Total Pageviews


Acquired Tastes, XXIII: Barebacking / Bareback Sex


I can’t think of another sexual activity that divides the gay male community the way barebacking does.  It is an emotionally charged topic because it comes with some possible serious consequences.  It’s very much related to that old truth: people who learn nothing from history are doomed to repeat it.  Proponents say barebacking (sex without a condom) is the height of hedonistic irresponsibility, puts people at risk for and increases the spread of STDs, and gives ample ammunition to those who take issue with the gay community and the way gay men conduct their lives.  Enthusiasts would argue that it is a matter of personal choice and a natural expression of their sexuality.  In between?  People, like me, who see both points of view while frequently struggling with the issue in light of their own personal behavior. 

Is either side correct? 

Let’s toss aside that condom and dive right into the raw facts about…


Scope of Activity:

Unprotected sex, typically butt sex without a condom.  For the sake of this post we will limit our discussion to male on male anal sex.  Also known as ‘raw sex’.

The Official Line:

From Wikipedia

Bareback is a slang term to describe acts of sexual penetration without the use of a condom.  The term comes from the equestrian term bareback, which refers to the practice of riding a horse without a saddle.  Barebacking usually refers to a conscious and deliberate choice to forgo condoms.

Initially used for contraceptive purposes, condoms also came to be used to limit or prevent sexually transmitted diseases.  As AIDS emerged and the sexual transmission of HIV became known in the 1980’s, the use of condoms to prevent infection became much more widespread, especially among homosexual men.  At the beginning of the AIDS crisis, in the context of the invention and development of safe sex, the uptake of condoms among Western gay men was so widespread and effective that condom use became established as a norm for gay sex.  From 1995 several high profile HIV positive men declared their refusal to wear condoms with other HIV positive gay men in gay publications, dubbing the practice ‘barebacking’.  While these early articulations of barebacking expressed a concern for HIV prevention in that they generally referred to dispensing with condoms in the context of sex between people of the same HIV status, the moral panic which ensued was so pronounced that barebacking came to be framed as a rebellious and transgressive erotic practice for HIV positive and HIV negative people alike, irrespective of the risks of HIV transmission.

A resurgence of barebacking in first-world gay communities during the 1990s has been a frequent topic for gay columnists and editorialists in The Advocate, Genre magazine and Out magazine. 

Varying factors are sited when looking to explain the recent popularity of bare back sex.  Among them:

  • Fear of HIV has been minimized due to the development and success of protease inhibitors.  These drugs have changed the status of HIV from ‘untreatable’ and ‘terminal’ to ‘treatable’ and ‘chronic’.  There currently are studies claiming that the likelihood of a non-detectible (>75) HIV positive person passing the virus to others is slim to none.
  • Some people only seek out partners with a similar HIV status and therefore don’t see a reason to use condoms.  This practice puts HIV positive men at risk of contracting additional strains of the virus, and has given rise to the concept of the HIV superinfection.  Serosorting (identifying an individual’s strain of HIV) is thought of one way to prevent men from exposing themselves to different strains.
  • Condom fatigue: people have heard the message of safe sex for so long now they have stopped responding to it.
  • The rise of ParTying: Use of drugs (Crystal Meth in particular) in relation to having sex lowers people’s inhibitions and causes them to become less concerned about their personal safety and well-being resulting in these individuals participating in unsafe activities and associating with people they normally would not.
  • The rise of barebacking sites such as BBRTS lend credence to the practice and provides a means for like-minded individuals to find one another.

Well, ummm…. Hmmmm.  This point would seem to be moot, but there are things one can do to help decrease the risks at hand:

  • Knowing your partner would be a good start, or at least sharing information regarding each other’s HIV status – otherwise known as ‘the talk’.  Discussing sexual history (recent) might also prove helpful.  But keep in mind, people don’t always disclose or tell the truth.  If you are HIV positive and know your serotype, that could prove beneficial, provided your sexual partner also knows his.
  • Doing a visual physical examination on one another is always a good idea, but not a guarantee of anything.  
  • Practicing good hygiene also a good idea, but, again, not a guarantee of anything.
  • Living a healthy lifestyle – eating healthy foods, exercising, getting adequate rest – not only will you look your best, but your immune system will also be firing on all cylinders.
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs.  ParTying can result in you putting your body in riskier situations than you would if you were not under the influence of something and also weaken the immune system.
Psychological Aspects:

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

This practice has been rationalized a number of ways.

There is a segment of the gay population who feel that fucking ‘raw’ is the way God intended people to fuck.  They see this as natural and a natural form of sexual expression.

Then there are those who see it as a form of rebellion against the Safe Sex Police, the medical community, political entities, and those with axes to grind against the gay community.

There are those that simply enjoy it.  Condoms are restrictive by design.  They inhibit sensation and blood flow to the penis.  Some men cannot maintain an erection with a condom.  This can lead to a form of psychological erectile dysfunction – a self-defeating loop of thoughts and fear resulting in a neurotic reaction to condoms or the contemplation of sex.

Bug Chasers: Myth or reality?  From what I have read in personal blogs on the net, I have come to the conclusion that these individuals are not the stuff of fiction.  There is a documentary called “The Gift” (2008) that explores this phenomenon.  Bug Chasers seek out HIV positive partners who engage in barebacking.  The goal of the Bug Chaser is to become infected with the HIV virus.  Their motivations vary.  Some seek inclusion, as they view the HIV community as being an exalted and elite group, while others see that the life of HIV positive individuals as glamorous and normal.

Pig Sex: While there certainly are gay sex pigs whom practice safer sex, they are not the norm.  Surrendering one’s body to the sexual whims of others puts one at all sorts of risk, and part of the mindset of a sex pig is to be exposed to bodily fluids of all kinds, including sperm, from as many partners as possible.  This helps satisfy the primal urge that drives these magical beasts.

The bigger questions remains – why would someone willingly participate in an activity that they know puts them in harms way? It brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘Thrill of the Kill’.  Isn’t there a horror film out there about an HIV positive serial barebacker?  I bet there will be. But in this connotation I think ‘The Kill’ is an action more suicidal than homicidal.   Do we bareback because we hate ourselves enough to want to do harm to ourselves?  Is this self-hate because society reinforces the message that to be gay is to be wrong and bad?   Do we then internalize that message and want to eliminate ourselves? 

Is barebacking really a form of biological genocide?

My Experience:

I have never been a hardcore advocate of safer sex or barebacking.  I tend to let the person I’m with decide whether or not condoms are involved.  Based on my recent experiences (the past four years), I have seen a major preference for barebacking, but that observation is based on only my own experiences.

Condom use is the primary reason that I am no longer a top.  Up until 1996, I was a hardcore top, bottoming only when in a monogamous relationship.   I don’t recall that condoms became an issue for me until 1996, when, after a few less than spectacular performances, I began to experience a kind of anxiety related to their use.  I think this is rather common, as I have spoken to numerous individuals about barebacking and their experiences dealing with condoms. For me, condoms seemed to kill my boner.  And once that started happening, then the anxiety related to boner failure took over and I began to avoid topping altogether.

Men frequently admired my ass – and back in the day it was prime stuff – so, after frottage, jerking off, and oral sex no longer seemed enough, I began to allow dudes to fuck me.  Initially, all the pre-work involved (douching) baffled me, but after a point I got over it, embraced my hole as a living being, and set out to become the best bottom I could.

Age probably also plays a part in my conversion.  I see more and more former hardcore tops becoming seed-seeking bottoms.  And it’s a shame, too, because many of these dudes were blessed with high-quality pieces of meat. 

But why have I become a bareback bottom?  I think it has a lot to do with the attitude of the men who  bareback.  They are more accepting of others – which critics could frame as: they have lower standards – but I disagree.  They have different standards.  They appreciate real men.  Men with flaws.  Men with body odor and body fluids.

Honestly, what has turned me off of safe sex are those that advocate it so virulently.  Their sanctimonious attitude rubs me the wrong way.  Also, I have found that those who practice safe sex are, well… not that good at it.  I’m sure there are exceptions, and in fact, I know that has not always been my experience, but overall I would have to say that dudes who use condoms seem to lack the kind of primal drive that lights my fire.  Frequently I find that tops that use condoms tend to be incredibly body fluid phobic.  And that makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to have to apologize for my spit, my sweat, my cum, my ass juice.  It is part of the experience.  Body fluids are part of what makes sex hot – for me.  If you want closed mouth kisses, hairless bodies, polite sex talk, and hermetically sealed butt sex, look elsewhere.  I revel in my funky self.  So I guess I fall on the side of those that bareback because it feels natural.

(Spoiler Alert: Unrelated, Undocumented, Unfounded Tangent Rant Fast Approaching)    

Of course, and I will cop to having some kind of chip on my shoulder regarding this, I think my aversion to safe sex advocates and practitioners also has to do with my bias against ‘the typical gay’.  I have rarely liked the way gay men are portrayed on television sitcoms or in movies.  I disagree with their portrayal because it does not speak to my experience or what I have witnessed in the gay community.  The typical gay on television has a super career – he’s an architect, a lawyer, an ad agency executive.  They have a sanitized sense of life.  Their homes are perfect and large and don’t appear lived-in.  They drive the perfect car.  They dress impeccably.  They are typically quite white and over-handsomely so. They bore the snot out of me. So I don’t buy it.  With the exception of Max on ABC’s ‘Happy Endings’, I think you will find my assessment to be pretty accurate.  I like Max.  He’s real and flawed.  And yes, there are indeed other portrayals of gay men on television - but they aren’t flattering!  The screaming queens and tired cliché’ gay are ‘funny’ indeed, but they don’t make me laugh and I don’t know anyone who acts like that in real life (except for me, after a couple of martinis and in the company of certain catty friends).

Sadly, those perfect television gays do translate to real life.  They attend fundraisers and host them in their large homes.  They make over 100K a year and look down upon and avoid associating with those that don’t.  They spend a lot of time at the gym, the spa, their hairdresser’s salon, being tweezed and buzzed and plucked and waxed and honed and polished and… ugh. Okay… you get the picture?  These guys are snobs.  I hate snobs.  These guys are also the practitioners of gay sex.  Yes, there are indeed lots of other kinds of gays practicing safer sex, but these bitches are so sanctimonious about it they make me doubt my love of penis – big, hard, pulsating, body fluid-filled penis (how could I ever doubt that?).   These are the self-righteous cunts that make it their mission to troll sites like A4A so they can rain down their wrath upon the heads of those who are HIV positive or practitioners of unsafe sex.  Yes, I have felt their sting.  And I am not alone. I would ask you to visit ‘Life In The Raw’ - a blog written by Mindtrip, a man I would characterize as something of a sexual warrior – and read his post on11/28/12.  Also, check the side of my blog site to discover the blogs of a number of other sexual warriors willing to share their personal exploits.  Even if you don’t agree with their personal sexual practices and world views, you’re sure to find a post that will have you jerking your gherkin.

Oh, and if you want specific stories related to my personal experiences taking raw dick up the ass, just flip through my past posts.  Yeah… I know – I’m a total butt slut.

These days, I only top bareback.  If that’s an issue, than I don’t wanna fuck ya.  As a bottom, I take it however my top wants to serve it up – and I love it.  I am kind of a modified ass pig.  I can’t seem to take it to the extreme like some dudes do.  I don’t seem to run with the right crowd or live in the right city for that to happen.   And, yes, I frequently regret my behavior.  I omit the truth when talking to my doctor about my sex life (she’s convinced I am a sex addict and wants me to seek ‘help’ – and yes, she has a point).  I have contracted several STDs in my lifetime (nothing life altering, yet).  I struggle with guilt and shame and know in my heart of heart’s that taking raw dick up the ass is simply not a good idea. 

But I do. I take raw dick up the ass.  And I can’t really rationalize it, explain it, or justify it.  I just do. 

You see, I think that in the world of gay sex, as large and varied a place as that is, it is every man for himself.  You get to do what you like to do, with whomever will do it with you/to you/for you.  I may not understand or share your particular interest, but I applaud you for having the courage to explore your sexual self.  I’m not going to pass judgment on you based on what you do sexually with others.  I do believe in taking responsibility for my actions. I do believe in acting responsibly where others are concerned.  And I do my best to do no harm. 

That said, if being a sanctimonious, self-righteous, fluid-phobic, hermetically sealed, snob-ass, internet trolling, safe sex advocate is what gets you off.  Have at it.  You have the right.  And there is a part of me that sees the good you are trying to do.  Yep, I get it.  Yours is the better way.  I’ll even salute you.  But please forgive me if, in that same breath, I also tell you to go fuck yourself.  Not because I don’t see the good you do, but because I just don’t like you.

So, back to that question re: barebacking as genocide.  Am I suicidal?  Probably.  On some deeper level that I am no longer interested in exploring, yes, I would like to see me wiped off the face of the earth.  But that living part of me?  That part that I actually feed and exercise and buzz and shave, and care for and nurture and educate?  The real me?

I bareback because I like it.  It feels good.  It makes me feel closer to man I’m with.  I think it’s sexy.  I think it’s dirty… and I like it dirty.

My Conclusion:

Safe sex is a personal choice.  So is barebacking.  You can’t respect the rights of one without respecting the rights of the other.  And it is possible to respect somebody and validate their right to do with their bodies what they want and still not agree with them or even buy into how they justify their behavior.  Barebacking isn’t for everyone.  It takes special ability to deal with fear of the unknown, anxiety, guilt, shame, self-loathing, and the realities of dealing with an STD. 

But then, safe sex is not for everyone either. 

Barebacking is sex at its most natural.  There isn’t that stupid awkward moment when the action stops and someone locates the condom, rips open the foil packet, rolls it down his rod, grabs the lube, smears the lube down the length of the sheathed shaft, and then play resumes.  There is no condom-related erectile dysfunction.  There is no ‘I am going to ram and ram and ram, but I am not going to cum until I withdraw, tear of this condom, and then jerk off on you’.  With barebacking the penis slides in, rams and jams and it all happens with a natural sense of fluidity, motion, and progression.

How can that be bad?

So, here are my final recommendations regarding barebacking:  

Act responsibly, even with anonymous strangers.  Disclose your status when asked.  
Do your best to do no harm.  
Get tested for all STDs on a regular basis. 
Don’t engage in sexual activity with others if you have or suspect you have a communicable STD.  
Never pressure others into engaging in unsafe sex. 

And stop hating yourself.  (There are plenty in the world doing that for you already.)

Be good to yourself.  Be better to others.

Happy fucking, men! 

May we all be happy fucking men.


Anonymous said...

Boy, you have touched upon some very sensitive issues here and done so with the aplomb of a seasoned journalist.
I share many of your views on the responsibility of the individual and also the "holier than thou" gays who will pass judgement much in the same manner than homophobic straights do.
I often feature pictures or videos of men barebacking and always follow with the warning or a graphic advising not to do so.
But I still find barebacking fascinating if not engaging in it at least watching it.
great post

O!Daddie said...

I applaud and admire your honesty. Having had a late start at the advanced age of 59, I've only had anal sex (both ways) with the man who was to become my partner. Hated condoms all my life, never used them and would be a big liar if I pretended to jump on that bandwagon now.

HOWEVER, there is a tremendous risk factor that's hard to calculate in the heat of passion, so "Caveat Emptor" and KNOW what you're getting into and/or what's getting into you.

Found your amazing blog purely by accident and see a number of my buddies here on your blog roll. Would be honored to be listed there with them.

Respectfully, Jeff

Upton King said...

Hi, thanks for the comments. I added both of your blogs to my list on the side of my blog. Many thanks. I really enjoy both your blogs. - Uptonking from Wonderland Burlesque

Anonymous said...

Great read and I agree 100% with everything stated.