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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.

Producers promise not to sell any of the movies in the Czech Republic, but can’t force their distributors to do the same. Producers block their websites from access from inside the Czech Republic, but easy-to-use online anonymizers will let anyone access any website. A few Czech models have been recognized and “outed” this way to the utter shock of their friends and families.

One such case involved a Czech Big Brother reality show finalist named Filip Trojovsky, or rather Tommy Hansen, his nom du porn.

An astute television viewer recognized him as a Bel Ami porn star. Once identified as Tommy Hansen, it took only a couple of days before a local tabloid published explicit photos from the DVD. The families of both of the models found out that day what their sons actually did in their “modeling” careers through media. Trojovsky was forced to come clean about his career in porn, but he has fervently denied any claims he might be gay.

Most of the Czech porn business operates underground, without the locals realizing the extent of the industry. From that standpoint, it reflects primarily the country's pragmatic and conservative, rather than liberal, values. It is an environment in which having sex with men is something one does for money, not pleasure. Hence models have little reason to ask themselves the soul-searching questions: "Why am I really doing this? How is it possible that I have an erection being with a guy? Am I, perhaps, attracted to this guy?"

This fundamental discrepancy is sometimes attributed to the popularity of using drugs, especially ecstasy and pervitin (the Czech version of crystal meth) among male sex workers. Drugs can also lower inhibitions enough to make models more willing to engage in risky behavior, such as agreeing to film bareback, or without a condom.

Higgins says the current Czech trend reminds him of what was happening in the U.S. in the 1980s, when everyone was doing drugs, which led the country into what he calls the “AIDS mess” because people were willing to do anything.

“Maybe it’s the same thing here now,” he says.

AIDS: the dark side of porn

After the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., almost all gay porn producers began shooting porn with condoms. But in the last few years, demand for bareback porn has skyrocketed and, naturally, so has supply. Because most American studios still refuse to film without condoms, Czech studios have been quick to fill the lucrative demand niche. Most Czech studios have switched from condom work to bareback, justifying it by low HIV rates in the country. While America sees disease risk as a widespread problem, only 150 Czechs were diagnosed with HIV in 2008, compared to Russia where some 940,000 people have the disease.

But Czech HIV rates are on the rise, and recent reports by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control claim they are underestimated by at least 20 percent.

Chip White, a California-based producer of gay porn from 18 West Studios, has committed to shoot only with condoms, and continues to hope — rather unrealistically, as he puts it — that all studios will agree to stop producing bareback films, particularly in the twink genre. People are told that bareback is risky, “that it's hot, that it's more exciting and thrilling, and so they want it,” says White.

Month after month, in the top 50 videos at JRL, a gay adult film industry sales chart, bareback films typically outsell the most popular films in which condom use is the standard.

Consequently, most of the films produced in the Czech Republic carry titles such as “Barebacking Prague,” “Raw Courage, BSI: Prague — Bareback Sex Investigation,” “Raw Meat” or “Bareback Buddies.”

The only two major studios in the Czech Republic refusing to go the bareback route are Bel Ami and William Higgins.

Barebacking — on and off screen — has been slowly getting more popular since 1996, when protease inhibitors became available as a treatment for HIV patients and the diagnosis stopped terrifying people, says Christian Grov, assistant professor at the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College.

“HIV is no longer viewed as a death sentence,” says Grov. “It’s more of a lifelong sentence.”

Back in Higgins’ studio, Rado Pauer, the cameraman, is getting ready for another shoot in "the porn factory," as he and his colleague Boris call the studio. They shoot every day up to five times. Both are ex-models, who worked themselves up from the screen to the other side of the camera.

Pauer, 24, originally from Slovakia, is built like a swimmer, all upper body. He wears glasses and a red Adidas track suit, an outfit reminiscent of the early post-communist days. With his wide, shy smile, and adolescent blond haircut with bangs, he resembles a tech geek more than a retired porn star.

His story begins much like the others. He moved to Prague when he was 19 and saw an ad for male modeling offering “lucrative, long-term work with an American photographer.” Higgins and his team snapped a few pictures of him and asked if he wanted to do a shoot with another man.

“I said ‘absolutely not,’” says Pauer, a devout Christian. Then, he changed his mind. He badly wanted the money, being employed in a Skoda car factory where he worked 12-hour shifts for barely $600 a month. Higgins was offering that kind of money for four hours of work.

“During the first shoot, I just kept thinking, ‘Is this right? Nobody raised me to do this.’ I kept imagining my friends and what they would say,” he says. The overwhelming feeling of guilt subsided with time and experience, but never enough for him to tell his family or friends, even after four years working with Higgins and others. To this day, everyone back in Pauer's home town thinks he is some sort of photographer in Prague.

“God, I was so naive,” he says, putting his face in his hands. “I had no idea how it all worked.”

"A train you can't get off of."

Having worked on the other side of the business, he now understands. “It always starts with ads for modeling and goes slowly from there,” he says. When a guy shows up, he is always told it’s nude modeling. Some guys leave right away, some will stay. A producer will tell them they could get more money if they did solo masturbation. Some think about it and accept. Then even more money if they do a sex scene with another guy. It progresses slowly, but “you wake up and realize you are on a train that you can’t get off of.” Or, even before that happens, the producer might say “they no longer need you because you are old news.”

In porn, everyone is always looking for the next thing, the new guy. Porn is fantasy. People don’t want to keep seeing the same faces and bodies. The models want to know what’s next and, usually, end up as escorts and hustlers.

Pauer was approached by a man online looking for a boy to rent. “Selling a body is selling a body,” he says to justify why he agreed to meet him. But the consistent stretching of morality can get dangerous, as he found out. He did something he had never done before — agreeing to have unprotected sex with the customer. It turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life.

“Afterward, he told me he was HIV-positive,” Pauer said. “I fell to the ground.” It’s been two years since the incident and Pauer is still HIV-negative. He believes God saved him.

He keeps showing up for work, partly because Higgins and his crew are his family now. He even lives in the studio building, rent-free. He tried to leave the business once, but felt drawn back to the studio.

Every day he sees men in a position similar to his when he first walked through the door, men with reservations about gay porn but hoping to make lots of money. They are willing to work hard, but hard work is not always the magic formula when it comes to the forces of demand.

“We don’t tell them they might only be here once,” he says. “Most of them only come once, twice or maybe three times, and then we don’t need them anymore.” All they might ever make in gay porn is the $150 they made the first time, yet the evidence of their brief career will be online forever.

And sure enough, a week after his second solo shoot Martin Justel walked back into the studio.

Higgins teamed him with Tomas Bayer, a model wearing leather straps on his chest. A tattoo spelling “fight” is inked on the top of his left hand. The behind-the-scenes video showed Justel and Bayer sitting next to each other, heads turned to the right, eyes transfixed on the screen showing straight porn.

Justel was then instructed to stand with his face to the wall. Behind him, Bayer held his narrow hips and slapped him with each thrust. Justel closed his eyes firmly and bit his lip, his skinny legs rocking with each movement.

In a few moments, it was over.

A day later, Higgins posted a blog entry, depicting Justel’s loss of man-on-man virginity. “I don’t think he knew what hit him. He certainly took it like a man,” Higgins writes. “I don’t think I mentioned: Martin has a face like an angel.”

Iva R. Skoch is a freelance writer who splits her time between New York and Prague. Her articles have been published in Newsweek.com, Slate, TimeOut Prague, AOL and other publications. She was a staff writer at the Prague Post and regularly writes for the Czech magazine Reflex. She’s currently traveling around the world, crashing weddings and writing a book about marriage in different cultures.

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