Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Great Divide

This past Sunday I helped my friends of ACT UP New York sell tee shirts and buttons at their booth at the Broadway Street Fair. I'll always make myself available for any additional help ACT UP needs and I am always happy to do so.

I noticed the ACT UP booth right away by their iconic white background- black font posters. I've always loved ACT UP for their in your face, civil disobedient approach to activism but on Sunday I saw one thing on one of their signs that I couldn't help but feel uneasy about.

One of their signs at the bottom stated in big bold font: "Boycott Bareback" and I felt immediately something was amiss.

As I'm sure we all know barebacking has become somewhat of a fad lately or something a lot of people feel very nonchalant about. Go on to xtube, search your common porn sites and you'll find that barebacking is a movement that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

If you go back into my archives and read my post entitled, "Barebackers, Meth heads, Young Guys, Sex Parties and Everything Else We Love to Blame" you'll find that a lot of my thinking, writing and activism regarding safe sex and HIV/AIDS evolves with the more I learn and experience. The bottom line is that sex and safe sex is nowhere near cut and dry and is in fact, quite fucking complicated.

But let's make some distinctions first: Not all people who have unsafe sex are "barebackers." There are people who choose to go in and out of bouts or individual experiences of condom-less sex that would not identify themselves as "barebackers." "Barebackers," more or less, are people who get off on the idea of going completely condom-less and engaging in pure, raw sex- only. It's almost as if Barebackers don't consider sex, real sex, unless it's entirely raw and there is some form of "cum dumping," "breeding," and all the other words that make the safe sex movement weep.

Barebackers are gaining momentum. They're online, there are websites set up for them to meet and greet, bareback porn is reinstating itself into the mainstream and the whole thing teeters on the belief that if two people want to willingly engage in bareback sex then they have the right to do so and can decide for themselves what is right and healthy for their body. Fine. Great. Whatever. But what about the allure of unsafe sex and the encouragement for other people to go bare and "try it out?" I have to admit this is where barebacking is most dangerous- it's in the fetishistic ammunition.

Just like ACT UP says "Fuck you" to the unsafe sex world, barebackers are now saying "Fuck you" right back to the safe sex movement. "How dare YOU tell me how I should have sex!" "I don't have to wear a condom if I don't want to!" "I know the risks associated with unsafe sex and I don't care. It's my body." But when ACT UP says something like "Boycott Bareback" they look like a group of sex police and that's exactly what the bareback movement is looking for.

Those who advocate for Bareback sex want Aids Service Organizations and activist groups to look like dishonest Sex Police who infringe upon people's individual right to choose. "SEE! Look at those sex police trying to tell people how I should have sex- how dare they tell me/you what to do. Sex is between me and the person I have sex with!"

The truth is ACT UP is anything but a group of Sex Police and they should choose their words wisely to prevent themselves from becoming so. I've always known ACT UP to be rather sex positive. They are a group encouraging gay men to empower themselves on the glory of protecting one another through safe sex and fighting those in politics who prevent us from equal health care and recognition. ACT UP are not sex police but the simplistic words of "boycott bareback" make them look like just that and thus, the divide between those who have safe sex and those who don't only grows deeper.

We in the safe sex world seem to constantly trip up on the idea that it's the safe sex message which isn't strong enough. That people don't know how to use condoms or that safe sex options aren't out there. But having spent so much time in this world I am starting to understand that the message IS out there and people do know the options. People know about safe sex and condoms and the risks associated with unsafe sex it's just that people are choosing not to have safe sex. The message needs to change from "wear condoms" or "boycott bareback" to "WHY are we barebacking each other?!"

Are the loads really worth it? Does being a cum dump, or a bareback bottom or a bareback-only top really trump a life of being HIV negative? I don't know- who am I to say or argue? Yeah the meds are out there, and those reading this blog and others like it know that nonsense rhetoric of HIV="Oh, I'll just take the meds." But even with the meds the epedemic doesn't stop and regarding your health, it's all a lottery and you could be, might be, hopefully will be ok.

The only thing we can do is present the most honest information possible and encourage others to make the best choices for themselves and for their lives. Talk about this topic. Really get it out there and let your friends and brothers know how much you care for them.

30 comments:

rptrcub said...

There is also the fact that HIV meds are very, very expensive. If you are lucky to have insurance in this country, most policies have a $2 million max lifetime limit on the benefits they'll pay. So if you become positive at a young age, there's a high probability that -- if you're even able to afford to keep your insurance if you lose/change jobs under COBRA -- you'll max out the benefits thanks to the expense of HAART.

Mark said...

great post eric. never looked at it that way.

the zak said...

Firstly, the correct term is always... safer

There's never zero risk.

Secondly, diligence is unlikely. So called safer sex practices and condoms haven't worked. Where are the widespead headlines?... "AIDS Epidemic Peaks" "Rate of New HIV Infections Going Down"

I'll get tested TOGETHER with my next potential sex partner BEFORE we have sex, for A VARIETY of STDs.

a.
What home medical tests are available for sex partners?...

b.
What testing sites, clinics or doctors' offices reach out to potential sex partners getting tested TOGETHER BEFORE having sex, for A VARIETY of STDs.

On a related note
http://www.myspace.com/geeksforacure

Joey7777 said...

On another related note, it's about 39 days now to Brooklyn's murder music Straight Pride parade. I do hope ACT UP (and other groups) is planning something. I understand if maybe they won't announce it so the adversaries aren't prepared.

Rick said...

We're starting to see the beginning of the Abstinence-only Education kids coming out and becoming sexually active, and it's not good. The only thing they learned was a self-inflated sense of hypocrisy and prudishness. They'll only "have sex with their boyfriend" but don't see anything wrong with having a new boyfriend every week. They don't think about sex in terms beyond the dreaded penis/vagina model, so they don't think of using a condom besides to prevent pregnancy, and don't know how to put one on properly when they do. AIDS is just a minor inconvenience in their eyes, or even a chance at free money for some of them. (Yes, I've actually heard some guys talking about the "government handouts" from becoming HIV positive.)

I worked in HIV prevention for 2 years, and it was one of the most depressing jobs I've ever had. Groups like Act Up have my utmost respect, especially in regards of trying to keep people informed in this age of willful ignorance.

Trevor Hoppe said...

Hey Eric -- just posted an entry over on my blog inspired by your post about my experiences as a "safe only" bottom in San Francisco. Thanks for the great post xoxoxo - Trevor

the zak said...

          > I love to bottom :) Yep. Neg. Tested regularly and
          > recently.
          http://www.trevorhoppe.com/blog/archives/
          2008/07/war_on_bottoms.html


There's a sucker born every minute. -David Hannum
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There's_a_sucker_born_every_minute

Have you heard giants once roamed the Earth?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiff_Giant

Regular testing doesn't work.
After another sexual contact test results are invalid.

alto said...

A comment on the above "regular testing doesn't work".

It depends on what you are looking for with regard to outcome. Does regular testing protect the one getting tested? Not from infection, no. But it does make an infection easier to spot earlier than would be the case otherwise.

If that person does test positive and is potentially a candidate for HAART, then that will, over time, decrease the risk of infection in a community, as you are now decreasing community viral load. Viral load is considered an importanmt factor in the potential to infect. The lower, the better, but there is always a risk.

None of these are the perfect solutions, but After twenty six years of a disease, I think it's fair to say we know what does not work.

Shame, blame, and moralizing ridicule may be wonderful tools to aid in ones own perception of personal importance, however as a prevention method for a global pandemic, they actually do little to help.

the zak said...

If you needed a transfusion, would you want blood from somebody tested regularly or would you want the blood tested before the transfusion?

alto said...

Di you really think that is a fair analogy? Of course the individual who is getting a transfusion will want the safest blood possible. They are also making some very informed, enlightened decisions that are by mandate, overseen by experts inj the field.

Sexual decisions do not occur in the doctors office. They often occur when one is potentially horned up, drunk or otherwise altered, and in venues not usually geared to support decisions around safer sex. Add in the fact that they are often complicated by desire, love, the perception of love, and to a scarier degree, they can often fueled by loneliness, and the stakes aren't so clear, all the time.

I agree with your premise, yes, but the last twenty six years has been pretty exacting in telling us that even if those are the 'best' options, usually they are not ones people engage well.

the zak said...

Thank you! I'm grateful for your interest.

          > Di you really think that is a fair analogy?

Who would set a higher standard of sexual health?... for having more sex more often over a healthy longer life
a.
the potential sex partners getting tested TOGETHER BEFORE having sex, for A VARIETY of STDs
b.
the sex partners who got regular testing individually
c.
the sex partners who got tested after an encounter that concerned them
d.
the sex partners who didn't get tested

bstewart23 said...

Color me thick, but I don't understand how Option "a" is in any way reasonable for human beings who have sex drives greater than that of corpses. Please explain, since it takes up to two weeks for all of my STD tests to come back from the lab, how anyone can wait up to two weeks for any kind of sexual contact with a potential partner? Serious question, honest.

Leven, as usual, a terrific post, and not just for what you say but for also paying respect to the frustrating mental gymnastics which AIDS educators (and activists) must maneuver. I think we (and much of the left, for that matter) make the mistake of wanting the message to be all-purpose and, well, perfect and, in struggling to make it perfect, we lose momentum, immediacy and vitality.

I say fuck perfection. A chorus of voices singing the same song slightly out-of-tune today is preferable to a lone, pitch-perfect voice that doesn't yet exist.

Sing on, brother.

the zak said...

          > Please explain, since it takes up to two weeks for
          > all of my STD tests to come back from the lab,
          > how anyone can wait up to two weeks for any kind
          > of sexual contact with a potential partner? Serious
          > question, honest.

Now you know why there's an epidemic. Can't wait to have sex with an infected person. That's what it is. We've dead people, dead friends, dead colleagues. That's the way it goes.

bstewart23 said...

So you ARE suggesting that waiting two weeks before acting on a sexual impulse is how the pandemic should be addressed?

Good luck with that. I can see it really catching on.

And, yeah, sure, sorry for the sarcasm, but, seriously, that "can't wait to have sex with an infected person"?

I am interested to know how you plan to introduce this process into your own life, because after taking the blood samples, do you and your betrothed plan on not letting the other out of your sight until the results are returned? Because, really, that's the only way for your solution to be a viable option.

Or you could just try incorporating safer sex practices. Just a thought. And one that's served me well over the past quarter-century and untold numbers of sexual liaisons.

the zak said...

          > So you ARE suggesting that waiting two weeks
          > before acting on a sexual impulse is how the
          > pandemic should be addressed?

Testing is how other pandemics like tuberculosis have been brought under control.

          > Good luck with that. I can see it really catching
          > on.
          > And, yeah, sure, sorry for the sarcasm,

If only sarcasm could cure diseases...

          > but, seriously, that "can't wait to have sex with an
          > infected person"?
          > I am interested to know how you plan to introduce
          > this process into your own life, because after
          > taking the blood samples, do you and your
          > betrothed plan on not letting the other out of
          > your sight until the results are returned? Because,
          > really, that's the only way for your solution to be a
          > viable option.

On the Saturday we met I mentioned the strategy. Sunday he called and asked, "Let's get tested together." Monday we got tested together for a variety of STDs. We were becoming friends without having sex, we went ahead after we knew our testing results a week or so later which were negative.

There are several important points about getting tested before you have sex and the first is that clearly it covers your entire past history and from a rational point of view you can see you are more likely to have been infected in your entire past than in the last two weeks. You have a clearer picture about yourself and your potential partner. And knowing this doesn't mean you can't take other precautions if you want to. When you're newly betrothed that's typical of what happens you don't want them out of your sight, you spend all your time together or certainly more time than if you were just friends or casually dating and such. You wrote as if your're an absolutist as if so called safer sex practices or the strategy guarantee something. People who say they were practicing safer sex got infected and are now dead.

          > Or you could just try incorporating safer sex
          > practices.

How has that worked out for all the people who have died or have been infected and have to spend their lives taking expensive unpleasant medicine?

          > Just a thought. And one that's served me well
          > over the past quarter-century and untold
          > numbers of sexual liaisons.

Consider yourself very lucky. Do you know anything about the fate of those untold numbers?

Knucklecrack said...

Hey, Remember when this post was about Barebacking?

Charley Beal said...

Eric, great post. I think we've discussed this before but i would like to add 2 comments.

1. When someone indulges in raw sex and serioconverts, yes, they can go on meds and lead a relatively healthy life... But that conscious choice inevitably drives up the cost of healthcare and insurance premiums for everyone else who pays into the health insurance kitty. I deeply resent this self indulgent behavior. if someone wants to have raw sex fine. just DON"T ASK ME TO PAY FOR THEIR MEDICINE!

2. I think condoms are hot. i love that moment when I or my partner reaches for one. That tells me something really great is about to begin.

Alex said...

If I ignore the post and the comments and just look at the ACT UP posters in the photo, this all makes sense to me.

They are trying to get a message across in a very simple and straightforward way - this is not the venue for lots of fine print with explanations and exceptions.

Let's put it this way: people who are already barebacking safely don't need the message on this poster - it's everyone else who does.

Trevor Hoppe said...

RE: "But that conscious choice inevitably drives up the cost of healthcare and insurance premiums for everyone else who pays into the health insurance kitty. I deeply resent this self indulgent behavior. if someone wants to have raw sex fine. just DON"T ASK ME TO PAY FOR THEIR MEDICINE!"

I'm so over this neofuckingliberal "I'm not paying for your mistakes" health insurance crap. People make all kinds of mistakes and decisions that lead to things happening to our own health. I drive a car regularly, knowingly taking a risk that I run a comparatively high chance of dying in a car accident. We take risks all the time. For whatever reason, some risks get pathologized and stigmatized and -- finally -- politicized by talking heads on TV who want to moralize our dirty sex lives.

erquirk said...

Hey Eric! A few weeks ago, I had an "interesting" encounter with a potential sexual partner who was of the belief that there are no risks associated with 2 poz guys having unsafe anal sex. He said that he, in fact, had unsafe sex all of the time with other poz guys.

I, of corse, was shocked. As a poz guy myself, I have been told relentlessly that there are risks of reinfection, treatment fatigue, "super bugs," etc., and so I always make the top use a condom when I'm bottoming.

However, this guy tried to tell me that epidemiology has "proven," or at least shown, that these kinds of risks are overstated or non-existent. Basically because we haven't seen a spike in sickness and death in co-infected men. He even said that there was medical literature supporting this theory, that it was basically "okay" and "not risky" for 2 poz men to bareback, cum inside, not play safer.

Do you know anything about this? Or about the "super bug-carrying gay NYC dude" who turned out to be a fraud?

In other words, I'm interested in your thoughts on this subject of the relative risks of 2 poz men participating in unsafe, barebacking sex.

Thanks bro, you're the BEST!

Todd E. said...

Eric, your question regarding whether unsafe sex trumps a life of being HIV negative is thought-provoking. For those who somehow think that the only difference between being poz and neg is taking meds and lab tests, think again.

I did AIDS clinical research and trust me, most of the clinical studies I worked on were those involving the side effects of these 'miracle drugs.' Yes, the protease inhibitors initiated miraculous, phoenix-like results, but the bottom line is that these drugs are very potent.

Yes, there are those who don't develop the side effects, but we all know those who do battle them: changing body shapes, high cholesterol, liver damage, etc.

So, in my mind, those who wanna bareback, have at it, but face the fact that is NOT as simple as "oh, I'll take the meds"...the end of that quote should be "for the rest of my life and deal with the often debilitating side effects."

Adam said...

To Erquik: Even though you are positive you should still use protection. I don't know about the issue of the suberbug but it has been shown that no two HIV virons are alike. If you have unprotected sex with other positive men then you will introduce HIV virions into your body that the meds you are on right now may not be able to cope with. Keep it wrapped.

With regard to the original post made by Eric: I don't know what to say to this casual bare backing craze other than that it is incredibly selfish of people to put themselves in harm's way like that for a thrill.

If you are a person that has no friends or family that care for you, if you are someone that has no emotional connection to anyone on this planet then fine. Fuck. Your. Brains. Out. That's not the case for anyone though, we all have people who love and care about us and when you knowingly put yourself in harm's way you are causing the people who care about you a lot of pain and heartache.

My brother died from HIV. I don't know how he got it, I don't care how he got it. All I know is that I miss him and I'm fucking angry that nothing will ever bring him back. To knowingly put your family and friends through that kind of anguish is the most selfish thing I can think of.

Oh and if you're one of these people who rationalize this bullshit by thinking, "Oh I'll jut get HIV and then I won't have to worry about it." Next time you board a plane, do this for me. Shoot yourself in the head before you take off. Because there's a chance the plane might crash, and if you're dead before it happens you won't have to worry about it.

So, wrap it up people.

the zak said...

If potential sex partners already have multiple infections, might they have different infections?... that one potential sex partner would be exposed to by the other partner, both with already compromised immune systems. Getting tested TOGETHER BEFORE having sex, for A VARIETY of STDs reduces ambiguity. Often when there's one infection there's another or multiple infections. One infection lowers resistance to other infections. Potential sex partners having a more clear picture of each other is a good thing.

Dray said...

"CUM DUMP" what a self empowering name. Sorry but this word really makes me sad. There are people that may not have anyone that loves them but we must love ourselves. If you really feel this way reach out and get some help. You are worth it!

AJ Goodrich said...

I'm definitely a proponent of safer sex, and condom use, and definitely against barebacking...but the fact is, on a couple of occasions, in the heat of the moment, I've let someone stick it in without a condom.

I'm not comfortable with it happening, and if you asked me 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after, I'd still say I wasn't comfortable with it. But it's happened...I just try to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Maybe some people just don't want the break in the action. Or a major discussion to occur in the middle of things. Maybe some people (and I've met them) find condoms to be a turnoff, or they can't keep it up as well with a condom on. It gets really tricky when you throw in hormones, lust, desire, hot bodies, alcohol, drugs, whatever.

I think people who label themselves "barebackers" and refuse to use condoms are stupid, and to some degree reprehensible. Even worse are the people that try to manipulate others into unsafe, raw sex.

But I don't think that should necessarily be the focus. I think more attention needs to be put upon how to bring up condoms "in the middle of things," or deal with situations where your judgment might be impaired, or what to do on some random night when there's a ridiculously hot guy in your bad and no condoms and you think this might be the only chance you get with this ridiculously hot dude.

There are solutions and hopefully people use good judgment, but I think it's about changing approach and attitude rather than reciting or thinking about easy, catchy poster slogans. The last thing I'm thinking about when I'm gonna have sex is Act Up's bareback ban.

They're fighting the good fight, I think they're just not going about it the right way...

You, Eric, on the other hand, I find to do a much better job of tackling and discussing all the issues at hand. Kudos.

Terry Miller said...

Nicely done!

I have a thought for the conversation: Forbidden fruit is sexy for many of us (arguably more so for gay men - transgression). Safe sex messaging is often ham handed because it turns unprotected sex into forbidden fruit; especially once you've lived with it for 15 or more years.

Wictionary.org: "Transgressive - Involving transgression; that passes beyond some limit; sinful; Going beyond generally accepted boundaries; violating usual practice, subversive.

Knucklecrack said...

@Erquirk:
First, I think everyone should be wearing condoms when having sex but if two knowingly HIV+ men have communicated about how they feel and the risks associated with unprotected sex- then that's their call.

Of course, I'd assume they would know that condoms don't ONLY prevent against HIV/AIDS but also a variety of STDS too, which being HIV+ increases the chances of obtaining.

There are lengthy debates on the theory of reinfection and I'll admit to not being the best source of information on this topic. What I do know is there is a theoretical risk which goes along the lines of "A different or stronger strain of HIV has the potential of aiding or interfering with the current strain one already has." You would probably want to go to Thebody.com for more information on this topic or consult thisboyelroy.com as he works in the field.

the zak said...

right. each of them could end of with a new infection that kills them.

Jim Pickett said...

Rectal microbicides are new prevention technologies that are being developed to provide protection during anal intercourse in the absence of condoms.

These could be lubes, gels, an enema or a douche-like product, or maybe in suppository formulation - and research/development activities are currently underway. I chair a group called IRMA - International Rectal Microbicide Advocates - that is made up of hundreds of advocates, policy makers and researchers from 50 countries all intent on bringing to the market safe, effective and acceptable rectal microbicides for the many men and women around the world who have receptive anal intercourse - AKA - get fucked in the ass.

Check out IRMA's website here to learn more
http://www.rectalmicrobicides.org

And visit our blog, the only one in the WWW devoted to rectal microbicides!
http://www.irma-rectalmicrobicides.blogspot.com

And Eric, thanks for all your great work. Love this blog!

Jim

the zak said...

Advocating for improved technology, vaccines, pharmaceuticals aren't the only technologies to consider. Testing technology as well will be improved and help prevent new infections http://www.diagnosticsforall.org/products.html