Say what you will about Michael Lucas, but the man has never been one to shy away from following his own convictions. Since fleeing from his native Russia as a young man, Lucas has built a staggeringly successful empire with his adult film company Lucas Entertainment, as well as becoming a force in the documentary genre with powerful exposes on gay life in foreign countries, such as Undressing Israel and the just-released Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda (available on DVD April 1). Lucas has also maintained a side career as a columnist for various publications and as an in-demand speaker at universities around the globe. Never one to suffer fools, Lucas has also made headlines by blasting bad boy behavior from the likes of Johnny Weir and Nick Gruber.
Yet it’s perhaps his decision to acquiesce to the growing industry trend and begin filming bareback scenes that has raised the most eyebrows. After speaking out for many years as an opponent to unprotected sex in gay porn, last December Lucas surprised many fans by shooting condom-free scenes in new films. In an exclusive chat with Queerty, Lucas discusses the reason behind this controversial decision, drug use in the industry and how his adult film career has had an impact on his work as an LGBT rights activist.
What caused you to loosen your opposition to bareback porn? I wonder if it’s the changing nature of prevention with the advent of undetectable guys and PrEP.
For many years, as you know, I was vocally opposed to bareback sex in videos, because I felt that it was putting the models in danger. But times have changed. HIV treatments can now reduce viral loads to the point where, as far as we can tell, they pose little to no risk of transmission. Combine that with PrEP treatments for HIV-negative people, and we’re talking about a much, much lower danger than was previously the case. My position on bareback sex in porn has adapted accordingly. And not just in porn: I have changed the way I have sex in my personal life, too. I am HIV-negative, but I have recently been seeing someone who is HIV-positive, and we have sex without condoms. So I feel fine, now, with asking my models to do the same.
What are the commercial implications of condom porn? Surely, there are companies that still make money and find ways of using condoms in a sexy way.
The industry has changed. Condomless scenes are far more popular with consumers than scenes with condoms, and most companies (now including mine) have adjusted to this reality. I can’t talk about the financial state of other porn studios, but I know that several have gone out of business in recent years or have been taken over by large corporations. If the industry had stayed united behind condom use, then that would be one thing, but it didn’t. And that means that companies that produce only porn with condoms are putting themselves at a very real disadvantage. In the end, this is a business, and we can’t afford to ignore what consumers want from porn these days. I held out for condoms for as long as I could, but with the arrival of PrEP and the new information about undetectable viral loads, the principle behind holding out was not as compelling as it used to be.
What precautions, such as testing, serosorting or PrEP, do you use with the models themselves?
Every model who works with us must be tested for all STDs; this has been mandatory since we started making condom-free films. Every model has to show a clean test taken within the previous 10 days. I also always talk to my models about PrEP and give them information about it. I’m not a doctor so I can’t prescribe it to them, but I’m happy to say that many of my models have started using it — as I do.
I personally think that condom-free porn is hotter, yes. Yes, you can make hot porn with condoms, and we have made a lot of it. But porn is a fantasy, and no one fantasizes about condoms. And ultimately, this isn’t about my personal opinion. Like every business, we have to listen to our customers. No one has unsubscribed from our site because we moved to condomless sex; on the contrary, we immediately gained customers, and our customer loyalty today is our highest ever. Lucas Entertainment operates out of New York, where the overhead is very high. We have about 20 full-time employees, with benefits. I don’t think that would be sustainable based only on the demand for porn with condoms.
What are your thoughts about the stereotype that adult film producers deal with a heavy drug problem so models often do not advocate well for their own safety?
We have always tried to avoid working with models who are high on drugs. If we suspect that a model is impaired, we test him right away, and I can remember at least two instances when we had to send models home. I’m sure that some performers do drugs in their private lives, but I can tell you for a fact that most of the industry does not tolerate it on set; it makes the models unreliable and difficult, and it hurts the scenes. Also, models are scheduled for their shoots about a month in advance, so they have lots of time to think about it; it’s not like we surprise them when they get to the set. So no, no one is taking advantage of models being out of control. And as I said before, I have switched to bareback sex both on video and in my personal life, so I’m not asking them to take risks that I would not take myself.
What message are you sending to gay men, many of whom struggle to use condoms regularly?
I’m not a messenger. I just make movies. And the shift away from the condom code reflects significant changes to the dangers of transmission and the lethality of HIV. I don’t think that bareback porn has driven gay men to bareback sex; I think that the rise in bareback sex has driven the industry to bareback porn.
I don’t think that men go to porn for life lessons. They just want to get off. And we want to help them.
Free porn is easily available to anyone with a computer. What impact has this had on your company?
It’s had a big impact, of course, as it has on all adult-film companies. Unfortunately, the pool of customers that are buying porn is fairly small. The vast majority these days just watch pirated versions online. We monitor the pirate sites as much as we can and get illegal copies of our product deleted when we can, so there is actually very little Lucas material out there for free. And luckily, there are still enough people willing to pay for the things they enjoy — and not just steal them online — that we are doing fine.
Now that the Sochi Winter Olympics are over, what’s the state of activism in support of gays in Russia?
I was quite disappointed with what Western activists were able to accomplish with regard to Sochi. There were a few coded gestures, but they did not make much impact. There were no major demonstrations or Olympians speaking out; and prominent gays like Johnny Weir made repeated apologies for Russia. I think Putin took that as a sign of weakness from the West. The challenge now will be to keep Russian LGBT issues in the news and keep the pressure on Western companies that do business with Russia. That’s one reason I have invested so much time and money into my new documentary film, Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda.
Speaking of your documentary work, in what ways has your adult film career had an impact on your activism?
When I write or make films about serious subjects, there are always people who try to shut me up by pointing to the fact that I also make adult movies. That kind of personal attack is, at this point, boring. Overall, the high profile that I have because of porn has been a big asset for me. It has given me a platform from which to speak out about issues that I am passionate about. My articles have been published by major news sources, I have been interviewed in print and on TV and on the radio, I have been invited to speak at universities and film festivals — all because I’ve already made a name for myself in porn. I’m grateful to all the people who have read, watched or listened to me with an open mind.