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Special report: Gay-4-Pay in Prague

In the dark corners of Eastern Europe, economic crisis drives straight men into gay porn.

Both the Czech Republic and Hungary became major sources of world porn production. Prague became known as the capital of gay porn, while Budapest kept most of the straight porn business.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Czechoslovakia in 1961 — before Germany or Great Britain legalized it — the gay community was thoroughly underground under communism. The few clubs and baths where gays gathered were under surveillance by the secret police. Classified advertisements to meet persons of the same sex were banned by the Communist Party because they alleged a correlation with criminal activity.

It was illegal to produce porn, hetero- or homosexual, in communist Czechoslovakia. For reasons of political repression under the Soviet-controlled regime there were strict regulations on cameras, camcorders or any other recording equipment. But porn was a popular commodity to smuggle in from abroad, copy, trade or sell on the black market.

When communism ended, it was only a matter of time before somebody filled the hunger for porn by using local talent.

William Higgins fit that bill.

William Higgins.
(Nora Stribrna/GlobalPost)

With 14 years in the porn industry already behind him, he left the U.S. in 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic struck and made the American gay porn business a depressing place to be. He moved his operations to Amsterdam.

When Higgins first visited Prague, he was amazed by how easy it was to get men to have sex.

“I picked up a hitchhiker once and asked, ‘Hey, you want to have sex for $60?’” says Higgins. “He said, ‘OK.’ It was that easy.”

He started a business in Prague, first the club, Drakes, and then a recording studio. He found it was much easier to recruit models in Prague than in Amsterdam. Unemployed Dutch men and students got generous state benefits and thought twice about “plastering their asses all over the screen” for extra cash. Czechs didn’t have those hang-ups.

Moreover, “Czechs would do it anyway,” he says, even with generous state benefits. They are entrepreneurial, he says, “always looking to make an extra buck.”

Higgins is articulate and opinionated, and says he reads nine newspapers in the morning (The New York Times to get Israel's point of view, The Guardian for the Arab view). In addition to the latest gossip about Prague's gay porn scene, on his blog Higgins can't resist making frequent political statements: “I believe the great majority of folks who call Obama a Socialist wouldn’t know a Socialist if he bit him in the ass."

Outside of the blog, Higgins keeps a low profile in Prague. The Oklahoman learned quickly that Czechs will stay out of your business if you don't get in their faces. With Buddy and Aida (his two retrievers) in tow, Higgins sits down at his favorite restaurant around the corner from the studio. The waiter automatically brings him hot chocolate and a shot of espresso. The waiter, Higgins mentions, once modeled for him.

Walking around Prague's Mala Strana neighborhood with Higgins and his dogs, one gets the idea that everybody in this town has worked in gay porn, or soon will. He even recruited the presidential palace guards — uniforms and all — for one of his films in 2003.

Economic crisis and porn

Lately, Higgins has seen a surge in the number of men interested in modeling. It must be the economy, he says. More than 30 men a week knock on his door. “We have also had a lot more Ukrainians,” he says, adding that immigrant laborers have been laid off from their construction jobs and now must look for other work.

Czech unemployment has nearly doubled from 5.3 percent in late 2008 — when manual labor shortage forced the country to lure guest workers here from poorer countries like Ukraine or Mongolia. Because the construction and automotive industries have suffered greatly in the global economic crisis, factories have cut thousands of jobs and 80,000 guest laborers lost their work permits by June 2009.

The Czech government, under increasing pressure to keep citizens employed, offered to pay the guest workers 500 euros and a free air ticket to motivate them to return home. But most workers, especially those from Ukraine, with their homeland near economic and political collapse chose to weather the storm here.

Consequently, gay and straight porn studios in the Czech Republic have been reporting record numbers of participants at their casting calls in the past year.

But not everyone points to the weaker economy as the reason straight men enter gay porn.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/commerce/100323/gay-porn-prague