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Barebacking basically refers to intentional acts of unprotected anal sex (that is without a condom). Despite being the highest sexual risk practice, it has recently enjoyed resurgence among certain pockets of gay men.

Barebacking is very controversial, even within the gay community. Most experts condemn barebacking and barebackers because of the belief that the practice has caused upsurges in STIs and HIV infections among young gay men and has given bad publicity to the gay community as a whole. Others defend barebacking because of the belief that it is more spontaneous, that flesh-on-flesh action is more stimulating and even worth (and part of the excitement associated with) the high risks of contracting STIs and HIV. Others say that the publicity that barebacking has received is greater than its actual occurrence, and that any focus on barebacking has more to do with negative stereotypes of gay men as being promiscuous and irresponsible, rather than an actual increase in risk-taking among gay men. And then there are those that will argue that adult men should be able to engage in the consensual sexual acts of their choosing without permission or apology. No matter where you situate yourself in terms of these arguments, it is important for you to know the facts.

Following the emergence of HIV in the early 1980s, barebacking, particularly in the US and Europe, declined significantly because of successful prevention campaigns initiated by the gay community itself. However it has reportedly made a comeback in recent times, as evidenced in various international studies. The reasons for this comeback include:

  • The advent and relative success of protease inhibitors and other drugs for treating HIV;
  • Increased apathy over the transmission of HIV, which includes condom fatigue and dislike (look at the Safet Zone sections > Condoms and Lube);
  • Adoption of a fearless strategy to overcome an underlying anxiety over contracting HIV;
  • Possible low self-worth combined with a pessimistic attitude,
  • Increased drug abuse (more: Sexual Health > Alcohol and Substance intake), as well as an
  • Increase in on-line bareback pornography, which romanticises and eroticises the practice, by using messages that ‘only real men bareback’.

As such, barebacking has become a fetish (link to fetishes) among a subculture of gay men. This subculture has developed its own slang, such as “breeding” (ejaculation inside the rectum of the receptive participant), “charging up” (the same as breeding, but the male doing the ejaculating is HIV+), and “Russian Roulette party” or “conversion party” (a group sex party attended by HIV positive persons and HIV negative persons, the latter taking the chance that they may become infected with HIV).

Despite barebacking being an irresistible fetish for many gay men, the hard fact remains that unprotected anal sex carries the highest risk for transmitting HIV and other STIs. Such freedom carries a heavy cost. Even if both partners are positive, there is the risk of re-infecting one another with different or more resistant strains of HIV (link to HIV).