Some (many, most?) of you are angry that we are even discussing this topic openly and believe that we are endorsing the practice of bareback sex. For the record, we did not invent condomless sex, which is the dirty little secret of the gay/bi-male community.
We decided it was time to bring it out into the open and discuss the issues and decisions many guys in our community make. What type of sex you practice is your own damn business, and we provide no opinions on which options you choose, but we do want to stress that the world has changed since The Age of AIDS, and we need to start talking, listening, and stop judging.
The Urban Dictionary defines bareback sex as intercourse without a condom. For gay males, this is a loaded term. Most have used it to judge and condemn those who don’t practice “safe sex,” but others have used it as a rallying cry around their desired method of sex. Sites like BBRT.com (Bareback Real Time) are for guys that only have condomless sex, without stigma or shame. And they aren’t the only ones. Websites such as Recon, GRINDR, Manhunt, and Adam4Adam, allow users to select their preferred method of sex. For those that choose not to click those options, many more state it in their profiles.
- A 2013 study by New York’s non-profit Community Healthcare Network of gay and bisexual men who utilized social apps like those mentioned found that nearly 50% admitted to barebacking.
Dr. Freddy Molano, Assistant Vice President of HIV Programs and Services at CHN, and Renato Barucco, CHN’s Transgender Program Manager, surveyed 725 participants in four main areas: perspectives on HIV/AIDS; perspectives on unprotected anal intercourse; HIV/AIDS knowledge; and, in an optional section, the reasons behind risk-taking behaviors during intercourse.
According to the study, 47% of respondents who admitted to risk-taking activities such as unprotected anal intercourse were knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS and feared getting infected or re-infected with the virus.
- According to a study in 2015 by FS, the magazine of UK sexual health charity GMFA, almost two in three men who have sex with men are doing it bareback. Over 3,100 men participated in the survey, which asked various questions concerning sex, sexual health, and relationships.
The study found that 72 percent of respondents said they didn’t use condoms the last time they had anal sex. Of that 72 percent, 32 percent said they didn’t use a condom the last time they topped, compared to 37 percent who said they didn’t use a condom the last time they bottomed.
Fifty percent of the men engaging in unprotected anal sex said they did so with a long-term boyfriend or their husband or civil partner. Twenty percent said they did so with a person they were either dating or with whom they had sex regularly.
Looking at HIV status, of the men who said they didn’t use a condom the last time they had anal sex with a casual partner, roughly 10 percent were HIV-positive, compared to 90 percent who believed themselves to be HIV-negative.
Barebacking vs. Condomless sex
It might seem like semantics and wordplay, but the wording difference is significant. It affects how we see our own sex lives and those of others, and it decides how well we are following current gay mores and stigmas about sex. But most of all, it dictates what type of sex we have. Barebacking is viewed as a negative behavior that is not only risky but will cost you your life; you deserve it. Condomless sex is seen as being based on sound decision-making and, most likely, practiced within a committed, monogamous relationship where both parties are tested for STDs regularly, even if none of this is true.
We were thrust into the terminology battle during the early 1980s and The AGE of AIDS, even before the detection of the HIV virus, which causes it. Solutions and ways to prevent the epidemic’s spread caused many in the scientific and medical community to devise practices and wording to address our community. Condoms became a staple for our sex lives, and we went from no condom usage (condoms were for straights to prevent pregnancy) to promoting “Safe sex” to “Safer Sex” as technology and information changed. But the wording was so vital that in 2014 a large group of GLBT/HIV non-profits petitioned the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change the language it used regarding sexual behaviors. They moved from using the term “Unprotected sex” to “condomless sex” because there are many ways to protect yourself and your partner(s) from HIV/STDs that do not involve the usage of condoms. This was viewed as a massive victory in breaking down some of the stigma associated with gay male natural sex, and better still now that we understand, and can prove, that those who are HIV undetectable CANNOT pass on the virus. (#UequalsU)
“Your mother liked it bareback.”
In February of 2016, the uber fabulous Mark S. King wrote those very words for his article in the HuffPost. As always, the author, HIV long-term survivor, and activist has sprinkled some great pearls of wisdom on bareback sex that we believe you should consider.
- Maybe those who find bareback sex distasteful believe that they are being politically correct, that their strident judgments about the sex lives of others are in the service of HIV prevention, that criticizing other gay men for acting like human beings will somehow alter instincts that evolution built over millions of years.
- Somehow we have come to the homophobic conclusion that when gay men engage in intercourse without a barrier, we must label it “psychotic barebacking,” but when straight people do it, we can just call it “sex.
- ” This double standard is ludicrous. Your mother barebacked. It is a natural and precious act that has been going on, quite literally, since the beginning of mankind. Abraham (barebacked and) begat Isaac, and Isaac (barebacked and) begat Jacob, and Jacob (barebacked and) begat Judas and his brethren (Matthew 1:2).
- Maybe you can enjoy sex while your penis is wrapped in latex, and you use one every single time. That is terrific. Please continue. You are using a classic prevention tool, a golden oldie. Or maybe you and your boyfriend are HIV-negative and have the good fortune to be in a committed, monogamous relationship where you can safely have sex without condoms. You are to be commended, and you are, regrettably, in the minority.
- These scenarios are valid and worth replicating whenever possible. However, they do not represent a superior high ground from which to make pronouncements about someone else’s choices. Sex is sex, and it is affirming and natural. Anyone who wishes to equate condom-free sex with death and disease needs to get some therapy.
- We don’t have to do this anymore. We don’t have to clobber each other with condom fascism, discredit the value of our sex lives, or promote a singular strategy that doesn’t work for everyone. We can accept that gay men are making educated choices to engage in various risk-reduction techniques. We can acknowledge that all these techniques reduce the risk of HIV infection and that all constitute “safer sex.” And finally, we can stop pretending that those who remain fixated on condom usage have the moral upper hand.
Condomless sex and HIV
As you should know by now, there are many options to protect yourself and your partner(s) from HIV that don’t involve condoms. PrEP is the most famous one, but other options include serosorting, which is when you only have sex with someone of your same HIV status. Others that are highly supported include: regularly testing between you and your sexual partner(s), limiting the number, and maintaining a monogamous relationship. Yeah, we know, easier said than done. Finally, if you believe you have been exposed to HIV within 72 hours, Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is still an option.
Condomless sex and STDs
Condoms are not foolproof; even if they were, “genital herpes, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV) are most often spread through genital skin-to-skin contact.” This could include activities included in foreplay. If you have sex, you are at risk of contracting an STD, and this is a fact. The key takeaway should be that you cannot live your life in fear. Get educated and make proper decisions for yourself. Always wash your hands after sex, and TOPS, take a piss.
Are condoms OVER?
Mark Milano, Editor of Achieve, a publication of the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA), looked into the question back in 2015. Here are some of his thoughts:
“Of course, the real question is: will people use condoms? When it comes to gay men, the answer seems to be “no.” Smith’s study (Dr.Dawn Smith of the CDC analyzed two studies from the late ’90s of HIV-negative MSM) found that “only 16% of MSM reported consistent condom use during anal sex with male partners of any HIV status over the entire observation period.” Other studies have also found low rates of consistent use – an internet survey by George Mason University asked over 14,000 MSM if they had used a condom the last time they had anal sex. Over 56% reported that they knew their partner had had sex with other men in the prior six months. Despite that, condom use ranged from 26% to 56% – clearly not high enough to make a dent in the epidemic.”
“We must educate young gay men about proper condom use. Perhaps one part of the problem is that gay men no longer get in-person condom demonstrations that were common in safer sex workshops in the ’80s and ’90s and never learn the steps so important to their correct use.”
“But if many gay men don’t use them, does it matter how well they work? Yes – it matters because we need more, not fewer, prevention options. Adding PrEP to the prevention arsenal is an important step that could dramatically change the course of the epidemic. But gay men need to know that they can protect themselves even if they’re not on PrEP. Many men have done that for years. If you use a condom correctly every time you have anal sex, your chances of getting HIV are meager.”
There were, and still are, many within our community that have a mad on regarding this medication. We are not going to rehash this argument, but the main issue is if those who use PrEP and forego condoms contract more STDs than those who don’t. From a study of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) users presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2017):
“Chlamydia cases increased from the time of PrEP initiation to 9 months after starting it. On the other hand, syphilis diagnoses fell over the same period, while gonorrhea diagnoses stayed at the same level. The only STI that increased during PrEP use was urethral gonorrhea, but that was only seen in a small number of individuals.”
“The problem in proving that PrEP has any causal relationship to STIs is that STIs among gay men were, in general, rising well before PrEP and that PrEP usually involves regular testing for HIV and STIs. Since many STIs are asymptomatic and self-limiting, more tests will result in more diagnoses.”
Real talk for grown folks
However you feel about natural/condomless/bareback sex, it ain’t going nowhere. We all know why guys don’t like using condoms, and it is not because of fake-ass studies that claim we are all damaged, bug chasers that are fatalistic, and don’t use condoms because porn stars don’t. These are homophobic studies based on junk science with tiny sample sizes. It is illogical to believe that any man is going to have each and every sexual contact with a condom over the entire course of his life. We must also admit that people lie. When asked in person about their condom usage, it is widespread for guys to give the answer they believe is desired while hiding the truth. This deception is what leads to HIV/STD infection more than the practice of condomless sex. Honest communication must become a hallmark of our community if you use PrEP, condoms, or both. Pretending that all gay males always use condoms is a fiction we must drop.
One last thing!