Did I miss something? Has there been some enormous breakthrough while I wasn’t looking? Are HIV and Hep C now as easy to deal with as gonorrhoea or chlamydia? I ask because it seems everyone is barebacking these days. Honestly, it’s the new black. How do I know this? Well these days I find I have to brace myself for the inevitable look of disappointment when I bring out a condom, or even mention safe sex. Do they all know something I don’t?
“Could you give me your prices, please?”
“You messaged me a couple of minutes ago, didn’t you?”
“Yes I did. When can you be free?”
Thinking that he must have reconsidered, I told him that I could see him later that afternoon.
“Just one thing though. Can we go bareback?” he asked.
“I believe I already told you that I don’t do bareback….I’m negative,” I offered by way of explanation.
“Oh, ok,” he sounded disappointed as he put down the phone.
A couple of days later this same guy called again. I recognised the voice and the number straight away. He asked again about availability and then came the inevitable, “But I want to go bareback.”
“I’ve already told you, I don’t do bareback.”
“Are you sure?” he said in the cajoling voice one might use on a child.
“Absolutely,” I said, abruptly ending the call. He hasn’t rung again, so maybe he finally got the message.
Quite often, when I tell someone I’m negative, I’ll get the response, “That’s ok then, because I am too.” So I ask when they last got tested, and how many times they’ve had bareback sex in the last 3 months. “A few,” they will say. “Then you can’t possibly know that you’re still negative,” is my response. Worst of all are those that offer more money for bareback sex. What price exactly do they put on possibly infecting me with an incurable disease, which, though it is now manageable, will be with me for the rest of my life? £50? A hundred?
Now I know that we have made great strides since the days of those early tombstone ads. I know that HIV is no longer a death sentence. I know neg/pos couples who don’t use condoms. They are even now conducting clinical trials on this very subject. I know that if you are positive, on meds, and have an undetectable viral load, then the chances of you passing on the virus are virtually nil. So, yes, I do have unprotected sex sometimes, but only with someone I know well, who, like me has regular checks and is honest about their sexual history. Admittedly there is some risk involved, but it is calculated. I am not about to play Russian roulette with a total stranger.
However it would appear that some people are of the opinion that HIV is not really a problem anymore. After all, if they do get it, they just have to take a pill, and they’ll be fine. Would that it were that simple. As for Hep C, I doubt they even consider it.
So when did this change happen? Is my attitude so unusual? Out of my generation, I’m one of the lucky ones. I am a survivor. I lived through the dark days, when friends around me were dropping like flies. Only 10 years ago, a very good friend of mine died of AIDS, though, to be blunt, he really did die of ignorance, as the tombstone ads put it. Too frightened of a positive diagnosis to get tested, when he did find out, he had already contracted severe pneumonia, and had no immune system left to fight the disease. He was a talented and beautiful man, only in his 30s and the fact that his death was preventable made it very hard to bear. But I understood his fear. He too came from a generation that equated HIV with death. When he died, I had never been tested either, though I had regular check-ups for everything else. His death certainly shook me up. I now always include HIV in my regular sexual health checks, even though I am fairly sure that I’m still negative. As with most diseases, early diagnosis will give you the best chances. That said, there is still no cure. You will be on medication for the rest of your life. Like diabetes, it may now be manageable, but it is definitely not like a simple case of gonorrhoea.
The term “barebacking” only came into provenance in the post AIDS generation. Before that we didn’t have a word for it, because, although we weren’t using condoms, we weren’t having bareback sex; we were just having sex. In those halcyon days sex for gay men was remarkably risk free. Why would we use condoms? It’s not as if we could get each other pregnant, and any other little nasty we might pick up could be instantly cleared up by a visit to the local clap clinic. Heady days indeed. It took a long time and a lot of campaigning to convince gay men to change their behaviour. I remember the fear, the scary government “Don’t Die Of Ignorance” ad campaign, the stories of young men dying alone in isolation wards, attended only by the occasional nurse in the kind of protective clothing you’d normally see on people entering a nuclear plant. Not surprisingly, for a long time, I didn’t have sex at all.
What we know about HIV transmission and treatment has come on a long way since then of course, and the fact that people with HIV can now live normal, healthy lives has obviously had a lot to do with changing attitudes; that, and the fact that many young people have never experienced the horrors of those early years.
Let’s face it though; the very word “barebacking” carries with it a sense of risk. Quite aside from the fact that sex without condoms feels much nicer (whatever anyone tries to tell you), is that inherent risk part of its attraction? And that risk is surely the raison d’etre behind the re-emergence of bareback movies in the late 1990s, as personified in films made by Treasure Island Media and Hot Desert Knights. I remember the first time I happened on one of these. I was appalled, and excited all at the same time. I even felt guilty to be watching others take risks I wasn’t prepared to take myself. In those days, all new porn very obviously used condoms. It was almost educational. I remember particularly a scene in one of Chi Chi La Rue’s “Link” movies, which featured a line of guys on hands and knees, each with a condom on his back. A single top guy went down the line, f**king each one in turn. We clearly saw him roll on a condom before f**king the first guy in the row. He would then pull out, remove the condom, then pick up the one on the next guy’s back and roll it on before f**king him. See what I mean? Horny and educational at the same time. Nowadays you’d be much more likely to see a scene with a line of tops f**king a single bottom, not a condom in sight, while the camera hones in on the semen dripping from his arse. Whereas in the old, pre AIDS movies, the guys always pulled out for the cum shot the new ones glory in the fact that guys are ejaculating inside their partner, often re-inserting their c**ks to make sure we truly get the message. The danger is all part of the excitement. Now, just over 10 years later, bareback movies and studios are proliferating, and even some of the majors, who for long resisted the demand for bareback, are starting to cave in. It may have been easy for me to turn down an offer from Treasure Island a few years ago, but, with most porn companies now battling for survival against the deluge of free stuff on the net, I doubt any emerging porn stars will have that luxury in the future.
Those companies defending their decision to do bareback movies will no doubt tell you that they are only responding to demand, that what they are offering is fantasy, and that people should always make informed choices with regard to their sex lives. They have a point of course. Ultimately we are all responsible for our own health, but I know that all those years ago, when health officials were striving to get the safe sex message across, the sudden appearance of condoms in gay porn helped to change behaviour. Is it too much of a stretch to assume that the reverse could be true? Admittedly it may not be the only reason more and more people are eschewing condoms, but it could quite easily be a contributing factor.
Something else I have noticed in recent years is the way that the bareback community almost sneers at those of us who still have safe sex. Recently I came across a facebook page called simply “Bareback”. It has 13,500 likes. Let me quote from their description.
One of the first things you face when you become HIV + is the stigma and discrimination, not only from society in general but especially from the gay community itself.
Many do not understand that the bareback community is a community where you can be free, be yourself and not be judged by the status you have. This is the reason why I created this site, here you can feel safe and not judged, and hopefully meet other people to have fun.
From time to time we get hate messages from people saying that we promote aids and diseases … F. them!
They don’t get it.
An adult is responsible of his actions, you can’t blame the rest.
This page can only be accessed by people 18 and over. We do not promote “bugchasers,” if you are negative you should do your best to stay that way. If you are positive you are not alone, there are many like you around, all colors, all sizes, and we won’t judge you.
It’s important to seek professional help and stay in control
I totally understand that first paragraph. I have friends who have had to go through the pain of rejection after disclosing their status, even when having safer sex. There are still too many people out there who are completely ignorant of the disease and its method of transmission. No doubt some of these people are having unsafe sex with partners who don’t divulge their status, and yet the minute someone is honest with them, they run a mile rather than just taking the requisite precautions.
But there is also another underlying message here and on the posts on their page. They seem to be saying, “safe sex is boring so it’s great that we don’t have to bother with it anymore”. (They’re wrong of course. I know of quite a few HIV positive guys who decided to give up safe sex, and then went on to contract Hep C, which has a habit of piggybacking on HIV. The treatment for Hep C, is far worse than that for HIV, and there is no guarantee it will work. So maybe barebacking isn’t quite as risk free for HIV positive guys as they’d like to believe.) It also suggests that it is quite ok for them to turn down a prospective sexual partner on discovering that he is negative, so a kind of reverse discrimination is taking place.
From this facebook page, I followed a link to a blog called “Iblastinside”. There are lots of links to this blog from the page. The first link I clicked on took me to a post in which the writer described a casual sex encounter with a young man, who would only agree to safe sex. The utter disdain with which he treats this young man is quite shocking. He goes ahead with the sex, whilst all the time complaining about how boring it is, how little he enjoyed it, so boring that he ejaculates quite quickly inside the guy (even though wearing a condom). After he pulls out, he glories in telling us how he pulls off the condom and then proceeds to deep finger f**k the guy using his semen from the condom as lube. The young man is in ecstasy unaware of any risk to himself, and the writer is loving every minute. He couldn’t care less about his partner. And, though he rightly says elsewhere in his blog, that it is up to all of us to take care of ourselves, that if we take risks then we must suffer the consequences, what also comes across is a total lack of interest in any of his partners, a total disregard for them as human beings. They are all just holes waiting for him to dump inside. Beyond that they have no use for him.
I assume, hope, that this blog is just fantasy, wank fodder if you like, but I confess to finding it deeply disturbing, which neatly takes me back to my original point. All those people offering extra money for bareback sex, or pestering in the hope that I will finally give in are really no better than Iblastinside. They too have a complete disregard for their partners. Yes, we should all take care of ourselves. Yes, we are all responsible for ourselves. If we take risks then we should face the outcome of our risky behaviour and not go round blaming others. On the other hand, it would be nice for me not to have to face that look of disappointment the next time I pull out a condom!
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