LGBT

YouTube Star Explains Why He Appeared In Bareback Porn Shows

Exclusive: Calum McSwiggan told BuzzFeed News what drove him to appear in X-rated videos and why he’s embarrassed that they featured unprotected sex. “I want it to serve as a warning.”

Joe Newman / SWNS for BuzzFeed

“You should always, always use a condom,” says LGBT YouTube star and sexual health campaigner Calum McSwiggan in a recent video for an HIV charity. It is understandable then that today McSwiggan is feeling more than a little bit embarrassed as he tells BuzzFeed News about a secret he’s been hiding for six years: He used to do bareback porn.

For months, rumours to this effect have been swirling online. Threats have been made to expose him – it is, after all, a revelation at marked odds with his wholesome image. So the 25-year-old, whose influence on young LGBT people is such that he is courted by numerous organisations wanting to reach this demographic, now wants to reveal the truth about his past for the first time.

Aged 19, McSwiggan performed in a series of live webcam shows having unprotected sex with two other men. The broadcasts have since been recorded and uploaded to multiple websites against his will.

“I’d like to apologise for the fact that they’re out there,” he tells BuzzFeed News, his normally perky tone distinctly more sombre. “I want to be a positive role model for people so these images aren’t what I want people to be seeing.” But his reasons for divulging everything now are not only to pre-empt those threatening to do so for him. “I‘m trying to put myself back in the driver’s seat and own it and say, ‘Yes there’s things out there, but I’m going to give context to it, explain it, and defend myself.’” As the story unfolds, dark enough to serve as a cautionary tale, it reveals something else about McSwiggan that explains far more than he realises.

The story begins when McSwiggan was at university in Derby. He had been working part-time at a postal delivery company when colleagues began homophobically bullying him, he says, and when he complained, he was sacked.

Instagram

Instagram

Instagram

 

“I remember looking around for other part-time work – working in factories and shops – but I was really scared about going back into something like that in case things [the bullying] repeated.” A short while later, an altogether different opportunity arose. “Two friends suggested we try out webcam shows. They’d seen people making money off it and hoped I would do it with them as a threeway.”

The live sessions – in which members of the public can interact with the performers, telling them what to do in exchange for money – began innocently enough.

“The first time we did it we were fully clothed and just chatted to people online through a live chat feed,” he says. “We were getting a lot of money – people were tipping. We made a couple of hundred pounds that first show, so it seemed like a really easy way to make money. And we thought, What happens if we take this further? It didn’t feel like a big deal at the time – it was a bit of fun and I didn’t think about the long-term consequences.”

Before turning the shows X-rated, McSwiggan investigated the site on which they were hosted, which also featured many other similar performers. The small print reassured him – the live performances could not be recorded or uploaded elsewhere.

“Obviously that was stupidity and naivety because people did record it and now it’s everywhere,” he says.

From the second show, everything escalated rapidly.

“People started saying, ‘Oh, I’ll tip you £200 if you take your shirts off; I’ll send you £150 if you take your jeans off.’ So at first it was taking off clothes and then it was doing sexual acts and before we knew it, it was full sex.”

Joe Newman / SWNS for BuzzFeed

The shows proved more successful than McSwiggan expected, with thousands watching and paying to see explicit performances between him and his two friends. The knowledge of how many were watching made him “uncomfortable”, but, he adds, “I thought as soon as we finished the show nobody would ever see it again. If I’d known that years later it would still be there I would never have done it.”

After a few weeks of these performances, which ran four times a week, the now popular trio were the most watched on the site. “We were told [by the site] if we continued performing [like this] by the end of the month we could win this big prize – £2,000.” They won it, but by then, their earnings from viewers’ tips were five times this amount.

Porn companies started approaching them, asking the three guys to appear in films. They declined.

What emerges now is how conflicted McSwiggan felt. He enjoyed the money, which prevented him having to work in another hostile environment, but what was happening internally could not be conveyed by the camera.

“I was numb and oblivious to what I was doing,” he says. “I was just thinking about the money. I look back and see the videos now and I’m smiling and laughing but in my head I know that on the inside I wasn’t enjoying myself. It was all for show.”

This gap between appearance and experience is so commonly expressed by sex workers it is perhaps surprising anyone would assume otherwise. But, says McSwiggan, the fact that so many don’t is one of the reasons he wanted to speak out. “I want people to know the truth: Just because we’re smiling doesn’t mean that’s what we were feeling.” It’s particularly important that this message reaches young gay people, he adds, as sex work is “so normalised within the gay community it makes it seem like, ‘Oh yeah, I can just do this for a bit of money,’ but there are so many consequences that go with it.”

Joe Newman / SWNS for BuzzFeed

It was too late by the time he found this out. The live shows, which he believed would evaporate into the ether, started appearing on porn sites.

“At first, every time one would pop up I’d issue them [the site in question] with a take-down notice and say, ‘I own the copyright for this, please take it down.’ And they usually would but for every one I got taken down, 10 more would pop up. It got out of control. Now there are so many out there I don’t even know about most of them.”

McSwiggan wants people to know what it is like to have such intimate moments accessible by anyone.

“It makes me feel gross,” he says. “Violated. I’ve no control over it. I don’t want people I know going on to the internet and seeing these videos of me, and I know making it public like this means a load of people are going to google it and find it.” But, he says, he’s learning to accept such powerlessness – there is nothing he can do about it. There’s also nothing he can do to change the fact that he didn’t wear condoms.

“Although we were all tested before we did it and knew we were negative, when you watch the videos there’s no context to that, it just looks like we’re having unprotected sex, and that’s not something I want to promote. I promote the opposite – it’s something I say in my videos: ‘Don’t bareback, make sure you’re using protection.’ I don’t want this to damage my reputation and all the things I’ve worked so hard to do.” (It is worth pointing out, however, that even when both partners take an HIV test before unprotected sex, it can only pick up the virus several weeks after transmission, and therefore this is not a fail-safe method.)

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Instagram

 

McSwiggan with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and, right, with Tom Daley

As McSwiggan’s YouTube channel grew in popularity, with his face becoming well-known and his videos exploring increasingly serious issues such as mental illness and sexual health, viewers began connecting him to the X-rated videos. Some made comments under the YouTube videos. “One person threatened and said they were going to tell my mum,” he says. “Some people were being quite malicious and vindictive with it.”

Before approaching BuzzFeed News, McSwiggan disclosed everything to his parents, who were, he says, very supportive. “They were disappointed I didn’t go to them for money,” he says sadly. “I guess I was too proud.” But their loving reaction provided the biggest relief for him. “My parents finding out was always the scariest thing for me. I didn’t want them to be ashamed of me.”

He seems relieved to be talking about it now. He describes it as a “huge secret” and starts to illustrate some of the sobering realities of life after porn. “Every time I dated a guy it would eventually come up: ‘Oh by the way, there’s naked videos of me on the internet.’ That’s not an easy conversation to have.”

Ultimately, he wants to use what happened to send a message to young people. “I want it to serve as a warning, because I know how enticing the porn industry can be and so often it preys on young, naive people,” he says. Suddenly, his YouTube work seems clear: Perhaps all along it was an attempt to prevent kids falling into the traps he did. Gay teenagers learn little or nothing about gay adult life at school. More often we learn from mistakes that cannot be undone.

To watch McSwiggan talking on camera in his bouncy, sunny way, often while delivering important messages, his popularity makes sense too: He’s the older brother many gay teens desperately need. And as if to finally integrate the two parts of his online life, he’s uploaded a video to his YouTube channel at the same time as this interview, to talk directly to his audience.

YouTube

He returns again to his own mistakes, repeated by many others.

“There are so many 18-year-olds in porn, and yes, you’re legally able to consent at that age, but do you really have the right head on your shoulders to make that decision?” He pauses for a moment, and for the first time seems angry. “I certainly didn’t.”











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Patrick Strudwick is a LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. Contact this reporter at: patrick.strudwick@buzzfeed.com
Contact Patrick Strudwick at patrick.strudwick@buzzfeed.com.