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Bareback Cometh

The risks are known, and yet many continue to practice barebacking (penetrative sexual activity, usually penile-anal, sans the use of condoms). A look at the appeal, and why – for practitioners – it may be worth reconsidering.

Bareback tayo (Let’s bareback),” R. Reyes says to me, stressing how “we know each other, anyway, so…”

He’s like that, leaving his sentences hanging, as if prompting me to finish them. Not that I needed to, since we both knew exactly what he meant – that we know each other enough to trust each other, particularly sexually, since, presumably, we’re both clean.

“No,” I say.

“Oh, come on,” R. Reyes says, smiling.

I shook my head. “No.”

This isn’t the first time I actually encountered the asking of – demand, even – going bareback when fucking. In fact, end-October (2008), when I accessed Guys4Men.com, a forum making waves was BAKBAKAN – BAREBACKAN, which attracted from 30 (and growing) number of chatters, all except for three were actually fearful of barebacking (e.g. they say: “Nakakatakot. Pero masarap.” and “Ito ang wagi!” and “The best, bareback.”), just as I, a visiting chatter, was asked to join some orgies for “hot, hot barebacking action.”

And so the skin-to-skin experience continues to rise.

NAME GAME

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While the term has long crossed over to more mainstream use to describe penetrative sexual act sans the use of a condom, bareback actually started as a gay slang that refers to acts of unprotected sex, especially anal sex. Worth noting here is how, prior to the mainstream awareness of HIV and AIDS in the early 1980s, anal sex with and without condoms was not as well discussed by men who had sex with men (MSMs), with prevention campaigns only becoming urgent when HIV entered the picture, and was better understood. Condom use was, of course, recommended as an effective way to reduce HIV transmission (though condoms are also known to be an effective barrier against herpes simplex, Cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B, Chlamydia, and gonorrhoea). Since the gay male community is one of the most affected by HIV, the practice of unprotected anal sex quickly became taboo within the community, and this was the time when the the notion of “protected” versus “unprotected” sex arose.

Since the mid-1990s, the resurgence of the practice has been noted, particularly among MSMs, mainly credited to: increased apathy over HIV and/or AIDS transmission (“Some gay men no longer fear HIV and AIDS. They may believe that the virus is unavoidable, or that the virus has been controlled, resulting in longer lives for those infected,” says Ramon Johnson in Gay Men and Bareback Sex, in About.com); anxiety over contracting HIV and AIDS (“An alarming number of men are either deliberately transmitting the virus or willingly receiving the virus. These men are called gift givers and bug chasers respectively. Bug chasers willingly try to contract HIV because they have such high anxiety over catching the virus anyway, believing it is just a matter of time before they are infected,” Johnson says); emerging frequency of drug use (drugs impair judgment, so that safer sexual practices are not put in action); and general lack of knowledge on HIV and AIDS (e.g. “Some HIV positive gay men believe that since they already have the virus there is no need to have protected sex with another HIV positive man. However, when two HIV positive men transmit and retransmit the virus to each other it is possible for them to create new strains of HIV,” Johnson says).

The most pervasive belief attached with barebacking remains, of course, this notion that “going natural just feels better – all the time,” R. Reyes says to me. “With the skin touching the skin, you feel really, really close to the one you are having sex with; something that a condom, or any other similar (barrier), inhibits, thus ruins.”

WAY OF LOOKING

These days, the “normalcy” or barebacking may be partially attributed to the increasing number of pornographic materials on it – e.g. Jeff Palmer is as big a porn star as they can get, thanks to his cum shots in his numerous sexual partners’ asses, just as they do, too, in him; and Rocco Siffredi (for heterosexual porn) became a legend not just for his anal ravaging of women, but, yes, because he barebacks.

In fact, it can be argued that barebacking has become a subculture with its own slang terms, such as ‘breeding’ (ejaculation inside the rectum of the bottom, or the receptive participant), ‘charging up’ (the same as breeding, with the one ejaculating HIV positive), ‘Russian Roulette party’ or ‘conversion party’ (a group sex party attended by HIV-positive and HIV-negative persons, with the latter taking the chance of getting infected with HIV).

In Guys4Men.com’s BAKBAKAN – BAREBACKAN, the notion is that barebacking is “understandable” – something that R. Reyes agrees with, thus his practice; and something that Rick Sowadsky in Barebacking in the Gay Community in thebody.com says is, well, somewhat undeniable, especially if the way of looking of those practicing it is considered.

In discussing the benefits of barebacking, Sowadsky enumerates:

  1. Barebacking simply feels better, it’s more enjoyable and more pleasurable, than protected anal intercourse.
  2. Barebacking leads to greater intimacy between men during intercourse.
  3. Barebacking is more spontaneous than protected sex. There is no need to bother with using condoms.
  4. Barebacking is less expensive than having protected intercourse. Using condoms can be expensive, especially if you are on a limited income.
  5. If both men are not infected with HIV, nor any other STDs, barebacking is 100% safe from infectious diseases. In this case, barebacking falls under the category of “safe sex.”
  6. Barebacking can sometimes promote monogamy. If two men are monogamous and uninfected, the ability to safely bareback gives them an incentive to stay monogamous with one another. Barebacking also strengthens the emotional ties between a gay couple.

As R. Reyes adds, with emphasis, trying to make me change my mind: “You can’t get any closer than when you feel each other completely, linked like that, skin to skin. It’s like being one, truly.”

SEEING DIFFERENTLY

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About.com’s Johnson, of course, stresses that “none of the benefits of barebacking outweigh the chances of contracting HIV or other STDs.” “Are there any benefits to barebacking? Sure, there are benefits to barebacking.” But “keep in mind the negative effects of barebacking.”

None of the benefits of barebacking outweigh the chances of contracting HIV or other STDs. Are there any benefits to barebacking? Sure, there are benefits to barebacking. But keep in mind the negative effects of barebacking.

The biggest drawback of barebacking is it “dramatically increases the chances of contracting HIV and other STDs like syphilis. Some STD’s can lead to live changing conditions and eventually death. Protect yourself, even if a guy tells you he’s HIV and STD negative,” Johnson says.

Of course, even if you, yourself, do not get infected, you can be the one giving the infection/s to others. “It’s never the season for giving when it comes to STDs. If you do have an STD, you can play a great part in efforts to control viruses and diseases by playing safe.”

In the same vein, Sowadsky adds: “If you are infected with HIV or another STD, and you bareback, you can infect other people, including those you care the most about, such as your lover and your friends.”

On a more personal note, the biggest issue for me is putting my life in somebody else’s hands. Something unnecessary, especially since, as Johnson stresses, “sometimes that other person is a stranger. Your body is your temple. A few moments of pleasure is not worth a lifetime of pain or suffering.”

Saying no to R. Reyes couldn’t be easier, therefore – even if, in his way of thinking, we know each other enough to “completely trust each other” and bareback. I, definitely, beg to differ.

TAKING CAUTION

Not largely popular in the Philippines – just yet, perhaps; though still fortunately – is bug chasing, the practice of knowingly exposing oneself to STDs, particularly HIV and/or AIDS. This, says nurse Mark Cichoki in HIV and Barebacking, also in About.com, “not just an urban myth.” “Often called bug chasers among the gay community, these men seek out other gay men who are infected, in hopes of having unprotected sex, barebacking, in an effort to become infected with HIV. Across the Internet, chat rooms and newsgroups are advertising ‘conversion parties,’ where negative men seek out those who are positive in hopes of getting infected. (In fact, the) number of gay men looking to become positive seems to be growing, (so that the) Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports a new surge in the incidence of HIV among gay males, in part due to this unthinkable practice.”

The rationale (no matter how irrational) behind bug chasing varies, from low self-esteem (the thinking that, hey, perhaps becoming positive can provide that support system) to having the worst done and over with (getting HIV and/or AIDS infection is deemed the worst that can happen to MSMs, so just have it done over with) to living on the edge (the getting of pleasure from risky activities). At the very basic, though, the reasoning behind wanting to be positive lies on the lack of education, among others, believing that HIV and AIDS are no longer fatal (they still are), or thinking that protection becomes unnecessary if/when they already have HIV and AIDS (it still is), or assuming that they will get some form of support for being positive.

There, really, has to be more efforts to educate the public, not just MSMs, on safer sexual practices.

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MAKING RULES

“You’ll like it, I promise,” R. Reyes says to me, still insisting his way of thinking.

“No.”

“Come on.”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

It went like that for a while – the attempt to change my frame of mind with his insistence, and my insistence that, no, my mind is made up, and that is that.

The insistence continues, too, in Guys4Men.com’s BAKBAKAN – BAREBACKAN, where the number of those joining the thread continues to increase. There are still those who post messages to promote safer sex practices (one even makes use of the fear of people of HIV, posting photographs of people dying from HIV and AIDS, symptoms like Kaposi’s Sarcoma, et cetera), of course, though they are largely ignored, if not swamped by those interested to bareback.

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Pa-ayaw-ayaw pa kunwari (Pretending to say no),” this one Guys4Men.com member posts, attacking one of those who advocates safer sex. “Ipokrito (Hypocrite).”

No response.

So the invites continue.

And the barebacking.

“Just this once,” R. Reyes tells me, exasperation now obvious in his voice, his breathing berated.

“No.”

There, really, isn’t that many a way to say “No.”

So nothing happened.

Which was fine by me.

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Because just because many prefer doing it, doesn’t mean I have to.

After all, fuck-wise, there is nothing more empowering than paraphrasing that now popular take-control mantra: “My ass, my rules.”

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