At the heart of the bareback — or sex without condoms — issue is the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. While its defenders say this type of content promotes an unhealthy lifestyle for gay men, proponents charge that the content is entertainment and allows viewers to live vicariously through the films.
"In 2003 there were more new HIV cases than any year in history," said Keith Webb, vice president of Titan Media. "HIV is not going away, it's continuing to spread. We as a society, and as an industry, have become complacent regarding the issues of HIV prevention. Titan Media feels it is our moral and ethical responsibility to eroticize and portray safer sex practices in our films."
Titan Media made headlines in April of this year when they released a statement saying that they would not hire performers who had appeared in bareback scenes. During the same month, most of the straight adult film industry began a moratorium on production after five porn stars tested positive for HIV.
Many companies, however, actively create and promote the bareback niche and feel that the issue does not encourage gay men to have unprotected sex.
"I believe for a great number of people the thought of having unprotected sex is frightening. Watching, fantasizing and masturbating to a bareback video may be much like going for a rollercoaster ride. There's all that thrill involved without any real danger," said BareBack Jack, producer of the Bareback Video Awards.
BareBack Jack continued to express the belief that people don't automatically conform to what they see on film.
"I've used the argument that if we were all that weak, then all videos showing violence, criminal behavior, immoral and unethical acts should be banned," he said. "There should be no difference between watching a bareback video and watching 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,' were that axiom true."
There is one thing that both sides of the issue agree on — bareback content availability is on the rise.
"When we began making films without condoms in 1999, there were only three gay studios making such content," said Bill Gardner, co-owner of Hot Desert Knights. "Today, there is a proliferation of gay studios making bareback films. At last count, about 30. I would think that the obvious reason for the increase in the sale and the production of bareback films is the simple fact that the consumer is requesting more and more bareback content."
Harlan Yaffe, co-owner of the Pride-Bucks affiliate program, agrees that the content is more readily available.
"I think there are three chief factors fueling bareback content sales: Older audiences remember when porn was condom-free and wish to see that again; younger audiences, not having benefited from the AIDS education when the disease first become an international crisis, feel they are protected by the golden shield of youthful ignorance and don't feel the need for condoms; and those who are fully aware of the risks and practice safe sex but wish to see the fantasy of what they dare not do in real life," Yaffe said.
Bareback video is a case of supply and demand, and as with most things in business, profits are what drive the studios to produce and distribute that type of content.
"In the space of five short years, the bareback genre has grown from a couple of renegade cottage industry studios to a big ticket rival in the porn business. Why? Because underneath it all, despite all the politically correct protestations to the contrary, that's what the gay porn watching public wants to see," said BareBack Jack.
Webb, however, feels that bareback video is just a cheap way for small companies to break into the gay porn video business.
"The vast majority of current bareback films are coming from new upstart companies trying to break into the market," said Webb. "They cannot compete with the bigger studios in terms of quality, content or models, so they go for cheap gonzo films that they can make in a day and sell a couple thousand pieces. It's an excuse to sell low-end crap and try to profit at the risk to the health of their models and the community at large. If they made the same movies with condoms they wouldn't sell very many — the reason is not the condoms, the reason is that they are poor quality low-end movies!"
Arguably, everyone agrees that HIV/AIDS continues to be a serious issue for the gay community. Their views differ, however, on whether bareback content contributes to the problem.
"We have come to a day where so many young gay men need to be reminded that HIV/AIDS is still deadly," said Gary-Alan, owner of GayWideWebmasters.com and GA Media. "These are young men who believe that AIDS can be 'cured' with a drug cocktail or have never seen what this disease can do. We need to make sure they know the consequences of unsafe sex."
Gary-Alan added, "I have seen many of the major bareback providers and video companies add disclaimers and HIV information to their videos. Is that going to be enough? Personally, I don't think so."
Gardner acknowledges that HIV is on the rise, specifically among gay men between the ages of 18-25. He cites the lack of education, and drug company ad campaigns that promote the disease as "manageable" through drug cocktails. He doesn't, however, subscribe to the idea that bareback content contributes to the problem.
"Until this country is willing to take the necessary steps to properly educate the youth of this country about how HIV and other STDs are transmitted, their real effect and how to prevent them, such diseases will continue to increase," said Gardner. "To simply blame producers of bareback films for the increase in HIV is a narrow-minded, shortsighted 'easy way out' of what is a very serious problem."