15 March 2013
A Discussion on Barebacking and Safer Sex
I am a huge advocate for safer sex, however I am only human and I make mistakes, I learn from them, and I move on with my life more informed and hopefully making better decisions. My name is Elle Estanol and I have had bareback sex. In very much the same way BuzzFeed contributor Kyle Bella described the experience, “the scariest part for me [was] not the risk itself, but the fact that I enjoyed it.”1 Many gay men, at least those with whom I’ve interacted, are thoroughly educated on the subject of safer sex and HIV prevention – how could we not when we have been and are continually encouraged to always use a condom? The onset of the AIDS epidemic and its ravaging of our community taught us to protect ourselves and each other, and those lessons remain in our hearts and minds to this day.
However in recent years the increase of gay men, most specifically young, gay men, engaging in riskier sexual practices and bareback sex has led to an increase in HIV infection, but I don’t think the reason for that is a lack of understanding and awareness of the disease, but instead the overwhelming stigma and shaming that surrounds barebacking. The fact that it’s a taboo has made it that much more appealing to people; Mark S. King, a blogger at MyFabulousDisease.com, pointed out in a recent Huffington Post Live segment, “We’re asking something of gay men that we probably not ask of almost any other group in society, and that is valuing the experience of unprotected sex with your partner. We keep talking about barebacking as if it’s some sort of psychosis when really [it’s] men behaving naturally, and certainly there are risks.”2
There are certainly groups of gay men who engage in indiscriminate and irresponsible riskier sexual practices. This subdivision of our community, who fetishizes and even celebrates bareback sex, is partially responsible for fueling the stigma and shaming which prevents us from moving forward with and speaking about a solution to the problem. Another problem is the confusion with and prudent disregard for human sexuality and practice. Misinformed writers like David Duran propagate a message of slut-shaming when he made the assumption that the greater majority of gay men who are taking a new HIV preventative medication use it as “an excuse to continue to be irresponsible” and that “the FDA is encouraging the continuation of unsafe sex and most likely contributing to the spread of other sexually transmitted infections.”3
A cure for HIV/AIDS has yet to be discovered but each day we continue to develop greater, and more effective, ways to combat, prevent, and even eradicate the disease. A new option for HIV prevention has been presented to us in the form of a safe, legal, and effective pill prescribed by doctors called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). Truvada is currently the only drug approved by the FDA for PrEP; and studies have shown that the risk of HIV infection was reduced by more than 90 percent in participants who took it consistently and reduced by 99 percent among those who took it daily.
Truvada is another tool which is prescribed to be used in conjunction with safer sex practices to help prevent the spread of HIV. The fact remains that, while PrEP greatly decreases the chance for transmission, one is still subject to other sexually transmitted infections. The FDA is not, as Duran claims, encouraging unsafe sex in place of education and promotion of safer sex practices, but merely providing another preventative tool. While there are those who would abuse this drug and use it irresponsibly, there are many more that would benefit from its intended use.
Monogamous or long-term partners who are serodivergent, that is one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative, and other high risk individuals have a lot to gain from PrEP. Upon being diagnosed as HIV-positive today (seroconvergence), a person begins to work with his or her doctor to decide the best way to treat the virus. This medication effectively makes the virus undetectable in the system, making it virtually impossible to transmit the virus. When used alongside PrEP the transmission rate is decreased significantly, allowing these people a greater sense of relief in knowing their partner is much more protected from infection.
Alex Garner, the editor of PositiveFrontiers.com – an HIV magazine for gay and bisexual men, responded to Duran’s Huffington Post article by saying, “We all share the same goal of reducing infections [but] to stigmatize PrEP or the people who take it will only lead to more infections.”4 He goes on to comment that the debate sparked by the introduction of this drug does not focus on the amazing medical advancement provided by PrEP but instead signals utter sexual chaos, promoting immoral behavior and promiscuity – akin to the debate surrounding birth control.
It is difficult to write on this topic from a strictly unbiased point of view. I think it is important to provide the hard facts and for people to make their own choices with the information presented to them. It should not, however, be put up to debate or conversation that we should be making responsible sexual decisions and always using a condom. Although HIV/AIDS are no longer a death sentence and HIV-positive individuals are now able to lead full lives with the virus, it is still an incurable disease. Our discussion should not be about when safer sex practices are appropriate but how we as a community are going to break the barriers between us, end the stigma, and commit ourselves to ending this epidemic.
1 Why It's So Hard to Talk About Bareback Sex by Kyle Bella
2 Huffington Post Live Video: 'Barebacking,' Or Unsafe Gay Sex, Is On The Rise Along With HIV/AIDS
3 Truvada Whores by David Duran
4 There's No Shame in PrEP by Alex Garner
5 My Life on PrEP by Jake Sobo