incident is the misleading message these images send. I apologize and cannot emphasize enough the importance of responsible sexual practices.

The ‘sexual practice’ in question was barebacking. It was all the more embarrassing for Black as he is a keen advocate of ‘safe sex’. He was left looking like just another gay man who said one thing and did another.

Ever since the 1980s and the outbreak of the so-called ‘gay plague’, HIV/AIDS has dramatically affected the social, legal and political context in which gay men conduct their lives. Death and disease called time on the promiscuity that had come to define gay men’s sex lives. Cruising in parks and toilets were replaced with the apparently ‘safe’ bars of Soho and Canal Street. The pursuit of gay liberation was shoved in a drawer whilst gay campaigners began to argue for equality and the pursuit of the married ‘straight’ family ideal. Porn’s performers followed suit and rubbered up for our new ‘civilised’ age.

The San Francisco Renegades

Well, most did. The world of porn continues to have its renegades. The San Francisco porn maker Paul Morris and his Treasure Island Media (TIM) empire is one such bogey-man; defiant and determined to push a bareback porn agenda, or what they would regard as documenting the reality of gay men’s sex lives. Rather than seeking to create a porn fantasy, TIM seeks to document an authentic sexual experience. Their celebration of raw sleazy fucking is not so much a call to reject the condom-consciousness of the ‘mainstream’, but a public holding up of a mirror to gay men, as if to say “this is you, this is what you do”.

At a time when law-makers are increasingly looking at the criminalization of HIV transmission, TIM and companies like it could be assumed to be pursuing an unwise course.

Yet, despite our protestations about safe sex, we seem to love bareback porn. We consume it; we produce it on sites such as Pornhub.com; and some of us even star in it with companies like TIM. TIM’s Morris deploys a series of ‘exclusives’ who in turn create their own fan base. TIM stars such as Jessy Karson, Brad McGuire, Dawson and recent acquisition, Cory Koons, celebrate their sluttyness, their joy at raw hard sex and, above all, their love of bareback.

The company’s ‘man in the UK’, film-maker Liam Cole, is spreading the gospel according to Morris. His film’s such as Pounded and Wild Breed bring the action to the UK and deploy UK men. His most recent film, Wild Breed, also featured cruising on Hampstead Heath, furthering the notion that TIM’s films sell an ‘authenticity’ of gay sex that other ‘safe’ and civilised companies discard in their bid to produce a glossy representation of the gay sexual ideal.

There are those in the porn world who rail against these developments. Michael Lucas, former porn star and head of the successful porn company, Lucas Entertainment, is the epitome of the respectable gay porn establishment. A condom only producer, Lucas addressed the Oxford Union earlier this year, speaking in proposition of the motion ‘This House Believes That the Gay Rights Movement Has Undermined Family Values’. Writing in 2006, Lucas described his aim; when people watched his films he wants ‘them to see men having a great time enjoying sex, visibly sober, and always using a condom during penetration’. In Lucas’s fabricated world of porn, men only have sex when sober and always wear condoms. It is a self-conscious presentation of the fantasy as desire in contrast to TIMs presentation of authenticity.

Banning Bareback

TIM itself has been at the focus of efforts to remove bareback from public queer life. In 2009, International Mr Leather (IML) issued a letter to stall-holders at it’s annual event in Chicago stating that,

…the Executive Committee of International Mr Leather has decided that it will no longer allow participation in the IML Leather Market by any entity which promotes barebacking or distributes/sells any merchandise tending to promote or advocate barebacking. This restriction will also apply to distribution of gifts, post cards or any other information via our facilities.

And so, the 2010 event passed off without the presence of TIM.

Attendees at the Chicago marketplace could continue to peruse a mind-boggling array of dildos – including those shaped like animal’s penises; could see men bound and gagged before them; men vacuum-packed like bacon; and don 3D glasses for a viewing of (safe) porn. They could not however come into contact with anything from the ‘evil’ world of bareback porn. At least not publicly. Discussion boards and websites revealed the usual plethora of bareback orgies and fuck parties going on as normal in the Hyatt Regency towers above them, and out in Chicago’s Boystown. A public fantasy of safe sex was presented whilst a private reality unfolded.

2009 also saw TIM banned from the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco and the smaller, more community based, Up Your Alley event (operated by the same team). Like IML, the appearance of TIM performers sometimes engaging in sexual activity around their stall and generally appearing sluttish and seductive was an element of the fair and no doubt good for TIM’s business. The Fair organisers said that the ban was in response to TIM defying their safe sex guidance, and pointed to the inclusion of photographs posted on TIM websites that verified this. TIM responded by criticising the attack on freedom and their independent spirit, once again enabling TIM to play their part as the renegades of porn. The move was another example of sections of the gay community publically asserting their opposition to bareback sex and bareback porn.

“If We Build it, He Will Come”

The legal threats and growing global criminalisation holds echoes of the American bathhouse closure strategies of the 1980s. In a flipping of the Field of Dreams line “if you build it, they will come”, it was a strategy based upon what could be termed “if we close it, he won’t cum”. This policy from over twenty years continues to impact on the queer spaces of America and means that Paul Morris’ adopted home of San Francisco remains without a single bathhouse to this very day (although it does have three ‘safe sex’ sex clubs). Today, the rationale seems to be that if we remove bareback porn, we remove bareback sex.

Nonetheless, the future for bareback porn remains uncertain. In the UK, an age of economic austerity may lead to closer scrutiny of NHS costings and a re-focus on turning to the law to produce behaviour. In the US, growing concerns about HIV transmission may lead to further tougher legal sanctions that might draw into their orbit barebacking companies like TIM. It’s an uncertain future.

One thing about bareback porn is for sure. If we keep buying it, they’ll keep making it, and we need to be honest however – we are buying it. We might be talking and watching safe sex but we’re choosing bareback.


For more on the criminal law’s response to barebacking and a queer analysis see: Ashford, C (2010) ‘Barebacking and the ‘Cult of Violence’: Queering the Criminal Law’, 74(4) Journal of Criminal Law 337. A longer academic piece exploring Treasure Island Media and barebacking porn is currently under review.

Related posts:

Chris Ashford

About Chris Ashford

Chris Ashford is Reader in Law and Society at the University of Sunderland. He has published widely on the area of law and sexuality. A queer theorist; his research has focused upon the phenomena of public sex, male for male sex work, barebacking and more broadly, theorising law and sexuality from a queer perspective. He is currently working on his first monograph, Public Sex and the Law: Silent Desire to be published by Routledge-Cavendish later this year. He blogs at lawandsexuality.wordpress.com/.