Bareback Porn Studio Features HIV-Discordant Couple
The pornography company Treasure Island Media is promoting a couple that includes an HIV-negative and an HIV-positive partner having unprotected sex as "role models." They are believed to be the first sero-discordant barebacking couple to be advertised as porn stars.
According to a Treasure Island statement, the acting couple’s James Roscoe is HIV-positive, while Brad McGuire is HIV-negative. In a scene featuring Roscoe and McGuire on a Treasure Island website, Roscoe is the receptive anal sex partner or bottom.
"The two are a real-life, long-term, promiscuous, bareback couple," stated the company in a press release.
In the statement, which was dated October 27, Paul Morris, the studio’s owner, spoke of demolishing "the HIV-positive closet" and said, "We know exactly what we’re doing and we will not allow reactionary individuals and organizations to dictate our behavior. James and Brad are fitting role models for young gay men. They are living their lives with honesty and integrity."
In written responses to e-mailed questions, Morris told the Bay Area Reporter that coming out of the poz-closet "signals (for each man who has had the experience) a shift in the nature of the struggle: the virus is a fact of life for the poz man, no more or less manageable than other chronic life-long factors. The real battle is against prejudice, ignorance and unfounded and useless fear."
Porn showing sex without condoms, known as barebacking, isn’t new. But there is concern about Treasure Island working to draw attention to the couple’s sex practices without any apparent effort to educate people, especially young gay and bi men, about the risks.
"This is the first time a company has made it clear they’re pairing up an HIV-positive and an HIV-negative couple, and so it raises some interesting questions," said Dana Van Gorder, executive director of the San Francisco-based Project Inform.
He said he’d like to see Treasure Island join with prevention agencies to educate people about what they should know when considering unprotected sex with a sero-discordant partner.
There’s a "general absence of prevention messaging," said Van Gorder. "Gay men, and particularly young gay men, are taking a lot of their cues about what is safe or not safe and what are community norms as well around safe sex or barebacking from pornography, and so I think it’s important to use this particular film as an educational opportunity."
Kyriell Noon, executive director of the Stop AIDS Project, questioned calling Roscoe and McGuire role models. He said he wouldn’t advise other sero-discordant couples to follow their example.
"Consenting adults have the obligation and the right to make informed decisions about their sexual health," said Noon, adding that Treasure Island "should start a conversation about making informed decisions."
Those discussions, said Noon, should include the possibility of HIV infection.
Morris wrote in his e-mail that he’s committed "to the notion that porn can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to an ’educational’ genre. The unendurable loneliness, boredom and anger that young queer people experience can be dealt with only through the development of a flourishing creative and inclusively positive culture, not through a tighter control of expression and honest information. In good part due to the residual damage of ongoing and pointless viral-panic, young queers are taught that as they grow up their futures will be limited: they can look forward to being a strident safe-living prude, an assimilationist hetero-normative married person, or a drag queen."
Neither Roscoe nor McGuire responded to interview requests e-mailed to them.
Van Gorder does give Roscoe and McGuire credit for knowing their status and disclosing it to each other. He also noted that risk is lowered when the bottom is positive. Transmission is also less likely if the person who’s positive is on effective antiretroviral therapy.
"They have made some decisions, as is entirely their right, about what level of risk they are prepared to assume," said Van Gorder.
In a November interview with the B.A.R. , Dr. Susan Philip, director of STD Prevention and Control Services for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said she was aware of the Treasure Island press release calling McGuire and Roscoe role models. But she said she could not comment directly on it because she did not know any specifics about their sexual activities in the film.
Philip was part of a group of local doctors who published a study this fall that found serosorting among HIV negative men did not lead to increased risks for HIV infection. Serosorting refers to the practice of gay men choosing their sexual partners based on a person’s known or perceived HIV status. Some HIV negative men will forgo condoms when having sex with other men they believe to be negative.
But Philip said she and her colleagues did not conclude that the practice should be widely adopted or that gay and bisexual men should abandon using condoms.
"We were very careful to say that the prevention community is not moving away from saying condoms and reducing partners are the best strategy. They have been shown over and over again to be the safest thing they could do," said Philip. "We would not advise the other behaviors."
The concerns about the Treasure Island performers come as state officials and the adult entertainment industry are at odds on safeguards for the porn industry.
The trade association for the adult entertainment industry, known as the Free Speech Coalition, has been fighting efforts by the state’s division of occupational safety and health in the department of industrial relations, known as Cal-OSHA, to impose a mandate for the universal use of condoms in porn videos.
Asked about Treasure Island’s promotion of McGuire and Roscoe by Xbiz.com, Diane Duke, who heads the coalition, said that despite her group’s opposition to a condom mandate, it "does not endorse the exploitation of potential HIV infection of performers for promotional purposes."
Duke told the B.A.R. that she doesn’t think Roscoe and McGuire are being exploited.
Instead, she said, "I think the situation’s being exploited."
Nor did she think it was up to Treasure Island to provide HIV prevention messaging.
"Talking about HIV and how it’s transmitted and giving accurate information to youth is for educators," not for the entertainers to do, she said.
Cal-OSHA senior safety engineer Deborah Gold said regulations do cover employees in the industry but don’t look specifically at serodiscordancy.
"Anybody may be infected, therefore you have to treat everybody’s blood and other potential infectious materials [such as semen] as though it can be infectious" with HIV or other blood borne pathogens, said Gold.
She said the agency has issued citations to Treasure Island for reasons related to employees having unprotected sex, among other things, but not for the scene in question. Treasure Island is appealing the citations.
Asked about meeting with Treasure Island, Van Gorder expressed willingness, but he hasn’t approached them. For one thing, he’s not sure it would be effective. He also wants to gather other San Francisco-based prevention agencies, but he appears to be having trouble finding others to join him.
Van Gorder said James Loduca, a spokesman for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, had told him he couldn’t deal with the issue until January but he’d indicated he’d be willing to participate in a meeting if Van Gorder set one up.
Loduca told the B.A.R. the conversation with Van Gorder involved the foundation’s goal of taking "the most responsible and effective approach to dealing with someone like Treasure Island."
In comments that Loduca e-mailed to the B.A.R., Bob Rybicki, the foundation’s vice president of programs and policy, said, "We’re encouraged that most major gay porn studios have been good citizens by regularly highlighting safer sex and harm reduction in their films. Unfortunately, there’s still work to do with smaller players which use unfortunate tactics like these to drive sales with no consideration for the harm they’re doing in our community’s response to HIV."