While most US porn labels and directors exercise a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs on set, a range of "bareback" titles has emerged in recent years which capitalise on the demand for passionless, frenzied
sex. The makers steadfastly defend their right to depict condom-less sex between consenting adults, arguing that they are filling a public demand for such videos and that participants claim to already be HIV+, but safe sex advocates assert that bareback videos glorify unsafe sex and are a green light for their audiences to dispense with precautions. One US production company has admitted bribing actors of undisclosed status to perform without protection, while in the UK, three young men performing bareback for the Icreme label in 2007 were infected with HIV on the same shoot.
"Several of my models have been transformed from the most beautiful men I have ever worked with to horrifying, weak creatures I would never be able to use in my movies again," gay porn producer Michael Lucas told New York Blade in 2004. Many porn actors survive hustling off the back of their films, and crystal is regarded by some as an essential tool to break down barriers with the client. A few also deal meth to clients to supplement their incomes.
"The comedown can be soul-destroying. It gets deep into you. It's pervasive, and undermines your spirit as well as your personality. When I'm on crystal I don't like myself. I'm a dick."
~ Aiden Shaw [Porn actor]
Viagra's arrival coincided with the emergence of internet sex sites which represented a seismic shift in the way that MSM pursued sex, making it easier to access and more upfront.
“It was spring ’99, and we were starting to see a small increase in the number of syphilis cases in gay men... and by the next spring there were already another ten. I asked this one guy how many sexual partners he had had in the past two months and he said 14. Then I asked him how many he had had in the past year. And he said 14. I said, ‘Well, what happened two months ago?’ The man replied: ‘I got online.’ ”
~ Jeffrey Klausner [San Francisco Department of Public Health]
Overnight, sex became as easy to acquire as home-delivered pizza. A core group of users emerged who remained on-line 24 hours a day, many upfront in their preference for "BB" (bareback) action. "It was terrifyingly easy to find others like myself online," a recovering meth addict told The Advocate. "All you do is create a profile that contains "party" or "PNP", meaning "party and play" - euphemisms for a cluster of speeding, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of rutting animals, each aware only of his own distorted desires."
"With crystal and the internet, we’ve got bathhouse conditions again. Some gay sex sites have been turning a blind eye to crystal references and have even been encouraging them."
~ John Cameron Mitchell [Pop cult hero]
Rationalising an unexpected fall in the number of new HIV cases among gay men in San Francisco between 2004-05, attributed largely to the efectiveness of hard-hitting AIDS campaigns, a Kaiser Family Foundation report surmised that such sites may now be helping to reduce the spread of HIV and STDs, due to HIV+ MSM using the services primarily to find others of similar status (serosorting).
"What seems to have happened in San Francisco is that men with HIV now form a critical mass of potential partners, disclose their status upfront, and keep the virus within the boundaries of their own world."
~ Andrew Sullivan [AIDS activist]
Overall, however, such sites have unquestionably facilitated the spread of HIV and crystal meth due to the ease with which they allow people to meet across social spectrums, devoid of the need for social graces like eye contact and conversation. "If you think of the traditional way that guys meet each other in bars, there are social norms," says Dr. Perry N Halkitis, a psychologist at New York University studying the correlation between meth use and HIV infection. "But when you're home alone, potentially getting high by yourself, those social norms go out the window."
"When it started it was fun, but over time the tweakers drove everyone else away," says Scott, a former Men4Men4Sex.com (M4M) member. "The owners of M4M have themselves to blame because they failed to police their content to the point where it reached an absurd level of depravity. I mean, would they allow profiles that solicited others to shoot-up heroin or crack cocaine together? Of course not, yet they turned a blind eye to crystal."
Hook-up sites like M4M and the UK's Gaydar continue to turn a blind eye to the problem of members using their services to openly promote unsafe sex practices and meth use. "I have no more power to regulate who hooks up with who than the bartender at a bar or the bouncer at a club," claims M4M site director Steven Alexander. Gaydar co-creator Henry Bedenhorst argues a similar line, insisting" "We can't stop people from barebacking, and banning users would only drive it underground. This way, others know who is into what," despite incidents such as that experienced by a Gaydar member who terminated his profile because he was being pestered to participate in "slamming parties" at a London apartment. "That was bad enough," he said, "but they were also stressing that the same needle had to be used by everyone."
In contrast, SafeSexCity.com, established in 2003, provides an environment in which men can hook-up, confident in the knowledge that they will not be confronted or pursued by speeding individuals on meth, while Manhunt.net provides free profiles to over 48 community-based organisations. "We offer free advertising space for programs like Syphilis is on the rise, Crystal Free and Sexy, LIFE OR METH, and many other important media campaigns such as clinical trials for HIV prevention and treatment," says Manhunt General Manager Stephan Adelson. "To ensure that members were aware of the increase in syphilis in their area, we sent a letter to all members in San Francisco to inform them of the current outbreak and encouraged them to get tested."
Unique among hook-up sites, Manhunt has forged a partner notification program that lets members know when they may have been exposed to an STD through another member, helping to substantially reduce new cases of early syphilis. "We now include the option of listing HIV status in profiles," says Adelson. "'No PNP' is listed as something men are into, and we have added a help centre where members can find support professionals on the site quickly. Manhunt has accepted the call to facilitate change in our community by encouraging education and fostering honest, open communication, and we have done so at our own cost."
All programs and services provided on Manhunt.net are free. "It is sad that others in this industry feel it necessary to charge their standard rates for the little that they do to support our community," Adelson concludes. "As webmasters in the dating/hook-up business, it is our social duty to facilitate positive change
in the communities we serve. We must overcome any fear-based rationalisations to do otherwise. We are in a unique position to facilitate change."