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Laying It Bare: Gay Men and Unprotected Sex in the Age of HIV/AIDS

June 23, 2010

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Why are some gay men still having unprotected anal sex in the age of HIV/AIDS? Whether you're a man who rejects the term "barebacking" as stigmatizing, dismisses the act and any conversation about it as criminally risky, or embraces barebacking as part of your identity, the fact remains that it's happening -- and very few people are talking about it.

According to many studies, anywhere from 12 to 46 percent of men who have anal sex with other men in the U.S. are doing so without condoms -- and meanwhile, for many gay men, HIV prevention messages have become like broken records.


On the other hand, when you look at nearly 30 years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has taken such a devastating toll on the gay community -- many of whose members already fight homophobia, rejection by their families and lack of recognition by the state on a daily basis -- perhaps the more appropriate question becomes: How could gay men not be exhausted by the prospect of protecting themselves each and every time they have sex?

In this discussion moderated by blogger fogcityjohn, a psychologist, a public-health veteran and an HIV education researcher hash out from their own perspectives the many factors that lead gay men to engage in unprotected anal sex -- and what needs to be done about it.

Guest Panelists


fogcityjohn, blogger for

fogcityjohn: Welcome to This is John reporting. I am also known to some of you as the blogger fogcityjohn. Today, we are here to talk about gay men, or men who have sex with men [MSM], and unprotected anal sex, the practice colloquially referred to as barebacking. Now, we all know that unprotected anal sex poses a high risk for transmission of HIV. And yet, despite widespread awareness of that risk, many men are still engaging in unprotected anal sex. And so today, I hope to explore a few aspects of this issue, including perhaps how widespread the practice is; what motivates men to engage in unprotected anal sex despite knowing the risk of HIV transmission; and in addition, finally, are there possible interventions or strategies that can help men adhere to safer sex practices.

With that, I would like to introduce the guest panelists. I am very, very pleased to have with us today, from Berkeley, Calif., Walt Odets. Walt is a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who has been practicing since 1987. He is also the author of numerous articles on the topic of HIV prevention, and the book In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS [for an excerpt from this book, click here].

With us from Atlanta, Ga., is Rashad Burgess. Rashad serves as the chief of the Capacity Building Branch, Division of HIV/AIDS, at the Centers for Disease Control. Prior to joining the CDC, Rashad worked at the Chicago Department of Public Health, Division of STD/HIV/AIDS Public Policy and Programs.

And in New York, we have Jeff Parsons. Jeff is a professor of psychology at Hunter College of the City University of New York, and co-director of the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training. He is also a member of the doctoral faculty in the Social-Personality subprogram, and the director of the Health Psychology concentration at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Gentlemen, welcome to all of you. I'm very pleased to have you here.

Jeffrey Parsons: Thank you. It's great to be here.

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This article was provided by TheBody.


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