Law and Sexuality

A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests

Let’s Talk About Bareback

Apologies for the lack of posts recently.  I’d like to say I’ll be back posting regularly, but until I get back on track with various writing commitments, I’m afraid I will probably continue to be a little sporadic with my posting.  Let’s begin then with a topic that continues to fascinate me, and which I regard as a key issue concerning contemporary gay identity, and the regulation of identity, bareback sex.

I finally for around to watching the How to Survive a Plague documentary.  I’d been really excited about watching it and found it a very emotionally draining documentary.   That said, I think it would have been a little shorter, and it did seem at times to lack the energy that was suggested in the trailer.  The “plague” moment from Kramer – which seems to dramatic in the trailer – actually sent a shiver down my spine when shown in context.  The descent into chaos, argument, and division will be familiar to anyone involved in gay politics and campaigning. Kramer’s eruption, and genuine passion – shown in that context – is all the more powerful and underlines the importance of that unifying voice.  The documentary also helped to clarify in my mind the role of TAG in relation to Act Up!  A post on the Petrelis Files blog in recent days reveals how TAG continue to be a controversial group, and this documentary again helps younger gay men like myself to understand those historical tensions.

The documentary also left me wondering whether in the long run, it was worth it.  The trials that people pushed for, didn’t work, and the documentary seemed to suggest that actually we would have got to the same destination whether there had been any intervention by the LGBT community or not.  Potentially incendiary stuff.   On a personal level, the documentary persuaded me to order a HIV home testing kit.   If it does nothing else, but inspire many viewers to do that, I suspect the film-makers will be pleased.

A really interesting post on BuzzFeed also caught my attention.  It’s a blog by Kyle Bella who wonders why it’s so hard to talk about bareback sex.  After all, we know more and more men who have sex with men, are having that sex without condoms.  Bareback is – I would argue – already normative in gay pornography, and will – if it isn’t already – become normative in sexual practice.  We also see HIV rates continuing to rise, creating ever more socio-legal pressure for responses, health-policy responses such as we’ve seen in LA regarding pornography, and also specific campaigns such as that currently being waged against bareback company Treasure Island Media (albeit a particularly botched effort).

The puzzlement of Bella is – I suspect – shared by some, but I think most people know the reasons.  The trouble is the reasons are inconvenient, both politically and in policy terms.   If for example, we accept that bareback sex feels better – that it is a much more sensory engaging experience, then the arguments of safer sex campaigners over recent years will be seen as being less than completely honest.  It is also an emotionally different experience, and this again is not truly engaged with by many campaigners.

Our continued socio-legal pre-occupation with bareback sex, also furthers any fetishisation of bareback sex, whilst – and I can’t emphasis this enough – the failure of large sections of ‘our’ community to be dropping dead from bareback sex, or popping up on a Friday night in a club looking like hell, dying from AIDS makes any ‘HIV is a bad thing’ message difficult to deliver.  Not that anyone has been trying to.  Recent years have seen campaigns focus on testing, and HIV campaigners seem more focused on discrimination than health needs (all of which fuels silence about being positive, or knowing if one is positive).

Then we have direct attempts to silence debates around bareback. This has taken the form of attempts to snuff out companies like Treasure Island Media (which I would suggest reflect back the reality of our sexual play) and, as this Queerty story revealed last month, Facebook banning a page about bareback (after it hit 20,000 likes).

Can we all honestly state whether we engage in bareback sex, and why?  I don’t think our culture currently allows for that.  If we can’t even be honest about our own behaviours, we are not going to get to grips with this subject.

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2013 by in barebacking, Censorship, health, HIV/AIDS, Law, policy, Politics, Pornography, Sex, treasure island media.

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