Barebacking, Unbridled: Thoughts From the HIV Community on Unprotected Sex
What do you feel when you hear the term "barebacking"? Anger at the stigma the word can imply? Relief that the topic is being discussed in an open forum? Frustration that anyone would choose to have unprotected sex in the age of HIV/AIDS? Curiosity about the reasons such choices are made?
No matter what your position on barebacking is, chances are excellent that one of TheBody.com's interviewees, bloggers or content partners has touched upon it. Check out this sampling of the range of perspectives on gay men and sexual risk that have been shared on our site.
Please also share your own opinions in the comments section below. We will post selections from these comments on TheBody.com in a future article.
Do you have thoughts on sexual risk in gay men's communities? Share them in the comments section below, and your comment just might be chosen to be a part of an article in response to this piece.
Comment by: aaasian
Tue., Dec. 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm EST
I think the real discussion begins when hiv neg guys are included. Truvada, preP have changed everything. And the clinical implications of "undetectable" will also change the way more men look at sex regardless of any discussion of superviruses, resistance profiles, other stds et al.
preP has been around & used effectively for 15 years. Everyone knows it works. Health care workers know this. Doctors know it. Interestingly, it's been workers in the social support part of hiv care that have first publicly declared their intention to start preP & have sex w/o condoms. There are likely many hiv doctors in sero-discordant relationships, who have sex w/o condoms. They know that the combination of successful undetectable viral load & preP virtually eliminates the risk of transmission. But they will never be able to publicly say this.
What this ultimately means is that men will be able to return to having the kind of primal sex that everyone wants.
Issues of access to preP will become like the discussion around condoms & high schools. And then making it affordable.
Comment by: Don
Wed., Oct. 30, 2013 at 5:20 am EDT
I bb’d—not knowing there was a term for it—all through the ‘90s with my few dozen friends who remained alive then. We were all poz and expected to die anyway. As I recall there were many other matters being dealt with by the AIDS community and preventing infected men from experiencing the intimacy of skin-to-skin contact was way down the list. By the time I heard there were “2 strains” of HIV I’d lost around a hundred loved ones and had maybe 4 dear friends left. After they died I just shut down, for years seeing only a social worker once every 60 days, accepting deliveries at my door, that’s about it. Having no car in L.A. and living in the hinterlands (Culver City) weren’t conducive to socializing either. Most days I didn’t roll up my blinds, didn’t even watch TV, just read classic novels and stared into space a lot. In 2009 I got home from a suicide attempt and for some reason decided to try out the Apple I’d had since 2006 but never used. I came across the website “BBRT,” took a chance on meeting new guys who played “raw” and have never looked back. If I hadn’t found a large group of guys who still bb I doubt I’d have my sanity. As it is, the mere glimpse of a condom in porn makes me gag. Porn is a fantasy, an escape, a chance to drift away into an erotic dream of spontaneous sex, forced sex, lighthearted sex, et al., not a PSM to “educate” us about a thing that eats nonstop at our souls! I’ve met men who “play safe” but say that without bb porn to let off steam they too would play raw. It saddens me when I read of someone who thinks bb porn should be implicated as a risk factor in HIV transmission. Can nothing be done to stop The Sex Police from setting the standards for what adults are allowed to watch? If I were to reach the end of my days never having felt the ecstasy of being impaled on the throbbing, granite-hard, veinous, pulsating, taut-skinned, oozing, rubber-crowned shaft of another man, skin-to-skin, I’d really have missed something spectacular. “JMO”
Comment by: RxVeteran
Thu., Jun. 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm EDT
All men hate condoms. Both heterosexual and homosexual men engage in the same reckless behavior. Bare Backing is a general male sexual issue. Swingers regularly bareback. Not all but many. I suspect it has to do with the male drive to procreate. To Spread their seed. With gay men I'm sure it's multi-factorial. Fatalism, The lie that antiretrovirals are easy to take. Let's face it testosterone is a controlled substance!! It clouds judgement!! BIG time. All those comments about an erect penis not having a conscience are true. I have treated HIV since the 80s. Lost 5 friends that decade. I have no answers. It is my fervent hope the gay male community will develop a moral backbone and stop infecting youngsters. Live to play another day!!
Comment by: Bennet
Wed., May. 15, 2013 at 3:41 am EDT
Many factors have influenced me to choose bareback sex. As someone who became infected before the first case of AIDS had been diagnosed (1978) I know a deep, profound and hopeless weariness had set in before the end of the 1980s. For years it seems the men who were left to me took for granted they were infected so the idea of using condoms never even entered our heads. For about 25 years my life consisted--aside from having to live a lie at work or risk termination--of going to four or five memorial services every weekend, then at night having sex with between two and twenty men, knowing that by the following weekend any one of us might be being memorialized himself. Those years were a living nightmare that none of the newly infected will ever have to endure in addition to their diagnosis. It baffles me that my libido persisted under those circumstances. Now, with medications allowing survival and normal life-spans for the infected barebacking has become for me more of an act of defiance. Not just defiance of Death which has lurked at my door for 35 years this year, but also at those who claimed sex using a condom could be stimulating, intimate and good, and at those who insist, like members of the spirit-crushing fundamentalist xtian denomination I was raised in, that I follow their rules or be damned. Condoms do not allow for the intimacy I insist upon--never have and never will. I like semen, I like the feeling of a man inside my body, skin-to-skin, and I am willing to take risks rather than reach the end of my life with nothing but a little extra survival to show for having "played safe" but missing something ineffably special. Learning the concepts of atheism and finding them rational and true has inspired me to live my life to the fullest, which for me means cranking up the lustfulness of sex full blast. Since I have never been able to climax wearing a rubber, the question of whether to wear one is moot. Lots more to say but not enough characters remaining!
Comment by: james
Sun., Dec. 30, 2012 at 11:18 am EST
As much fun as barebacking can be, people need to be aware that sex with any new partner can be very dangerous to your health. My story is familiar to many out there: being in the bent over position in a bathhouse takes your line of sight away from the goods going up your ass. I repeatedly put a condom on my partner and he either pulled it off or broke it ~ either way cause I recieved a lifetime worth of HIV, all because of sometimes stupidity, mostly mine. Be safe from all angles guys!
Comment by: Tom
Fri., Jul. 12, 2013 at 1:51 am EDT Here is an example of what is truly appalling about the tendency of pozzies to "own" their infection. If someone removed or sabotaged a condom, your infection wasn't a result of your stupidity, it was the result of someone else's sociopathology. If that same hookup had simply smashed you over the head and cut off your hands, you'd be a tragic victim. Instead, your active of violence resulted in your diagnosis with The World's Most Stigmatized STD, and so not only are you, the victim, blamed by society, but you've somehow come to believe that it was your fault.
Comment by: Timbit
Tue., Nov. 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm EST
The oraquick home test would have saved me or delayed my from infection. It weeds out the liars. In ur online ad you state that u will use oraquick before sex then the poz guys who pretend their neg wont even bother...
Comment by: Tom
Wed., Nov. 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm EST The oraquick test is only 90% effective, and doesn't even weed out the most infectious people.
Comment by: MA
(Las Vegas, NV)
Mon., Nov. 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm EST
I'm responding to CR - I came accross this and as a straight woman involved with bi-sexual and "straight" men I take what you said to heart. My life, my children are too important to not use condoms!
Comment by: Rob
(New York City)
Thu., Nov. 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm EST
Barebacking is amazing, just feeling your partner inside you. Wow. And condoms can hurt way more. But I know both my partners, who get tested regularly.
Comment by: Bruce
Fri., Nov. 2, 2012 at 9:57 pm EDT
Been HIV+ since '98 and tried always to use condon with partner who was negative. That was one of the main reasons for going on meds. So I feel I have some responsibilty where I can not to pass the virus on if I am being the active partner.
Later when I became single, the rules remained the same of I was active but when passive I was more relaxed with more cocern about other STI's than HIV. I know I have a 'high risk' attitude to my life, that has always been with me both socially and professionally. I could get easily killed or hurt in my job working outside everyday and I accept that. Sex is just another part of my life and I seek to protect other people more than myself, but I understand that and accept. That is why I caught the virus in the first place.
It was only when I met someone who was HIV+ that I started to have regular sex without a condom. We chatted openly about our situations, all the history and stuff and after a general sexual health check which we passed, did we agree to have regular unprotected bareback sex with each other. It was great as we could be far more spontaneous and wreckless than otherwise we would have been. It felt like the shackles had been removed and once again we were free to have 'normal gay sex'.
We did have sex outside of this too but then we used condoms when a 3rd person was involved - best of both worlds but one which there still remained an element of risk in so much as neither of us knew of the other was having sex in a hidden manner. So never 100% safe, but life is not like that any how.
Comment by: DAVE S
(COOS BAY, OR)
Thu., Oct. 25, 2012 at 9:58 pm EDT
ME AND MY LATE HUSBAND BEARBACKED CAUSE WE WERE BOTH POZ...
NO IF I FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL DATE ME, I WILL USE PROTECTION IF HE WANTS TO
Comment by: Anonymous
Fri., Nov. 9, 2012 at 6:33 am EST In most common relationship people they tend to use protection for the first time but they later ignore and start to do straight without any protection. So how can that be avoided. What about if you thought of having a baby? What do you do?
Comment by: DAVE
Tue., Oct. 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm EDT
THE WAY I SEE IT IF YOU ARE BOTH POZ, GO FOR IT!!
IF YOU ARE NOT BOTH POZ EXPLAIN WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN
Comment by: james
Sun., Dec. 30, 2012 at 11:29 am EST Not nesscessarily a good recommendation, Dave. I assume both partners are on different meds because of different aspects of your separate types of HIV/AIDS. Almost every time this virus passes from one to another it mutates. Both partners probably have different HIV types and my need an altering of medications due to the mixing of the virus types (genes). Be smart! Continue getting tested for changes in your virus.
Comment by: Timothy
Sun., Oct. 7, 2012 at 10:57 pm EDT
I'm sick of the victimization dialogue that surrounds the path to barebacking. When straight people do it, it's taken for granted as normal. When negative gay men do it, it's understood as such an inevitability that any radical pharmaceutical intervention that might make it safer is assumed to be a godsend. When gay men do it and wind up poz, suddenly the stories of sexual abuse and drug problems start pouring out. Screw that. I didn't have a drug problem, and I wasn't more reckless than most of the guys I know who didn't remained neg. I was just unlucky. Most of the poz people I know in real life weren't terribly stupid before seroconverting either.
Barebacking is like fast food; everyone eats it, but we all feel empowered to criticize fat people when they do it. Imagine if those fatties felt like they needed to cough up stories about abuse or scarcity to justify themselves, all while some svelte genetic freak scarfs down a hamburger in front of them and points a finger. That's pretty much the scenario I see whenever we talk about barebacking. Wouldn't that invite negative behavior via cognitive dissonance? Wouldn't that sort of rationalization malign the community as a whole, by making it sound like we're all victims?
I caught a nasty, scary STD. It could've been warts, the clap or syph, any of which are supposedly more contagious. It wasn't though. It was HIV. Let's stop talking about how we did it because we didn't have enough sex ed or our uncles touched us, while admitting that no one seems to be 100% condom adherent. The mental gynastics necessary to reconcile such a conversation are astonishing. I cry BS to the whole dialogue. If you're living in the US in the 21st century and you haven't heard of HIV, you deserve it more than anyone who has it. Let's also stop pretending like our behavior is some sort of tragic act. It's only tragic because we drew the short straw. If we were anyone else, we'd have been "boys being boys".
Comment by: Mark
Thu., Nov. 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm EST No one is down on your for slipping up - we all know we're human and make mistakes. What is upsetting are the people who make a conscious decision before sex not to use condoms. Especially when they think they can protect themselves by asking people if they have HIV. That's just stupid, and also cruel to the people with HIV they callously reject.
Comment by: Timothy
Tue., Nov. 13, 2012 at 12:22 am EST Agreed it's stupid and cruel. It is also the prevention strategy our society has opted to endorse. The proof is in the pudding though...
Comment by: Q
(San Francisco, CA)
Sun., Oct. 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm EDT
Personally, I prefer condoms both for safety and cleanliness. Men don't be clleanin' they'selves out enough!
Comment by: Don
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm EDT
For me, porn is a fantasy and I am relieved and enthused by the trend toward showing models barebacking in vids. Nothing withers my cock faster than viewing a supposedly “spontaneous” sex scene, then seeing the tell-tale outline on the Top’s baby-maker and realizing he’s wearing a “cock-Burka” while we’re supposed to be imagining he’s “breeding” his partner. Ugh! Certainly there are ways producers use to know whether an actor is infected or not, and if so, let them make decisions of whether they want to participate with another poz actor. Nobody I know would pay $19.95 (let alone $69.95) for a mere “glimpse of reality” or an educational video of how we’re “supposed” to play together. Personal Choice matters more than anything in sex. Keep us informed, we’ll make those choices.
Comment by: Declan
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 3:53 pm EDT
I barebacked because of a lack of personal education, conversation, sexual awareness, and support. There is hardly a guide to proper gay sex growing up. I was in my first intimate relationship when I was 15. I know that I was naive but I was also blissful. There wasn’t a single thought about safe sex because there was virtually nothing outside of the secret exciting world where my best friend and I fell in love. We were drunk with hormones. We had no guide to what we were doing, and every touch was magical. But it was kiddie sex, hardly anything like my hard-core adult activities of today. Unfortunately, the missing precept in that deeply private world of teen sex was safe sex. I can say that much of my later adult behavior stems from those days.
The emotional aspect of my relationships superseded considerations of personal health. Why? Because there wasn’t any normal conversation through any of the channels that people normally find it. Straight sex is everywhere growing up - movies, school, workplace, television, high school cafeteria, ads, magazines, books, internet, mom-dad traditional homes, grandparents, aunts/uncles. We are saturated with it. Condoms are linked more with avoiding pregnancy than they are with avoiding infections. Since for me a women was not involved, the only way to mirror what I saw around me was to fall in love and be happy.
These missing venues for conversation about sex led to a lack of awareness about my behavior. My state of mind during those early days of lovemaking with my best friend had no room for becoming an informed adult. I struggled. I had to discover thing for myself, always a few years behind my peers, trying to catch up with self-educating about the causes and effects around sexuality. I learned about bars, clubs, bathhouses, parties, drugs, parks, etc. Whatever and whomever I might blame today (parents, society, books, myself), I didn’t really learn anything about my state of health until I became positive.
Comment by: Mick
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm EDT
I can go either way, condom or not. I'd rather use a condom, I'm the receiver. However, I've met many, who don't want to put it on. This is my head trip, not theirs. I want to feel that want, that desire, the caring, that enjoyment, that satisfaction and yes, I know, I'll suffer the affects of not insisting on condom use. I've done the female condom, only met one, who enjoyed I did this. Others, were turned off.
Comment by: Brian
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm EDT
I have to disagree with the first poster about drugs. It's not drugs. It's human nature. We are almost hardwired to prefer the immediate gratification over the "best" choice. It's like dieting. Cheeseburger or healthy salad. Given the chance, all but the most disciplined people will at some point just grab the cheeseburger! Barebacking feels amazing. Using a condom and always being careful has virtually no immediate reward. Highly intelligent people, in a completely sober state might easily decide, for any number of reasons, to forgo the salad and eat the cheeseburger.
Comment by: John James
Wed., Sep. 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm EDT
You can blame most barebacking on drugs. And many people who are poz are using drugs to cope as the mental health system has completely failed us. Therefore there is a situation set up for the spread of HIV. In addition, there is the general culture of drug use in the gay community which again is at the root cause of the spread of HIV. Then once, diagnosed as poz, there is little incentive to stop the drugs and much incentive to start using them as the gay community is so judgemental and nasty about HIV positive people. It's a vicious cycle: drugs cause HIV and HiV encourages drug use and thus the spread of HIV. When the rest of the gay community stops dividing us into clean and dirty groups, then maybe HIV can be better dealt with and it's spread decreased.
Comment by: Frank
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm EDT You need to meet other gay people that are not online or in bars.Drugs don't spread HIV people do. Not all gay people do drugs or abuse them. You are a homophobe and a backwards ignorant person. Lets concentrate on a cure. For a bunch of drug monkeys we truly have made strides to cope with and eradicate a disease faster that almost any epidemic that has effected man. We can control this disease and are so close to a cure. Shut your bitter mouth and help work on a cure.
Comment by: Brian
(West Hollywood, CA)
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 9:11 pm EDT Wow, Frank. What a bitter and unhelpfully rude response to someone else's perception.
Comment by: Ed
Tue., Sep. 18, 2012 at 11:15 pm EDT
Barebacking exists. People will do it. I do. I prefer it, don't like condoms. I do discuss it with my partnersbefore. I only sleep with pos men so we're both aware of risks we're taking.
Comment by: Rick
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm EDT I can understand.
Comment by: Proud barebacker
Tue., Sep. 18, 2012 at 9:51 am EDT
I tried to post a positive comment on here about the joys of barebacking, but the condom pusher who moderates this forum censored it.
Comment by: Jim
Sun., Sep. 16, 2012 at 12:00 am EDT
I prefer barebacking, and I refuse to watch gay porn that includes condoms, because condoms just...ruin the whole intimacy aspect of the sex act for me. They also make my penis feel as though it has been injected with Novocaine; they completely kill my erection. With that said, I pretty much prefer oral sex anyway, and this is why I remain HIV- as far as I'm concerned; I just do not believe that it is very easy OR likely to contract HIV via oral sex, and I personally believe that the guys who claim that this was the only thing they were doing when they got infected are being less than honest. However, if I DO plan on having anal sex, I don't do that with just anyone; I really get to know the prospective partner before moving up to anal intercourse. Because I believe that the risk of HIV infection is virtually non-existent via oral sex, I am far more likely to engage in this type of sex over anal sex. The very thought of a barrier such as a condom between myself and my partner actually makes me go limp; I want to FEEL my partner's bare skin next to mine....I want to FEEL my partner's bare penis inside me. I also find condoms to very painful, especially the latex ones, as they drag painfully inside me and continually dry out, despite copious amounts of good quality lubrication, and this usually leads to breakage eventually anyway, so I would just as soon avoid them altogether. They also taste terrible, too, and besides, I want to taste my partner's skin, not rubber! Then there's the nasty smell of latex rubber....I can't STAND that smell. To me, any kind of barrier during sex ruins the entire experience....it's just unnatural. I'll take my chances, and besides, I rarely engage in anal sex anyway....not because I want to, but because of the fear of contracting HIV. Once there's an effective cure, then I'll once again enjoy anal sex the way I prefer to enjoy it: completely natural and free of smelly condoms that destroy my sensitivity completely.
Comment by: BRIAN
Sat., Sep. 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm EDT
YES, THE WORD BARE-BACKING CAN THE SHATTER THE "GLASS"...somtimes. This is basically how i feel about "it". having anal sex with another definately has or can have deadly consequences. I you don't know your status and are the receiver, you are more likely to contract hiv; yes even you tops out there. Knowing you status , you viral load and percentages help to let you know how infectious you are; this is where i often make a decision (prior to any decision, i negr really have bare sex on the first encounter, however, you never do no...)i guess being positive/living with aids can make me feel so damned desparate...like, i don't know when the opportunity will show itself again...hmmm so...1. always where a condom, 2, now your stats,because this may ease you mind that you don't carry much virus in your body. 3. follow your heart and all of the experiences you have encounter thus far in your life; where could i have done something different...and i dont mean just some b a d. enjoy it like it's you last.
Comment by: William W
(Salt Lake City, Utah)
Thu., Sep. 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm EDT
Fortunately no virulent multi-drug resistant HIV viral strain (to my knowledge) has emerged in the US after HAART. Unfortunately this fact is used by some to condone barebacking sex between men on HAART with undetectable viral loads. With all the attention on VL and CD4 cells in the plasma this population thinks it has the virus all figured out and blithely rejects condom usage. This population does not believe in superinfection period, thinking instead that only one strain inhabits an individual and that HIVâ€™s high mutation rate is inconsequential to either drug and vaccine development as well as their own health.
Another observation is that there is and always will be a small population that just doesnâ€™t care-just look at the m4m personals on Craigsl
Comment by: William White
(Salt Lake City, Utah)
Thu., Oct. 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm EDT If the risks and subsequent consequences only involved the individuals practicing unsafe anal receptive sex I would agree with your sentiment, however society picks up the tremendous monetary burden of keeping you alive once you become infected. Over the course of an individual's lifetime these costs can exceed 250K.
Comment by: CR
Sun., Sep. 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm EDT
I'm really saddened to see how barebacking has been glamorized and popularized over the last several years, especially amongst the teens & young adults. I see ads for countless barebacking porn websites nowadays, all with countless models, all engaging in extremely risky behavior. I see less and less porn films in which condoms are used, and I see riskier and riskier behavior being illustrated, as the websites compete with each other to get more viewers. I never see easily visible warnings on these sites about the real health risks of promiscuous, bareback sex. If there are statements, they are hard to find, and in font that is so small that it's nearly impossible to read. The slogans and names of these websites are also irresponsible, suggesting that real men or hot men bareback or that sex is not real unless it's raw. It's irresponsible, and coincides with the noticeable silence and lack of discussion we now have in our culture about HIV/AIDS that had been such a large part of life in the 80's & 90's, and thus saved lives. This, in turn, coincides with rising infection rates among young gay men. Do we see a pattern here?
As I take my third batch of pills today, before turning in for another night of troubled, efavirenz-riddled sleep, I urge everyone out there to protect themselves and ALWAYS use condoms, and avoid high-risk sexual behavior. This disease is manageable, but it completely changes your life, and all the ways are less than fun or attractive.
If you're in a committed relationship and want to "feel closer", get educated together and at least make a well informed and well discussed decision. Never let someone pressure you into having unsafe sex, and always put your personal safety first.
How do I feel about the growing bareback "culture"? Sad. Sad, but hopeful that we can help the younger generation wake up and take better care of themselves and each other. But, it will take our example to get the momentum going again.
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