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Bareback

Bareback 2Bareback sex is fucking without condoms or condom-less shags. The term 'bare backing' first appeared in a 1995 edition of Steam magazine. In an editorial Scott O’Hara, a gay man with HIV, said:

"I’m tired of using condoms and I won’t, and I don’t feel the need to encourage negatives to stay negative."

While be know this to be true we cannot find a copy of the original article. If anyone knows where we can, please contact MEN R US.

Like a tinder-box to brushwood, a fire swept across the USA with accusations split between ‘irresponsible idiots’ and ‘condom Nazis!’ (with not much in the middle) and it wasn’t long before the issue jumped the Atlantic  to European shores.

Some HIV prevention agencies pounced on the word producing campaigns which sort of talked about it, although a clear explanation for what it was and who it applied to was proving sticky. For example, monogamous couples and those who had made considered/ informed decisions not to use condoms were labelled barebackers. Coupled with the negativity and hysteria at the time, they were rightly pissed. It was a lost opportunity for agencies to pull together and communicate the issues in a meaningful way. Nature abhors a vacuum, so with a sexy name barebacking morphed into a life of its own, legitimising condomless shags. It is a subject that continues to divide gay men and health professionals.

Condom-less shags are nothing new – they were going on before HIV, they will go on tonight, and they will continue tomorrow. And if two guys decide to fuck without condoms there will always be someone who will be critical or damning. However, it can be difficult to measure up to expectations created by ourselves, other gay men, and HIV prevention workers (at least the few of them left).

We now live in a time when HIV is no longer such a life-threatening issue. Get HIV, get the meds and pop a pill. While this may not sit comfortably, it's the loudest voice today as prevention messages are lost in the clamour for the next fuck. However - and it's a BIG however - the landscape in which we play is changing:

  • Hepatitis C is now a serious health issue for gay men.
  • Antibiotics are reaching the end of their shelf life and are failing to treat STIs.
  • HIV may be a manageable chronic condition but you really don't want it.

It’s too easy to think of men who fuck without condoms as stupid, foolish or irresponsible. Lots of us have lots of reasons for having sex and not using them.  Sometimes this leads to HIV and STIs, sometimes it doesn’t.

The point is we need to talk about our desires, fears and concerns, explaining what we really mean otherwise we risk talking at cross purposes. That's what happened when barebacking hit our shores and it seems to be happening today as we try to get to grips with chemsex, and slamming. It's old school, but we need to ask ourselves why we might want to fuck without condoms, what the risks might be and whether we are prepared to take them.

Fucking without condoms

More often than not we don’t use condoms:

  • Because we haven't taken the trouble find a condom that actually fits and is comfortable to wear. Not all the condoms are built the same!
  • Because of who we are with; eg: someone we love, someone we think is more attractive than we are, someone we assume is HIV negative or HIV positive, like us.
  • Because of where/ how we are having sex; eg: a rush job or the heat of the moment.
  • Because of how we are feeling; eg: ‘when I’m sad I want him to show me how much he loves me,’ ‘because I’m loved up nothing bad can happen to me.’
  • Because of the situation we find ourselves in; eg: ‘he’s taking the lead, I can hardly ask him to use a condom.'
  • Because we’ve been drinking or doing drugs; eg: ‘it’ll be OK, anyway I don’t care, I can’t remember what a condom is!’

Often it isn’t until later that we begin to worry about it.

So what could unsafe sex mean for you?

  • A whole range of STIs can be passed on by unprotected sex, which are proving more difficult to treat.
  • It puts you more at risk of getting, or giving HIV.
  • If you are HIV positive, getting a STI is the last thing you need. They can be difficult to treat, they increase your viral load and put greater strain on your immune system.
  • If you fuck with someone on HIV medication you may become infected with a strain of HIV which is resistant to some of the anti-HIV drugs.
  • If you are HIV positive already, it puts you at risk of re-infection with a more serious strain of HIV.
  • There may be times when sex without condoms is less risky, what you need to know is when and how.

Times when you might consider not using condoms

If you are both HIV negative, you might consider that you have nothing to protect each other against. But to be absolutely certain of your HIV status you have to take a test at least three months after your last risky sex; just guessing isn’t enough. And even if neither of you has HIV, you might expose yourself to other STIs.

You’ll need to be completely honest with each other about whether or not you’ve had sex with anyone else, and this requires a very high level of commitment and trust. Think ahead and talk it through: how would one of you feel if the other had unprotected sex with someone else?

If you are both HIV positive, you might decide not to worry about the risks to your health from reinfection with other strains of HIV. If you fit into either of these scenarios and accept the risks that they involve then you could have unprotected sex with your partner.

However, there are times we don’t use condoms when we feel that we should. So what can be done? Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Ask yourself: ‘Do I really want to put myself at risk?’
  • If you answer no, you are halfway there, you’ve made a commitment to the idea of safer sex.
  • Now, think of occasions when you’ve had unsafe sex. What were your thoughts, and feelings at the time?
  • What events lead you to think and feel that way?
  • Are there any situations when you find it more difficult to have safer sex? For example, parties, cruising or with someone you really care about.
  • Now you know some of the things that might cause you to have unsafe sex. If any of these feelings or thoughts surface when sex is on your mind, you could be heading toward an old pattern where unsafe sex is more likely.
  • Think about how you would feel if you or your partner became HIV positive because of that sex.
  • Would it really be worth it?
  • When you’re about to fuck, remember your thoughts and feelings about unsafe sex. Either tell your partner that you want to stay safe, or go right ahead and get the condoms and lube ready, make sure he sees what you are doing, or knows what you are up to.
  • Put the condom on (him or you) before you get close to fucking, that way you’ll be ready in the heat of the moment.
  • If you have unsafe sex, don’t hate yourself – learn from it. Think about what happened and see how you could change this in the future.
  • Finally, if you find it too difficult to make your sex safer on your own, speak to a health adviser at a sexual health clinic. Many clinics offer counselling and support sessions.

There are all sorts of reasons why we end up having unsafe sex, but it’s nearly always our choice. Our reasons are totally understandable but, at the end of the day, who is responsible for your health and well being if it isn’t you?

Unprotected sex (bareback sex) | GMFA
Bareback Britain: Doing it raw | GMFA FS #137
Am I really a dirty barebacking slut? | GMFA
HIV, AIDS and safer sex | GMFA

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) | MEN R US
Undetectable = Untransmittable | MEN R US
STI self-test kits | MEN R US

Shifting social norms around what “safer” sex is: perspectives of HIV-negative men in Canada | aidsmap | 20 Feb 2019
Some gay and bisexual men see PrEP as a 'social problem' | aidsmap | 5 Oct 2018
Why we need to stop slut-shaming gay men who want condomless sex | Gay Star News | 25 Jun 2018
Attitudes towards men who ‘bareback’ are a barrier to wider use of PrEP | 16 Jan 2018
Why going bareback was the best sex decision I ever made | HuffPost | 4 Jan 2018

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