Sexual health: Coping with barebacking peer pressure

Barebacking (condomless sex) still happens – a lot. This is even though most of us know that it is a huge risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. It STILL happens.

This is not because guys are stupid or suicidal or necessarily out to maliciously “infect” one another (most guys who transmit the virus to others do not know that they themselves are HIV-positive).

But the reality is that HIV and other STIs are still a very big issue, and we need to understand why guys are barebacking rather than just condemning them for doing it.

Also, we need to talk about how we can empower ourselves to fight the urge if it could put us at risk. There is no gargantuan pink diamanté encrusted rulebook that dictates that you must have bareback sex (or even anal sex, for that matter.) It’s your life and your rules. You are not a clone of the gay masses. Follow your truth and do what’s best for you.

In a 2006 study called Without Condoms: Unprotected Sex, Gay Men and Barebacking by Michael Shernoff, reasons for barebacking were listed as follows:

  • Having a negative attitude or feeling associated with condoms (more sensation or pleasure without a condom etc
  • The belief that being in a committed relationship or non-committed relationship should affect the use of condoms
  • Identifying very strongly with the gay community or, on the other end of the spectrum, feeling alienated from and different to members of the gay community
  • Internalised homophobia (feeling prejudice against or discordance with your own homosexuality)
  • Having the belief that becoming HIV-positive is inevitable if you are a gay man
  • Being affected by alcohol, drugs and other mind-altering substances
  • Barebacking to feel the thrill of danger (getting turned-on by the risk)
  • Wanting intimacy, emotional connection (possibly through semen exchange or skin on skin)
  • Feeling peer pressure to bareback

So, what can you do to resist the urge to put yourself at risk?

  • One of the best things you can do is to think about it right now, first. It’s not easy to make these decisions in the heat of the moment, and deciding to have safer sex is still a tough decision in the heat of the moment, even if you have given it some thought before. How do you feel about unprotected sex?
  • What would you prefer you did in the harsh unsexy light of day when you have your thinking cap on, rather than your horny horns?
  • Get educated about the risks, first
  • If someone wants you to have bareback sex with them to prove that you “Love” them, bear in mind that this kind of pressure is not very loving – it’s emotional blackmail
  • Remember that many HIV-positive guys and or guys with STIs like syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes and genital warts do not know that they have it, and do not show any symptoms at all. You can’t necessarily see if someone has an STI at all
  • Remember that it can take up to 6 weeks for HIV to test positive, so even if a guy told you that he got tested a month ago, and tested negative, he might still test HIV-positive in a few days or weeks’ time
  • Sex with a condom and non-penetrative sex can still be an incredible way to be intimate with a guy. Barebacking doesn’t ever have to be a desired outcome or goal if you don’t want it to be. Many committed couples continue to use condoms indefinitely

Article supplied by Health4Men. To find your nearest gay-friendly clinic, visit the Health4Men website.

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