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Bareback vs. Condoms

Bareback vs. Condoms

November 22, 2008
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" I think the emergence of barebacking in the industry is not as much a trend as it is a desire to go back to the way porn was originally made back in the day. "

Scan a current list of bestselling gay adult titles these days and you’re likely to find a variation of one word in the title: bareback. With the prevalence of titles like “Bareback Cum Party #8” or “Bareback Cock Riders” or “Bareback Inferno,” one could easily assume bareback — that is, condomless — is a subniche whose popularity is, well, gushing. But is that the case? XBIZ recently spoke with bareback producers as well as consumers about the apparently popularity of the genre and uncovered a surprising twist: Consumers who purchase bareback titles may tend to do so not because there are no condoms involved, but because the performers appear more engaged onscreen.

In other words, porn fans said they sought certain bareback films because the models actually seemed as if they wanted to be there and enjoyed what they were doing.

First, a bit of background: It is common knowledge that straight producers do not require the use of condoms and regularly test their performers for HIV and other STDs.

That is not the case in gay adult. Virtually all of the content providers on the gay side operate under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Performers are not tested and condoms are mandatory.

Gay producers voluntarily began using condoms two decades ago during the height of the AIDS epidemic and the industry has self-policed itself ever since. With the rise of the bareback genre, that behavior has changed.

We can perhaps trace the current wave to a performer named Jeff Palmer. The sultry, blue-eyed and well-hung Argentine debuted as a Falcon Studios exclusive in 1996 and went on to anchor a string of critical and commercial hits.

By 2002, Palmer was a free agent and although his star had waned, he was still a boldfaced name. Thus, shockwaves reverberated around the industry once news broke of his decision to star in a bareback film called “Jeff Palmer Raw” for production company Hot Desert Knights.

A star of Palmer’s magnitude just didn’t do that sort of thing in those days and the concern was that his popularity would entice fans to emulate his onscreen behavior and potentially contract HIV or another STD.

Nevertheless, “Jeff Palmer Raw” was a commercial smash. Over the next few years he shot exclusively for condomless studios and enjoyed a second shot at erotic stardom thanks to his wildly uninhibited performances.

In the six years since the release of “Jeff Palmer Raw,” a string of similarly high-profile performers have followed his path and crossed the great divide.

The most recent is another former Falcon exclusive, Josh Weston, who headlined last spring’s “Fuck Engine” for Slut Machine Video.

Bareback content providers have proliferated. What was once a niche would now appear to be overtaking condoms-only features on the bestseller lists.

But are consumers truly hungry for sex films without condoms? What are they really looking for when they rent such a title?

Bill Gardner is the founder and CEO of Hot Desert Knights. He told XBIZ the company came about nearly a decade ago via sex parties he and his partner organized. Many of the attendees were HIV-positive and preferred to fuck, without the use of a condom, with other “poz” men.

“My partner and I had recently sold a company that made videos for the transportation industry,” Gardner said. “And one of the guys attending one of the parties knew our background and suggested that we make gay videos and do them bareback because that’s what those guys wanted to see.”

But Gardner believes the presence of a condom didn’t really matter.

“What guys truly wanted was real sex that wasn’t staged,” he said. “I believe that we became a success back in 1998 not because our films were bareback but because they featured real sex between real men who were truly enjoying themselves. We offered no fluff and no reason to fast-forward.”

He said their models typically were not “super hunks” but instead “regular guys who were having a really good time having good old-fashioned man-to-man sex.”

Gardner believes this formula allowed consumers to indulge a more realistic fantasy. “We did not give our customers 20 minutes of stripping and oral sex, followed by 40 minutes of fucking between two guys who look bored. We did not micro-direct and we paired guys who wanted to have sex with each other. Because of that, the sex was real and it was energetic and the chemistry was obvious.”

He said customers want porn films that demonstrate a real connection.

“More often, performers who appear in bareback films enjoy it more than those who are appearing in films made by condoms-only studios,” Gardner theorized.

“Obviously we pay our models and we pay them well. But many of them would do it for free because they enjoy it so much,” he added. “I don’t think studios who produce only condom films, and who are only looking for blue-eyed, blond, smooth-chested muscle hunks can say the same.”

Tim E. is an administrative assistant and describes himself as a “longtime porn fanatic.” He cited a clip of “U.K. Beef Bangers” he recently watched online from bareback studio Treasure Island Media.

“These two guys were fucking so hard they were howling,” Tim told XBIZ. “I mean, they were screaming with pleasure and the bottom was just begging for more. The clip was, I think, less than a minute long! But I fucking bought that movie. It was the first one I’ve bought in months.”

And the reason he was urged to buy the film after viewing that clip?

“I can’t tell you the last time I saw two guys in a condom movie fuck like that. I used to watch Bel Ami all the time, and I still do rent their movies,” Tim said. “They still look really pretty and they still find amazingly gorgeous boys, but they almost never fuck like that, like those two guys in that Treasure Island clip.”

DeWayne is another porn fan who regularly blogs his point of view about the industry from his home in San Diego (dewayneinsd.blogspot .com).

“Most porn fans are looking for a real and human connection between performers,” he told XBIZ. “The huge growth in so-called ‘amateur’ porn this last decade can be attributed to the pushback from customers from ‘plastic porn’ — this pseudo-‘Boogie Nights’ fantasy which was the focus of so much porn in the ‘90s.”

DeWayne said a steady diet of “plastic porn” drove him to seek out alternatives.

“I hated most of what I was getting. The canned music, the fake moans, everything that destroyed my voyeur’s illusion that I was watching two hot men have real sex,” DeWayne explained. “It seemed we customers were just an afterthought. Most producers and directors seemed to be filming to stroke their egos and play pretend Hollywood bigshot.”

He cited “a visceral reaction” when bareback porn first appeared. However, he disputes the perception is that bareback sex is hotter sex.

“That is not true; you can have a sexually charged scene with or without a condom. Some of the hottest sex this year was filmed with condoms,” he said.

DeWayne echoed the assertion of other consumers quizzed by XBIZ that bareback porn tends to feature performers with the genuine connection they crave.

Dino Phillips was a performer and director in gay adult in the mid-1990s who retired to work behind the scenes with gay adult studio 1 Distribution and Tipo Sesso, which produces and distributes bareback product. He has recently ended his retirement to appear onscreen in condomless features.

“I think the emergence of barebacking in the industry is not as much a trend as it is a desire to go back to the way porn was originally made back in the day,” he told XBIZ.

“The end result for the performer, producer, director and ultimately the consumer is to be a part of a fucking hot sexual experience, whether it’s with condoms or bareback.”

He echoed the sentiment that a genuine (or apparently genuine) connection between performers is what he seeks to experience for himself as an actor, and as a consumer.

“When watching porn, I don’t think it really matters if a scene has condoms or not, as long as the performers are really into it and into each other. It draws you in and makes you feel like you’re actually feeling what they’re feeling.”

Phillips cited what he believes to be his best experience directing adult actors — Ted Matthews making love to Derek Cameron in “Nude Science” for Phillips’ Great Dane Productions (the vignette was recently compiled in “Great Dane Gold.”)

“Derek and Ted were so into each other and it really showed onscreen. If the sex is that kind of hot, people will buy it, no matter the genre,” Phillips said.

He believes this connection is often found in the bareback genre for several reasons.

“It’s easier to have guys pig out on each other without condoms. This is why Treasure Island movies are doing so well, I think. Their models aren’t always the best-looking, but you can’t argue that they’re not into each other when they’re in front of the camera.”

Phillips also cites a broader sexual palette for directors of bareback porn — “internal cum shots, oral cum shots, eating cum, felching, doubledipping, and so on.”

He also recalled that it is easier for a performer to “distance himself” when he’s wearing a condom.

“Everything is so much more sterile than if you were doing a bareback flick,” he said. “Bottom line, it is much easier to give a more engaged and enthusiastic performance in a bareback movie.”

In casting for the recent condomless feature “Cum Dump,” Phillips said several performers quoted an increased scene rate for a condoms-only scene.

“Their bareback scene rate was much lower,” he said.

So is bareback porn a legitimate niche in gay adult? Absolutely, just as much as 21-year-old blonds and or bodybuilders or twins will always be popular — we can debate the moral efficacy of the genre another day.

But it would seem what consumers really want is an apparent connection between their erotic idols, and they are finding it in bareback porn.

What’s the answer? An eternal one: Make better movies. Easier said than done, yes. But as profits margins continue to be squeezed by an encroaching army of pro/am and video-on-demand content providers, companies who produce condom porn would do well to take another look at how their production units are staffed and how they operate. If your blue movie isn’t on the bestseller charts — never mind the upper reaches — it’s about damned time to ask why.


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