Special report: Gay-4-Pay in Prague

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Editor’s note: In this GlobalPost investigative report, Prague correspondent Iva Skoch gained rare access to one of Eastern Europe’s most secretive industries, uncovering a world where shifting human sexuality meets rampant commercial demand. It is an industry where global economic crisis mixes with the latest web technologies, set amid the upheavals of Eastern Europe’s uneven transition from communism to a raw form of capitalism. In this multimedia report, we examine the complex and interlocking pieces of Prague’s booming gay porn business, from its roots in an American entrepreneur, to the cultural, moral and political foundations that make Prague a gay porn capital, as well as the economic necessities that drive many into the industry, and finally, the human toll it takes on workers. It is intended solely for mature audiences.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Martin Justel is 20, as old as the Czech democracy and, arguably, just as mature.

He is scrawny and too tall for his body mass. He has a baby face, short auburn hair, long eyelashes and a vacant expression. He looks hardly 18 but his eyes, blinking slowly, convey the gloom and servitude of somebody much older. In the terminology of the American gay sexual marketplace, he is a classic “twink,” a thin, young, pretty boy.

He whispers “hello” as he tiptoes into the Prague film studio of William Higgins, 67, an American producer and “dean of gay porn” who moved to Prague right after communism ended to corner the gay sex market, arriving around the same time two other bearded vanguards of capitalism — Santa Claus and Colonel Sanders — showed up to monopolize Christmas and fried chicken.

All three have found fertile ground here.

“You can take off your clothes,” says Rado Pauer, Higgins’ cameraman, stage artist and translator, as he walks over to Justel to hand him half of a blue pill, which he swallows without question.

(Nightlife in Prague)

Justel knows the drill already. This is, after all, his second time shooting gay erotic video. The first time, he did a solo scene and found it to be an easy way to make money doing something he does for free at home anyway.

Today, he was supposed to do a twosome — for the first time in his life experiencing, let alone being filmed in, a sexual encounter with another man. But his partner-to-be didn’t show up, for reasons the studio doesn’t investigate. It happens often. Some men get cold feet, others get real jobs or — once they have a little experience in the business — find a better-paying studio and stop returning phone calls.

Nevertheless, Justel is here, naked but for a pair of white athletic socks with tiny Czech flags on them, sitting on the same couch where some two thousand men sat before him, some only once, others repeatedly. At the end of the shoot, he will get cash in hand. That's all he can focus on. He will use it to pay rent and take his girlfriend out for dinner.

Justel, after all, describes himself as 100 percent straight. He is merely gay for pay.

Like the vast majority of the thousands of “perfectly straight” Czech men performing in gay porn, he gets offended when asked whether he ever considered he might be gay. He is, he insists, only doing it for the money. Visibly timid, inexperienced and “hetero,” he caters perfectly to the sexual fantasies of those discerning consumers — primarily American gay men — looking to satisfy their appetites for homosexual pornography featuring straight men.

Gay men have always fetishized masculinity and seen straight guys as real guys, says Jeffrey Escoffier, the author of the book "Bigger Than Life: The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore" and a visiting scholar at the New York University Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. “It’s a marketing opportunity for producers,” he says. “A large percentage of gay men see heterosexual men as more masculine than gay men.”

According to Higgins, gay men want to see straight guys but imagine them as gay, which is partly why 90 percent of the Czech men he uses in his films are heterosexuals, or at least “that's what they like to call themselves.”

Higgins also likes to recruit men who have typically never done porn or had sex with men before and market their inexperience as an asset, not a drawback. To this day, he enjoys filming the first-timers, especially if they don’t really like it. He zooms in on their faces clenched in pain. It makes it real, Higgins says.

He also prefers working with straight guys because they are not as picky about with whom they have sex. “If they are willing to do it with a guy, they’ll do it with any guy. It’s a job,” he says. “We have one gay guy who always dictates who he’s going to do it with. I’d much rather work with straight guys.”

Gay porn: the numbers

Gay video sales and rentals represent a disproportionately large segment of the $10 billion to $12 billion global porn industry, up to one-third or even one-half, by some estimates, writes Joe A. Thomas in "Gay Male Video Pornography: Past, Present, and Future."

Thomas, an art history professor at Kennesaw State University who frequently writes about sexuality and representation, estimates that the small countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia are now the second largest hubs of gay porn, after the U.S., which alone — according to different producers — makes up about half of the global gay porn market.

Straight men work in American gay porn, too, but not in such large percentages. According to Rod Barry, a former marine-turned-porn-star, straight porn actors in the U.S. earn about $400 for a scene. In gay porn it is three, five, or even eight times that amount.

But globalization has changed the wage structure of the porn industry. In Eastern Europe, men are willing to do porn for a lot less. “That’s the downfall of the business," Barry says. "The cheap guys from Europe flood the market with crap product."

Exactly how much gay porn is produced in Prague is impossible to estimate. Much of it is now done by opportunistic amateurs with cheap webcams at home, their apartments dressed up as massage parlors or photography salons. Some 15 large and midsize gay porn production studios operate in the Czech Republic. Bel Ami/BAO, Ayor, AVI Films/Staxus and William Higgins are among the most visible names on American video store shelves and among them release a new DVD almost every day. They also post hundreds of sex scenes online weekly.

In American gay sexshops, customers can find DVD titles such as “Inside Prague,” “Czech Up: Medical Fantasies,” “An American in Prague,” or, the most anticipated Bel Ami title of 2010, “Five Americans in Prague.”

Higgins releases one new DVD for retail sales and three DVDs for the online streaming companies each month. He also posts 13 main video scenes, 12 casting videos and two backstage videos every week online. AVI Films release up to three videos a month. Other producers, such as Michael Lucas, outsource their American productions here from time to time because, as he says, there is plenty of talent, both on the modeling side and on the cinematography side. Moreover, the production costs are about a third cheaper than in the United States.

In the gay community worldwide, Prague has a reputation of being an extremely liberal city, even though there are no gay neighborhoods, no blatant “out and proud” storefront signs or rainbow flags, and seeing gay men holding hands is rare outside the dark, underground gay bars, most of which cater to tourists. It is, nonetheless, a city in which, according to Higgins, “sex is not a big deal,” and where categories of gay, straight or bisexual — the way they are understood in the United States — cease to carry much meaning as thousands of men like Justel insist that homosexual behavior, whether on- or off-screen, does not make one gay or even bisexual.

Martin Justel.
(Iva Skoch/GlobalPost)

A few months ago, Justel was unemployed and looking for a job. Paging through the help-wanted section of a newspaper, he noticed an ad for modeling. He came to the casting call of Higgins' studio and learned that modeling was a euphemism for performing in porn. Those working in the adult film business are always called models, not actors, no matter whether they merely pose naked or engage in an orgy with a dozen other men.

Justel was selected as “model material,” and he was flattered. Mainly, though, he needed the money.

His girlfriend also liked the idea of him earning extra cash in porn. Engaging in sex with men doesn’t make her jealous because it is all about “just sex, not attraction,” he explains. “She would mind if I did it with women.”

Inside the porn factory

William Higgins has short white hair, a beard and silver-framed glasses. Typically dressed in khakis and a photographer’s vest, he looks more like Ernest Hemingway than a gay porn purveyor.

Higgins, an Oklahoma native who went to a Christian school, says he is “very Catholic” about casting men for his films. They can be 18 or 35, as long as they are good. With that said, he rejects about 80 percent of them, typically for “not having the look” — too ugly or misshapen — or, more importantly, not being able to perform under pressure.

The orange bedroom.
(Iva Skoch/GlobalPost)

An ornate 19th-century residential building in Prague's quaint Ujezd neighborhood provides a picturesque setting for Higgins' headquarters. His studio, offices, living quarters and the gay club, Drakes, are all here.

Each wall of the studio is painted a different color, from soft beige to deep blue, allowing each to appear like a new locale on camera. An assortment of cheap furniture and plastic plants is stacked in a corner, ready to be mixed and matched with drapery and sheets of nondescript, abstract patterns that give the space a slightly exotic, if outdated, Eastern European look.

Before each shoot, the cameraman Rado Pauer, takes care of legalities, namely U.S. Code, Title 18, sec. 2257, which mandates record-keeping for those producing sexually explicit media sold in the United States. Martin Justel, like all models, must hold his ID next to his face and is photographed to prove he is 18 or older and that he is who he says he is.

Not that Martin Justel is his real name. It’s a stage name the studio assigned to him to protect his privacy. Names are created randomly. Geoff Cooper, Higgins’ manager, sometimes pulls up an online list of the most popular names in Moldova and combines them either with descriptive Czech adjectives, such as “Chlupaty" (hairy) or “Dlouhy" (long), for last names or uses random, vaguely Czech-sounding names such as Justel.

Today's show is filmed with three digital cameras, two for later editing, and a third for live broadcast on the Higgins website, marketed as “Backstage” footage from the shoot. Regular viewers from all over the world watch the footage live and provide their anonymous, real-time verdicts.

“Tell us about yourself,” says Pauer, in Czech, as he starts filming. “I am from Prague … I work as a waiter … My biggest hobby is my girlfriend,” Justel says. “I am happy … We have been together for three quarters of a year.”

“What about sex?” asks Pauer, getting a close-up of his face.

“Yeah, we have sex twice, sometimes three times a day," Justel says. He pauses and enthusiastically delivers what sounds like a rehearsed line: “Today I am here to do a shoot.”

Justel has swallowed the Viagra, but the pill presents the unfortunate side effect of turning his face and ears red. Viagra tends to increase circulation in the entire body, not just where it counts. As a result, many studios prefer to use prostaglandin shots, such as Caverject, injected directly into the erectile tissues of the penis. That causes immediate effect, without having to worry about the unattractive, Viagra-flushed faces on film.

Beginners, however, are often afraid of the needle. The harsh glare and heat of the bright lights contrasts with the monasterial silence in the studio, interrupted only by the occasional instruction barked by a camera man (“Make it seem like you are enjoying it”) and the sporadic bursts of female moaning coming from the computer Justel is watching.

Even now, as he watches a female porn star on the screen, his eyes blink slowly and his expression is blank.

All eyes in the studio are on him — Cooper manning one camera while taking stills, two cameramen filming from different angles, and a reporter taking notes. Not to mention the mysterious online community watching him live from the U.S., Greece, Australia and other places.

“Good work,” says Pauer after capturing the final shot. “You can wash up now.”

Justel showers, gets dressed and pockets his wage: 3,000 Czech crowns ($168), the going rate for solo work. Duals pay almost twice as much. Will he do it again? “I’ll see. Maybe I’ll find a job and I won’t be back,” he says.

If the shoot, the cash, and the compliments (even if it’s only in online chat rooms for now) are as addictive as other models say, he’ll be back.

The other “Velvet Revolution”

Twenty years ago, the Velvet Revolution, named for its nonviolent protests that helped bring down the communist government, marked the end of totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia. In 1993, the country peacefully split into Czech Republic and Slovakia in the so-called “Velvet Divorce.”

Since then, the Czech Republic has gradually become one of the epicenters of world porn production, again with serenity and without protests, this time with velvet used more often for upholstery than symbolism.

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.

Bohumil Dolezal, a former Czech dissident, says that although the country now has freedom, it doesn’t yet have a firm moral standard. The problem is that, after communism, “all constraints and values fell,” he says. “And now, the society is rotten with pigs.”

On the website CzechBoys.com, Czech-Canadian owner Pavel Rada offers his own explanation. “Part of it comes from an incredibly open minded culture, and part of it comes from the after-affects [sic] of 40 years of communism, but you won’t find 100% str8 [sic] boys anywhere in the world that will drop there [sic] pants as fast as a CzechBoys model when he knows there’s a ‘reward’ for his efforts!” he writes.

Simple economics is also playing a role. While the supply of Czech gay porn is plentiful, it is merely meeting strong demand. Higgins estimates that 80 percent of his customers are in English-speaking countries, primarily in the U.S., because Americans are used to paying for porn, while everyone else just downloads it for free.

Steve Shay, a producer from Citiboyz, a central Illinois-based studio that distributes the films of the studio Czech Boys, asserts that porn is in high demand in the U.S. because Americans are so religious.

“There is a lot of engrained repression in this country,” he says, arguing that Americans wouldn’t need as much porn if sex wasn’t stigmatized. “The anti-porn movement here is actually making porn more popular.”

Every time protest groups announce an anti-porn-month initiative in the Midwest, Shay says to himself: “Great, I’ll sell more.”

The prince of "Twinkopolis"

Alan Capier, an AVI Films porn star and cameraman, who has also performed under the names Felix Wallace, Alan Clarke, Filip Nowotny and Pavel Vlasek, among others, has been in the business for almost six years. He's worked for Higgins, Eurocreme, Man’s Art and others. He has been with more than 600 men and appeared in more than 100 hardcore films.

As an openly gay man, Capier is a rarity on the Prague market and one of the few who can perform without erection-enhancing drugs. “It’s practice, like anything else,” he says.

Over svarak, a popular wintertime drink of spicy red mulled wine in a cafe across from the gay club Valentino, Capier talks about his career in porn openly and enthusiastically.

Alan Capier.
(Nora Stribrna/GlobalPost)

“Others hide it, but not me. I am an exhibitionist,” he says. Capier, whose real name is Marek Tomsu, says he has no secrets. His family knows about his career, and they are fine with it as long as he promises to be careful about his health. Being in the bareback business, he is careful by getting tested once a month.

Although he has never had sex with an HIV-positive man that he knows of, he has encountered models with syphilis and he sees others with chlamydia and genital herpes regularly.

Like virtually all the men in gay porn here, Capier is uncircumcised, which customers in the U.S. find exotic, and like most other Czech models, he looks younger than his age, 26. Prague, after all, has been nicknamed Twinkopolis for producing some of the best such talent in the world, popular primarily among older, Western gay men.

Capier has soft features, brown, shaggy hair with blond highlights, immaculate peach skin and smart, green eyes. He speaks rapidly, with a pleasant smile, and jumps from topic to topic with an elegant giddiness, frequently adjusting his hair and touching his nose.

He was a paramedic in his home town Olomouc, in Moravia, when he posted nude pictures of himself on a gay matchmaking website. The scouts of AVI Films saw his pictures, they contacted him with an offer to come to Prague and “do some photos.”

When Capier arrived, he found out it would be a sex scene with two other guys, with him playing the “passive role.” The director giggled and said his fellow model was a “25/6,” referring to his impressive anatomy in centimeters. That meant almost 10 inches long, and two and a half inches in diameter.

“I said ‘no, I can’t manage that’ and the director laughed and said ‘yes, you can.’ And I did,” Capier says. “I got 13,500 crowns ($675) cash and went back home.”

Those were the golden days. Back then, when the internet didn’t offer as much free material and models weren't so easy to find, Capier made as much as 130,000 crowns a month ($7,303), more than 10 times as much as he earned as a paramedic. But he was one of the highest earners in the porn business. Most models never dreamed of making more than $2,000 monthly. Still, it was a nice income, often for no more than three actual days of work a month. Those days are over. There is too much competition now.

Some of Capier's fellow models are students, many of whom get used to making a lot of money quickly and then have a hard time quitting. They get used to spending lavishly and buying generous gifts for their girlfriends. Capier says he has seen models quit school because they no longer saw the point.

“Today, they have nothing. They are too old to shoot,” he says. “It’s all gone. The nice hotels, the fans. All gone.”

Most of them end up doing escort work, a polite term for prostitution.

Life with an alter ego

The majority of the Czech gay porn models, especially the occasional models, have regular day jobs and girlfriends. Some are married. There are college and high-school students, bartenders or unemployed. It’s not unusual to see cops, firemen and nurses. They typically keep their porn alter-egos secret.

Producers pledge confidentiality to the young Czech men cast in the movies, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide their real identities online.

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.

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