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Condoms vs. Bareback Sex at Gay Men's Health Summit

A Video Blog

September 10, 2010

While "gay men's health" as a concept -- aging, mental health, relationships, physical fitness -- tried mightily to get some respect at the 2010 Gay Men's Health Summit in Ft. Lauderdale, HIV/AIDS continued to dominate much of the workshops and discussions. The evergreen issues of condom fatigue and barebacking managed to monopolize time and vex workshop leaders with a stubborn dilemma: How do you interest gay men in condoms when so many have already opted for sero-sorting, barebacking, and risk reduction techniques?

Tony Valenzuela

Tony Valenzuela

In this video blog entry of "My Fabulous Disease," I met with two sets of workshop facilitators directly after they led group sessions on condoms, casual sex, and safer sex techniques. You'll meet "Middle," a Nashville HIV advocate who intended to facilitate a group of men using condoms for casual sex -- and found himself with a room full of barebackers. Next, Jacques and Robert of "M" Ft Lauderdale, a program of Broward House in Ft. Lauderdale, discuss focusing their efforts on gay men ages 18-30, because older gay men tend to be less teachable when it comes to safer sex.

And then, interestingly and ironically, I sat down with the original bareback poster boy, Tony Valenzuela, who famously rode naked astride a horse on the cover of POZ Magazine for a 1999 article on barebacking. Tony has surprisingly little ill feelings about the judgment and anger aimed in his direction when he honestly discussed his preference for unprotected sex. Instead, he applauds men who use condoms and believes responsibility is key. He sums up his views in these carefully chosen words: "Condoms are a sacrifice."

Episode 21 --Condoms vs. Bareback Sex at Gay Men's Health Summit

Do you believe we are "post-condom" in the gay community, or will there always being two sexual societies: negative men using condoms, and positive gay men who are less inclined to do so? How important is sero-sorting (limiting sex partners to those who share your status) to the new equation?

Thanks for watching. I look forward to your responses!


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Adapted from:
My Fabulous Disease

More From This Resource Center

Undetectable Viral Load and HIV Prevention: What Do Gay and Bi Men Need to Know?

Do HIV-Negative Gay Men Need Condoms if They're on PrEP? Here's What I Tell My Patients

This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
Ten Common Fears About HIV Transmission
Condom Basics
More Personal Views on Condoms

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Essemovow (Sierra Leone) Thu., Dec. 20, 2012 at 9:21 am UTC
whoah this blog is excellent i love reading your posts. Keep up the good work! You know, a lot of people are searching around for this info, you can help them greatly.
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Comment by: James Mon., Dec. 6, 2010 at 3:32 am UTC
Morally, I think barebacking is one of the worst things you can do as a gay man. Its nasty in my opinion, for so many reasons. Now, I am not prude. I believe that sex should be enjoyed and I'm actually OK with the fact that many gay men are promiscuous. That being said, if you're going to mess around, wrap it up.

There are many things I am still uneducated about as far as gay sex. I didn't know how important it was to get other vaccinations for stuff like hepatitis. I thought that stuff like rimming and oral sex was safe but there is still a risk. Granted that some things, people are still going to take risks because of the fact that some risks are unavoidable, but the basic preventative measures, especially wearing condoms, is a given. I hope that I never catch myself barebacking, its so against my beliefs and this is something that I don't think will ever change in my lifetime.
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Comment by: Sambre (London, UK) Thu., Oct. 7, 2010 at 8:14 am UTC
Thanks a lot for this post. I’m Sambre, 34 yrs old French guy living in London. I have been HIV positive for 2 years now and I came to search information about bareback sex after having to deal regularly with this double stigmatisation that « Middle » talks about in your interview and more especially the one coming from other HIV poz men. HIV poz chat rooms are synonymous of Bareback sex chatroom now. The « condom fatigue » as you call it has turn into a « condom amnesia ».
Is the use of condom and the practice of safer sex a choice involving only my person ? I like to think that we have a community responsability in the choice of using condoms. We have a part to play in the fight against HIV in the hope of one day winning the battle. Using condoms for me is not only a matter of protecting myself against other STD’s but also the simplest form of action and ,should i say, gratefulness. After all if i’m alive now, it’s because people have dedicated their time and energy to research this virus. If I choose to listen to only my own self indulgent choice and go bareback, how do I justify the 16 000 pounds spent on me every year to keep me in good health, not to say alive ?
Condom is a sacrifice if you want to consider it as one, bareback is surely a sacrifice too… The sacrifice of a certain idea of a « living together » to the self destructive blasé individualism.
(Pardon my English, i hope it makes enough sense)
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Comment by: Mario (PS, CA) Wed., Sep. 29, 2010 at 4:06 pm UTC
How long is it going to take, how many have to get infected and be taken too young before we as gay men realize that we are worthy and begin loving ourselves? It is all about self esteem. Grow up, take responsibility, and get educated.

I am negative, lost my 1st partner to HIV over 5 years ago, now in a committed monogomous relationship with a negative partner. With my 1st partner, he didn't want me to become infected, he had great self esteem and cared deeply for me, We had an extremely satisfying sex life and I remained negative. It can be done. With my partner now, who is my 2nd, we have the same extremely satisfying relationship, sexually and otherwise. We are both mature, educated and well adjusted.

Once people realize that the grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence, stop looking for the next great rush, get help for their addictions, get secure with who they are, etc. maybe that will help in stopping the spread of this disease. It is unfortunate for those that are infected, but to think that by sero-sorting you are doing yourself or others any good, think again. Whatever happened to looking out for your 'brother'. When someone negative makes a "choice" to be with you, that is a great opportunity to educate and think with your brain, not your cock. Even if someone says they are positive, do you really know that for a fact. It might be time to stop using your dick for reassureance and find other ways to feel good about yourself. We have more to offer the world than just our genitalia.
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Comment by: Bobby (Cleveland, OH) Wed., Sep. 22, 2010 at 11:31 pm UTC
Or hey, here's a radical idea...if neg guys are so f*****g concerned about nondisclosing partners, THEY SHOULD JUST STOP WHORING AROUND!

Honestly, if you're not adult enough to deal with the fact that your partner MAY be infected and make your decisions appropriately, you shouldn't be having sex. Relying upon the honesty of others, especially in gay sexual circles where those others are oftentimes strangers, is the height of irresponsibility. At best, it delays the inevitable as a large portion of the infected community doesn't even know of its status, and its certainly a great motivation to avoid testing if you think the results will come up poz. Its also a really pathetic way to put the inconvenient burden of prevention on someone else's shoulders.

I'm poz and I serosort, which simultanously makes disclosure automatic and a nonissue. Obviously, those who have the virus have a profound obligation to limit the spread of their infection, but I'm shocked by this newfound popularity in criminalization. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd speculate that the only thing LESS effective than no prevention at all, would be a prevention effort directed solely at those with the least to lose (the already infected), giving those with the most to gain (the uninfected) a false sense of confidence.

As for the "action" you speak of, it is more of a witchhunt, and unfortunantly it *is* spreading like wildfire through the gay community. So far, its done nothing to actually slow the spread of the disease and a whole lot to exasperate the the stigma those who get it face.
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Comment by: Gifted (Austin, Texas) Wed., Sep. 22, 2010 at 1:42 am UTC
The issue is not whether or not gay men use condoms, its about disclosing their status. I strongly believe that any HIV+ gay men that have sex with anyone whether positive or negative should disclose his status. If he does not, and either gives a new strain of the virus to someone already positive, or to someone that is not positive is the most irresponsible behavior today. I fully support criminal action against any gay man who does not disclose and should serve a minimum of 25 years to life in prison. This, this action will get attention and spread like wildfire through the gay community.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Mon., Sep. 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm UTC
Tony Valenzuela is absolutely right. Condoms ARE a sacrifice, but they're a necessary one in most circumstances. For now, they're the best defense we have against HIV transmission, so most everyone should be using them. There are exceptions, of course, such as for uninfected individuals who are in truly monogamous relationships.

But the necessity of condom use should not obscure the fact that using condoms does entail a sacrifice. If we were all more honest and open about that fact, I think our safer sex education would be more successful. Let's tell the whole truth about condoms. They reduce sensation and diminish feelings of pleasure and intimacy. They can also spare you a lifetime of living with an awful disease. That's the choice.
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Comment by: Henry (NYC) Sat., Sep. 18, 2010 at 4:53 pm UTC
One more thing: condoms are a sacrifice? Well, you know what? Having HIV, even now that better treatments are available, is even more of a sacrifice.

And I say this as someone with HIV who has access to health care and is doing great, with CD4s in the 800-900 range, undetectable viral load and zero side effects from the meds. Even under those "enviable" conditions, living with HIV is still a huge sacrifice.
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Comment by: Henry (NYC) Sat., Sep. 18, 2010 at 4:38 pm UTC
I'm 48 and seroconverted only about 3 years ago because I stopped using condoms with someone that I fell in love with.

I came of age using condoms and I am used to using condoms. For me, barebacking with people I don't know is disgusting. Now that I have HIV I will still use condoms for anal sex, as I always have except for the one exception that gave me this precious "gift."

There must be others like me, who got HIV because they were barebacking only in a relationship in which they thought their partners were being safe with others and found out otherwise.
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Comment by: Rusty (Northern VA) Fri., Sep. 17, 2010 at 6:26 pm UTC
I am a healthy Poz GM, and when it comes to practicing safe sex, I consider myself as following this when I choose to exclusively have unprotected sex with men who also are undetectable and healthy in every other facet of health. I don't hide my status from my sex partners and they don't from me, which takes some of the burden off of the joy of having a wonderful sexual experience with a man that I enjoy being with. I thinks its perfectly OK for neg men to bareback with other neg men, as long as they maintain their health and act responsibly.

We can each enjoy the barebacking experience.

I recognize there is an element of risk,but I feel that as long as i limit myself to other Poz/undetectable and healthy men, all of us should be fine.
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Comment by: eisenhans (St. Louis) Fri., Sep. 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm UTC
The outrage is that, at this point, we are still relying on condom usage as our sole HIV-prevention strategy. Any honest man with a normal sex drive knows that condom use is not sustainable. Condoms are indeed a sacrifice - one that can be made long term only by those who can also walk on water. What is irresponsible, selfish and stupid is the medical-industrial-public health industry's refusal to provide PRE-EXPOSURE PROPHYLACTIC MEDICATION to their at-risk patients. We've know for a decade that it will work. It is inexcusable to make people wait until after they are infected to get access to antiretroviral medications. But I guess they need to keep the new customers coming in.
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Comment by: Rafael (Denver) Thu., Sep. 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm UTC
What? Post-condom? Only morons could think condoms are not necessary anymore!. As a physician and the partner of someone who is HIV positive, I feel offended and extremely concerned about the mere existence of such a discussion. Men like Mr. Valenzuela should not be given that many chances to express their dangerous ideas. It is an insult to the millions of people who suffer and die from AIDS in the world everyday. Just because HIV meds are more available in the US, that does not mean gay men are allowed to act stupidly and selfishly...makes me want to throw up.
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Comment by: Roy (London) Thu., Sep. 16, 2010 at 8:30 pm UTC
I am poz and prefer BB and serosort. If I do have sex with a neggie then I play as safe as I possibly can
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Comment by: Donald Sass (Los Angeles, CA) Thu., Sep. 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm UTC
The concept of “safer sex” has long been circumvented by men who demand that their partners be “ddf,” yet take a stranger’s word with regard to his status as fact. I have noted on dating lines the widespread tendency for Gay men to lie about such things as their age and physical appearance. How much more likely is it that those same men and perhaps many more, would lie about their sero-positive status in order to find and experience a sexual outlet at the height of their horniness? Such sites, in particular Craig’s List, are laughable, yet in a way sad. Ads describe a litany of questionable sexual behaviors, e.g., “VGL jock, muscular, bubble butt, seeks bareback gang bang by well hung Tops, ddf only!” or “Cute, smooth, twink needs Daddies to teach him anal discipline. Be under 30, HIV negative.” A friend of mine, 25, recently sero-converted and was baffled. “I only ever did it with guys who said they were negative,” he told me. I know guys 10-15 years older than myself who admit they often lie about their age successfully when answering an ad on the web. Whether or not they are honest about their HIV status is a matter for speculation, but as is said, “A hard dick has no conscience.” I have been positive for 31 years, sero-converting in the late 70s before AIDS fatalities even began to be recognized. I long ago determined that condoms were both a physical and emotional barrier to intimacy, and that the “amusement” provided by attempting to eroticize putting them on results most often in limp cocks and distracted sexual desire. So now I only bareback, only play with HIV+ or negative men who clearly know my status and have made a personal decision to take their chances. Those who try to maintain that condoms are barely noticeable, do not act as a barrier to physical sensations, or that donning them can become an erotic part of sexual ritual either do not have an active sex life or are lying from a sense of duty or guilt. BB-ing in the Age of AIDS is here to stay.
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