Raw Emotion: Thoughts on Why Gay Men Bareback
April 27, 2010
"The lonely I ecstatically dissolving into the we ... It's the common denominator of every form of bliss -- romantic, sexual, political, religious, mystical. Everyone wants and welcomes this blissful merger."
Irvin D. Yalom, Love's Executioner
Can we talk about "barebacking"? You know, unprotected anal sex between men. Sex without a condom. "Raw" sex. Or, if you prefer the almost comically clinical language of early safer sex education, sex during which "bodily fluids" may be "exchanged."
We all know how risky barebacking is, and we all know it goes on all the time. You might think that by now, thirty years into this horrible epidemic, barebacking would be a thing of the past. But it isn't. Far from disappearing, I'd bet that despite valiant efforts at HIV prevention, barebacking is on the rise. If I'm right about that, then we have to put aside any discomfort the topic may cause and try to understand why guys bareback.
A few clarifications before we start. First, I know gay men aren't the only ones who bareback. Straight people bareback all the time, of course, but unlike us, they don't make up titillating names for it. They just call it "having sex." Second, I don't want anyone to think I'm here to pass some kind of moral judgment on barebacking because, frankly, I'm in no position to do so. Finally, let me clarify what I'm not talking about here. I'm not talking about guys who bareback because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are not putting themselves at risk for HIV in a given sexual encounter. I'm speaking only about men who voluntarily assume the risk of transmission by barebacking.
With those preliminaries out of the way, I thought I'd look at a few of the possible explanations for why gay men might choose to bareback, even when they know the risks. I'd then like to offer my own view of what motivates barebacking. That's a lot of ground to cover, so I apologize in advance for the length of this post.
Let's start with the most obvious explanation for barebacking. Sex without a condom just feels better. Anyone who's ever fucked (or been fucked) without a condom knows just how much sensation is lost when you suit up. This loss of sensation can do more than just diminish sexual pleasure. Many guys can't reach orgasm if they're wearing a condom. Worse yet, many can't stay hard wearing one, so using protection may create or feed performance anxiety.
Another explanation I've heard is that gay men bareback out of a need for transgression, from a desire to flout societal norms and rules. Historically, gay men were seen as sexual outlaws, and part of our identity revolved around our outsider status, a status that even conferred a certain "cool." Today, with gay marriage making its halting march to legality and gay couples adopting children, being gay may seem kind of ordinary, and some men may need to find ways to hang on to our old outlaw status. (This might explain, for example, why some gay men continue to seek out sex in parks and restrooms, even though such furtive public coupling is no longer necessary when the Internet offers us sites like adam4adam and dudesnude.) And if transgression is what guys are after, what could be more transgressive than violating the first commandment of safer sex education by refusing to use a condom?
Maybe gay men bareback out of a sense of fatalism or exhaustion. Perhaps they feel it's more or less inevitable they'll eventually become infected, so they might as well just get it over with. Some men may find the effort of trying to stay HIV-negative too stressful. They may bareback so that they can stop worrying about the possibility of contracting HIV. These men may experience seroconversion as a kind of relief. Others may simply be suffering from "condom fatigue" after decades of having to practice safer sex.
I don't doubt the validity of these explanations, but I think the answer must lie deeper within the psyche. The emotional need that drives men to bareback must be so powerful that they will literally risk their lives to satisfy it. If you ask me, barebacking is an attempt to escape from the awful sense of isolation that we all experience as human beings. That isolation is perhaps an inevitable consequence of our separate existence as individuals. But it's particularly acute for us gay men, who have grown up in a society hostile to our identity. Having spent so much of our lives on the outside, alienated from members of the majority (straight) culture, we gay men have an intense need to feel truly connected to others like ourselves.
To me, the urge that I think motivates barebacking is perfectly understandable. It is, after all, just a deeply felt desire for the most profound form of intimacy, a desire that goes beyond merely wanting to be close to someone else and crosses over into a need for union -- for the "blissful merger" that Irvin Yalom describes. Barebacking can be seen as the ultimate attempt to remove all barriers between ourselves and our partners, to literally become one. It's an effort to escape the loneliness that haunts our separate existences, and to be freed, if only momentarily, from the solitary confinement of our individuality. Men who bareback may be seeking what James I. Martin calls "transcendent sexual experiences." (Martin, 9 Sexualities 214-235 (2006).) That is, sexual experience in which they feel a dissolution of their separate selves and a fusion with the object of their desire.
If what barebackers are looking for is merger, then it's easier to see why they wouldn't want to use a condom. In the search for merger, a condom is not only a physical barrier but an emotional and psychological one. Just as it prevents transmission of pathogens, it also stands in the way of what we all crave -- that sense of union. Using a condom conveys a message of rejection and mistrust. It tells our partners that we are not willing to share ourselves completely. The failure to use a condom is obviously problematic, but that is because of the existence of HIV, not because of the existence of the desire for transcendence and merger. Perhaps rather than seeing the desire itself as a problem, we should understand it as normal. If we were to do so, perhaps we could explore ways to fulfill this desire that don't involve risky sex.
I don't know whether learning the motivations of men who choose to bareback will help us design better HIV prevention programs. I am fairly sure, though, that if we don't identify what makes men have unprotected sex and at least try to understand and address their underlying emotional needs, we are unlikely to develop effective strategies for curbing the practice. And I am firmly convinced that no understanding is possible so long as we refuse to discuss the topic openly. I'd therefore urge us to listen without judgment to men who bareback. Let's hear their reasons for engaging in unprotected anal sex. Then let's see if we can't acknowledge their needs as legitimate and help them find ways of satisfying them without barebacking.
The language of the discussion I propose will have to be brutally frank, open, and I dare say, raw. This is an instance in which nothing less than complete honesty will do. But for those of us concerned with stopping the spread of HIV, this is a discussion we need to have, and have soon.
(Acknowledgement: I am indebted to UCSF researcher Alberto Curotto for sharing with me a wealth of background material for this post and for giving an amateur the benefit of his professional experience in the field of behavioral research.)
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Comment by: sak
Sun., Oct. 2, 2011 at 9:15 am EDT
This is fairly a good analysis stressing the emotional needs of people in general (need not be gay men in particular) to bareback. Lets not conclude in the very first moment to outlaw men who bareback..there should be an open discussion on why they do that in general. Leaving aside the discussion concerning the role of narcotic drugs that take people high and diminish their decisive power during sex, we should admit that a desire to bareback exists from within self and should be seen as an integral part of a sexual act irrespective of who it is doing it...gay or straight. No body can deny the fact that one needs to derive full merger and pleasure during sex, and therefore the subject of bare backing and the risks associated with it should also be looked upon with emotional/social/physiological perspectives to promote better practices.
A condom, as has been advertised for decades and though has been very effective, is not a single all time solution. Sex, more than being physical, is an emotional and psychological merging process and any barrier induced has to be carefully chosen. This sense of connection and union is more needed by gay men who live in isolation for most part of their lives with a fear of getting discriminated. Imagine the lives of those living in countries where homosexuality is still treated as crime. Imagine the amount of stress people go through in concealing their identity and in this process how they get isolated from their family, friends and community. Situation is no better in so called advanced countries where homophobia still persists among generations. These gay people definitely need solace and perhaps this desire is sort after during sex in the form of barebacking. As John rightly mentions, the discussion might be raw but the goal is noble, to make lives better and promote healthy sex.
Comment by: damo
Thu., Mar. 3, 2011 at 5:39 am EST
what a great artical,hhmmm,BAREBACKING,why guys do it..i just dont know we are 30 years into this epidemic 30 years and were still repeteing the same mistakes over and over..i think it all weve ever known well my generation anyway that we just dont fear it anymore [i certainly do fear hiv/aids]for me i just dont understand,i recently got into an argument online..on a cruseing site there were guys who wanted to bareback and a comment was posted by an elder gay man in his 60s just asking why guys wanted to bareback..my god the spite and anger directed at this guy was unbelievable calling him every name under the sun i felt i had to step in and defend this guy ..he wasnt being judgemental ,he was an old gay rights campaner and was telling guys what he,d seen in the last 30 years he had lost everyone,everyone i also recieved a fair share of abuse for telling guys to rubber up as we all know the risks..but guys online were screaming its our chouise its our choiuse like it was that simple,it felt to me like they were defending there right to become infected and to infect..i found the whole thing disturbing and very depressing..as i said i dont know wot the answer is,here in the uk it costs about 30 thousand pounds per year for meds and clinical care,and in these economic times our government might just say this is preventable and stop paying for meds and care...is that wot its gonna take to make gaymen stop haveing unsafe sex ..i dont know
Comment by: eisenhans
(St. Louis, MO)
Wed., Nov. 17, 2010 at 1:02 am EST
Almost 30 years into the epidemic, there is finally a glimmer of an HIV prevention strategy other than "just say no" ("use a rubber" counts as "just say no - to satisfying, meaningful sex").
Systemic Preexposure Prophylaxis for Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection
Frank Romanelli, Pharm.D., M.P.H.; Brian Murphy, M.D., M.P.H.
Antiretroviral therapy has significantly improved the typical course of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in industrialized nations, and life expectancies associated with the infection have increased. However, infection rates have generally remained unchanged, with increases noted among certain subpopulations. The use of systemic preexposure prophylaxis for HIV infection has been proposed as an intervention to reduce the risk of disease transmission in at-risk individuals. The basis of this prophylaxis involves the orchestrated use of antiretrovirals in uninfected individuals either continuously or just before high-risk situations, such as perinatal and occupational exposure to HIV, in order to reduce the likelihood of successful HIV infection... Clinical trials have focused on the use of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate either alone or in combination with emtricitabine. Tenofovir/emtricitabine–based regimens may be ideal, given the drugs' pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties. Some investigators have surveyed at-risk individuals to assess their knowledge of preexposure prophylaxis and whether they used or intended to use this preprevention strategy. Routine use of preexposure prophylaxis and even knowledge of its existence appear to be very limited. If efficacy is proved, use of preexposure prophylaxis faces several ethical issues. Ultimately, its success will depend on proof of cost-effectiveness...
IF YOU ARE HIV-NEG, GO TO YOUR DOCTOR TOMORROW AND DEMAND A PRESCRIPTION FOR TRUVADA!
IF YOU ARE HIV-POS, GO TO YOUR GOVERNMENT TOMORROW AND DEMAND BROAD ACCESS TO PRE-EXP PROPHYLAXIS
Comment by: gpap
Sat., Oct. 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm EDT
I don't understand why men Bareback. I am 30 years old, and have never barebacked. For me, having sex without a condum is like playing russian roulette with your life. I've had men tell me that they want only to do bareback, and they never heard from me again.
GUYS, SAVE YOURSELVES AND ALWAYS USE CONDUMS.
NO CONDUM = PUTTING A GUN TO YOUR HEAD
Comment by: Anthony M.
Wed., Sep. 29, 2010 at 10:33 am EDT
This is probably one of the best articles I've read on the topic of bareback sex. It is intelligently written, well-thought and makes damn, good sense.
Well done, Sir!
Comment by: Dave H.
Mon., Sep. 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm EDT
I'm a very open and sexually active gay male and I was doing anal intercourse long before the term barebacking became popular. Anal intercourse is not my preferred method to obtain sexual union. I've long had problems with performance anxiety doing it so I won't do anal penetration unless I really want to . That's the way I choose to do it . I'm not sure that it's really worth it to take the risk of contracting HIV just for a little pleasure. I prefer foreplay: cuddling, kissing , caressing and oral sex and I mustn't forget mutual masturbation with a partner. For me the mutual masturbation can be more satisfying than anything else. Sometimes for me it's not so much the act the foreplay that makes it for me.
Comment by: James
Fri., Sep. 3, 2010 at 7:38 pm EDT
I rather think that, in addition to some of the
motivations which you outlined, there abides in ALL (m & f) of us a deep seated (very primitve) drive,too, to carriage reproduction;
the activities which go to that fruition.
And it may well have to do with diminished maleness but is probably more tied to that the basic embryonic template is essentially female and the male form which emerges is simply a tweak on that.
That stunted Y we carry may also go to some of those considerations.
Harvey Milk (in the movie) is tarred with the taunt that:
¨Well!! itś just biologically WRONG,...that sort of unnatural sex can´t even make babies and...¨
Harvey as you recall replied...¨Well it sure isn´t
for lack of trying!¨ [paraphrased obviously].
My two bits...Well done, You!
Comment by: none
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., Aug. 27, 2010 at 4:29 am EDT
I'm with Andrew Murray on this.
Thu., Aug. 19, 2010 at 12:37 pm EDT
It's not out of any "complex" or anything.
If you have adrenilin and hormones courseing through you you're not going to be using the rational part of your brain.
Comment by: Betty B.
Thu., Aug. 19, 2010 at 4:13 am EDT
Thoughts on why gay men have raw sex???? It is more like thoughts on why humans have raw sex. Gay or straight, we all like it raw!
Comment by: Smith
Mon., Aug. 9, 2010 at 8:36 pm EDT
The reason a Top Man will not use a condom is simple: It deprives the Top of his pleasure . I want to go to bed with this guy . We are both attracted to each other , I want him real bad . Think about him all the time . He told me he will refuse to use a condom ,since it deprives him of his pleasure and the bottom is to pleasure the Top . I never called him back to get together, buy I think about him in me all the time.I am at the point of giving into him .
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., Jul. 30, 2010 at 2:27 am EDT
@ Andrew Murray in Los Angeles: Thank you so much for your honest and thoughtful comment. First, my hat is off to you. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to have experienced this epidemic from its very first days. It is a testament to your courage and endurance that you are here.
Although I don't know that I would choose the path you have chosen in the past 12 years, I fully understand why you have chosen it. And I completely agree that we should stop pretending that protected sex is just as intimate, just emotionally satisfying, and just as fun as unprotected sex. Nothing is served, in my view, by trying to build HIV prevention strategy on claims that are contradicted by common experience.
We should admit that protected sex is limiting and go from there. It's one thing to ask a man to accept a less satisfying form of sex because doing so will protect his health. It's quite another to tell him (untruthfully) that this less satisfying form of sex is indeed just as good as unprotected sex. The first strategy tells the truth and explains the nature of the tradeoff. The second seeks to convince a man to disbelieve his own senses. I'm no expert, but I'd be willing to bet that the first strategy has a far greater chance of success.
Comment by: Mike
Tue., Jul. 27, 2010 at 11:43 am EDT
Gay man have unprotected sex for the same reasons Straight men do...end of story. Why 'some' fetishize it is because of all the social pressure within the community to have protected sex.
Why they resent being told to have protected sex is because they see a double standard.
Straight men can go uncovered and it's accepted. Heck, they advertise for birth control pills on prime time TV - well...what does that add up to? Unprotected sex between a man and a woman!
Stop looking for a complex answer and see it at face value. Anything else is either a loopy justification based out of guilt or words reflective of a romanticized forbidden act.
Not all MSM who have unprotected sex are Barebackers or even look at it as Barebacking.
Fact is, for most men, Hetero/Bi/homo - it's simply unprotected sex!
Comment by: Andrew Murray
(Los Angeles, CA)
Fri., Jul. 23, 2010 at 5:14 am EDT
I'm in my 31st year as an HIV+ survivor. I was infected in late 1978 while experiencing a curious ailment from which my lower tract never fully recovered. The test at last made ready in 1985 many of us at first didn't bother with because any information to be obtained was so clearly redundant.
During the 80s and most of the 90s, the Gay Holocaust became so mentally, so emotionally numbing that at one point my lover, with whom I spent 20 years before he, too, expired in my arms, determined that as a meagre, desperate gesture intended to retain what remained of our sanity, we would no longer attend "memorial services." At that time those averaged for us around 4-5 per weekend, and those were only for close friends. Eventually literally all, every single last one of my close, personal friends, acquaintances, familiar faces I regularly recognized and greeted, clerks and sales persons at my favorite stores, truly every Gay man within perhaps 7 years + or - of my age expired.
Occasionally now I meet someone from "my" generation who lived through those years physically intact, but never have I met anyone who has survived with the sword of Damocles suspended above him for as many years as I have.
"Barebacking" entered my life about 12 years ago along with a loud whooshing sound--my sigh of relief, a gasp, really, that the hypocrisy, pretense, fallacy that "safe sex" was as intimate, as physically, psychically or existentially rewarding had been accepted by some as the bull it really is. At last someone of influence and substance was admitting the sad but real fact that a barrier against skin to skin also prevents myriads of sensations which cannot in truth be compensated for between two persons in love or lust.
I belong to two "raw" dating sites. The quality of physical interaction, the fraternal sense of camaraderie among most of the members is not to be experienced in other venues within my experience. I don't understand it, but I like it! Out of space!
Comment by: Jim
Sat., Jul. 10, 2010 at 2:28 am EDT
Sex just feels better and more natural without a condom. When bottoming, condoms dry out and really hurt me, too, despite having tried many different types of lube, from silicone-based to water based, etc., and using a lot of it, too. When topping, a condom just makes me lose my erection, period. I hate them because they're unromantic and ugly. Whenever I'm watching porn and they're using condoms, I switch it off and look for something bareback because they're just a total turn-off to me. Also, there is that level of intense intimacy that just disappears when a condon is used; I crave that sense of total unity when I'm with a guy, and condoms ruin this for me. I hate the way they smell, too. I just don't think that condoms are a realistic answer for many gay men in stopping the spread of HIV. Also, they remind me of heterosexuals.
Comment by: Champ
Mon., Jun. 28, 2010 at 3:44 am EDT
The drive to breed is hindered by condoms making the sexual act seem pointless. Yes, even in gay men. The intimacy and trust is what "does it" for me though.
Comment by: Conrad
Wed., Jun. 23, 2010 at 10:47 pm EDT
I really loved your article because I thought it was exactly the issue I've raised in counseling gay black men whether hiv positive or not and taking a real good look at my own risky behaviors and theirs in the past. i think there is a primal thing going on inside us that must be not only acknowledged but respected. quite often i've found people hearing about hiv and operating out of fear and pain about using condoms and their necessity and rightly so i understand. i remember a biologist noting that bacteria clustered together in orgies and exchanged genetic information that might lead to evolutionary properties for their species. i've often wondered if barebaking is some primal holdout to an exchange of something deeper, i.e. breaking isolation as you've noted in your article. i just have to wonder what it is that we have been exchanging in our sexual exchanges before the advent of hiv/aids and what we're exchaning now, fear, self loathing, affirmation, love? i know working with a lot of black gay men many of them are puzzled by their behavior when the condom is sitting right there and they don't even pick it up. i think the position you put out there only supports the idea that there must be a more holistic approach to this matter and that condoms can never ever be enough. it's about intimacay and the levels that we can create amongst our very human selves. thank you for such a wonderful article. i'll be sharing it in my groups and see how the fellas respond to it.
Comment by: Gay CA Democrat
Tue., Jun. 22, 2010 at 3:24 am EDT
Of course, this is the first blog of yours I read, LOL. Sex, sex, sex! How superficial does that make me? ;)
Good chatting with you tonight. I'll be back to read more of your work. TTYL
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Mon., Jun. 21, 2010 at 10:35 pm EDT
@ Haris: I looked at the URL you provided, and I agree with much of what you say there. I'm all for "designing a cure" for HIV. Maybe in your next posting you could fill us in on what that means in concrete terms.
@ Brehmin in Kenya: If your partner is having unprotected sex with others, then you need to protect yourself. Even if you're both positive, you could contract other sexually transmitted infections from him. I'd advise getting tested for STI's and insisting that he use condoms when he's with you.
@ Julio Javier Rovi: I'm glad you liked the post, but man, you need to think about protecting yourself. As I said in the post, the urge and the desire for unprotected sex are perfectly natural, so you shouldn't judge yourself for that. Still, if you're having unprotected sex with partners who are HIV+ or of unknown status, then you need to protect yourself. You need to learn to talk to your partner(s) about condom use. Trust me, living with this disease is anything but fun.
Comment by: Julio Javier Rovi
Sun., Jun. 20, 2010 at 9:15 pm EDT
I fell completely identify with this reading. And I take this need to explore barebacking very personal, because I blame my self a lot everytime I take this big risk. Everyday I try to understand more and more my behavior and try to not judge myself.
Thanks for this great piece of important information.
Comment by: Brehmin
Tue., Jun. 15, 2010 at 5:56 am EDT
Iam straight and writing on what goes through. When I first met my HIV+ partner, it was so normal for him to bareback. I asked him why but his answer was but we are both poz. He has many partners whom I do believe he does to the same thing. I am shocked beyond words that this still go on in this era and age.
Comment by: Haris
Sun., Jun. 13, 2010 at 9:48 am EDT
Great post!! I am glad that we are becoming more interested in behavior motivators, rather then passing absolute judgment. Years of this judgment have not produces any tangible results, and we have to change the dialogue. I am hoping to "design" a cure for HIV... http://catalystsdr.com/2010/06/designing-a-cure-for-hiv/
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Wed., Jun. 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm EDT
@ Ed in Delray Beach, FL: You and your partner are practicing something that gay men have been doing for a long time. I'll call it "improvised harm reduction." In other words, you've both decided to accept the possible risk that your partner may become infected because you don't use condoms, but you've decided to minimize that risk by having him be the top in anal sex. As we know, the insertive partner is at far less risk of becoming infected than the receptive partner. In addition, you're on meds and have an undetectable VL. We know that this greatly reduces the chance that you'll infect your partner. Personally, if I were you, I'd use condoms because I wouldn't be able to handle the anxiety I'd feel about possibly infecting my partner. But you guys have obviously talked this out, devised a harm reduction strategy, and committed to it. If you're not going to use condoms, that's a reasonable alternative plan.
@ Matt in Canada: Thanks so much for your comment. It really illustrates the vital emotional role sex can play in our lives. And I'm not surprised by your use of sex to deal with grief. They say lots of couples go home from funerals and have passionate sex. I think it's sort of a reaffirmation of life after the death of a loved one. I am very relieved to hear that you were not infected with HIV during your period of unprotected sex. (I would get myself checked for things like HPV and bacterial STIs, though.) Consider yourself reprieved this time, but be careful from now on. As I always say, this isn't a club you want to join.
@ Robert Wray and Brandon Lacy Campos: Many thanks for the kind words!
Comment by: Brandon Lacy Campos
(New York, NY)
Wed., Jun. 9, 2010 at 11:14 am EDT
Hello fellow blogger...
Thank you for this.
Comment by: Robert Wray
Tue., Jun. 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm EDT
Good Blog....1st time here
Comment by: Matt
Tue., Jun. 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm EDT
Thank you for writing this. I think you've done a beautifully job of helping me understand what was going on when I strayed from my own strict condoms-only policy. When my father passed away I sought relief from my pain and loneliness at the local bathhouse. The initial 'covered' encounters I had there managed to briefly divert my attention from my sadness, but it wasn't until I had my first experience with bareback sex that I realized what I so desperately needed. It wasn't something that was planned, or that we had discussed, but when he began to penetrate me uncovered after an extended session of foreplay I did not have the will to tell him to stop. As corny as this sounds, the intimacy and human connection that came from having his naked body inside of me was the first step in my being able to deal with my grief. In the 2-3 months following my dad's passing I spent a considerable amount of time at the bathhouse. I wasn't specifically seeking bareback sex on those occasions, but I never insisted on condoms as I previously would have, and as a result I did end up having a lot of bareback sex during that time. I managed to emerge from that period unscathed and uninfected. I realize that I had a lot of luck on my side. I don't, however, regret my behaviour, despite what many people would think of it. I look back on that period of my life as a time of great healing.
Comment by: Ed
(Delray Beach, FL)
Tue., Jun. 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm EDT
My partner and I have been together almost 5 years. He was told about my HIV status before we even had sex together. His relaive is also an HIV prectioner (MD). We are, to my knowledge committed and therefore we don't play on the side. Im the bottom and since our second week together we have had bare sex every time and I love it that way. I really get off on feeling him cum inside of me. I have T cells around 850 and my viral load is undetectable. Maybe we're being stupid about this but I don't want to change a thing about our sex. I love him and I love our sex life just the way it is.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Tue., Jun. 1, 2010 at 12:34 am EDT
@ Dave in NJ: Well, you're right about one thing. I certainly think that homophobia and distrust are part of your problem. Anyone who thinks that there is no such thing as a truly monogamous relationship probably has a problem with trust. And a person who seems to think that this epidemic is all about gay men probably does suffer from some homophobia. We need to be able to discuss this issue in a rational way, and we can't do that as long as we do nothing but stigmatize men (or women) who have unprotected sex. Criminalizing possible HIV exposure is a public health nightmare, as it encourages people NOT to know their status, since you can't be convicted unless you know you're positive. Sorry, Dave, but I don't think you've thought your position through very carefully.
@ S in San Francisco: I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. Unprotected sex doesn't just "happen." When you've engaged in it, you've made a decision to do so. Perhaps neither your decision nor your motivations were conscious, but they certainly existed. Unless you were forced against your will, having unprotected sex was a choice. What I'm trying to get at here is why you might have made that choice, even if the reasons weren't clear to you at the time. I'm not here to judge you or criticize your actions, but whatever they are, they are your responsibility. Two people engaging in unprotected sex doesn't just happen unless both of them decide that's what they want to do.
Comment by: S
(San Francisco, CA)
Sun., May. 30, 2010 at 7:07 am EDT
I think the guesses as to why men bareback in this article are things we've heard and come up with before, but I don't entirely believe them. Why have I barebacked in the past? I would say that there was no thought-out reason. I knew it was unsafe, I didn't necessarily *want* to do it, it happened, and I hated myself. Maybe there are men who actively choose to bareback and enjoy it (probably the majority who do!) - but for me, I don't find using a condom to be a physical, emotional, or spiritual wall against a pure/true/transcendent experience. I just don't think that way. Personally, feeling that something was missing, or that there's mistrust, with the use of a condom ... that would be injected meaning where it didn't necessarily exist.
I guess what I'm saying is that I think there's a VERY large component of men barebacking without any reason at all. No real thinking, maybe knowledge in the back of the head, maybe subconscious reasoning, but not as definitive as this article suggests.
Comment by: dave
Fri., May. 28, 2010 at 12:04 am EDT
Sorry, but upon further reflection there is no sane reason for anyone to bareback except for monogamous couples whom have tested negative for any sexually transmitted disease. To speculate as to the reasons as to why anyone, gay or "straight" would engage in unprotected anal sex is just a waste of time. The reasons could encompass many rationalizations. Even if one could be certain that they were involved in a monogamous relationship, I don't think it is realistic to believe this practice is safe. I know people will summon homophobia or distrust as perhaps reasons for my stance on this subject. And despite the claims of monogamy offered by many couples, I don't beleive there are many monogamous couples. And if one looks at the rate of infection of any STD's and the infection rate many people responding to this site supports my belief. So I think it is delusional and rather disingenuous of people to claim they are involved in mongamous relationships. How else could we the number of infections we currently have? I do agree with Jhon's post; It is not worth the risk to have a "dick in an ass." And even though Fogcity took issue with his characterization, many people whom are barebaking are not in monogamous relationships and futher are responsible for spreading infections. It is a matter of proportionality of safety and not about heighted pleasure or intimacy. And we wonder why legislators want to criminalized the spreading of HIV? Get Real.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Mon., May. 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm EDT
@ Jhon in New York: I cannot let your comment go unanswered. I largely agree with CJ (FL). I find the tone of your comment completely inappropriate. Calling sex between two men "just having a penis in your ass" reflects homophobia. Would you call straight sex "just having a penis in your vagina"? I doubt it. The fact of the matter is that sex between two men is no different than sex between heterosexuals when it comes to its importance and meaning. Gay men (like straights) engage in sex for lots of different reasons, one of which is to find intimacy and connection. Our sexual encounters have both emotional meaning and value. Your comment attempts to reduce them to nothing more than a physical act, and homophobia has long sought to define gay people solely by their sexual activity. Contrary to what you may believe, we gay men are whole people. We are more than just our sexual practices. And when it comes to sex, like all other human beings, we are entitled to all of the emotional, psychological, and physical satisfaction that sex brings.
You might also wish to consider that straight people get HIV and other STIs too. Why aren't you asking why straight people don't love themselves more that this? Why do straight men fail to use condoms? Why do straight women fail to insist that their partners use them? If you thought about it for a moment, you'd see that sexual desire and the quest for intimacy can lead *all* human beings to make unwise decisions. Trying to characterize this as gay men not loving themselves is a gross and misleading oversimplification.
Comment by: CJ
Mon., May. 24, 2010 at 8:39 am EDT
@Jhon- I don't think it is fair for you to come on this blog and share uneducated comments as such. "Gay" men aren't the only ones having unprotected sex, hence the spread amongst heterosexuals females...It is easy to make comments like that from the outside looking in but you experienced it, you would have a difference of opinion. Speaking as a dude that "use to" sleep with other dudes, I can definitely relate to many of the stories on this blog. So I don't think it is a "gay" thing, it's a sex thing. Although I don't engage in certain activities anymore, the only difference is is that I am negative. Lesson Here: Don't be so quick to judge (although we should not judge anyway) To the rest of the contributors of the blog, be blessed and encouraged. I would love correspond to either talk or me just listening. Take care family.
Comment by: Jhon
Sat., May. 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm EDT
No sex act, regardless of the level of pleasure, is worth risking your entire life. It saddens me that gay men do not love themselves more than this. Life is wonderful and there is more to enjoy than just having a penis in your ass.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Thu., May. 13, 2010 at 12:58 pm EDT
@ Helleyez in Memphis: Thanks for your open and insightful comment. I'm not a psychologist, so I can't really advise you on the underlying emotional and psychological needs that might explain your partner's desire to have unprotected sex. I think you're onto something in your last paragraph, though. He may just love you and want to feel very intimate with you. He may also want to show you that he is refusing to let HIV interfere with that intimacy. Perhaps he is, as you say, trying to relate.
Whatever the reason, I'd suggest a few things. First, you need to express clearly to him that unprotected sex makes you very uncomfortable. Tell him straight out that you love him too much to risk infecting him. Ask him to imagine how you would feel if he ended up seroconverting. Ask him to consider the complications that might lead to in your relationship. For example, could you deal with the guilt you'd likely feel? Would he blame you and be angry with you on some level, despite having sought unprotected sex?
Second, take a cue from this post and ask him what it is he gets out of unprotected sex. What needs is he trying to fulfill? Is it the physical pleasure? Is it intimacy? Is he trying to prove to you that he really, really loves you and accepts you despite your serodiscordance? If you can get him to identify what's going on, you may be able to figure out ways to address those needs without putting him at risk.
Finally, at the risk of sounding like Ann Landers, I suggest counseling. If you can find a good couples counselor, you might be able to get to the heart of this in a few sessions. A gay counselor would be ideal, of course. I'd search for some resources in your area.
Remember that we express love in many different ways. Sometimes one of those ways is saying no to our partner when he wants something that puts himself in danger. Let your love for him give you the strength to insist that you both work through this.
Comment by: Helleyez
Wed., May. 12, 2010 at 11:57 pm EDT
Fogcity, TY for this post. I am 29 years old and have been positive since I was 23. In 2007, the impossible happened: I fell in love with someone that loved me, was negative, and knew I was positive. This alone was mind boggling for me for so long.
My greatest fear had once so selfishly been that I would simply die, but now it's that I would die and leave my partner here alone and sick. I really struggled with idea of someone being able to love me and put himself in harm's way, not only willing, but almost flagrantly inviting a death wish upon himself as he would insist, ask, and sometimes beg me into allowing him to bottom bareback. Unfortunately, after about 2 years of an adamant "no" I gave in and relented after having a several drinks. I have regretted that decision ever since, because it's been like giving him carte blanche in this department because he doesn't want to have intercourse any other way. His subsequent negative HIV tests seem to only bolster this behavior. Despite these negative tests, I stay paranoid at his every cough, and automatically assume his every upset stomach is a viral onset of diarrhea, etc.
Your blog has helped me realize that he is not necessarily got a death wish, or that he is being passively suicidal but that he's perhaps motivated with the profound sense of intimacy and willingness to risk himself to be with me, maybe he's motivated by a willingness to relate? I just dont know, I only know that I love him so much, and I often get so preoccupied with the fact that I'm putting him in danger, that I can't perform or enjoy the sex when it results in intercourse. Other than this issue our relationship is open and very productive. I dont mean to make it sound that he's not sensitive to my feelings, and we do experiment sexually, but when he's in the mood to bottom, I feel it's expected to give it to him raw.
Can you offer me any hope, insight, or suggestions?
Dangerously in Love,
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Tue., May. 11, 2010 at 11:59 pm EDT
@ Patrick in Stone Mountain, GA: As you can tell from my post, I agree with you that intimacy is what drives a lot of this. One small correction to your comment, though. If you and your current partner both test negative and have no STIs, there will be nothing "unsafe" about the two of you having sex without condoms. We need to remember that all unprotected sex is not "unsafe." If both of you are HIV-negative and have no other STIs, then having natural, unprotected sex is perfectly, completely "safe."
Comment by: Patrick
(Stone Mountain, GA )
Sat., May. 8, 2010 at 11:16 pm EDT
I read your initial post and then some of the comments. The comments aren't really discussing a lot of why we have unprotected sex. Here is why I did. I was in an extremely long 14 year relationship with my ex partner. We weren't intimate a lot but when we were we didn't use protection because at the onset of the relationship we did and we had the discussion and removed the condoms. We broke up a year ago January and I met someone new. I didn't even ask and after a few dates had unprotected sex, because my mindset wasn't at the "dating" scene I wasn't thinking about diseases. Well I got the call from him a few days later telling me that he was HIV+ and felt terrible about not telling me. I immediately ran off to the closest HIV clinic where I underwent post contact treatments, which I didn't even know existed, and therapy. Luckily either the meds worked or I didn't contact it because I'm HIV - as of my test last week (a year and 3 months after the incident). After that I met my ex boyfriend and we used protection the first night, it was the next day that we were having sex and the condom broke and I didn't realize it until after we were finished and we both considered it a moot point at that time and for the rest of our monogomous relationship 9 mos we were unprotected. I am with someone now and everytime we do have intercourse we are protected, however, I would love to do it unprotected. I believe as you stated in your post that in my case it is an intimacy issue. I want to feel my man completely, when I'm inside him and when he is inside me. I want to feel the trust between us and a condom contributes to those harsh barriers. It is a shame that we have to take such percautions but I know he loves me and I love him and as of now we aren't taking the chance of hurting one another. When his tests come back negative as mine just did then we will have the complete unsafe sex/monogomous talk.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Sat., May. 8, 2010 at 5:46 pm EDT
@ Eddie in Houston: Surveys have been done of gay men to find out why they have unprotected sex. They report all kinds of motivations, a few of which I've listed above, as well as a number of "mediators," like drug or alcohol use. You're right. The issue is extremely complex. And if you scroll down the page, you'll see that Mark King has already weighed in here.
@ jerry reasner: Glad you were able to keep your wits about you in a difficult situation. If it took a scary mental image of men with KS to do it, well, I can't argue with success.
@ CJ in FL: Thanks for adding a military perspective. You also validate some of the points I make, such as the performance problems condoms can sometimes cause. Glad to hear you're still negative. Just make sure you stay that way.
@ Jeff46 in Canada: You raise a very important issue that I agree needs to be addressed -- "safer sex fatigue" among gay men entering or in middle age. It's one thing to ask gay men to use condoms religiously for a year, five years, or ten years. Asking them to do that for a lifetime is demanding a lot. We need to find ways to support men in their 40s who are struggling with adherence to safer sex practices. I think it's complicated by the fact that as men enter middle age, they feel less attractive in the youth-oriented gay subculture. This may create psychological pressure on them to have unprotected sex, since they may feel that if they demand that condoms be used, they will be rejected. It's a topic that sorely needs discussion.
Comment by: Jeff46
Sat., May. 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm EDT
After being an advocate of safe sex and having lost several friends to aids, three years ago I met a younger man in a sauna who wanted to bareback. I let him do it and now I am positive. I still feel guilty about having barebacked that night. I guess that the bottom line is that I wanted to please the guy. What a reason to become infected... I agree that some tiredness installs after having protected yourself during your entire life. In my case, I lost vigilance. I believe that some prevention campaigns should be addressed to my age group (I am in my forties) to remind us about the importance of vigilance aswell as to inform us about after exposure treatments. I wish I had known they existed... Ignorant me...
Comment by: CJ
Sat., May. 8, 2010 at 11:41 am EDT
I found this post and the comments that followed to be very interesting. We all have our difference of opinion and that is the great thing. Being in the military, it is the "norm" to have unsafe (bareback) sex with men and women. It is not a surprising thing that the HIV rates in the military has grown to an alarming rate. I myself have engaged (numerous of times) in unprotected sex. My mind-set(at the time) was since we were in the military, we must be safe. To be honest, when my dick got hard and and I was really horney, a condom was the last thing thought about. I was just trying to get some and at the point, I didn't think logically or what could potentially happen. The times when I did think about it, my dick would not stay hard with a condom on nor could I ever bust. But that was all about 6 years ago. I had sex about 6 months ago with a condom and was able to complete. So it depends on where we are mentally at the that moment of passion that determines the outcome. I am HIV- but it could have easily went to other way. Aformentioned in another response, I admire you all for being in the fight and I am sure many lives are being saved because of your efforts. Take care and God bless...Peace!!
Comment by: jerry reasner
(palm springs, ca)
Sat., May. 8, 2010 at 10:06 am EDT
The possibility of contracting HIV -- and having to take a ton of pills -- is too frightening to me to consider barebacking.
I did come close to breaking my rule once. I had met a man who was my sexual fantasy, and he was crazy about me. After making out intensely on a couch for a half hour, we got into bed. I asked for a condom, which he gave me. But the condom wouldn't fit because I have a very large penis.
He was begging me to enter him without one and I was so hot I almost did. But I was also scared. This was torture for me. The lovemaking was making me lose control, and at that moment I was feeling like I was in love with him.
But an image flashed in my mind. It was the face of a man covered with Karposi's sarcoma lesions, and it stopped me dead in my tracks.
That moment, I feel, may have saved me from a life of illness and endless medication.
Comment by: Eddie
Fri., May. 7, 2010 at 11:22 pm EDT
It's interesting, there are lot of theories and approaches,I do believe that the issue of barebacking is probably as complicated as HIV.But I think no one has the right answer(s)yet.And I think that the one quietly laughing(so do speak) here it's probably the virus itself. We may have been discovering and learning more about ourselves today than we did before.We are still exploring how we behave or conduct ourselves in risky situations.I think we all should do a survey as to why induce gay men or heterosexual men to bareback and see what comes out of it. I am pretty sure we'll find some interesting answers from people who do it. I would also like to ask the experts in sexuality or even the greatest minds in the field of hiv today. I would like Mark king to give us his imput on this.
Comment by: firstname.lastname@example.org
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., May. 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm EDT
@ Joshua in Seattle: Not sure what you're referring to when you say that HIV+ men here are responding strongly and defensively about barebacking. First of all, TheBody.com is a site for and about people with HIV. So it stands to reason that most of the people commenting will be HIV+. If poz men are responding "defensively," perhaps it's because we are sick of the finger wagging and judgments from both inside and outside the gay community on this issue. My point is that trying to shame gay men for how they feel is counterproductive. We need to treat gay men like human beings and try to understand the needs they're trying to fulfill by engaging in unprotected sex.
You're quite correct that society doesn't treat us as loving and equal human beings, and I would caution against buying into that mindset, even unwittingly. I'm asking that people stop confusing the perfectly normal and legitimate desires of gay men (i.e., for using sex to help achieve physical, emotional, and even spiritual intimacy) with the disease. To reiterate, it's perfectly normal to want natural, unprotected sex. There's nothing wrong with that desire. It is not pathological. *Acting* on that desire can, in some instances, leave one open to HIV or other STIs. But in those cases, what is pathological is *HIV* or the other pathogens that may be transmitted. In other words, we need to stop treating gay men as sick or self-destructive simply because they have the same kinds of sexual needs and desires as all other human beings.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., May. 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm EDT
@ Michael Bell: You ask why gay men can't be as passionate about protecting themselves as heroin addicts. Maybe it's because getting a fix has nothing to do with emotional connection and intimacy. Personally, if find the analogy both inapposite and insulting.
@ Straight woman (FL): I'm gay, so I'm addressing my community, but I think you're right. The need for connection, intimacy, and merger is common to us all.
@ Dave in NJ: I fully agree that unprotected sex isn't worth the risk, but clearly, some men are taking that risk, and I argue that we need to find out why. Unlike you, I don't think that negotiated safety within monogamous relationships is "BS." You seem to think that all partners in monogamous relationships are lying to one another. Perhaps that's been your personal experience, but I'd urge you to remember that all people aren't the same, and there are actually some honest men out there. Your attitude buys into the homophobic idea of gay men as amoral sex fiends who are all willing to put others at risk (including their committed partners) for some momentary physical pleasure. Sorry, I'm not buying into that, and I find it regrettable that you do.
@ Steve in Los Angeles: Self-esteem plays an important role in whether men choose to protect themselves. Research shows that a large percentage of unprotected sexual encounters occur when men are experiencing negative moods. Couple that with the intense desire for intimacy and for an escape from loneliness, and you've got a volatile combintion.
@ Tony in New York: You touch on an important point. Sexual desire is driven by powerful instincts, needs, and emotions, but self-protection requires an exercise of reason. Unfortunately, reason has a poor track record of getting people to modify unhealthy behaviors, whether the behavior is smoking, drinking, overeating, or sex. And no life is risk-free. You take a big risk every time you get into a car.
Comment by: Joshua
Fri., May. 7, 2010 at 2:06 pm EDT
I appreciate this article. As someone who works in the HIV field doing research, prevention, education and testing along with counseling, this article is a summary of the many conversations that present themselves on a daily basis. Just as interesting as this article, are the many different responses! I find it very interesting that most of the gentlemen responding strongly and defensively on the side of Barebacking are HIV positive.
The truth is, this conversation has so many layers. And deep inside it could come from wanting and intense intimate connection. It also reflects a sense of self esteem, which is hard to come by in a society that disapproves of us as loving and equal human beings, let alone considering the sexual interactions that are going to send us to hell and or infect us.
I think we need to look into a few things and this exploration needs to be done from a wellness based perspective! Lets not keep focusing on the negative experience of sexual encounters. Lets support ourselves and community in being healthy in all aspects of life which lead to better self esteem and decision making. Lets talk more about intimacy and sexual connection as much as STDs. Lets be sex positive. I would love to explore the dynamics between two men in a relationship VS that of the hetro-normative relationships we generally use as guides because thats all we have been exposed to our whole life!
And finally, lets explore condoms. In most of my conversation men admit to not liking them for lots of reasons. When digging a little deeper we find that when it comes time to having a hot session they reach over and grab one from their stash without even thinking about what kind it is, what size, what textures, what materials, and whether it actually fits correctly. Admittedly the condoms we are mostly provided in the community are cheaper and intended to be one size fits all. Lets figure out what condoms feel the best for us so we can feel better about using them
Comment by: Tony
Fri., May. 7, 2010 at 7:29 am EDT
@ Christian F & fogcityjohn. First of all I would like to commend fogcityjohn in starting a discussion that is honest and thoughtful. I believe fogcityjohn addresses the true nature of man. Sex is a drive, and our natural instinct is to satisfy that need. It is innate. It cannot be controlled. I believe that Chrisitian Fernandez is address not our instinct but rather a decision making process, which are some reasons why some people bareback. I see the discussion by Christian and by fogcityjohn as different. One is speaking to our base core tendencies as an organism, and the other is speaking to a higher-level process that is not at our core but our ability to reason which is unique to the human species. And as animals we need to fulfill what our instinct drives us to do which ago beyond reason. Christian, the points you bring up are great, however I believe they are reasons why some people may bareback and do not speak to our instinct. We all know that barebacking puts an individual at risk, we do not need for you to remind us of that. And although you say that you do not mean to be judgmental you are in your last paragraph. No one wants to get HIV. No one wants to self-sabotage as you say. Have you not done things that are not good for you perhaps detrimental to some degree - drug use, drink and dive (putting others at risk), engaged in risky activities? For you it may have been a crippled self-worth, but I know of others many many others who may have a good solid sense of self who have still barebacked, straight and gay. I am going to go out on a limb here as guess that you are a young man based on some of your comments and ideals. I am a 65 year-old man from New York. I bring this up because as you age you begin to understand and differentiate people's motivations, intentions, self-sabotaging behaviors, self-esteem, instinct, drive, motivations. Christian, I agree that gay folk are affected more by the issues,but human instinct is smethng else
Comment by: Dave
Thu., May. 6, 2010 at 11:31 pm EDT
While I agree that there is no more intense expression of "oneness" than experiencing BB sex it just is not worth the risk! Don't give me the BS about involvement in a monogamous relationship with the same serostaus coupledom. Each of us that has converted was infected by unprotected sex. Notwithstanding HIV, there are many other STD that can be transmitted in this manner. "Monogamous" couples are only as monogamous as their lies that uphold that delusion. While not being politically correct, I would gladly trade consistent protected sex for HIV neg status. The delusional belief that one is somehow connected to another because they ejaculate inside another is ridiculous. True intimacy is a meeting of many other facets of the human condition and is not limited to the exchange of bodily fluids. Finally, I have never felt a "top" ejaculate inside of me-ever!
Comment by: paul
Thu., May. 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm EDT
to be honest i think this article misses the most obvious point.. gay men bareback when they want to have sex and they dont have a condom.. just like why straight ppl bareback.. i have done it once and it was 100% to do with the fact that i was very much attracted to the guy and the oppurtunity arose to have sex.. neither of us had a condom.. both of us had a bit to drink.. he presto..
Comment by: thezak
Thu., May. 6, 2010 at 9:56 pm EDT
The correct term is always... safer
There's never zero risk.
Comment by: Steve
Wed., May. 5, 2010 at 11:44 pm EDT
John, I thanks so much for this thought provoking article. I further love the comments made by Cristian Fernandez, regardless of whether his points were different than the intent of your blog - it's all good. What struck a cord with me from Cristian's comments were: the internal struggle between a person's perceived self-worth and their ability to recognize self-defeating thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The "why" to my barebacking days was due to esteem issues. The lack of self esteem lead me to my positive status. I was incapable of establishing intimate relationships, only self-destructing ones. Not because I wanted intimacy and to search for a connection to another man. My lack of self esteem was due to my upbringing and my conflicted sexual identity (hetro through 30, bisexual through 40, and strictly gay after that, all deeply closeted). I continue to struggle with my true identify and acceptance of who I am. It's a bitch. Thanks for letting me share my "why".
Comment by: Straight woman
Wed., May. 5, 2010 at 8:37 pm EDT
I happened on this article while looking for something else and want to say that it is amazingly perceptive -- for both the straight and the gay among us. Now I understand why I never wanted sex using a condom. Thanks for writing this enlightened and enlightening piece.
Comment by: Michael Bell
Wed., May. 5, 2010 at 4:59 pm EDT
Working in the social service field and being gay, I have been in close proximity with people who engage in unsafe sexual activity. The agency I work for is all about blood borne pathogen prevention. The mystery about why gay men bareback is so convoluted that it makes it very hard to train and practice safe sex behaviors. Everything that was said about the reasons why gay men practice barebacking are accurate in my experience. The fact that there is a section of the gay population who actually choose to seek out HIV positive partners to infect themselves is a complete dissappointment to my gay brothers. There is so much of life to live, and happiness to encounter it seems pointless to try to make yourself sick. If they only knew that any so called benefits they may acquire by being HIV posistive are outweighed by the stigma, complications and prejudices against the disese. It is not worth the sacrifice of life to gain what appears to be a momentary "benefit". The syringe exchange end of the agency I work for has experienced over a 65% decrease in injection related HIV transmission since 2002. Why can't gay men be as passionate about protecting themselves as heroin addicts? Heroin addicts would never consider sharing 'works' since the exchanges have been around. It is so hard to spread a message of careful sex practices when there is no example to learn from. We try very hard to spread the word but it seems to get lost in translation. In closing, I want to say to all of my gay brothers, to consider life precious. 30+ years of resaearch, lessons and and loss to this disese is enough to make all the difference, but alas, the spread continues.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Wed., May. 5, 2010 at 4:35 pm EDT
@ Cristian Fernandez: I think you and I are talking about two different issues. What my post seeks to explore are *some* of the motivations behind unprotected anal sex. And even still, I didn't purport to identify them all, because trying to do so would probably require far, far more space than I have here. In short, sexual desire and behavior are highly individual. Each person has his or her own constellation of impulses, desires, needs, and motivations. I doubt any two people are the same, although I do believe there are many common themes.
What you are talking about is something different. You admit that the desire for intimacy or merger exists, but you're asking why, in the face of that desire, men don't protect themselves. I agree with you that problems of self-esteem play a key role, as do other psychological conditions like depression and anxiety.
One point of clarification. Barebacking does not *always* put all partners at risk for serious consequences. If two negative men bareback, there is no risk of HIV transmission. And if neither of them has any other STIs, then there are no adverse health consequences. Similarly, if two positive men bareback, there is no risk of new HIV infection, although the question of "superinfection" seems somewhat open. I raise this because it's not true that barebacking is dangerous in all cases. We need to discuss this issue truthfully, so I want to make very clear distinctions between behavior that's truly risky and behavior that isn't.
Comment by: Cristian Fernandez
Wed., May. 5, 2010 at 12:02 pm EDT
While I can appreciate the insight of the author's argument or opinion as it were. But I see the problem in a completely different context. To say that we as human beings have an innate need to create physical, emotional, and intellectual unions (however transcendental or mundane as they may be) would seem inherently true and very much consistent with what defines us as human beings.
However, the hypothesis that this innate need for a transcendental union with a sexual partner is one of the main reasons that some individuals decide to bareback seems lacking in insight to me.
That this desire, this need exists seems clear, but the variable that cause one gay man to bareback and another not to seem to run far deeper and appears to be more personal and unique for each person who considers the act.
The message I intuit more directly from the experiences of some individuals and their circumstances when barebacking seem to me to speak not to an intrinsic, universal common denominator among human beings, but rather to an individual, internal struggle between a person's perceived self-worth and their ability to recognize self-defeating thoughts, feelings, and actions. More often than not, individuals who learn and are able to establish and cultivate a healthy and positive self-image tend to make decisions that are in their best interest in a variety of contexts. This positive self-image and high value of self worth ultimately affects and directs their behavior in more consistent ways.
Barebacking ultimately puts all involved partners at risk for serious consequences. The lack of regard for one's own health, safety and well-being also reflects a similar disposition towards one's partners. Without intending to sound harsh or judgmental, the behavior strikes me as one of either conscious or subconscious desire to self sabotage in a most destructive way, which statistically is accounted for by the high prevalence of trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide in our community.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Tue., May. 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm EDT
@ Anthony M in Sacramento: Your experience appears to be typical of the majority of men now becoming infected. Most are infected by their primary partners. I think this has a lot to do with the emotions you describe. When you love someone deeply, you want to be close and share yourself completely. The pull of unprotected sex can be overwhelming.
@ Dr. Herukhuti in Brooklyn: Completely agree that the focus on rationality has limited the effectiveness of HIV prevention education. Our sexual desires and emotional needs aren't rational, so reason alone isn't going to cut it when it comes to helping men protect themselves.
@ zonok in Paris: Your post reminds me of an article Alberto Curotto shared with me concerning the issue of "bareback identity." Some men indentify themselves as "barebackers" and see that as an important part of their self-concept. It's beyond the scope of this current post, but thanks for bringing it up.
@ thezak: Not sure what the purpose of your "thought experiment" is. Since your question posits that both partners are HIV-negative, there's obviously no chance of HIV infection. My post isn't directed at this situation. As I said, "I'm not talking about guys who bareback because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are not putting themselves at risk for HIV in a given sexual encounter." In your "experiment," both men would believe, rightly, that they're not putting themselves at risk. My post is aimed at men who are either negative or of uncertain serostatus who have unprotected anal sex with men who are either positive or of uncertain serostatus. It is in this group that new HIV infections might occur. Unprotected sex between seroconcordant couples poses no risk of new HIV infection. Long story short, if two guys are definitely negative, they can unprotected sex without risking acquiring HIV. Does that clear things up?
Comment by: thezak
Tue., May. 4, 2010 at 11:35 am EDT
A thought experiment.
Two uninfected men are barebacking. Is it true or false one or both can get human immunodeficiency virus acquired immune deficiency syndrome?...
Comment by: email@example.com
Tue., May. 4, 2010 at 9:27 am EDT
Thank you John for this great topic. I'm 41yo, have been barebacking since I was 21, and 18 years hiv poz. I've never regretted the choice I made for bbk sex, although when I got infected, doctors told me I would certainly die soon (back in 1992). I also experienced lots a serious health problems during all those years, but still alive, go well on my job, and still have plenty of happiness, more than just fun.
I spend all my free time in Berlin, where they organise the best bbk poz parties I've known. I totally agree with you about how good it is to (get fucked) bbk. Not only for the skin sensation and sperm, but for me it's a total way of life. In the bbk parties I go, we're about 200 barebackers, fuckin' for like 12 hours, maybe more. Of course we take many pills, not only combination therapy, but viagra for the tops, and all kinds of magic pills and smoke to get high and love.
That's a pretty unbelievable experience to do. That feels like hiv doesn't exist anymore, all kinds of external problems anymore. And the merge between the bodys, longlasting merge, is probably the best proof of love we can then offer to eachother.
So for me, bareback is not only bareback, it's the gate that opens us to merging, fusion, gay community in only one mind, one spirit. And nobody cares for a while, (long while...) that's it.
Of course I have to get up and recover after each party, but sure I'm gonna do the same until I die. At least I will take with me the best souvenirs I can when I die. But till now, I'm alive, and have been so, much longer than I thought. So, be sure I'll always tell you bareback gay sex is the best thing in my life.
Comment by: Dr. Herukhuti
Tue., May. 4, 2010 at 9:09 am EDT
Thank you for inspiring conversation and raising more creative ideas like transcendence. I've been a critique of mainstream cognitive-behavioral HIV prevention education and research. While a junior researcher at the HIV Center and later as the founder of Black Funk: The Center for Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality (http://www.blackfunk.org), I have sought to investigate other aspects to sexuality including pleasure, passion, embodiment, and transcendence. In my book, Conjuring Black Funk: Notes on Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality Volume 1, I discuss the need to liberate our bodies from the oppressive conditions of structural inequality and capitalist exploitation.
Sex, good sex, can be a healing, restorative, and liberating experience. The sanitizing effect of condoms can disrupt that experience, particularly for so many of us who haven't learned to live in our bodies anyway nor ways of fully actualizing our sexual potential. The over-reliance on rationality in the cognitive-behavioral paradigm in HIV prevention education and research has left the field impotent with regard to addressing the full range of forces involved in sexual practice. The over-reliance on quantitative research has done the same. We need more storytelling and narrativity regarding what happens to folks before, during, and after sex.
We need HIV professionals who don't forget and are transparent about their sex lives when they walk in the office door so that professional conversations are grounded in lived experience AND research data.
Dr. Herukhuti, Ph.D., M.Ed., firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment by: Anthony M.
Mon., May. 3, 2010 at 10:06 pm EDT
When I first came across this title I said 'here we go again'. I had prepared to attack with a stinging rebuttal to the tune of "Gay Men Bareback simply because we want to, Dammit."
But after reading your article, the conclusion that you reached really made me think about how I got into this predicament. For me, you hit the nail on the head.
One of the reasons I think I've been so successful in managing this health challenge is the admission, early on, that I chose to indulge in risky behavior. It wasn't from ignorance, recklessness, or clouded judgment. I had a beautiful, athletic man in my life that I wanted to enjoy fully, and completely without any barriers. I wanted an exclusivity with him that condoms would not provide.
Because of that honesty, there has been no shame; regret, but no shame. I was able to get on the battlefield and wage a war against a mysterious killer, and keep my head up high as I did so!
I wholeheartedly agree with you. We cannot address the spread of HIV with sugar-coated words, or discussions bordering on judgmental intentions and superficiality. It has to be frank, honest, and dare we say it....Raw.
Kudos, fogcityjohn, on writing a very, fine article!
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Mon., May. 3, 2010 at 7:07 pm EDT
@ Wall in upstate NY: I think it's misleading to discuss "barebackers" as some kind of separate, identifiable group. Lots of gay men have unprotected anal sex. Some of them have only unprotected anal sex, others probably have it only occasionally, and still others probably only do it when they "slip up." So I don't think we should generalize too much about men who have unprotected sex. Their behavior and motivations are almost certainly too varied to draw nice, pat conclusions that apply equally to all of them. That's why I offered several possible motivations in my post, and I am sure there are a number of others.
I also don't like the idea that we gay men have any particular "inability to control our sexual behavior." *All* men have problems controlling their sexual behavior at some point. If straight men had no problem controlling their sexual behavior, there would never be any "unplanned pregnancies."
I don't have unprotected sex, but if you'll read my earlier posts, you'll see that I haven't been sexually active for about three years. I completely understand the desire for unprotected sex though, for the reasons I wrote about above.
Finally, I know you don't know me, but anyone who does knows I'd be the last person to ask someone with depression to just "snap out of it." As someone who's had clinical depression his entire life, I know just how silly such a statement is. Likewise, I'm glad you understand *I'm* not saying that men who have unprotected sex "just aren't trying hard enough." I certainly don't believe that it's as simple as that. I obviously can't tell you why my post "sounds like" that to you, because as you recognize, that's not at all what I'm saying.
Comment by: Wall
Sun., May. 2, 2010 at 9:47 pm EDT
" reasons I listed are "lofty" in any way. The need for connection and merger lies deep within the psyche. It's basic and primal."
I aplogize for those terms...but I know many people (not a lot, but quite a few) that like living alone. Sex happens very infrequently. Social interaction is enough. Some don't even find that very necessary. Like I said I know quite a few happy couples where the desire for unprotected sex outside of the relationship is necessary.
" I also disagree that people can't stop having unprotected sex. Many, many gay men successfully adhere to the rule of using a condom every time... ...willpower it takes."
This unfortunately is where we will probably never agree upon.
Sure many gay men don't bareback. And also many gay men don't smoke. Many have quit. any many don't have a drinking issue. A majority probably.
But that is not who we are talking about.
Along with this unablility to contol our sexual behavior I have noticed other mental states that many barebackers have. Many are on antideppressants. Many see a professional or have. Many have substance abuse problems. And here I mean the majority..
I take wellbutrin to help "give" me willpower. It has helped me a lot. But it still does not even come close with fixing anxiety, obsessiveness, compulsions that I suffer with. Nothing you would notice. It is a constant battle for me to feel "normal" like everyone else. Years of trying new therapies and drugs. I so much wish I could have this "willpower" that seems so easy to everyone else. Apparently you do not bareback. Trying to understand is hard. Lots of hard data and studying many subjects will help.
It's just that "well everyone else can withstand this urge, we just need to teach them...they can do it..if they just try.." I know you are not saying that but it sounds like it to me
This sounds just like what I have been dealing with, with depression. "Just snap out out of it! You just not trying hard enough!"
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Sat., May. 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm EDT
@ Jose in Miami: I agree that depriving gay men of true intimacy, including true physical intimacy, can have serious mental health consequences. Poz men like you who "serosort" and have sex only with other poz men are not my focus here, because you're being responsible and not spreading HIV to anyone uninfected.
@ David in Oakland: I'm so sorry for what happened to you. It was a crime, pure and simple. But just as with women who are "date raped," most of these incidents probably go unreported. Thank you for having the courage to speak out about it.
@ DS in L.A.: Your comment struck me hard. You pretty much described my own history and experience. And you raise a crucial point -- current HIV education, with its focus on perfect adherence to condom use, makes gay men feel guilty and ashamed just for wanting to have natural, unprotected sex. It also makes us reluctant to admit it when we occasionally fail to use condoms, because we don't want to be scolded for our "irresponsibility." In my view, current safe sex education is setting us up to fail, since it's premised on attaining and maintaining perfect adherence for a lifetime. How realistic is that when we're talking about something as deep and complicated as sex?
@ Frankie in Tucson: Beautiful comment. You expressed the role of intimacy so well. And you're right -- unprotected sex is not a transmission risk if both partners share the same serostatus.
@ Wall in Upstate NY: I agree that the desire for unprotected sex is completely natural. I also agree that it's probably innate. But I don't agree that the reasons I listed are "lofty" in any way. The need for connection and merger lies deep within the psyche. It's basic and primal. I also disagree that people can't stop having unprotected sex. Many, many gay men successfully adhere to the rule of using a condom every time. In fact, we don't give gay men enough credit for what an astounding achievement that is, given the willpower it takes.
Comment by: Wall
Sat., May. 1, 2010 at 8:36 am EDT
The denial that we are animals really hampers us sometimes.
I am happy. In a 20 year relationship. There is a drive to "experience" raw, pure, sex. The need to feel a man cumming. These and other uncontrollable thoughts grow to a ridiculous all consuming behavior for days or weeks at a time.
For me: as soon as "release" has been accomplished it is like i have regained my sanity, my consciousness. I see how my rational thoughts had been manipulated buy base emotions. Just like how a smoker rationalizes all of their behaviors while under the influence of nicotine, and only understand it after they have quit. (I have quite smoking with Chantix for 3 years. I hung out with some party friends a couple of months ago..I am smoking. I am trying sooo hard to stop...)
When I was negative, I remember slipping up and as soon as it was done, I was terrified and so upset with myself. But I just couldn't help it.
My partner is not so sexually driven and is, well, negative.
The fact that many scientist believe all other animals have "instincts" but humans don't, I find hard to believe.
I just feel all these high and loftly reasons, "motivations...the need for merging, the feelings of loneliness"
make it sound like it is something we can control
Once we can start admitting that genetically many people cant stop, and the only way is through medication or an operation, then I think you can get somewhere on this topic. I think the idea that you can "understand" and "talk" people out of barebacking is well intended but misguided.
Comment by: Frankie
Sat., May. 1, 2010 at 4:18 am EDT
After using condoms for over 20 years. I have unprotected lovemaking with my partner we are both POZ. This act alone leads to what I call the ultimate intimacy. Its the union of 2 that become one. Its not just physical its mental and emotional. It allows us to be human once again.And many men that are POZ know what I mean the use of a condom seems to make it seem like a mechanical act its SEX not LOVEMAKING. We as humans are entitled to feel the want and that union. I do stress that it should be practiced only with partners of the same status POZ or NEG.
It lies with our basic desire to feel loved and wanted. Just like laying naked in the arms of your lover you are taken to a higher plane than if you are clothed. It brings to life the essence of your partner. His smell his feel his touch and his kiss. You are allowed to melt into each others arms. And somehow all is right with the world. Like I said ti lies more with complete intimacy and less about being mechanical (condom on) At times when I am particularly vulnerable it brings tears to my eyes to be able once again to blend into the union the is WE or US. We feel and we are human once again not a machine.
Comment by: DS
Sat., May. 1, 2010 at 1:18 am EDT
You nailed it exactly. I can count on both hands the LIFETIME number of times I have had bareback sex. By the time my seroconversion occurred just over 1 year ago at age 45, I too, had reached "condom fatigue" and felt ashamed that I felt that way. I have obsessed about the risk of becoming HIV+ for over 25 years. I've been celibate and avoided relationships for years at a time. During a surreptitious Q&A with myself, I vividly recall making the decision to have bareback sex with someone I'd been dating. I remember asking myself if I wanted to grow old without ever experiencing "oneness" again. I agonized about the risks, reassured myself that my partner knew and accurately represented his HIV status. Unfortunately, what he thought was accurate, wasn't. And guess what? I too was ignorant of my status for nearly a year. I'm sad that I'm now HIV+ and concerned about my future health (fortunately it is excellent), yet I cherish the memory of the physical intimacy I experienced.
Comment by: David
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 9:37 pm EDT
While many men bareback in hopes to find intimacy and deeper connections or simply because it feels better, there are those who do it because they intend to infect others. What would cause some men to do the unspeakable? Homophobia? Maybe.....But more often than you think, some very sick fucks use drugs (like GHB) to render someone virtually or actually incapable of saying "no" and for all intents and purposes, rape them. Why do I know this? It happened to me. Sometimes I wish I could remember the details but probably better that I can't. I lucklily have found support from other men that have been through the same experience. Not easy to admit, but horrible acts like these usually go unreported.
Comment by: Jose
(Miami, FL )
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm EDT
Fantastic article and based on reality. We, humans, are social and sexual beings. There is an internal need to connect with others on various levels - deprivation of this need can lead to rather disastrous results such as depression and/or suicide among others. As a poz man with an undetectable viral load, I have barebacked consentually with other undetectable poz men and, frankly, I don't see an "issue" with it eventhough some out there will love to crucify me for this viewpoint. Hey its consentual among two people in the same boat. There is nothing more amazing than two people connecting on a physical, sexual and emotional level and the feel of another body next to yours without all kinds of conditions or anxieties. I think we all seek this. I think, the big issue(as mentioned before here on this post), is the large amount of men out there bb'ing without knowing their status or - worse off - not caring and going around having anonymous bareback sex with others meanwhile the disease (among other STD's) spreads exponentially.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm EDT
@ Troy Simpkins in Nashville: Thanks for commenting, but I think much of what you say is deeply misguided and reflects what I view as a serious case of internalized homophobia. First of all, your view that conservative heterosexuals disdain gay men because we have sex with multiple partners is demonstrably false. If that were true, those same conservative heterosexuals would presumably approve of monogamous gay relationships, but they don't. In fact, they're fighting tooth and nail against gay marriage across the nation. Why would they do that if what they dislike about gays is our relatively free attitude towards sex? Wouldn't they want to encourage legally binding, committed relationships for gays? Second, your morally judgmental attitude is extremely unhelpful. Whatever you may think, gay men are not "sluts." When we have sex, we are not "slutting around." I notice that you use very different language to describe heterosexuals who have multiple partners -- they're "cheating," whereas gay men are "slutting around." At the very least, you're applying a linguistic double standard. And you suggest that although straight people cheat, we somehow have to do better than they do and not use their cheating as an "excuse for our slutting around." Tell me, why do you subject gay men to a higher standard? Finally, you're entitled to disagree with me on what motivates gay men to have unprotected sex, but I notice that you haven't offered any explanations of your own. Oddly enough, at the end of your comment you implicitly acknowledge that unprotected anal sex can be a very intimate act. That's precisely what I'm saying. @ Eddie in Houston: Drugs and alcohol are certainly what sociologists call "mediators" of unprotected sex, but they're not the whole story. Lots of guys get drunk or high and still use condoms. Others go bare when they're stone cold sober. Sorry, but I have to agree that you're going crazy with the idea of a drug or technology to control sex drive.
Comment by: Troy Simpkins
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 4:02 pm EDT
While I don't agree with any of the opinions you voiced as to the reason's why gay men bareback, I feel the need to express an opinion that takes a look at this issue from a completely different angle. If gay men weren't so decidedly polygamous, barebacking wouldn't be such a risky proposition.
When my partner of now going on 2 years broke up with his ex in 2008, 99% of his gay, male friends told him his partner's cheating was just normal and that he should just expect gay men to cheat eventually. Most of them said it was impossible for gay men to be happy for an extended period before they feel the need for a new sexual experience with someone else. To me, this attitude that gay men just have to accept that it's impossible for us to be monogamous is just an excuse to be a slut, if we are being brutally honest here. It's one of the main reasons the conservative heterosexual community looks upon gay men with such disdain.
If gay men are truly wanting to find this ultimate coupling that lets them become one and finally push aside their feelings of being alone, then they need to revisit what a real commitment is. Yes, I'm aware that heteros cheat on each other quite often too, but we shouldn't use that as an excuse for our slutting around.
If someone is going to put their dick inside me and shoot their load, it's a special thing, and it's only going to be the man with whom there has been a commitment of total faithfulness between the two of us, no exceptions. If that kind of commitment is in place, then that act of unprotected anal sex ultimately becomes a very special act that confirms our bond. It retains it's special status because he is the ONLY person who ever gets to do that.
Gay men need to realize that sex with whoever is available at the bar every Friday night is not special, and it will never satisfy that emptiness inside.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm EDT
@ Scott Bodenheimer: Who said anything about this being a purely individualistic choice? Certainly not me. For the record, I'm personally in favor of disclosure in all sexual encounters, and I hope that people will use condoms in any encounter in which the partners are or may be serodiscordant. While I agree that intimacy can be expressed in many different ways, I completely disagree that it doesn't help to admit the reality that, for almost all men, sex with condoms is not as physically or as emotionally satisfying as unprotected sex. I think it's crucial to acknowledge that reality. We need to stop telling gay men things that defy not only common sense but also their own personal experience. So let's admit the truth that sex with condoms doesn't feel as good, and then let's have an honest discussion with men about why and in what circumstances using condoms makes sense.
Comment by: Eddie
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm EDT
I think there is truth to a lot of the things you said, but I also believe that drugs and alcohol have a lot to do with it. There have been studies that these two variables contribute greatly to the transmission of HIV and other STD's especially in gay people. When the human mind is unconscious, a lot of things can happen during that "trance period" until you wake up the next day wondering what happened, but it could be too late to realize you are part of the "club" now. I compare it with an individual that didn't know how he/she got home the night before while driving very drunk and can't remember anything the next day. I believe that scientists should come up wit a specific kind of drug that may control the sex drive on the general population, at least for a period of time to see if we can see a decline in HIV incidence.It would have to be given especially to the most sexually active population. Or some other kind of technology like the tool that they use at the airports to frisk you if you have something hidden, but in this case, that same tool with specific isotopes that can react to the HIV in your hair or any other part of your body that would enables us to see if that person is infected without even asking them about their status. I know- I am going crazy. Take care John.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm EDT
@ Philip D.: Thanks so much for the compliment. I've thrown out my thoughts on this in the hope of starting a discussion. We'll see where it goes. @ the unnamed commenter responding to jeff in NYC: Gonorrhea may not be as minor a problem as you suggest. See my fellow blogger Gary Bell's recent post on this very topic. @ tuskPDX: Obviously, I share your view that this is chiefly about intimacy, and that is true for both young men and old. @ Todd in Yakima, WA: Excellent point!!! How are we supposed to discuss unprotected sex openly when it may expose us to criminal prosecution in some states? The stigma we've attached to gay men's sexual behavior makes honest discussion hard enough. Criminalizing it will make it even harder to achieve a real understanding of this issue. @ angelray in NYC: Those who have lived through the worst days of the epidemic, and who have had to experience all of the sickness and suffering HIV brings, certainly have a different perspective on this question. Guys like you know from personal experience how devastating this disease can be. I encourage you to speak out, because part of having an honest discussion of unprotected sex is talking about the potential consequences. Sure, treatment is much better now, but having HIV is no picnic, even in the best of circumstances. @ Christos in Athens, Greece: Thanks for your perspective. As you can see, I started my piece by mentioning the issue of sexual pleasure. It's always present, but I personally tend to believe that the emotional component plays an even larger role. Thanks for commenting.
Comment by: Scott Bodenheimer
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm EDT
I don't know. I think it's wrong to frame this question as a purely individualistic choice. We're our brothers' keepers. And it doesn't help anybody to say that sex with condoms isn't as good as without. If you're good at sex you can make anything hot, and you can share intimacy in thousands of ways.
Comment by: Christos
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 7:29 am EDT
FogCityJohn wrote: "If you ask me, barebacking is an attempt to escape from the awful sense of isolation that we all experience as human beings." In my experience this is just nonsense. The real explanation is simply that anal sex without the condom barrier is incredibly physically pleasurable - so extraordinarily pleasurable that it is highly addictive. The physical pleasure is so sweet that it is extremely difficult to resist. Guys know they should resist it but resisting, resisting, resisting, is simply very hard - especially when the pleasure is right there, just inches away!
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 12:50 am EDT
@ Rusty in NoVA: I didn't "exclude" positive men from this discussion. I know poz men have unprotected sex. But if they are having unprotected sex with other poz men, then there is no risk of a new HIV infection. I can't speak about the whole question of "superinfection," because I don't honestly know if that's actually been shown to be possible. My point is that poz men who have unprotected sex with other poz men aren't spreading HIV.b @ Dr. WIL: I think you make an important point. Effective HIV treatment has made us all less fearful of HIV. That has no doubt made us all more willing to engage in unprotected sex. Drug ads certainly don't accurately portray what it's like to live with this disease. I agree that the drug companies may be lulling people into a false sense of security with their advertising. @ Patrick in Baltimore: My heart goes out to you. You haven't said whether you're positive or negative, so I don't know if you're putting yourself at risk of contracting HIV by having unprotected sex. If you are negative, then I'd urge you to think very hard about what you're doing. Unless you can be absolutely sure your partner is negative (an unusual scenario), then you should protect yourself. A man who refuses to use a condom when you ask doesn't respect you, and I don't think he's going to love you, either, no matter how much good sex you give him. Be careful. Trust me, living with this disease is no fun.
Comment by: angelray
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 12:40 am EDT
I can not understand why guys are barebacking. Maybe it's me,I have had aids for 21 yrs. Those who bareback don't have any idea what it's like to have aids. Maybe if they lived my life for a week or so, take the meds. on time, the side effects and the psychological effects as you realize that in a sense your life is over as you knew it. Sometimes I think that I would prefer death than to continue living like this.
Comment by: Lee
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 12:38 am EDT
Thanks, YOU inspired me to do my part to bring about a renewed awareness of HIV and AIDS and to begin a new journey on a new life's path, to my Destiny!
Comment by: Todd
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 12:24 am EDT
how am i to talk openly about "barebacking" when i could be arrested for the behavior?
Comment by: tuskPDX
Fri., Apr. 30, 2010 at 12:16 am EDT
Gay men bareback because they CAN. In other words, the more your mother told you not to jam things into the electrical outlets because it was "dangerous", the more you wanted to try it, right? Sadly, when I counsel poz teens, I hear over and over that it wasn't sex they were after, it was the quest for intimacy. Intercourse was simply a vehicle to get them to that state. What is more intimate than barebacking?
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 11:29 pm EDT
@jeff in NYC: you can get gonorrhea and syphilis by have safe sex. You get rid of it with a shot in the but or by taking a few pills. It is not, contrary to what you say, as much of a bitch on the long term as HIV. If you were sexually active in the 80s you would understand that the stakes aren't what they were. Enough already with the scare tactics and outdated rhetoric.
@Dr WIL: KS???? are you seious?! please. I and all the poz friends I have ARE in fact living the lives of those advertisements. HIV today IS in fact just a pill a day and yes, I have never beenn healthier.
Comment by: Philip D.
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 11:26 pm EDT
Hi John. WOW! You are brave for taking on a topic as loaded with such emotion, passion and fear, in this forum. You've obviously spent a greal deal of time and thought preparing your post. Thanks for giving plenty of food for thought without digesting it for us. Kudos!
Comment by: Patrick
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 9:16 pm EDT
At least someone is writing about this!
The part about, rejection, that pang that is awful, so instead of jumping off of a building, it's bareback again and again, for the want of the feeling of being loved. Yes, it makes no sense when the blood of want has been resolved.
I liken it to Star Trek with Spoke and his 7 year mating.
I did the female condom. I LIKE them! I have no problem with it, yet, I met men who didn't want it and did not want to use a condom.
Of the men, I met who liked it, I met one who used only the female condom, since he didn't have to think about the male condom. Plus, one man, who liked me having the female condom and he still used a male condom!
That is out of 10 men who didn't want to use anything.
So, out of those 12, I met one, who I really liked. We clicked after the sex was over. But, it was only sex and I was wrong.
I simply have a bad thing with meeting someone. If I hold off sex, well, he is gone, if I want the sex with protection, higher chance he is gone, if I allow the sex, withOUT the condom, at least I have him for the night. I feel wanted again, cared for again, loved again. Is this reality? Well, for the night it sure is!
I'm getting older now, it's few and far in between. Most men my age are in relationships or going after someone 20 years younger and I do not want someone 20 years younger than me.
I got friends, plenty of friends. But someone, for me and me for him, in that just our relationship sexual thing? It is not happening.
I've done the church thing, the volunteer thing,the meeting in groups thing, the retreat thing. I feel like Sally in the Dick Van Dyck show.
I have friends who tell me they need something to help them get an erection, yet, I still wake up with one. I could be sitting down and suddenly I have one. I thought being in the 50s, this is supposed to stop?
So, yes, I want love, at what price? Life.
Comment by: Dr. WIL
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 9:02 pm EDT
I think you missed something here - The drug companies and their POSITIVE marketing campaigns.
When gay men see ads (targeted at gay men) of sexy young HIV positive men enjoying life with ads saying things like "Today HIV is just a single pill each day" or when the medical field reports stuff like "Live a full, long and healthy life with HIV" or a scientific (no matter how correct or wrong) reports that HIV risks are greatly reduced to almost zero if you maintain an undetectable viral load."
Another big problem too is that for the most part HIV/AIDS is no longer in the public eye with seeing people in public or in pictures of guys with KS or other diseases which put's the "ugly" back into the disease.
With these factors working against us, the rest of the "barebacking" issues fall right into place if not expected.
So I can't point the finger at those who bareback, I do point the finger to greed and profits which is after all just a part of the American way.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 7:44 pm EDT
@ Pete in SF: You get a *special* shout-out for bringing up Walt Odets. I think the Harper's article was a shorter version of one he published in the AIDS Public Policy Journal in 1994, and which is available on Walt's web site at: http://www.waltodets.com/Articles/articles.html. I'd urge everyone to read and digest the whole thing. I read the article recently and was stunned at how many of the criticisms were still valid today, more than 15 years later.
Odets was absolutely right that expecting gay men to be perfect is both unrealistic and unhealthy. The fact is that almost no one can adhere to protected sex in each and every encounter over a lifetime. Why does anyone think that a prevention strategy founded on such an assumption will be successful? Despite the well-known risk of pregnancy and the myriad methods of birth control, straight people constantly have what we so delicately call "unplanned" pregnancies. Why should gay men be expected to do so much better, especially when we currently have only one form of protection available?
There's so much in the Odets article that I may devote a post to it. Thanks so much for bringing it up, and if you haven't read the whole piece, head over to his site and have a look. It's well worth the time.
Comment by: Rusty in NoVa
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 7:43 pm EDT
Interesting assumption is that only non-Hiv men bareback? Why exclude us from your discussion. If we are Poz, and on meds with undetectable VL, and we choose to enjoy bareback with other Poz men, we are making we don't give it to any straight or Neg guy.
May sex sites plainly show HIV status. Its not that its a badge of honor, but it does inform the other man about something otherwise that would be unknown. For example at least one of the sites you emntioned does have a guy's HIV status upfront. Bravo to the guys who run the site.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 7:30 pm EDT
@ Rodger in Toronto: True, unprotected sex doesn't *always* put one at risk for HIV infection. I agree that we need to talk about this in real terms. Two poz guys aren't putting each other at risk of infection (I leave the issue of "superinfection" for another day). Likewise, two negative guys aren't risking HIV infection if they have unprotected sex. As I tried to clarify in the beginning of the post, I'm talking about guys who are having unprotected sex when it *may* put them at risk and I'm saying we need to acknowledge the very valid emotional needs that lead them to do so. @ Jack in SC: Thank you for reiterating a key point. We need to stop stigmatizing men who have unprotected sex either some or all of the time. We all need to be able to discuss this openly and without shame. @ L.C. in Chicago: I have to say that the tone of your comment bothers me. I doubt there's any more of a "disturbing trend" in the gay community than in the straight community. Face it, straight folks bareback all the time, and I reject the notion that gay men have some sort of enhanced social responsibility when it comes to HIV. It's *everyone's* problem. If your patients aren't being honest with you about their sexual practices, maybe it's because they perceive you as judgmental. You ought to try acknowledging the validity of their sexual desires and their need for physical intimacy. By your own admission, shaming them doesn't seem to be working. It's time to come up with a better plan. @ Brian in Lansing: Congrats on your consistent adherence to protected sex. I just ask that we treat as normal and valid the desire for unprotected sex. Condoms are sometimes a necessary compromise because of HIV, but let's not treat gay men's quite ordinary needs as abnormal or immoral. @ Bren in Australia: I understand "seeding and breeding." Should probably have mentioned those motivations as well. You're right -- our genes don't know we're two men and can't reproduce.
Comment by: Dennis Salada
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 6:34 pm EDT
Your article on "Raw Emotion" was right on. I identified with the reasons that u gave why men bareback and continue to bareback. Excellent article.
Comment by: Jeff
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm EDT
@Max in Canada: So... You and your partners never worry about other infections you can get? Being undetectable doesn't make you invincible, mate. Syphilis and gonorrhea can be just as much of a bitch for us over the long term as HIV. As can anal cancer from HPV.
Comment by: Pete
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 6:04 pm EDT
Years prior to my own seroconversion (and prior to the coining of the "barebacking" term) a great article on gay men and safer sex, "The Fatal Mistakes of AIDS Education" by Walt Odets, appeared in Harper's magazine (May 1995). In it, the author discussed the error of the prevailing message of the day: that as gay men we MUST ALWAYS have safe sex, with causal and long-term partners, because we are always at risk.
The explicit message was that we were supposed to have a 100% perfect track record for safe sex 100% of the time, and the implicit message was that gay men can NEVER trust each other.
Mr. Odets questioned the wisdom of this, as no one will ever be able to live up to such expectations and the expectation was causing feelings of guilt, inadequacy, even a sense that by failing to uphold such an unrealistic standard, we had let our brothers, our community down. It was pointed out that any straight person would easily acknowledge the impossibility of a lifetime of perfect adherence to condom use.
Reading that article was an incredible relief to me and a few friends who shared these very feelings, especially because this was the first time these ideas had been presented to us, and they resonated.
Odets rightly suggested acknowledging gay mens'intelligence and ability to make informed decisions for ourselves (as well as the removal of implicit homophobia) as keys to maintaining an "audience" for safer-sex campaigns.
This still holds true, and framing the discussion in terms of "barebacking" or "not barebacking" is too basic and removes individual choice and risk-assessment from the equation, as did the old messages. The result of which caused a subset of gay men to hyper-eroticize condomless sex, hence the barebacking moniker/practice.
Not only should we continue to be sophisticated in engaging the community in reasoned, intelligent, personal choices, I believe the main issues of HIV prevention are self-esteem and a sense of connectedness.
Comment by: Max
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm EDT
You left out one truly important distinction. You seem to be talking about HIV negative barebackers. Before I seroconverted 7 years ago for taking a few loads in the mouth after nearly 20 years of safe sex, I NEVER would have considered bb. But since I have become undetectible, I have discovered how wonderful sex can be. Yes, now I bb and I only bb. The bb community where I live is made up mostly of other undetectible HIV positive guys like me. We're not the guys out there infecting people. We are just fortunate to have the luxury, thanks to meds, to be "above the fray". I am thankful for that and would not go back. Life is good. My advice to HIV negative people in fear of becoming infected is to beware of the guys who say they're negative who may unknowingly be recently infected and have huge viral loads. Those are the ones you gotta watch out for.
Comment by: Bren
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 5:45 pm EDT
In the barebacking community there's some other "titillating" names that hint at reasons beyond the intellectualised ones you've raised: "seeding" and "breeding". We are biological organisms and the drive to procreate is one of the most powerful biological forces. Strong enough to disconnect our rational selves and put our lives and health at risk. I think this is the main cause behind barebacking. Our genes don't know we're two men and therefore can't breed. Our physiology is our physiology and it WILL make us have sex. At a very primal level it's throwing up lots of reasons to ignore that packet of condoms in the bedside table.
A couple of other points. Straights actually do use "barebacking" (or, at least they used to). I remember coming across the term when reading Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" (not a well-written book, but a good thriller nevertheless).
Also, it's not that "some" gay men bareback...it's almost ALL of them. Some just do it more than others and admit it. The rest realise it's socially unacceptable to admit it. This might be why HIV education is failing. If HIV was talked about more, and everyone realised that everyone else is barebacking to one degree or another, we might have more realistic attitudes.
Comment by: Brian
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 5:36 pm EDT
I guess one thing stands out to me here, as a guy who's had "bare" and safe giving and receiving anal sex, which is what the big deal is with wearing a condom. Wearing a condom is disdainfully talked about like they're some kind of horribly dated, painful thing. While I can appreciate the difference, I don't see why it's such an imposition to wear a condom if you're serious about respecting you and your partner's wellbeing.
I'm in a committed relationship with a poz guy but am neg so maybe it's easier for me. We've never really missed bare sex because of the variety and intensity of our safe sex. As nice as rectal microbicides would be, I don't think condoms are a broken method at all.
Comment by: Emily
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 5:27 pm EDT
What an honest, real discussion. Kudos. I'll definitely share with others in the prevention community. Let's stop ignoring this reality!
Comment by: J.F.
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 5:16 pm EDT
I totally agree with your pretext that we are ultimately aiming to connect with one another - after all, this is what being human is about.
Whatever injurous and damaging upbringings we may have endured, even though they may appear normal and expected, could easily be responsible for this mode of behaviour.
Love is the answer, the question and the purpose. If this has in any way been undermined, ruined or chastised in our lives - compensatory behaviour in terms of 'unsafe practices' should and must be understood.
I for one understand this is the reason I became positive, your writing elucidates reasons and circumstances that had previously not been articulated openly for me - I thank you for that.
Comment by: gurlzone
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 4:55 pm EDT
John, Beautiful, insightful, thoughtful and sensitive. Thank you. As a female sexual harm reduction educator for most of those 30 years, I agree with you 100%. Yours is the best and most honest articulation of similar thoughts that have been at the tip of my tongue and the top of my head for decades. But you say it so much better.
Comment by: L.C.
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 4:53 pm EDT
I'm an HIV test counselor and a nurse working in a low-income community. I'm deeply disturbed at the current trend in the gay community. We're seeing more and more patients diagnosed in their late teens and early 20s. Many are also coinfected with syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. We are surprised at the number of gay middle aged patients testing positive in their yearly STD screenings. In this respect I agree with the author about the need to speak frankly about the subject, but in my experience many providers don't feel comfortable talking about sex to their patients, much less about "barebacking". Many patients feel embarrassed or become defensive when told their chlamydia or whatever is positive because they have been telling us what we want to hear all along,i.e., "I always use condoms". What concerns me the most is this nonchalant attitude about passing along the virus or another STD to others. We all long for the "blissful merger" (gay and straight alike), but we also have a social and moral responsibility towards are fellow men and women. If this trend continues we won't be able to stop this epidemic. Having HIV is no picnic, the smiling faces in the ads for antiretrovirals notwithstanding.
Comment by: Jack
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 4:26 pm EDT
First of all, I'd like to congratulate you on another insightful, thought-provoking post.
I couldn't agree more with your proposal to listen while remaining unjudgemental to barebackers' explanations. I believe that on a case-by-case basis, each individual's reasons might differ drastically. But this is only logical. If we can piece together some underlying, cohesive thread of why men who have sex with men practice bareback sex under the conditions you described, then we could work (faster, more efficiently) toward cutting down on the practice itself.
I am 20 years-old & HIV+. I know too many guys my age who have told me they only have bareback sex.
I was one of them at one point.
I was driven to throwing the possibility of being infected to the back of my mind because I had no sense of identity. Atleast whn I was barebacking I "belonged" to something. Once barebacking can be discussed without up-turned noses or condescending tones of voice, people can begin to have an open, honest discussion about it. But while barebackering maintains this socially "criminal" (read, socially unacceptable) there will always be a sense of pride in not having safe sex.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm EDT
@ risred in Philadelphia: You're absolutely right that just asking people to be "rational" won't cut it when it comes to something as deeply emotional and complex as sexual behavior. That's why I'm asking that we focus on the *emotional* needs of men who engage in unprotected sex despite the possible risks. For now, we all have to live with the unfortunate reality of HIV. The task, in my view, is to see whether we can find ways to satisfy those emotional needs in ways that won't provide an opportunity for HIV to spread. As Jim Pickett points out below, developing something like an effective rectal microbicide would be ideal. Men could then have natural sex without risking HIV transmission. @ john in Los Angeles: You're free to disagree with anything I write. I only request that you do so in a civil manner. If you can't do that, then I would ask that you cease participation in this discussion. As for your points, such as they are, I have not claimed that this post will do anything "for the cure." But finding out why men do or do not use condoms is important for purposes of preventing transmission. In my view, that's anything but "crazy."
Comment by: Rodger
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm EDT
John, when you say "rather than seeing the desire itself as a problem, we should understand it as normal," this is when you get things dead-on in my view. I'm with you.
We need to normalize so-called "barebacking" in order to be able to have realistic conversations about when it involves risk. It is just sex without condoms. I don't think it's accurate to say "we all know how risky barebacking is," when in many contexts it is not risky at all. Maybe I'm splitting hairs there, but I think the first thing we need to do is talk about unprotected sex as natural and normal (as you point out) -- which eliminates the notion that there is a troubling issue that needs to be figured out. And next we need to acknowledge that it's only risky in certain contexts -- not intrinsically so.
I did find the "reasons" for sexual risk-taking that you've observed to be interesting. When you say "maybe gay men bareback out of a sense of fatalism or exhaustion," I've had friends articulate that to me, going so far as to say they are drawn to the eroticization of risk. This includes a good friend of mine remains neg even though he knowingly gets fucked raw by his poz lover (who has an undetectable VL and doesn't come in my friend). For me, someone how got infected more or less by a fluke accident, this plays with my head like you wouldn't believe, but it is what it is.
The queer-as-rebel notion is interesting too but I think it's more a romanticization by a small number of folks than anything. And as for sex-on-premises (including parks), I think the appeal isn't only about rebellion -- these are qualitatively different experiences from online, and to be honest, sometimes actually safer in terms of protection for stigma. For example, online I recently had a guy tell me he would only have sex with me if I were HIV-negative. A week or two later, I saw him in a public-sex venue giving BJs to multiple guys without any prior conversation.
Thanks again for another interesting post.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm EDT
@ Mark S. King: Thank you for your lengthy comment, which deserves an equally lengthy response. I'm afraid that despite my best efforts, it appears I wasn't completely clear in my post. First, please recall the limitations I stated at the outset. This post is not concerned with men who, either rightly or wrongly, do not believe they are putting themselves at risk for HIV in a sexual encounter. Thus, by its very terms, this discussion does not apply to the sex between you and your HIV+ partner. Neither of you is assuming the risk of HIV transmission. Second, I fully agree that the desire for natural (unprotected) sex and for the intimacy it expresses is completely normal and not in any way pathological. As I pointed out, what is pathological in the experience of unprotected sex is the existence of HIV, not gay men's sexual desires or their search for intimacy. I therefore disagree with you that I am "starting from a place of 'less than,' or 'undeserving.'" Quite the contrary. As I said, we should understand the desire for unprotected sex as normal. Third, as for what you call the "psycho-babble about being sexual outlaws," I understand that it does not enter into the motivations of all gay men who choose to have unprotected sex. But research shows it is a motivation for some. Fourth, I have used the term "barebacking" because it is one that has currency in our community. Is it one that has negative connotations? Yes, and that's why I acknowledge that all men, gay and straight, "bareback," but only in discussions of gay sex is this term used. I would agree with folks like Walt Odets, however, that ideally our discussion should be phrased in terms of "protected" and "unprotected" sex, rather than "safe" or "unsafe" sex. But my point in this post is not to argue about linguistics or semiotics. It is simply to ask that people discuss desire and behavior in realistic terms.
Comment by: john
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 3:01 pm EDT
What a bunch of crap. Speculating about why men use condoms or not does nothing for the cure. "Emotional needs" does not equal condom use.
Try selling crazy to someone else.
Comment by: risred
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 2:57 pm EDT
Why? The answer is actually quite slippery. We are talking about rationalizations after all.
I'm POZ and I'll admit to barebacking. Obviously, I was infected. In my case, it was by barebacking.
I would say, I tried to play safe...
Why couldn't I keep it wrapped up? I'm not going to blame Porn or any one thing. I did it because it was part of my sexual habits hooking up with men in those cruising places. In that scene, its about sex and getting off. Its not about having a relationship, although you do meet people that way. So, once you have the thrill of BB in that setting... well, its hard to go back as Chris Rock Observed in Kill the Messenger. You can't go back, once you find a girl that swallows!
Human sexuality doesn't serve the human intellect. It has its own agenda, or at least, it essentially manipulates our intellect to get what it wants! We see that in every sex scandal that comes along the way. Leaders who have the most to lose, yet can't keep it in their pants.
That's the disconnect I find. When we think its just a decision we need to make, and yet we don't follow what appears to be the sensible thing to do... clearly, there are forces at work here that is not simply rational.
So efforts to be rational, will miss the mark with a percentage of the audience.
I know the barebacking community intimately. Once you go in that direction, who successfully steps away? I'm sure it happens. But I would say that it seems to be rare in the gay barebacking community.
Whatever the factors, you have to get to folks before they start down this path. This isn't about decision making solely. Its really about how to have great safe sex that is satisfying enough to keep barebacking relegated. Which means looking at other aspects of sex that can be done safely which is controversial. Fisting, S&M, Watersports being some of them. And these activities are not without their own risk.
Considering how political we are... how do we have this discussion?
Comment by: MJBG666
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm EDT
Hey, it's no biggie, really, some guys, myself included, simply cannot have sex, that is real, deep, fulfilling fully complete sex with a condom. Period. No mystery. The meds are out there, the risk is minimal if both parties are undetectable and men are going to want to have sex, it's who we are.
Comment by: Mark S. King
(Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Thu., Apr. 29, 2010 at 1:04 pm EDT
You make an a very telling distinction between gay and straight sex. For gay men like me, unprotected sex is termed "barebacking." For straights, "they just call it having sex." And that is a judgment call. Why is the straight label a normal function, but the gay label suggests something dangerous?
Here's another example: You keep referring to barebacking as intimate and a search for connection. "Barebacking can be seen as the ultimate attempt to remove all barriers between ourselves and our partners, to literally become one," you say.
That's what SEX IS. SEX is the ultimate intimacy, sex is a search for connection and an attempt to remove barriers and become one. Why label it barebacking when it is precisely what every human being desires? Don't we as gay men deserve the same sexual (and yes, spiritual) goals as everyone else? Why must MY sex be a pathology?
Once we agree that gay men are only seeking out something that is just as instinctual and natural as everyone else, THEN we're ready to discuss how to alter our sexual choices to make them safer. But by starting from a place of "less than," or "undeserving" or "your sex isn't sex, it's barebacking," we begin the conversation by reinforcing terribly hurtful assumptions about the relative "value" of gay sex. And I refuse to buy into it.
And once we acknowledge all this, all the psycho-babble about being sexual outlaws begins to sound a little silly to me, honestly. Because I've given my sexual choices a lot of thought over lo these many years, and being edgy and radical doesn't usually enter the equation. I just want to feel good, and help my partner feel good, and make love to him.
Finally, barebacking isn't always irresponsible. Studies have concluded that poz partners who are compliant patients with 0 viral load aren't transmitting HIV. And that why my poz partner and I will go right on making love our way (i.e. barebacking).
Comment by: Tom
Wed., Apr. 28, 2010 at 7:43 pm EDT
It's better. Much better. It doesn't feel like real sex with that horrible latex. Also, many tops can't handle it, just like straight people.
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Wed., Apr. 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm EDT
@ Jim Pickett: I fully agree that we need prevention strategies that recognize the realities of gay men's lives, and one of those realities is that gay men won't always use condoms. In this respect, we're no different from straight men. Unfortunately, we seem to be the recipients of almost all of the finger-wagging. Rectal microbicides, even if only partially protective, would be a wonderful advance in reducing HIV transmission. I wish you and your organization the very best of luck. @ Terron in SF: Thanks for your kind words about my post. More important, thanks for having the courage to be so completely open and honest about both your emotions and your sexual practices. Your kind of openness is *exactly* what this discussion requires. Obviously, I hope you'll use condoms any time you engage in anal sex. You *need* to protect yourself, because this disease is no joke. But I understand the "barrage of emotions" you feel when it comes to sex. I just wish you could find a way of satisfying those emotional needs that doesn't involve unprotected anal intercourse. You make another really important point, though, and one that bears emphasis. As you say, "as long as people bleed red," they'll practice unprotected sex. If I understand you correctly, you're saying that this is just part of the *human* condition. I agree. The issue of unprotected sex is not unique to gay men. (Look at all the "unplanned pregnancies" in the straight world.) I've framed my blog post around gay men, though, since I'm gay, so I feel gay men are a group I can talk about, and just maybe talk to. Anyway, thanks so much for contributing to the discussion. Let's get our community talking about this.
Comment by: Terron J. Cook
(San Francisco, CA)
Wed., Apr. 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm EDT
I have one word for this post: BEAUTIFUL! John, not only have you surprised me with your insight on topics that you truly hold dear to your heart, but the way that you delved into and sustained this post is brilliant. I've always known that you have a talent for "intellect," but this post takes the cake.
Many of your points hit home with me. Especially considering the fact that I fall into the category of men who, on occasion, practice unsafe sex. For me, the utilization of condoms creates a sense of separatism, distrust, as well as, divisiveness. My life has consisted of the aforementioned, not only from my gay brethren, but from my own culture, as well as my family. Unfortunately, throughout our carnal existence, we as humans carry the pain and heartache that is inflicted upon us during our formative years.......the most sensitive, vulnerable, and impressionable time in our lives.
I have never felt "truly" close to any man, or woman, for that matter. However, partaking in bareback sex is the ultimate feeling for me, in spite of the risk that it poses.
In my earnest opinion, this is a subject that could be discussed into the cows come home. However, as long as people bleed red, and no matter how much information is placed into society regarding the risks, people WILL partake in unsafe sex. There is a barrage of emotions attached to this subject.
Not to minimize this act, and while it sounds cliche, "bare-backing is simply one of those things." IT WILL NEVER END.......
Comment by: Jim Pickett
Wed., Apr. 28, 2010 at 11:32 am EDT
Great piece. We definitely need to do more understanding and less finger-wagging when it comes to natural sex (raw sex, barebacking). And we need new prevention strategies that go beyond condoms. That's why I think the research and development of rectal microbicides - lubes or douches with anti-HIV properties - is so so important. Of course, I am a bit biased, being chair of IRMA - International Rectal Microbicide Advocates. To learn more about our global advocacy network with nearly 900 people working together to advance rectal microbicide research, check out www.rectalmicrobicides.org
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Outlier: My Unusual Journey With HIV
My name's John. I'm 49 years old. I'm a lawyer by profession. I now live in beautiful San Francisco, California, after spending a long time on the east coast. I was diagnosed in 2004, so I've been positive for something like five years.
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