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Aug 17, 2000

Why is it that unsafe sex is now called 'barebacking'? In The Netherlands, where the discussion about barebacking is just starting, it leads to confusion: there is safe sex, there is unsafe sex (between hiv+ and hiv- men) and there is barebacking (unprotected sex between hiv+ men only), according to the barebackers in this country. On I read however that unsafe sex is the same as barebacking, so why call unsafe sex barebacking?

Response from Mr. Kull

"Barebacking" (you know, like riding a horse without a saddle) does not have a strict definition. The term was coined among a particular subculture in the gay community where HIV-positive gay men have unprotected anal sex with one another. This sometimes occurs at private barebacking parties, where HIV+ men can engage in unprotected sex with one another without having to worry about condoms or infecting someone else.

You don't have to be HIV-positive to bareback. HIV-negative gay men engage in this activity as well. I understand barebacking to mean having unprotected anal sex with the intent or plan to do so, regardless of HIV-status. It doesn't refer to a Saturday night slip-up when you're drunk.

The media became interested when it seemed that barebacking was happening between HIV-positive and HIV-negative men. Some HIV-negative men -- sometimes referred to as "bugchasers" -- attended barebacking parties or hooked up with someone on the internet with the understanding or hope that they might become HIV-infected. It is a psychologically and sociologically complex issue that has stirred much controversy within the gay community.

I think there was a lot of hype about barebacking. We don't know the extent to which this occurs or even the accuracy of the stories. It's hard to say that this is a problem in gay culture, or that it will become a pervasive behavior. I think the important issue here is that many gay men are tired of HIV and safe sex. We need to maintain sensitivity to the changing needs, attitudes and beliefs within gay culture in order to keep people uninfected.


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