Eric Leven

What We've Already Lost

Filed By Eric Leven | October 23, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: barebacking, condoms, HIV/AIDS, infection rates, porn, safe sex, unsafe sex

A few years ago unsafe sex was called "unsafe sex." But now, with the emergence of the vastly popular Xtube and the heightened popularity of production companies like Treasure Island Media who make all-bare-all-the-time porn movies "unsafe sex" is now almost exclusively referred to as "bareback." No longer are people having unsafe sex, people now are having bareback sex.

Unsafe sex had an important context to the term itself. "Un" and "safe" as in, "not safe" or the sex that you're having is "unsafe." In my experience, in what seems like no more than two years, I've seen the rapid transformation from unsafe to bareback. Of course, this worries me.

Bareback has no connotations referring to unsafe or risky behavior. Despite the fact that bareback sex is defined as sex with no condoms, the word bareback shows no reflection of this. One might argue, "duh, the word bare is in it!" But bare is nowhere near as hard-hitting and exact as unsafe. In addition, the word bareback has inevitably gained a cultural fetish. Unsafe sex used to be just that, unsafe sex, but now bareback has become a type of gay sex. It's neither here nor there, rather it has become a way of having sex and thus the safe sex movement has already, with a rapid subtlety lost so much.

In our history there were two ways to have sex. Either safe or unsafe. But now there's bareback and it's a new way for gay men to have sex. It's almost as if bareback has created a third category. There is safe and unsafe and now bareback. In previous posts I made the distinction between those who occasionally engage in individual experiences of unsafe sex as people who have unsafe sex, and those who top or bottom, with no condoms whatsoever, as barebackers. But the line that differentiates the two is blurring and bareback is taking a strident lead.

It's gone from "we didn't have safe sex" to "we had bareback sex." Troubling? I thinks so.

The cultural fetishization of bareback asks the modern gay man to waver between what he knows is right and challenges him to tickle the idea of what is wrong. Bareback is successful in its allure. Like taking candy from a stranger, the idea of bareback causes us to tempt the idea of doing something we know is bad or wrong and to enjoy it in the against-the-grain notion of it all. If you don't agree with me then have a glance at some of the titles on the porn shelves. "Bad Influence," "Fearless," "Deeper," and "What I Can't See." All of these titles rather explicitly ask you to cross the line and even, I'll take it further, call those who have safe sex fearful, if not boring and clinical. These companies and films use our own protective nature as an enemy agent against ourselves.

Something is happening in our community and we're losing ground. Think about it - when was the last time you heard the word unsafe compared to the last time you heard the word bareback? Go on to Xtube, bareback is inescapable and the popularity, wild. I've seen comments like "fuck the condom queens" and in a film where an older top is banging away at a young bottom, "breed his ass." It's one thing if two young guys are having unsafe sex with each other, that is at least, in my opinion somewhat excusable but an older man, unsafely topping a younger man, is just sad.

These men have the opportunity of mentoring the younger generation and protecting them. Instead it's become the complete opposite. We are now celebrating the disregard for safety and welcoming in a fresh new batch of unhealthy recruits. Granted, 18 makes one an adult, but put it this way: Say an 18 year old gets a tattoo. When the 18 year old becomes a 22 year old, does that tattoo still mean what it meant to him at 18? Therefore, the decisions of an 18, 19, 20 and so-on year old would not be the same at 25, 30 or 35. Should these young men get HIV because at 18 they made a few foolish mistakes and let themselves trust the actions of an older man?

What has happened and why have we given up? When did protecting and caring for one another become this "I don't give a fuck who you are or what you do - go fuck yourself" laissez fair attitude?

It is dangerous for somebody like me to write this post because if there is anything I support it is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. In no way do I advocate censorship, which in this case, I could be easily mistaken for doing so. But I stand firm in the belief that HIV and sexually transmitted diseases would still be around if every porn, ever made had condom usage in it. The fact remains that people are going to do what they're going to do and there's nothing you can do about it other than try to influence people to make the right choices for themselves.

People can argue all they want that bareback porn is the same as watching a violent movie. It will always come back to the idea that: Just because I watch a violent movie doesn't cause me to kill people just like watching bareback porn will not cause me to engage in risky behavior. Let's go even further and say that in some cases having bareback porn would prevent people from engaging in unsafe sex because they get their fill of the idea by just watching the films. Understandable, for sure. But be aware, my brothers, for this industry is not unlike Hollywood. They like your money and don't give a fuck about you. Don't come crying to them when shit hits the fan - in the end, you're the one who makes the decision and they will never be to blame. That's a key factor to their adamant, unapologetic success.

Protease inhibitors have only been around for 12 years. It has only been 12 years that gay men have been living healthy with HIV. Why are we so myopic to think things will follow suit? Who is to say things will not change? And, if things stay the same, why aren't we preparing the next generation? Are we really that tired? Are we really that over it? Have the pros and cons really become the same thing?

It's like all the sudden everyone got healthy and bam! we're living in a new world. Really, it's quite the contrary. Nothing has changed. The infection rates are still relatively the same and HIV still exists. The only difference is we have lost the idea of unsafe and we are embracing the idea of bareback. So, you tell me, with what we've already lost - how bright is our future?

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I wanted to thank you for this. We pussyfoot around this all the time, but it needs addressing. I think you're right, it's like a third kind of sex, fudging the outlines. Like "if I fuck him with a condom and I cum without and he's poz, it's ok" or "Well my load is undetectable and I've got no other STDs, so it's cool".

It's still a factor in relationships: when is it OK to go without latex and how do you reconcile the luxury of monogamy with the likelihood of non-monogamy? There's more communication involved than most people are ever comfortable with.

Thanks for posting this, Erik. I couldn't agree with you more.

It's almost as if a death wish has become a fetish lately. Oh, the power of marketing...

I don't agree that the term "unsafe sex" carries a much more serious connotation than "bareback sex". The difference, to me, is marginal. The word "unsafe" sounds too clinical as it is and doesn't convey the urgent, real danger of contracting HIV. "Bareback" is equally problematic as the element of risk is entirely missing from the term too. In my opinion, while "unsafe" is definitely preferable to "bareback", it still misses the mark.

Thank You!

As an HIV health educator who must tell our men they are HIV+ far too often, I never cease to be amazed how almost every one tell me "I just never thought it would happen to me". This after revealing they have unprotected anal sex routinely. Men as young as 19 have heard this unwelcome news from my lips. My heart breaks for these young men, and I feel so helpless to say or do something that will be of comfort.

I firmly believe in the right to "do as you please" when it comes to sexual behavior, but we must stop this "vow of silence" when it comes to talking honestly about risk. Unsafe sex has become a fetish very effectively packaged and sold by those who profit from bareback porn and hook-up sites.

It is time the men in our community begin anew the discussion about sexual health, behavior and HIV. Your excellent post will I hope throw down the gauntlet to far too many of us who remain silent while our brothers remain at risk.

Eric, I completely agree with the main gist of this post --- creating a fashionable word for unprotected sex, such as "bareback", is Orwellian doublespeak. It's like bragging about the network of German extermination camps by exclaiming, "It's wonderful! It's the final solution!"

But I'm going to reprimand you for saying this:

It's one thing if two young guys are having unsafe sex with each other, that is at least, in my opinion somewhat excusable but an older man, unsafely topping a younger man, is just sad.

First you protest that unsafe sex is inexcusable, and then you label it as "somewhat excusable" --- I think the rules you make at the top of the page ought to apply at the bottom of the page. Both instances are "sad" ... and after criticizing someone else's creation of a double-standard, you proceed to create a double-standard of your own. Unsafe sex is unsafe sex regardless of the relative ages of the participants, and I find your assertion that older men having unsafe sex is worse than younger men doing the same to be (1) arbitrary, (2) age-ist, and (3) if you actually believe that most older gay men out there are interested in "mentoring" the younger generations, then you are idealistic and naive in the extreme. Most of them are just dirty young men that time has turned into dirty old men. (Yes, such Plato's of Butt Sex do exist in our world, but they are the saints, and they are few and far, far between.)

And on a blog where so many claim to be fair-minded, I am disappointed that I am the one who has to point out this guffaw, almost a full day after the post first appeared. Where are the Bilerico PC Police when you really need them?

This is a good article. You're right, eric. I mean, I personally have never engaged in anal sex and don't care to, as a personal choice. But for those that do, I support their choice to use protection.

A.J. Lopp-

I'm sorry your lack of inference has caused me to be an arbitrary, ageist, naive fool.

For a moment there I gave the readers and contributors of this blog the benefit of doubt that they would understand two young men's risky behavior as a consequence of innocence and lack of life experience/knowledge.

I suppose there's no use in telling you that the majority of my friends are all 10, 15, if not 20+ years older than I am and act as tremendous mentors. I also suppose there is no use in telling you I became outspoken about HIV/AIDS because I inherited the passions and stories of my older friends.

And on a blog where so many claim to be fair-minded, I am disappointed that I am the one who has to point out that the word is "gaffe" not "guffaw."

You're right, Eric. There's no use. Obviously I am obsessed with the ridiculous fantasy that the same standards ought to be applied to everyone equally.

Now that is deserving of the word guffaw.

Only this one guy's opinion : HIV is such a huge problem in minority youth communities because of the culture of immediate gratification. There's no thinking ahead to consequences. It's all immediate gratification. It's no fun to run outside to get condoms, just as it's no fun to save one's money (as opposed to spending it on every new contraption) or to enjoy some quiet time (rather than filling up the silence by talking on a cell phone).