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#PleasureOnPrEP: Porn4PrEP

by Antón Castellanos Usigli, October 25, 2017

Jason Domino is a gay porn actor based in the UK, he founded the group Porn4PrEP, which advocates for sexual health and the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). I met Jason in London thanks to Daniel Arzola back in March 2017, and I interviewed him to learn about his experiences with PrEP, combination prevention and sexual pleasure in the porn industry. 

Can you tell me a bit about you and how did you start taking PrEP?

I’m Jason Domino. I am a porn actor and I also spend a lot of my time advocating for PrEP and sexual health. I am founder of a group called Porn4PrEP, which effectively uses the reach of porn actors to talk to audiences that may have limited access to sex education. I started doing this work because my very first porn scene was with someone who was HIV+. I found out after the scene that he was positive and it freaked me out quite a bit. I went on a course of medication called PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), which you have to take within 72 hours of an HIV exposure so you can prevent transmission. I also have epilepsy so I was worried about how the medications could interact. I could not find much online about drug interactions, eventually I found a website from the University of Liverpool which was a very good resource, but even people at the Hospital did not feel very confident to talk about PEP ad how it interacts with other drugs. While I was on PEP, I did my research and learned more about HIV. While I was doing that, I found out that the partner with whom I had sex was undetectable, taking anti-retroviral medication and with a viral load below 50 counts… In the UK, the definition of undetectable is 50 in people’s blood, so he was not contagious in any way. After reading about that and the partner study, which reported that in thousands of sexual acts, HIV was not transmitted to a partner when the person with HIV had an undetectable viral load, I realized I could stop PEP, and I did. But then I thought: I am working in porn and I can not put myself at risk again. So I learned about PrEP, which at the time was available in the US, but not in the UK. The only way I could access it was through the internet, which was a bit nerving but I realized that I had to make an effort to protect myself with that. I started buying it online and they shipped it internationally. I did a little bit of research and found out a company which has generic medication that is very reliable. In the UK, purchasing PrEP for your own use is legal, so you can purchase it and have it shipped.

How have your sexual relationships have changed since you are on PrEP?

The exciting thing about PrEP, which I have witnessed in my own life, is that it opens your mind to different types of relationships. The barriers between HIV+ and HIV- sort of disappear, and you are more comfortable with the knowledge you have gained in the process. PrEP makes you feel more confident to learn things about being undetectable, viral load, window period, etc. If I have a sexual relationship with someone who has HIV it is not the end of the world. The other thing I have noticed is that when you take one of the biggest fears that people have in their sex lives, you feel in control and that feeling extends to other things. It is easier to have regular tests and to prevent things like gonorrhea or chlamydia, and other remaining infections that PrEP does not protect against. People tend to shut down, they don’t like detecting symptoms early, they don’t like having the tests done, but when you feel you are succeeding at protecting yourself, you have more optimistic experiences. And that is a great way to look at sex, because sex is an enjoyable experience, and if taking care of your sexual health has a fear based association, no wonder there is a clash.

How do you experience sexual pleasure now that you are on PrEP?

Anxiety and sex are almost quite opposite. I think there is a type of sexual anxiety where you are excited for an event and you want to see how that person looks like and that makes things exciting but, beyond that, anxiety is something that can affect you physically and makes things difficult. If you are a performer and you will go on stage and have sex in front of a crowd, and you are really nervous about the show you are going to do, you won’t be able to sustain an erection, and so having one less concern while being on PrEP has meant that it is much easier to be more relaxed. Even if you don’t do porn, anxiety is something that affect many people’s sex lives and PrEP definitely helps making things easier. For me pleasure is a lot more spontaneous. I feel like that the best scenes are the ones who seem more natural, so for me I have always wanted some genuine chemistry between the people who are involved.

Burning Desire by Daniel Arzola

 

Thinking about the before and after PrEP, is there something that has changed in the way you select your partners?

Before I started PrEP, I was just badly educated and I would have not engaged with people who were positive. I would have been like “I’m sorry, I just cant deal with this”, and now, someone’s status is not as relevant as who they are and whether there is chemistry, and that was the journey with PrEP. Again, it was through a learning curve, learning things like what being undetectable means. At the same time, I was trying to improve and make my sex life more resilient in terms of preferences. In social apps, people are racist, anti-ageist or whatever the phrase is for choosing people with different body types. A lot of that just comes from lack of experience of being with different partners, and most of the time if you are just open about enjoying with an individual, you can have a wonderful time. I can’t think of preferences I have now, where previously I had specific aligned preferences. It is like a side effect, that started with PrEP.

How do you make the decision of whether or not to use condoms with someone?

Largely the studios know what they want. Some studios are condom studios and some studios are bareback studios and they will find you knowing what do you will do and asking it first. It is up to you to say I want this or I want that. A lot of studios have started bareback work when they did not do it before, and some have confirmed that they feel more comfortable doing that now that PrEP exists. Also, the information about being undetectable has been helpful in this change. For me, I would say condoms are probably used more often when I have key scenes and bit of work coming up, and I don’t want to get an infection that might clash with work coming up. As a PrEP advocate, and my target audience being people who don’t use condoms, I can tell them how to protect themselves and I am actually fairly comfortable using condoms.

What type of conversations do you have with your partners about protection?

For me it is really straightforward because I have been talking about sexual health for years now, so I can be in the middle of a crowded room and I can still be comfortable saying words like protection. With practice you become more comfortable, but also it depends on where you meet your partners. There are different venues (such as certain saunas or sex clubs), where a lot of the time it is expected for people to use condoms. There are some, however, where things are quite the opposite. In London, the standard rule of most of these places is to have condom ready and if you go in not having a condom available, you might upset a few people.

How do you see the issue of combination prevention (PrEP + condoms) in porn?

I think it includes a number of issues. One of the issues is how porn affects the viewer. Does watching bareback sex influences the viewer to having bareback sex? For some people, if they are watching that, it might mean they have that. But for a lot of people, fantasy is still something very separate from reality. They might watch a horror film, but that does not mean they want to be in it. For a lot of people porn is a fantasy, which is different from what you want to do. I see this in porn a lot. I know a lot of people who say they would love to work in porn, and they are newbies and come on set and it is not for them. And everything they thought they would like is different. Thus, it is difficult to say how porn influences audiences. Since the AIDS epidemic a number of studios banned bareback sex for scenes. In some ways, that was counterproductive, because it fetishized having bareback sex. It made it a little rarer, exclusive and naughty. Those elements sometimes feed into people’s sexuality, so rather than erasing the desire it sort of fetishized it. Bareback by itself is not shameful, it is the STIs and the risks that are the worries. In the porn world and in actor’s personal lives, PrEP has given more confidence not just to bareback at some point (which is more at demand now), but to take more responsibility for your own sexual health.

Sometimes there seems to be a big gap between what people think pleasurable sex is vs sex with a condom, what are your thoughts about this?

It goes back to mindset. It’s about being in a mindset. If you make education around condoms in a sterile format or concept, that is a completely different mindset compared to when they are excited to be with a partner. When they do that, it is not surprising that this info is not appealing to them. We have so many examples of how this works in a psychological level and making that info accessible to people. And having examples that sex is not just one exclusive thing also helps. It can be 100% foreplay, it can be 100% this or that, and that information can set people free. Some people think sex is only X, Y Z and that terrifies them. I think education and access, which is what porn do because a lot people find what they like through it, supports the whole attitude of finding and protecting yourself.

Antón Castellanos Usigli & Jason Domino in London

How did you start Porn4PrEP and what is your aim with it?

Porn and sexual health are a difficult mixture. A lot of people in porn get worried that if they talk about sexual health, they would put fans off them.  It would be unsexy and the sex industry does not like being unsexy because it affects profits. In a similar way, the medical industry does not want to get too involved because something like porn seems a bit unprofessional.

When I started taking PrEP, I felt that I owed spreading the information to others because a number of my friends had become HIV+ and I feel I had been quiet. I was in a situation where I felt guilty for not having shared the information about PrEP because I could have helped others to prevent HIV. I got to the point where I was telling more people about that, and other porn actors started feeling more comfortable to talk about sexual health and PrEP as well. In Porn4PrEP, I have interviewed porn actors who share sexual health advice. It is now more socially acceptable.

My aim is to get people more aware of sexual health information, bridging the gap between gay adult entertainment and sex education, and show a crossover point, where education can be sexy enough that people can think about it and use when it comes the moment of using it. Hopefully down the line, I want to address a larger number of sexualities and a larger number of kinks when it comes to porn providing education. Lesbian porn is one of the major search categories in the internet for straight people, and although for lesbians in porn PrEP is less of a relevant issue, the fact that it reaches a wide range of straight men from diverse cultural backgrounds makes it a valuable tool for education about PrEP, HPV, hepatitis A & B vaccinations, etc. Hepatitis A is going through a spike in London, and although it is not life threatening, it is very unpleasant and more people can be aware of these vaccinations, and other ways of preventing it, such as not sharing sex toys and using gloves for fisting.

Porn4PreEP aims to involve a large number of performers, do more talks, events, and showcase some of the skills of performers, so that people can value them beyond being sex workers, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory term. I think the government will support as well when they see performers helping people and understanding that people working in porn are not monsters and that porn has the opportunity to reach many people.

How have your conversations with medical providers been around PrEP?

I have been on PrEP for a long time now, and even though things have gotten better, a large number of clinicians don’t have a lot of information about it. The whole process in the UK has been stagnating. As soon as I begin talking about this, they identify with me as another medical advisor, because my knowledge is higher than some of them.

I go to a specific clinic in which they are very quick to get my STIs certificates. It is in Soho and serves a high gay population, so they are comfortable to talk about that. Sometimes it is more or less awkward though, depending on the provider. Sometimes people confuse issues of PrEP and drug use.

Can you talk a little bit more about any relationship between chemsex and PrEP?

Sometimes they can happen together and sometimes they are different issues. A lot of people involved in chemsex are involved in high risk lifestyle, and PrEP can add some element of responsibility to that. However, PrEP is something like the contraceptive pill, it is not something to support the chemsex life; its purpose is to prevent someone from catching something. The other element is that when PrEP does not work, this is extremely connected to human error, such as people being so drunk that they vomit their medication or people forgetting to take it daily. If people take their medication reliably, PrEP works well. A PrEP implant or a PrEP injection would take away those elements of forgetting the medication, but it is again the erroneous association between chemsex and PrEP that makes it difficult sometimes to communicate how great PrEP is.

 

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