Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices. The campaign profiles the real life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics. While HIV and safe sex is an important part of all stories, it is not the exclusive focus.
Prior HIV prevention campaigns have traditionally focused on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours. In reality, safe sex practices are influenced by a whole range of environmental and cultural factors. The campaign also provides an opportunity for HIV positive men to talk about their lives and discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful. We understand that there is more than one way practice safe sex and adopt healthcare seeking behaviours, so let's be creative about it!
There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.
Back to top
I grew up in a small suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. It’s pretty boring in middle class suburbia. I was essentially raised as the only child of a single parent; when I was four, my father rather abruptly left my mom and me. He’d been having an affair, and moved in with the other woman. My mom did the best she could. It was challenging at times, but she worked hard, and raised me very well considering her limited resources.
I always sensed that I was different from other kids somehow, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I thought maybe it was because I was an only child, or maybe it was because I didn’t have that many friends growing up. I was also your typical 'fat kid', chubby and unathletic. When I turned around 13 or 14, I started to realise that I felt different because I was gay, a fact which made me feel even more isolated from my peers. By the time I got to high school, I did have a few friends, but no one particularly close. I never felt like I could entirely identify with them. And I never had girlfriends; it just didn’t feel right.
I’d say the first time I remember being attracted to someone of the same sex was way back in 1984 when I saw Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He was climbing over the edge of the cliff at the end of the movie with his shirt ripped open. He was all rugged and sweaty and I remember thinking, “Wow.”
I felt so ashamed of being gay that I hid my sexuality from everyone. Suppressing those feelings got more and more difficult the older I got, and to compensate, I concentrated on my schoolwork and I never got into trouble. I was even a goody two-shoes of sorts. From my earliest memories right though high school, trying to be the perfect kid was my only way to cope.
Back to top
When I was 20 years old, a college junior majoring in both computer science and Japanese (always the overachiever!), I spent a semester in Japan. Although I loved the intensity of the program, I also felt both emotionally and geographically isolated.
That was where I met my first same-sex crush, a fellow exchange student, also from the United States. He was straight and a fundamentalist Christian. I fell in love with him unrequitedly, and he was the first person I ever came out to.
His reaction was to try to convert me to Christianity and let God take away my sin -- my homosexuality. I really loved this guy, so I did it. Even though I was raised Jewish, for about 18 months, I was a Christian. And a pretty terrible one that that.
My upbringing was not particularly religious, and certainly not fundamentalist. But all of the sudden, I was. I got involved with an ex-gay ministry, and went to live with my crush (and his fellowship of like-minded Christians) for a summer in the Midwest. It was the only real camaraderie I’d ever known. It was intoxicating. The house of cards I’d built didn’t last, though, and it all came crashing down about a year later. I left the Midwest a broken, 21 year old man. I went back home to Boston, more ashamed than ever. I realised that the last year and a half had been a colossal mistake on my part; I’d been living a lie, and I’d stunted my growth as a healthy, authentic person. I’m just lucky the damage wasn’t permanent.
After I graduated from college, still sort of lost with regards to my sexuality, I lived in a large apartment with three housemates: a straight couple and their single (straight) friend. The couple had convinced their friend to sign up for an account on the dating site Match.com, and we all gathered around our one shared computer to help him set it up. (It was the mid-’90s, and the house only had one computer; not everyone had computers back then, let alone tablets and smartphones and location-based apps!) Anyway, I noticed that Match also had a “Men Seeking Men” section. Later, in the middle of the night, I made sure everyone else was asleep, and then I set up my own profile. I used the site very, very carefully; when no one was around, I would go online to see if I could find anybody in my area. That’s how I met my first boyfriend. He was local, he was nice, and most of all, he was patient with me. I can’t tell you how nervous I was when I first met him! But he was very nice and had a larger-than-life personality. I quickly became fond of him, even if he was a little quirky.
I sometimes hear about people who explode out of the closet in a grand barrage of confetti and rainbows, but that wasn’t me. I was very quiet about it. I hid my first relationship from everybody, much to the chagrin of my boyfriend, who was older than I was and had been out since he was 14. I spent nights at his house, lying to my friends and my mom about where I was. My housemates noticed that I was hardly home, and actually stopped charging me for my share of the utilities. “You’re never here,” they said. “Why should you have to pay them?”
Very gradually, I started becoming more comfortable telling people about my sexuality. For a while, I introduced my boyfriend as “just a friend”, afraid that my existing (straight) friends would reject me if they knew I was gay. One time, though, when I introduced him to one of my straight friends, my boyfriend happened to have his roommate in tow. It was early summer and quite warm outside, and the (gay) roommate was going on and on about how great it was that there were guys running around shirtless. He then turned to me and said, “Don’t you think, Jesse?” I think I stopped breathing, and I turned as red as a beet. Then I looked at my friend and said, “Um, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m gay.”
I’ll never forget my friend’s response. He said, “Okay, that’s cool… so what’s for lunch?”
My sexuality was just such a non-issue for him, and I realised the same would probably hold true for my other friends. So I stopped pretending. I started being more open about my relationship, and my friends’ responses were great across the board. Even at my high school reunion, my former schoolmates were interested in learning what it felt like for me to be closeted back in school. I told them that I’d been terrified the whole time that I’d be found out, but that in retrospect, if I’d come out back in my school days, I think I actually would have been fine.
Finally, at age 23, I came out to my mom. I was shaking when I told her that my boyfriend was more than “just a friend”. She was really supportive, telling me that the only thing that mattered to her was that I was happy. She’s been absolutely wonderful since then. There are probably still some things that I don’t think she entirely understands, but she certainly keeps an open mind.
Back to top
My first boyfriend was also the man with whom I had my first sexual experience. It was totally vanilla, and I think in some ways set the tone for the rest of my sexual life. (Even now, while my fiancé Dirk Caber is much more on the wild side, I tend to be a lot more tame.) I was so nervous. On about our fourth date, we went back to his apartment and he gave me my first blow job. It was really intense - I think I lasted less than five minutes.
My boyfriend at the time -- did I mention that he was a little quirky? -- didn’t call them blow jobs, though. He called them “special yummies”. And his penis was named “Todd”. He had a mildly unhealthy obsession with the actor Michael T. Weiss from Jeffrey, and occasionally swore in Hungarian. He’s a good man, though, and was a patient first boyfriend.
My boyfriend and I broke up after about a year. We remained friends after the breakup, and ended up becoming housemates in a new apartment where we lived together (non-sexually) for seven years. We no longer live together, but we’re still friendly today.
Back to top
In March of 1997, I went on vacation by myself to San Diego, California. There’s a nude beach there called Blacks Beach; it was deserted because it was off-season, and the weather was still a little on the cool side. I’d recently started going to the gym regularly and was beginning to see some results, and the beach was a beautiful backdrop, so I thought, 'what the hell, I’ll take a nude selfie.' So I took off all my clothes, set the camera on a timer, and did it.
When I got home, I got the photo developed and scanned and started sending it to people on AOL. One guy I was chatting with said to me, “Dude, you could be a porn star!” I thought no way in hell, because I still saw myself as that fat kid from my youth: physically awkward, kind of ugly, and terrible at sports. I politely dismissed his comment, but it somehow lodged itself in the back of my mind. Eventually, it would turn into a sort of personal challenge.
Fast forward fourteen years to July 3, 2011… my 38th birthday. I was much more comfortable with my sexual orientation by then, having been in two long-term relationships. I was still pretty reserved sexually, though. I was spending a week at a gay resort in Michigan, where I had a chance encounter with a porn star couple who were visiting for the night. I wasn’t the initiator; I was just too timid. What happened was that one of them came up to me while I was sitting by the pool, set down on my lap, and by way of introduction asked me if I wanted a drink. It took all my courage to invite them up to my hotel room -- I think I awkwardly offered to let them use my shower -- but we actually had a really fun time. And the sex was hot. The porn star couple turned out to be big time porn stars from the TitanMen studio in San Francisco.
I didn’t recognize them at the time, but one of them mentioned just as he was leaving that he was heading to California to film with TitanMen. I was surprised that I’d hooked up with actual porn stars who both seemed kind of into me, so I thought that maybe I could be a porn star too. I guess I looked at it as a potential chance to prove to myself that I’m no longer that fat kid from 20 years earlier.
I dismissed the idea at first, but I did know one other person from back home who worked in the porn industry, Roman Wright. So, just out of curiousity, I started asking Roman about it, what was it like, did he think I could do it, and so on. He said, “Oh yes, you could totally do it, but I don’t think you should.” I asked him why not. “Well, you’re a nice guy,” he replied, “but you’re really sensitive. If you do it, you’re going to run into a lot of criticism -- a mixture of envy and contempt -- and it’s going to eat you alive.” I went online and looked through the comments on some porn blogs, and thought he was probably right.
(As a rather lengthy aside… I still don’t read the comments that people make about my scenes.
When I first started, I did read them, and I’ll never forget that the first one I ever saw: “Jesse is hot and has a great sexy body. But he doesn't know how to fuck on camera. Boring!”
Well, 'boring' is in the eye of the beholder, but of course I didn’t know how to have fuck on camera back then! Sex on camera is different from sex in your personal life -- more on that in a bit -- and I was brand new to the industry at the time and still learning the ropes. But for someone who’s hoping to be successful in a new industry and the first comment you read about yourself is negative, well, it was tough. People can be pretty mean, most of them aren’t, mind you, but the mean comments definitely stick out. Some people use the veil of online anonymity to say whatever the hell they want, either not thinking or not caring that there’s an actual human being on the receiving end of their negativity. That’s why I don’t read them; it’s best just to leave that shit alone.)
Anyway, back to Roman Wright… well, he ratted me out. The next time he filmed with TitanMen, he showed their talent guys my photo and told them I’d been asking questions about the industry. The guys at Titan immediately emailed me, saying, “We’re sitting here with Roman Wright, who tells us you’re interested in the porn industry. We like your look. Would you like to work with us?” My first thought, much like my response to that guy on AOL, was no way in hell.
But then, after a couple of weeks, I started to reconsider. If I never tried it, I’d never know what it was like, and that challenge from that random AOL stranger might go forever unanswered. So I told Titan I was interested, and sent them a few photos. Within a few hours, they wrote back and said, “Looks great! We’ll be in touch about scheduling, we’re currently looking at October.” That was in mid-July, so I still had time to change my mind if I wanted. But then Titan had a cancellation and asked if I could come to San Francisco at the beginning of August. Just two weeks away! So I busted my ass to try to get into the best shape I could, and on August 8, 2011, I flew to San Francisco, still thinking I looked fat and knowing that I had no idea what I was getting into. They say that one should never be afraid to go out on a limb, because that’s where the fruit is, but this was one hell of a limb.
The stars aligned, though. By complete coincidence, or perhaps by serendipity, my first scene partner was Hunter Marx, the porn star from Michigan who’d plopped down on my lap earlier that year! I was comfortable with him and I knew the chemistry would be good. As a result, my first filming experience was exciting and fun. I was still nervous, but I was mostly just excited. Titan offered me an exclusive contract when we were done filming the scene, so I guess I did okay. And I’ve been working with them ever since.
Back to top
When I was in college I had a part-time job as an engineer at a big company, and as luck would have it, they had a full-time position open up at the same time I graduated. I already had the experience, I knew the people, and I did the job well, so they hired me. I’ve been there for 22 years now, and I love it. I also get lots of vacation time, which is great because I travel to California several times a year to film with Titan. My company, which is very progressive, knows about my porn side career, and they’re fine with it.
How they came to find out about it is an interesting story. One of my first official appearances as a Titan Man took place here in Boston back in the fall of 2011. It was Manhunt’s tenth anniversary, the site was hosting a big event at a local club, and Titan had arranged to have me on hand to pose for pictures and give away merchandise. It was, for all intents and purposes, my porn star coming out party; none of my films had been released yet, and until that point I’d told hardly anyone about my new venture. But unlike my first coming out experience, this time I did shoot confetti and rainbows. I told all my friends about my porn career via Facebook and invited them to the event. Many of them showed up to support me, and we all had a blast. The local LGBT newspaper even ran a little profile on me. I was fine with that, knowing that people were probably going to find out about me anyway as soon as the movies started coming out.
The Monday after that article ran in the paper, I got an email from the customer relations department at my day job. The email, from a guy there said that he needed to talk to me about something sensitive. It turns out that he’d received an anonymous email from someone who’d told him about my new porn career.
The author threatened to out me to the company’s customers, investors, and the media, then pressed for my termination on the grounds that, as a porn star, I’m “perverse”, “lewd”, and “obscene”, and damaging to the company’s image.
The guy from the customer relations department and I met in person that afternoon, and he told me that the email was, in his words, “total bullshit”. Whatever I did in my own time was fine with my company, as long as it didn’t interfere with my work. He also added that my company would come to my defence if this sort of thing should ever happen again. To this day, I feel really lucky to be working there, and I wish all corporations were as accepting.
Back to top
For me, a scene is successful when the scene partners really connect with each other. Sometimes there’s an intense physical attraction, but when you have something to talk about or a shared interest to bond over, it’s an even stronger connection that really drives the scene. I like to reach out to my scene partners before we meet in person in order to get to know them a little bit, so that we’re already comfortable with each other when we get to the shooting location. That way, there’s not any of the awkwardness that would come with walking into a room and having sex with a complete stranger.
A typical porn shoot starts at around 9 am. We start by filling out paperwork (we’re considered “contract labor” and we pay taxes on what we earn, so there are some official forms we need to sign) and shooting promotional photographs.
People don’t realize how intense the photo session can be. You need to stand in the right spot, turn your body one way, turn your head the other way, keep your head up, tighten your abs, straighten your back, flex your arms, breathe all the way out to show your abs some more… and smile! And by the way… keep your dick hard.
This is where fluffing comes in. The idea of a “fluffer” is a nice fantasy, but they don’t actually exist. (As best as anyone can tell, the term arose as a nickname for the production assistant, whose job among other things was to “fluff the pillows” on the bed between takes - not to blow the performers.) We actors do help each other out, though. I think there’s this misconception that porn stars are horny all the time, walking on set with an erection and screwing for hours, no problem. But we’re not superhuman. Hell, I’m 42 years old, so I naturally have some issues getting and staying hard once in a while. So scene partners make out during the photo shoot, or suck each others’ dicks or whatever, to help get each other hard, then we pose for another few photos until we start to go soft. Basically it’s pose, stop, kiss/blow, repeat for an hour or so, until the photographer gets the pictures he needs.
Once the photos are done, we jump right into filming. Similar to the photography portion, filming is done in bursts. There’s a lot of stopping and starting. The sex can be really intense -- plus the lights get really warm, and we can’t run air conditioning units because they interfere with the sound -- so we occasionally need to take breaks to stretch, cool down, drink some water, and eat some food. The film crew also stops to reposition the cameras and lights from time to time. When the chemistry is good with your scene partner, it can be a lot of fun and the hours fly by, but when it’s not the best chemistry, porn feels more like a job. But we’re all professionals and we take our job seriously, so we get through it. But most of the time, at least in my experience, it does fly by and it is lots of fun!
I like to tell people that porn sex “resembles” actual sex, but they’re different in a lot of ways. Actual sex, like what you might have in the privacy of your own bedroom or dungeon, doesn’t really translate well to film. On a porn set, the camera has to be able to see all the action. You’re often contorted into these weird angles, not quite squarely facing your scene partner, or with your leg bent out of the way at a strange angle so it’s not blocking the lights. That’s part of why it can be so tiring. It also takes a while: because of all the starting and stopping, a shoot usually takes between two and four hours. The final product, however, is only about 30 minutes long. The editors are very clever about how they piece it all together, but once you’ve actually been in a few films, you can see where the cuts are. There’s a lot of work at a lot of different levels, from planning to production to post-production to marketing, that goes into a scene; it really is an art, albeit an often-underappreciated one.
By the way, I’m proud of my work, and my friends know it. Most of them don’t want to watch the films, and that’s fine with me. Some of my friends do watch them, though. I don’t have a problem with that either, but I have to admit it’s a little strange to know that a few of my friends have seen me have sex. One time I even went to a party where my friends decided to watch one of my DVDs. I had to leave the room!
Back to top
When I started considering getting into porn, I worried that potential boyfriends would see me as undateable because of it. I knew that I could be both a committed partner and a porn actor, but someone who’s unfamiliar with the industry might think “How could anyone commit himself to one partner when every couple of months he’s having sex with other men and getting paid for it?”
After I’d agreed to work with Titan but before I filmed my first scene, I started seeing a guy in Boston. I was really crazy about him. He was sexy as all hell, liked dogs and sports, and was a great cook. We’d cuddle on his couch and watch Red Sox games together. I was open with him about porn from the very first date. His response was mixed. He was supportive of my decision and seemed happy for me, but he expressed concerns about my ability to remain faithful. His reservations made sense, as he’d just gotten out of a relationship with an unfaithful partner.
He wanted what’s often called a “monogamous” relationship: an emotionally-committed partnership with an agreement that partners can engage in some level of outside sexual activity. I knew that I could be emotionally faithful to him… but could I convince him of that? “Please,” I said, “give me a chance. Wait until my movies start coming out. Let me prove to you that I can be in a relationship with you and do this.” He agreed.
A couple of months after he and I started dating, Titan asked me to work in their booth at the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. I flew out there on a Thursday, and a very close friend of mine picked me up at the airport. On the way into town he said, “So there’s this guy I’d like you to meet. I think he’d make a great mentor for you. He’s been in the industry for a year and I think you guys would really get along.” I rolled my eyes; I knew a setup when I heard it. My friend is notorious for playing romantic matchmaker. But no, he knew that I was seeing someone back home, and thought his friend might simply be able to help advise me on how to navigate my complicated situation. He showed me a picture. I recognized him from a TitanMen movie I own called Sting. I thought he was really hot.
His name was Dirk Caber.
I met Dirk at a club later that night. I think he could tell I was a bit nervous, and still a bit stressed out from the cross-country flight. Then he placed his hand on my back, between my shoulder blades, to relax me. It had a kind of instant calming effect, and I suddenly felt comfortable with him. We talked a lot -- just “getting to know you” type stuff -- and we got a little drunk. In fact, we actually hooked up that night. We had fun, but I felt no romantic attachment to Dirk, in keeping with the monogamish spirit of my relationship back home.
Dirk and I met up again at an event the next day and talked some more. We chatted about life, family, porn, relationships, and pretty much everything. No topic was taboo. He was also working at Titan’s booth at the fair that weekend, and we stood side by side for hours, meeting fans and bonding the whole time. I was really excited to have found this amazing new connection and friendship.
The next day, Dirk and I went to lunch with the guy who introduced us, along with a few other people, to decompress and talk about the weekend’s events. During the meal, my phone buzzed. It was an email from the guy back in Boston I’d been seeing. The subject line was Been thinkin’, and the message, in part, read, “Porn takes [our relationship] into another whole other realm that doesn’t work for me based on who I am, what makes me feel comfortable, safe and happy.”
He’d broken up with me.
I totally lost it. I just couldn’t keep my composure. I’d bent over backwards to make him feel exactly what he claimed to have needed: comfort, safety, and happiness. I tried not to cry for about two seconds but was unsuccessful. I ran out of the restaurant, sprinted back to my friend’s house where I’d been staying, and threw myself onto the bed.
I just buried myself in the covers and threw my head into the pillow, screaming and crying and wondering if I’d completely ruined my life by deciding to go into porn. I was thinking some pretty horrible things: I’m awful, I’m undateable, nobody’s ever going to love me. Porn has turned me into poison.
About five minutes later the guys arrived back at the apartment. They all took turns talking to me: my friend, his roommate, and a couple of Dirk’s friends too. But Dirk was the one who held me while I cried, never leaving my side. After I started to calm down, he and I started talking again… about life, about porn, about family, about relationships… and we haven’t stopped talking ever since. It’s been nearly four years, and we’re still having this amazing ongoing conversation about life. It’s incredible.
Back to top
Dirk and I stayed in touch. We talked or texted every day, exploring this amazing new bond we had. (For Christmas that year I gave him a printed and bound copy of all our text messages from the first three months. It’s over 600 pages long.) At the time, I really didn’t expect anything more than friendship. After all, Dirk lived in Chicago and I lived in Boston. I’d dated long distance before; it’s really challenging, and I was in no hurry to do it again.
Two weeks after Folsom, I was getting ready to head to Texas to play in a flag football tournament. Flag football is like a cross between American football and touch rugby: you play seven-on-seven, but instead of tackling, you pull off a breakaway belt with ribbons (flags) on it that each player wears around his or her waist. It’s really fun, and it’s one of the better-organized LGBT sports leagues in Boston. I had the honour of playing on Team Boston in the national championships in Houston that year. I get really stressed out when I travel, and was up all night packing. Dirk was on the phone with me the whole time, keeping me company and calming me down from 850 miles away. It was four in the morning when I finally finished packing; my flight would leave in a few hours. “All right,” I said to Dirk. “I guess I’m ready. Hey, do you want to come down to Houston too?”
I still don’t even know why I said it. It was impulse, I guess. It was just such an impractical idea, and I was certain he’d say no. I wasn’t important enough for him to drop everything to be with me. But to my utter astonishment, he said, “Hmmm, that’s an interesting idea. I’ve got nothing I can’t cancel. Sure!”
He found a last-minute flight, and a couple of days later he was there to watch me play. We were just so happy to see each other. Once the tournament was over, we disappeared into my hotel room. My teammates, I think, were rather amused by this. When it came time to take our team photo, I got a text from one of the guys on my team telling me we were all meeting, and asking me to bring Dirk so he could take the picture.I told him we’d be there in ten minutes. His response was, “No sex. Come now!”
By the end of that trip, Dirk and I knew we had something pretty special. He went home to Chicago and I went home to Boston, but we travelled to see each other every two or three weeks for the next year and a half. We met each other’s families at Thanksgiving (his family lives Maine, about an hour north of me, and my mom still lives here in Boston). At Christmas his nieces and nephews started calling me “Uncle Jesse”. And a year after that, Dirk announced his intention to move to Boston. (Dirk is a freelance musician and composer, which means he can work from almost anywhere; it was easier for him to move to Boston than for me to move to Chicago.) On our third anniversary, we got engaged… which surprised no one. When we announced our engagement on Facebook, one of my friends even commented, “It’s about time!”
Dirk and I have been together nearly four years now. We have our share of challenges like any couple does, but we always talk through them. Our communication, after all this time, is still great. It’s a strong and healthy relationship, one both of us know will last.
Back to top
I know it sounds cliché, but our relationship is built entirely on trust. Dirk has a close-knit circle of friends who he calls his “brothers”. Part of their connection he shares with those “brothers” is physical, and sometimes, part of that physical connection is sex. It’s something he brought to the table very early in our relationship, and I found that I was okay with it. I don’t feel threatened by it, because our emotional commitment to each other comes first. I don’t happen to have any “brothers” in my life, but I wouldn’t rule out the idea if someone great came along. And of course he’d have to love Dirk too. But in the meantime, if either Dirk or I want to have a bit of fun, that’s fine; it doesn’t threaten our relationship either.
Porn is similar, in a way. People often ask me if I get jealous when Dirk is off filming a scene, or if he gets jealous when I am. We don’t, not at all. We often connect well with our scene partners either physically or emotionally, but that connection doesn’t threaten the relationship we have with each other. There’s occasionally a bit of playful professional jealousy between us (“Aww, how come you get to work with so-and-so, but I don’t?”), but we’re not being serious.
It took some time, and we had to work for that level of trust. We’ve had some bumpy times, but at the end of the day, everything we do is in the best interest of our relationship. Sometimes I screw up, and sometimes he screws up, but we always do the best we can. It’s a really great feeling to know that no matter what happens, we’re always looking out for us.
Back to top
Part of working in the porn industry is that you have to be regularly tested for STDs. Some studios even require their performers to be tested within two weeks of every shoot. Since Dirk films almost monthly, he’s very well informed about his sexual health. I don’t film as much as he does, and I’m not under any obligation to be tested that regularly, but I still get a full STD screen at least every three months. If one of us tests positive for an STD, we’ve agreed to tell the other immediately, without judgment. As an added layer of protection, we're both on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection. We practice safer sex, both on set and in our personal lives. And yes, that includes using condoms.
Anyone you ask will tell you that sex without a condom feels better than sex with a condom. Some people don’t like to bareback, though; I've known tops with a “quick trigger” who prefer to use a condom because it slows them down a bit, and I’ve known both tops and bottoms who are so concerned about potentially transmitting STDs to their partner that they can’t climax without using one. But the guys who do bareback – or are thinking about trying it – should ask themselves a question: Is a few minutes of better-feeling sex worth putting themselves and their partners at risk, even if that risk is a minimal one? It's a very personal decision. For some people, the answer is never. For some, it's always. And for some, it’s “only with my partner” or within a small trusted circle. It’s up to each and every one of us to determine what constitutes acceptable risk, and recognize the potential consequences of our decision.
Dirk and I have each had a rather traumatic experience that has shaped the way we approach safe sex. Back in 2006, I dated someone who was HIV-positive but didn’t know it. He was infected during a three-way encounter that happened about a month before we met. He doesn’t remember the specifics, but he’s pretty sure that one of the guys removed the condom without saying anything. My ex seroconverted just before he and I met. It wasn’t until three months into our relationship that he went for a routine STD screen and tested positive for HIV.So for three months I was not only dating someone who was HIV-positive but also had an enormous viral load. If we hadn't used condoms, I’d almost certainly be positive now too. And while being HIV-positive isn’t the death sentence it once was, the long-term effects of treatment still aren’t well understood, poz guys still face a tremendous social stigma, and the virus is a major pain in the ass to have to deal with. Frankly, I don’t want that hassle.
The diagnosis changed my ex’s life. He spiraled into an awful depression. He carried a lot of self-blame and guilt with him, and he withdrew from his friends. It made our relationship very challenging. He lives in another country, and at the time the United States had a really backward policy that essentially barred anyone with HIV from coming here. While rarely enforced for visitors, it meant that his moving to the US was completely out of the question for him. I had a career at a local company and had just bought a house here, so I really wasn’t able to move either. There were other factors involved, but our relationship eventually ended in part because we could never live together permanently. We’re still the best of friends, though. He and Dirk get along really well too, and when they join forces to tease me, they can be quite formidable.
Dirk’s traumatic experience was a little less complicated. About three months into our relationship, he was in New York and hooked up with one of his aforementioned “brothers” who happens to be HIV-positive. Their condom ripped -- it tore off at the base -- and both of them freaked out. The next day Dirk went to Callen Lorde Community Health Center in Manhattan to start post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). He was so apologetic, and sweet: as a token of his commitment to staying healthy, the next time he came to visit, he brought me a “gourmet” gift tin full of all sorts of varieties of condoms.
Dirk and I have each learned the hard way that these kinds of traumatic events can, and do, happen... so at the end of the day, it makes sense for us to be as safe as possible.
Back to top
There’s one final thought I’d like to share. I talked earlier about how Dirk I manage to keep our relationship open and strong without succumbing to jealousy. Our relationship philosophy boils down to something we call the One Rule. It works on many, many different levels, from sex partners to STDs to take-away pizza. When you honour the One Rule, everything else seems to fall neatly into place. And it’s amazingly simple.
“Never bring home anything you don’t want to share.”
Jesse travels to San Francisco where Titan Studios is based to film porn scenes
Jesse spent a semester studying in Japan where came out to someone for first time.
Jesse grew up in Boston and now lives there with his partner Dirk.