Bareback Stigma.

bbqdinner:

jllock:

Your Mother Liked It Bareback

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 Grindrengage 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time some half-assed study demonstrates what we already know, they stand there in stunned outrage, frozen in their outdated indignation like they’ve been caught baking bread in Pompeii.

There’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, thereinfection 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 newBritish 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

I agree fundamentally that your body is yours and no one else gets to regulate your body. Fuck with or without condoms–bareback sex is sexy (as is sex with condoms). Get fucked by a stranger off grindr, fuck in a back alley, get fucked through a glory hole, fuck high on poppers at a sex club, fuck what everyone else says, it’s all good, it’s your body. The thing with sex though is that you’re involving your body with one (or more) additional bodies, so you might affect your partner’s body in a way that they didn’t consent to (as in, pass on an STD or two). So if you wanna bareback or have any kind of sex in general really, then honest communication about sexual history and STD/HIV test results is super important on all ends so that you and your partner(s) can understand the risks and make informed decisions about how you all want to fuck. (Consider though that some people might lie.) And of course, get tested regularly.

I take issue with this article however when the author Mark King, a recognized, white male writer with a steady job, starts flaunting his giant dick of white privilege all around as he dismisses HIV as a “manageable” disease, one that’s not killing people as much as cigarettes. So I’m wondering, “manageable” by what standards? “Manageable” by what economic standards? Sex is sex, sex is affirming and natural, and it can cost you a shit ton of money. HIV is a damn expensive disease to manage, costing from $10,000 to $40,000 a year for the meds, tests and office visits, and even with insurance, you’ve still got hundreds of dollars in co-pays to pay off every month. But some people aren’t that privileged.

Only half of low-income people living with HIV are receiving the meds they need because of the cost. Specifically, poverty in black communities severely limits access to preventative education, testing clinics and treatment. No access to testing clinics means you’re walking around longer not knowing your status and potentially spreading diseases to others. No access to treatment means you’ve got a viral loading building up, making you more infectious, and the longer you wait to start treatment, assuming you do eventually get to start it, the less effective the treatment might be. Here are some statistics that we also already know and have known for a very long time: African Americans, only 14.6% of the U.S. population, account for 43% of HIV infection cases in 2009. African American men have almost 7.6 times the AIDS rate as white men and are 10 times more as likely to die from HIV/AIDS as white men. The numbers are even higher for black women. Basically, African Americans contract HIV at a higher rate and they progress to AIDS at a faster rate. Cigarettes are killing more people than HIV–no biggie when your gay white community is still largely intact while people of color are dying in droves.

Also, I’m always confused that in discussions of HIV, people like King tend to forget that other STDs exist. Is it because these diseases are curable? And because you can get meds for free depending on the clinic you go to? Maybe, but it’s sometimes a huge hassle to deal with these STDS. I can say from experience that long lines at a free clinic will keep you waiting for about two hours to get tested, and then another two hours on another early morning to get treated. And until you get treated, having an STD can increase your chances of contracting HIV. And oh god, the treatment: I got a syphilis butt shot this past summer and I could barely lift my right foot two inches off the ground for three days. Getting in and out of my car took extraordinary amounts of excruciatingly painful effort. If I had any kind of job that involved standing for long periods of time or lifting things or bending down, I wouldn’t have been able to work. I’m lucky that, like King, my job this summer involved sitting on my ass and typing up stories.

Again, I’m all for fucking whoever and however you want as long as it’s all consensual, but this article perpetuates a dialogue about bareback sex that ignores the reality of HIV and STDs in low-income populations and communities of color. It’s the same dialogue I’ve seen a lot more recently within the last year with all the developments in PrEP and all-in-one once-a-day pills and cures and all that and I’m always asking, “Who actually gets to benefit from all this? Who doesn’t?” Dismissing HIV as “manageable” is a privilege that we all do not have.

I had my fair share of bareback sex before and it is definitely fun and it feels better, and I’d love to keep on fucking bare using PrEP, but Truvada costs $1,200 a month, and my insurance does not cover it yet, and I don’t know if it ever will. And it doesn’t protect against any other STDs. Since my job now involves a lot of standing and sometimes chasing students down, I don’t wanna deal with another butt shot. I’m going to stick with free condoms from the clinic. Or bondage. Your situation is different, so figure out how you wanna fuck.

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