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Your Mother Liked It Bareback

| 28 Comments

Whenever a new study of gay men is released showing that we are having bareback sex, the arbiters of sexual conduct among us clutch their pearls and decry this shameful, shocking, murderous behavior. So you can just imagine runaway pearls showering the floor when a recent survey showed that nearly half the users of the gay phone app Grindr engage in unprotected sex.

I really wish that people would put down their smelling salts and try to understand the reasons why. Instead, every time some half-assed study demonstrates what we already know, they stand there in stunned outrage, frozen in their outdated indignation like they've been caught baking bread in Pompeii.

donna-reed1.jpgThere's nothing new here, except our seemingly endless fascination with gay men behaving in exactly the same way as nearly every other man on this planet.

Maybe those who find bareback sex distasteful believe 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.

Perhaps this is part of our new gay agenda, to demonstrate to straight society that we're just as good at shaming gay men as they are, that we'll gladly be neutered for equal rights and be denied the same pleasures they take for granted, that if they only give us gay marriage we won't talk about the unprotected butt fucking that will happen on the wedding night.

Somehow, we have come to the homophobic conclusion that when gay men engage in the romantic, emotional, spiritual act of intercourse without a barrier we label it psychotic barebacking, but when straight people do it we 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 have the uncanny ability to enjoy sex while your penis is wrapped in latex. That is terrific, really. Please continue. You are using a classic prevention tool, a real golden oldie. Or maybe you and your boyfriend are HIV negative and have the good fortune to be in a committed, monogamous relationship in which you are having sex without condoms. Or perhaps, by whatever Olympian discipline you possess, you are capable of using a condom each and every time you have sex, no matter what. You are to be commended, and you are, regrettably, in the minority.

All of these scenarios are valid and worth replicating whenever possible. They do not, however, represent a superior high ground from which to make pronouncements about someone else's choices.

There was an unspoken agreement that gay men made amongst ourselves during the AIDS crisis of the 1980's. We accepted that we would use condoms - at the time it was the only "safer sex" option that existed - until whatever time the crisis abated. Many of us believed this contract would be in effect for the rest of lives, if only because we thought we would be dead within a few short years. But none of us could have fathomed that, thirty years later, we would still be held to these strict and oppressive guidelines.

Even then, some of us didn't follow them. One might assume that the cascade of death we experienced would have led to long term behavioral change. In fact, many of us responded to the crisis in a profoundly human way: we found comfort by making love with one another, often without a condom. It was a life affirming gesture, and an enormous "fuck you" to AIDS.

In fact, a 1988 study of gay men showed that almost half of them never used condoms, and most did not use them all of the time. These figures are strikingly similar to the recent Grindr results. Everything old is new again. Or it never went out of style in the first place.

The 1988 study is particularly interesting when you consider how many gay men consider that period a time of great sexual austerity -- and some of them are wishing for a return to those times a bit too ardently. Gay men who witnessed the early AIDS carnage will sometimes say, "If only younger men knew what we went through. If they had seen it, they wouldn't be behaving this way."

That's sick. I do not wish young gay men could witness the soul crushing things that I did. I worked in the trenches very, very hard so that they might have the option of being apathetic. I prefer their blissful ignorance to burying them.

And make no mistake about it, the number of gay men in the United States dying from AIDS is a small fraction of what it once was. Cigarettes are now killing more people with HIV than the virus itself. HIV/AIDS has become a dangerous but largely manageable disease, and fear tactics that suggest otherwise are being ignored because they simply are not true. Sex is sex, it is affirming and natural, and anyone who wishes to equate unprotected sex to death and disease really needs to get some therapy.

Condom usage will almost certainly continue to decrease in the future because of new tools that have joined the growing list of HIV prevention options. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) - taking medication in advance of sex with an infected person - has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of transmission (and some insurance plans in the United States are covering the cost). Many people living with HIV are limiting sex partners to those who share their HIV status, known as serosorting. Positive gay men have largely dismissed scary fireside stories of the ultimate boogeyman, the reinfection SuperVirus, who has never materialized.

We also know that when those with HIV have an undetectable viral load the risk of transmission is negligible, so "treatment as prevention" efforts have increased (a new British study of straight couples showed that an undetectable viral load is more effective in preventing transmission than condoms, and those researchers believe the same will hold true for gay men).

Gleaming on the horizon are rectal microbicides. These products, currently in development, will come in the form of lubricants or douches that will prevent HIV infection, and they could make the endless debate and judgments about condoms moot, once and for all.

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 a variety of risk reduction techniques. We can acknowledge that all of these techniques reduce the risk of HIV infection and all of them constitute "safer sex."

And finally, we can stop pretending that those who remain fixated on condom usage have the moral upper hand.

The emperor has no clothes. And he isn't wearing a rubber, either.

Mark



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28 Comments

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Comments on Mark S. King's blog entry "Your Mother Liked It Bareback"

I understand your argument, and I agree that barebacking as a "lifestyle choice" shouldn't be greeted with horror and scorn. But you must know that many of the young men out there using apps like Grinder to find sex partners aren't making a conscious choice not to use condoms. They're looking to get their rocks off and not thinking about the consequences of unprotected sex, whether it's SUPER-AIDS or not. There are plenty of other diseases still out there, including a strain of gonorrhea that so far has proved antibiotic resistant. And HIV/AIDS isn't exactly the cakewalk you gloss over, either. Many of those young men are uneducated or undereducated on the disease and figure they can pop a pill and be all better. You may claim your essay isn't about that, but vague allusion to such important topics is irresponsible.

I'm one of those HIV positive folks that is married to an HIV negative man and refuses to NOT use a condom for the fear of infecting him, even though I am on meds and the chances are slim to none. Not to mention if I was out of a relationship, the fear of other STD's (not mentioned in your interesting article). Why should we not expect more of our community. No one has to shame someone, but where has the education and outrage gone? Why is being outraged at stupidity/lack of education a "shameful" thing.

As I say to everyone. We are watching the dumbing down of society!

Your article is true to some extent, and as mention on the 1st comment our community in general is and will continue to be uneducated and undereducated about HIV, AIDS and STI's. Do we need more education as a whole about the issues.. YES, WE DO.

Did I read this correctly? In one sentence, you seem to validate viral segregation, tacitly accepting the associated medical and social tragedies that are typically incurred. Then, in others, you attack a straw man when you imply that those who "clutch the pearls" over barebacking do so simply out of sanctimony and an inability to recognize that boys will be boys. Really? Perhaps most strangely, you insinuate that anonymous GPS enabled app hookups are the same kind of "romantic, emotional, spiritual act" that can be compared to the pedestrian sex life of a 1950's housewife.

I don't even know where to begin with this one but your agenda becomes more alien every time I read something you've written. The emperor isn't wearing clothes or a rubber, but stop trying to distract us from his chancres, scars and warts with hyperlinks and statistics. The few people who have the strength to stand their ground in this debate aren't "condom fascists" any more than you're the Wizard of Aids, a fabulist behind a curtain scaring straw men.

I don't hide behind curtains of any kind, "Toto," or behind anonymous screen names, for that matter. I speak my truth loudly, proudly, and with a provocative and sometimes flip style. Why? Because it generates important dialogue.

I'm not anti-condom any more than I am conducting bareback tutorials in my living room. I am observing a prevailing truth: gay men in the United States are, by and large, dismissing condoms and availing themselves to other HIV prevention devices. Not all of them, mind you, and I commend those who use them, as I say in my piece. I simply find our attaching moralistic postures to those who choose not to use condoms increasingly tiresome.

In my nearly thirty years of living with HIV and working to prevent others from a similar fate, I have learned it accomplishes nothing to deny the facts of basic human behavior. We can't change behaviors or lower risk if we don't try to understand people and the reasons why they engage in it.

There are more points of view than are available to me in 1,000 words. Please continue to contribute yours, "Toto."

Certainly an interesting dialogue, one that whether you are approving or defending should be checked with relevant medical facts; and shouldn't be viewed solely with frequent generalizations or even personal references. There are very valid points here. Condom use, for instance, definitely has fostered a community of "exempts" to sexual happenstances. We know to some degree that this isn't true. That's why women using condoms, and even on birth control still get pregnant; and persons engaging in oral sex (only, be there such a thing) still get gonorhea, or siphilis or something else— and that is an altogether different debate... Because as you learn from any sexual hygiene counselor/facilitator, HIV and siphilis are like brothers; (or sister-gorls), if you will. We have a sad very tainted f'd up disposition when it comes to HIV from ALL sides... I mean, what about men that engage in anal sex with women? What about women that swallow the load? What about the guy that likes golden showers, but does use a condom... there are too many combinations of sexual orientations and preferences for a conclusion to be drawn... Even about HIV.

Why are we even having this conversation- obviously because there is no cure, and there is grey area. I appreciate articles like this because it helps us address the grey that we thought was at a time black and white.

Truth: living is a choice. In 2013, dying from sexual activity is the individual's choice. Go to the doctor and understand about YOUR BODY and how to live HEALTHY.... PERIOD. Spiritually, understanding who you are as a whole person is a part of divine healing. That includes facing reality about how you "like" it. Not under the pretenses of defense or guilt. (i feel a sermon working up) And it's nothing wrong with that. While we argue about HIV; which is no longer a crisis because you can take 1 pill a day and live, no one has stopped eating anything that is fostering cancerous tumors yet alone understand it. Cancer and cigarettes are still claiming the lives of many Americans and has still remained unexplained and mostly unaccounted for.

Fear has killed many, and has stopped others from understanding the divine essence of existing. I, for one, will admit I prefer to feel ass and p*ssy just how it's intended. I've ate some great HIV+ ass and f*&ked some + p*ssy... and didn't judge. They were the least of my problems, because they faced death and overcame it... They take GREAT care of themselves, for they have learned what CARE really is. You that use condom users out of fear, keep running.

Soon this will not be a topic... Like TB and polio, there will be a vaccine. Then what?

I think your description of HIV as "...a dangerous but largely manageable disease," is incomplete at best and that the remainer of the sentence, "...and fear tactics that suggest otherwise are being ignored because they simply are not true." is dishonest. HIV is a largely managable disease only IF a person is willing to make managing it the first priority in their life. That includes making sure one always has access to expensive drugs and lab testing. In my own case, the drugs cost $50,000 a year - equal to my pre-tax income. The drugs, in my case five different drugs in combination, have to be taken every day, forever. One also will live with the effects of a powerful social and sexual stigma within the gay community. A problem that has gotten worse, not better, over time. I very much wish I'd known of the risk of unprotected sex in 1980, when I was infected. I would have insisted on a condom and avoided 30+ years with many aspects of my life (jobs, relationships, family, housing, etc.)affected or dictated by what it takes to live with HIV and access treatment.

If you're going to describe HIV as "managable" I think you have an obligation to your readers to better define exactly what that means.

what a dishonest article. If you want to talk about HIV/AIDS as largely manageable disease you will need to tell the world and those you are trying to empower in joining the herd of barebackers what it really meant to manage such a disease. Is it the several meds you have to take daily? is it the side effect of these meds? how about the stigma associated with the disease not to mention the cost of trying to stay alive.

Hey, Mark

I liked your article and agree with many of the things you say.

Life is a terminal condition. None of us will live forever. Talking about sex and love and passion and trysts and whatever else can only lead to an informed public making choices that suit themselves. Education and personal power are what will save us, and those in the First World need to ensure that those in the Third World attain their own.

Unless someone is being raped, each of us has the power to say "yes" or "no".

Some try and make out that humans, in spite of being the most advanced species on the planet, are incapable of thinking and taking responsibility for themselves (look at religion!). It's time we told those (yes, some who are even "fascists") what Mick Jagger said so eloquently,

"Hey, you! Get off my cloud!"

By the way, whoever records these pseudo-code-access words to type in to post our messages needs to try listening to them for themselves while NOT drunk - they are impossible to hear and comprehend. Time to go back to the drawing board.

Mark, your blog was, as usual, excellent. Well said. It's time the prevention PSA messages match the reality and stop demonizing people for being human. Period. Furthermore, scary prevention PSAs are undermined by big pharma ads for HIV meds showing smiling healthy folks (like the banners on this site). The reality is most HIV meds work pretty much as advertised (at least for me and everyone I know on them). Against this backdrop, HIV has now become a prevention AND disease-management problem and people know it. The increasing number and popularity of gay bareback porn titles (and dearth of straight condom porn) demonstrates either a) condom fatigue on the part of viewers, b) recognition of diminished risk, or c) reckless porn producers and performers. I suggest it is a combination of a) and b) with c) not necessarily being reckless, but marketing to the new reality. The sooner PSA authors recognize these trends and modernize their messaging, the more effective they will be. Death or complication from AIDS/HIV has become as abstract a concept to young folks as their own death or frailty from old age. Indeed, I worry more about old age and retirement planning than I do about dying from AIDS/HIV and I take daily reminders to prevent the latter and still have many years to prep for the former. It's inconceivable to me that one-condom-fits-all HIV-prevention PSAs aimed at folks even further removed from these issues could possibly be effective. Newsflash. They ain't.

Well said. But as I see already some are only happy when they are attacking others it seems. They don't call them condom Nazi's for nothing.

Mark's article points out very relevant and accurate descriptions of how people have stigmatized HIV/AIDS. With this, it comes the issue of prevention. It takes two to tango. Nobody is saying that you don't have the right to have unprotected/bareback sex. The problem lies in the lack of knowledge of either both or one of the participants in the said act. There are consequences to every action. As long as both are aware then they carry the burden of that action. Realistically, there are some who are not educated about transmission or not even informed by their sexual partners. It's simple really. If you know the facts and you choose to do it then be very aware that with cause there is always an effect.

amazing...i agreed with your entire article, and said so...and my comments never showed up.

This is the most persuasive, articulate and honest prevention article I have ever read.

It is called dirty when we do it but is it clean when you do? This is a bunch of bs and those who talk about prevention and abstinence are the ones who you find barebacking at the local sauna. Let's all stop this nelly bs and accept that we are human beings and we like it raw because that's the way it has been from the beginning. Germs have always been around and they are getting wiser and if they grow to kill the human race, perhaps we weren't so smart after all. From those germs there will be other beings and that's the way it goes with evolution. I for once will keep having bareback sex and if it kills me one day the least I can say is I truly enjoyed the life I was given. Yo mama and poppa liked it raw, yo granny liked it raw, and so do I!!!

Mark, FANTASTIC ARTICLE! You are 100% on point! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for this highly contributing article. It's about time someone FINALLY wrote to this behavior and all it's misplaced judgement.

Cheers!

You should you opinion by saying that that'swa what it is, your opinion. One that a lot of gay people do not share.

This article exemplifies why I, and the rest of the HIV negative gay majority can't stand AIDS Inc. and its bastion of so-called gay community leaders. Self centered careerists who place their drug use and reckless behavior before all else. I won't donate a dime or wear a red ribbon to support your joke of a cause.

Dave, as another person who is part of the LARGE minority of poz gay men, and is someone who is also opposed King's viewpoint, let me speak out and say that you weren't donating a dime, wearing a red ribbon or giving a crap about anybody but yourself long before he tried to give his $.02 about sexual behavior. Go back to your "it gets better", and other meaningless PC pity parties, you've never been of any use to anyone but yourself anyways.

To echo someone else higher up the chain of comments, THANK YOU Mark King for speaking the truth. What they don't want to admit about barebacking is that they're ALL doing it. It used to be "Suck me, f*&k me, don't tell my Mom" when they were teenagers. Now that they're all growed up (sorta), it's "Breed me, seed me, don't tell my friends". Not because they're concerned about any health consequences, but because they want to see themselves a certain way. Having their friends know what they do when the lights are out would make them confront who they really are. As humans, we all create lesser mortals to feel superior to. It makes us feel better about ourselves. For neg guys it's poz guys who bareback.

When I was merely "infected" I could only see myself as the vector for spreading this disease. Now that I've been undetectable for over a decade, I realize that I've become the vector for stopping this disease. It got in me, and it's not gonna come back out. So when the neg guy (who probably turned his nose up at my online profile because I'm honest about my status) knowingly begs me to fuck him bare in the dark, I can go right ahead with a clear conscience.

Why can't people just clean up in front of their own houses?

What about the hordes of poz men who will die from sexually transmitted hepatitis C as we come to accept and normalize this Brave New World of barebacking? Are they just collateral damage in the fight against the "Condom Nazis"? What a wonderful world you've built for yourself Mr. King, where we can survive Aids only to die horrible deaths from something else. What's it like, to have won an empty victory?

Mark,
Well done for touching a nerve and sparking such an outpouring of dialogue on such a relevant topic for all gay men both positive and negative alike. It's time the conversation about barebacking be taken out of the realm of morality and good and evil and into the realm of choice.

Barebacking is neither good nor bad. Barebacking is a choice. Some people choose to bareback while others don't. One would hope that the choice is motivated out of some amount of education and personal introspection on the topic of condomless sex.

Unfortunately, there will always be outcries from both sides of the discussion vilifying the other side’s position on the subject...welcome to the human race.

I think at the heart of the issue, people are still uncomfortable talking about sex in general. Negotiating and discussing sex somehow steals some of the thunder away from the actual act.

I for one being positive have no problem having sex without or with a condom depending on how my sexual partner feels about it based on the perceived risk, the person's level of knowledge and their own beliefs.

Barebacking isn't inherently bad. Lack of knowledge and negotiation is.

if such a horror commences, the community of gay men involved will adapt FIRST. face it, deal with it: condoms suck. every chance most men get to NOT use them, we take it...naturally.

either make them better (or lobby for funding someone else to research how and do so), or wag your finger like any good Queen of Da Nile.

the evidence is in, and always has been: condoms in all the limited variation of forms over the last 30 years have only ever been a STOPGAP.

stop fetishizing them as a moral totem and try turning them into an erotic totem if u hope to increase their appeal. more cum, less bile. ;-)

guys like u remind me how fantastically great it is to have real, natural sex. now THAT'S Living! :-D

Wrong -- The 50% who ADMIT to not using condoms also agree (not quite the minority you are trying to claim) with Mark, maybe not verbally but by their very actions and we all know actions speak louder than words!!!!!

Hey Dave. Must be a great view from up on your mountain of righteousness. If you do get infected (which your barebacking undetectable bros may be saving you from), you can always connect with me through here. I'll give you a shoulder to cry on and help explain things. Till then, have a great life.

"Wrapping it up" isn't just about HIV & gay men, & this author seems to miss that point. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US, and cervical cancer kills over 10,000 women each year. The number of men killed by penile & anal cancer has yet to be determined.
Then there is the harm caused by Gonorrhea, Clamydia, Syphilis, Hepatitis B, & unwanted pregnancies. Should a woman expose herself to relatively expensive hormones that could cause additional cancers & blood-clotting, when a simple latex or plastic device will do the job?
Finally, does a lifetime of taking toxic medications, & exposing others to the same fate, justify the incremental difference in pleasure between 'barebacked' & 'wrapped'? Ask anyone with HIV or AIDS if they would have taken back that moment that gave them the disease, to substitute a 'lesser' pleasure with a condom.

I think some people are getting the wrong message, it is not a matter of judging people or a moral high ground,as a person struggling with hiv and seeing good friends die in mid 80's and all the 90's,young gay men don't realize the struggle and what the act up organization did for us,in the early 80's we terrified if we got a cold or the flu,some people lost their jobs immediately if the got sick,now people are pressing charges on people for infecting them,any young person reading this,please protect yourself,your health is number one,i still miss my friends from the old days as i approach 60,you have a choice,you can openly serve in the military,get legally married in some states,live good live for all those men who died during the darkest days of the pleague,thanks.

I'm a Nazi, really???

You reference an article which refers to drug resistant HIV, yet you ignore that and instead liken the articles concern about bareback sex to hysteria...

You go on this long winded diatribe about how unprotected sex is just sweet mother nature calling and that I am Daddy buzz kill.

Just for your info my mama stopped at three and yes she and pops used rubbers. Did she have to die in child birth with her thirteenth kid? She didnt raise no fool. Sorry while I wax apopleptic....

Ive been in this going on 4 decades, dude. Let me rip the beads off YOUR neck and ask u to grow the frig up. There is nothing funny or sexy or intimate about seroconversion or not having healthcare or housing,.or dying and being a burden. I've been involved in every aspect.of this fight and if I have one less.bedpan to.change for calling you out for.what you are.....

You can have a wild happy long-lived sex life without seroconverting or causing others to seroconvert, and condoms and common sense are a part of that. This crap essay isn't just rhetoric, its pathology on wheels.

You sir are.emblematic of.the psychopathology behind.the fact that we still.have 50,0000 seroconversions per year.. Where Sadly only one in three of.those.who are positive are able to maintain a.drug regimen which will.help them.stay healthy and protect.others.

We're not in the garden of eden folks, but we have to believe we are smarter than this. Those who are hiv positive often have an attitide either conscious or.unconscious of.wanting.to infect others, and facing up to.that is.our community's biggest hurdle.. We need to standby those who are positive, but to those.who are.positive its a simple.matter of moral duty to not to pass it on to anyone else, and if you are negative its your moral duty not to keep yourself and others.that way. Condoms are sexy.. If the idea of passing on HIV gets you hard, something's wrong with you, and you should.see.a.therapist.

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