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My first reaction to this was “you have got to be kidding!”  The very thought that some would deliberately seek out such risks as barebacking was something I found revolting.  I was not just appalled that some people would put themselves at such risk, but truly disgusted that through their behavior they were helping to infect others and keep the Plague among us.

My first reactions to the whole barebacking thing were very emotional and wholly negative.  Well, time has passed and my position has changed.  A bit.  I still view barebacking with disgust and repulsion.  But I also see where things need to be better defined.

I have now learned that the term can have different meanings for different people.

Technically it means having unprotected penetrative sex.  That is not, in and of itself, a very negative thing.  It is the behavior that leads up to which is really problematic.  I have had unprotected penetrative sex.  I enjoy it.  It really does feel better without a rubber.  Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying.

I came out in ’82.  The Plague was just starting to take hold and it really hadn’t settled in where I was finding myself and exploring my sexuality back in Washington, DC.  The idea of what would come to be called “safe sex” was completely foreign to me.  In fact, I remember the first time I was with a guy who insisted that he wear a rubber if we were going to fuck.  I laughed.  It seemed comical to me.  I mean, I knew I didn’t have “it.”  And I knew he didn’t either.  I could tell just by looking at him.  He looked fine.  That was a long time ago.  I have learned a lot since.

Ever since then I have kept to safe sex.  Yes, fucking without a rubber feels better.  Even if it is messier it feels better.  Even if it leaves you open to other, less lethal infections, it still feels better.  Fucking without a rubber is not worth it however.  Not worth it for my personal health and nor is it worth it to put other people’s health at risk either.  That, for me, is the real key here.  My own health is my own business.  Putting other people at risk though, that is something I will not do.  I do not ever want to have to make that phone call to tell someone else that they should go get themselves checked.  Accidents do happen but I will not bring that on deliberately.

Yet, I do have unprotected sex.  Not with just anyone though.  Not with some stranger who I pick up off the street.  Instead I have had it with a primary play partner.  Someone who I have been seeing for some time and with whom I have developed a deep mutual trust.  Someone who has also had a good, long discussion with me about the risks involved.  This has also been a person who has gotten tested with me and who matched their negative test results with mine.  It has also been with a play partner who has agreed to remain exclusive with me as I with him.  Such a situation is the only way I could leave off the rubber when it comes to fucking.  That is the only way I could consent to such risks.  Such a thing is truly intimate and special.  It is also not what barebacking is about.

Barebacking instead refers to the practice of having anonymous unprotected sex.  Of hooking up with other guys and “doing it the old fashioned way.”  That is to say, without a condom.  There are several assumptions at work here.  One is that one or both of the guys doing this assume that the other partner, because they have not been explicit about their immune status, must therefore mean that they are negative as well.  Why else then would they want to fuck without the condom?  Another assumption is that, because they have not been explicit about their immune status, must therefore mean that they are positive as well.  Why else then would they want to fuck without the condom?  The third thing that could be going here is the assumption that both parties involved will eventually wind up infected anyway, so why not have some fun in the meantime?

Such thinking is a pathological rationalization.  It is entirely self-serving and completely negative.  To say that it is negligent is to profoundly understate such actions.  To deliberate put another person’s health at risk for the temporary pleasure of a good fuck is not just stupid, it is evil.

In today’s society we blanche at such characterizations.  We do not want to think of anyone around us as either being capable of committing and evil act nor of being evil themselves.  Yet, that is exactly what such behavior is.  There is no justification for doing that to another person.  No way I can accept rendering that sort of damage and hurt to someone else.  And all of this in the name of getting your rocks off.

Some guys will try and justify their behavior by saying it shows how adventurous they are.  How “close to the edge” they live life.  That by playing on that edge they are more alive than anyone else.  That by taking those risks they therefore give more meaning to their lives and the lives of those around them.  It is all just an excuse by pathetic men to justify getting their rocks off.  Pathetic and evil.

Even barebacking between positive men is wrong.  Yet here too they try and justify it.  After all, since both men are already infected with HIV what is the point of still using a rubber?  What difference could it now make?  Why not allow such poor souls a little fun in their lives?  That can’t hurt now can it?  After all, they have so little left…

Yet this view ignores what HIV is all about.  HIV is not just one standard virus.  If it were, then we would have conquered it long ago.  Instead, HIV comes in many strains.  It also mutates.  Frequently.  That is one of the reasons the human immune system has such a difficult time fighting it.  That is also one of the reasons it is so difficult coming up with effective treatments for it.  It changes so frequently and there are so many different strains of it out there.  The guys who argue that it is safe for two poz men to bareback are kidding themselves.

Even if a person is already infected with HIV, that doesn’t mean they can not get re-infected by a different strain of it.  In fact, this is already happening and being very well documented in medical journals.  So too are instances of new, drug resistant strains of HIV developing.  In these particular cases, these strains of HIV are a result of cross-infections.  Both men involved were on their own particular mix of protease inhibitors and their own particular strains of HIV had begun to adapt to their regimens.  When these guys fucked without rubbers, they infected each other with each other’s strains of HIV.

The cocktail mixes that worked in one guy for his strain of HIV didn’t necessarily work for the new strain he was also infected with.  What resulted was yet another mutation of HIV and one that is even more resistant to treatment.

There is also the resources consumed.  By barebacking, these individuals are exposing themselves and their partners to all manner of lesser sexually transmitted diseases.  Diseases which still need to be treated and diseases, for those with already compromised immune systems, can be just as lethal as the AIDS they already have.  That such infections are entirely avoidable means that the resources expended to treat them could have been better used elsewhere.  The medical resources consumed to treat barebackers from all the new infections and medical conditions that arise from their barebacking are medical resources that are lost.  Resources that are gone.  Resources that cannot be used by anyone else.  Given that most folks who bareback are very well connected economically and medically their negligence and disproportionate consumption of medical resources is a murderous thing when viewed by the number of people in this country with no health insurance.  It is also a truly evil thing for such people to be fucking themselves silly because they know their health plans will cover them while medical resources to treat HIV/ AIDS are so scarce in Africa that it is killing millions.  Another thing to consider is that resources expended treat barebackers are resources that can not be expended finding a cure for the plague.  That means it will take longer to find that cure.  That means that more people will become infected and more people will die before that cure comes into being.

Barebacking is a behavior that is helping to keep HIV at pandemic levels.  It is keeping the core group viable.  That, in epidemiological terms, means that it is keeping the number of infected people sufficiently high such that they keep on infecting new people faster than they are dying off.  That is what makes an epidemic and epidemic and anyone who barebacks is helping keep the plague among us.  They are helping keep HIV a threat to all of us.  They are killing people.  They are threatening me.  They are killing my friends.  They are evil.

I think that about covers it.  It is one thing to have unprotected sex with your primary partner when you both know that you are negative and are in a mutually exclusive relationship.  It is quite another thing to trick with other guys and not wear a rubber while fucking them.  Barebacking is pathological.  It is self-destructive.  It is destructive of others.  It can not be justified on any grounds.  It is killing us.  It is evil.  I don’t play with men who bareback, period.

In the months since I originally wrote this essay I came across a man who challenged my views and who vehemently defended his barebacking.  This was the first time I had come to know someone personally who attempted this.  He was very articulate and very emphatic in his rationalizations.  The fact that he had been HIV Negative when he started barebacking and was now both Positive and dealing with the side effects of his protease cocktail mix served to diminish the impact of his arguments.  They were as self-serving and pathological rationalizations as I'd ever heard and I was rather stunned that a man who had managed to infect himself with a lethal disease through his own negligence would still attempt to defend those negligent practices.  This really does prove Heinlein's view that "Man is not a rational being - he is a rationalizing being."

In trying to come up with a response to this man that was clear enough to understand without getting bogged down in pointless specifics (i.e. "cross strain infections haven't happened because there's only been two studies about it - not three" or  "you can get herpes just by kissing so using a rubber isn't proof against it," etc.,.) I came up with the following analogy:

We, the gay community, are like a big family which lives in a big house.  Unfortunately, that house is on fire.  It has been burning for too long now and we haven't been able to put those flames out.  We've tried but the fire still rages and it still burns.  Many of our family have been burnt to death by the fire already.  The soot from those flames is all over the place and the burnt flesh stench of our dead is inescapable no matter where we turn in the rest of the house.  Lately we have been able to do more for those who have been burnt by the flames.  Instead of only being able to watch them die agonizing deaths from their burns now we have developed new treatments for them.  The treatments don't heal those burns they only make them less debilitating and far less disfiguring.  Underneath though, they are still burned and are still dying for we haven't found a way to reverse the damage done to them by the fire.  Still though, this is much better than before and it has allowed us some hope that we may keep our family alive long enough to find a way to fully heal them and extinguish that fire for good.

As we are doing this however, a new problem is confronting us.  Some of our family, for reasons as varied as they are, have decided to start new fires.  Fires in parts of our house yet untouched by the existing inferno.  Some of them are doing this out of ignorance, some out of a belief that we have found a way to cure the burns - or will shortly in any event.  Some are starting their own fires and burning others because their own burns have left them so twisted inside that they can rationalize doing this to others simply because they have had to suffer themselves.  Others are deliberately seeking to burn themselves because they feel it inevitable that they will eventually be burned and they've tired of the strain of fighting the fire.  Whatever their reasons, whatever their rationale these people are making the fire worse.  They are making it worse for all of us.  They are causing us to divert too much of our effort from fighting the existing blazes to deal with the new they've set on their own.  What they are doing is wrong.  They are hurting all of us.  Yes, they are still in our family but their actions are helping to hurt and helping to kill others in our family.  That is wrong.  Ultimately, it is evil.

What to do?

That is no easy question to answer.  But, perhaps when put it in these terms the familiarity we have in dealing with the pathological among us might be more apparent.  That and the need to take action to stop them.

There is no cure for the Plague.  Barebacking is keeping the plague among us.  Barebacking is infecting more of us with the Plague.  Barebacking is killing our family.  Barebacking is killing us.  Barebacking is evil.  Barebacking must stop.

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Until later then,


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This page was last updated on: 01 May 2007