The Devolution of Safe Sex

by Lucas Witherspoon

As of late, I’ve been seemingly bombarded with an influx in guys who, at the start of a conversation that’s obviously meant to be the preface to sex, blatantly ask, “Do you bareback?” The question almost makes me feel priggish. “No, never,” I answer, thinking it should be axiomatic that I practice safe sex. I kept thinking to myself, though, “Is barebacking making a comeback? Did I miss something?”

Well, as it turns out, it is, and it’s not even purely American: the UK, France, and Australia have all seen a rise in bareback sex and concurrent increase in HIV rates. The number of gay men who engage in bareback sex is hovering around 50 percent at present, which to me is an unfathomable number. Of that 50 percent, young, gay black men are significantly more susceptible to HIV/AIDS, because, as Kevin Frost, CEO of amfAR, explains, “Young gay black mens’ sexual behaviors are no different than young gay white men’s, but there’s so much more background HIV in that population that a single encounter for a young gay black man puts him at much greater risk.”

Recently a survey of Grindr, Scruff, Manhunt, Growlr, and other gay social apps conducted by New York’s non-profit Community Healthcare Community revealed that, of the half of respondents who admitted to having regular bareback sex, 84.6% claimed they did so because “with condoms it does not feel the same,” while 73.8 % blamed “impulsive sexual behaviors.” The survey also found:

  • Respondents were sufficiently knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS. 80.9 percent of respondents knew that HIV is transmitted through “unprotected anal sex, vaginal sex, and–less frequently–oral sex.”
  • A majority of respondents (68.1 percent) were afraid to be infected or reinfected, believe people should be more concerned about the epidemic, and view it overall as a serious issue.
  • A majority felt that AIDS is a “somewhat serious” problem for people they know (52.5 percent), while 29.4 percent considered it to be a serious problem.
  • The vast majority of respondents considered barebacking (defined as unprotected anal sex) dangerous and believed barebackers are informed of the risk.

Of course, this is only a small sampling of the gay community, but clearly the education is there. People know about the intricacies, effects, and consequences of HIV/AIDS, so why do people still insist on engaging in unsafe sexual practices?

But homosexual men aren’t the only people at risk. According to findings recently released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), poor heterosexuals are seeing a rapid surge in new HIV infections, with African-Americans, crack cocaine users, and those who trade sex for drugs experiencing the highest rates of infection.

While some think the introduction of new methods of prevention and treatment–such as Truvada and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)–when educating people about HIV/AIDS will curb the ascending HIV/AIDS numbers, even when integrating those types of means condoms are still espoused as the primary modus operandi when engaging in sexual acts with strangers and/or casual acquaintances. Supposed discomfort be damned, I would much rather protect myself for the few minutes (if you’re lucky) sex consumes than live with what is for at least the immediate future still an incurable disease.