Now that free tube sites like PornHub and RedTube have become synonymous with Internet smut, the porn industry has been scrambling to find ways to get people to actually start paying for porn. Some are offering their content online for free, in the hopes of eventually attracting paid subscribers. Others are dabbling in other sectors of the industry, such as camming or custom clips.

Porn website Naked Sword, which touts itself as “the HBO of gay porn,” is doing a combination of the two. With their latest project, In Their Room: Berlin (NSFW), they’re crossing over into the mainstream indie film industry—and they’re streaming the film in full for free on their website.

Directed by Travis Mathews, who co-directed James Franco’s infamous “gay porn” film Interior. Leather Bar, In Their Room: Berlin is a “quasi-documentary” that takes an intimate look at the lives of gay Berliners, featuring interviews with them in their homes. The film is part of Matthews’ In Their Room series, and is a follow-up to 2013’s I Want Your Love (NSFW), also directed by Mathews and produced by Naked Sword.

Adult film studios dabbling in the independent film industry is “not common at all, but maybe it should be,” says Naked Sword CEO Tim Valenti. His company—which got its start in mainstream media designing interactive websites for Eidos Interative and E-trade—has always tried to bridge the gap between the mainstream gay world and porn.

“We've never thought of gay porn as separate from gay culture, because sex isn't separate from culture,” he told the Daily Dot via e-mail. “One of the things that appealed to us about working with Travis was that he was bridging those gaps in a thoughtful, artistic way.”

In Their Room: Berlin was released on the first anniversary of I Want Your Love, which Naked Sword also made available for free on their website. They found that by offering Matthews’ films for free, “people came to see them, and then stayed on to join NakedSword. Memberships to our sites have surged, even if most of it is more traditional porn,” says Valenti. “So we see broadening of the content as a way to stay ahead in an industry that's struggling.”

Both In Their Room: Berlin and I Want Your Love feature explicit sex scenes and shots of male genitalia, yet they’re distinct from the traditional gay porn content offered on Naked Sword’s website. For starters, they’re more intimate and narratively driven, with an aesthetic quality that’s more comparable to (and just as explicit as) art-house films like Blue Is The Warmest Color and Nymphomaniac.

Valenti sees a direct link between Matthews’ films and the increasingly graphic depictions of sex in mainstream independent film. “Ironically, I think it took a porn company to show that an artistically honest film could use sex in a way that wasn’t exploitative or gratuitous,” Valenti says. “You see it all over gay media now, from Blue Is The Warmest Color to Looking.” He cites the positive reaction to I Want Your Love on the film festival circuit as evidence of the increasing tolerance of explicit depictions of sex: although the film was banned in Australia, it was met with acclaim at virtually every screening.

In the future, Naked Sword plans to move further into the mainstream film industry by producing more films that are “honest about sex and sexuality, but aren’t necessarily porn.” They see the expansion of their brand into a more general audience as akin to what Netflix did with original series like House of Cards. And just as Netflix’s original series permanently altered the definition of what it means to make and watch TV, Naked Sword hopes to blur the lines between mainstream and porn gay culture and change film representations of gay sex.

“Traditional gay networks have always been a little shy about sex,” Valenti said. “It's almost like they don't want to rock the boat because they finally got a show on cable, or be seen as too sexual because that's always been a line of attack on gay people. But we're a porn company, and we think sex is nothing to be ashamed of, so maybe that's an opportunity for us.”

By trying to break out of the confines of the gay adult industry and reach a new, more mainstream audience, Naked Sword faces an uphill battle: porn has been attempting to go “mainstream” for years, and it’s still very much an open question whether it has, or even has the ability to do so. And while House of Cards and Netflix’s other original series changed the television landscape virtually overnight, it’s unlikely Naked Sword will make the leap from gay porn studio to art-house film producer as quickly. But Valenti says that most people underestimate gay porn websites’ reach and impact in the gay community at large.

“We don't always talk about it, [but] porn companies have a direct line to gay men—something that can be hard to find anywhere else in media,” he says. “I read a stat that only like a third of gay men visit any ‘gay’ news site, because not everyone identifies with the community. But most of us love sex, so gay porn has the eyeballs. We wanted to use that to our advantage [with these series].”


Screengrab via I Want Your Love