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Barebacking – reducing risk

What does it mean to bareback?
Barebacking refers to the practice of having anal sex without using condoms.

Research suggests that barebacking is not just a fringe phenomenon among a small minority, but that many gay men and other men who have sex with men may do it regularly.

Why would people practise unsafe anal sex?
Some men may bareback by deliberate choice while others might do so because of circumstances.

Reasons why men practice barebacking:

  • For a sexual thrill or perceived enhanced sensation/intimacy;
  • Partners in a monogamous relationship who trust each other;
  • Unavailability of condoms;
  • Irregular use of condoms – some guys might use condoms at times and at other times not;
  • Impulsivity (making impulsive decisions);
  • Influence of alcohol and drugs.

What can barebackers do to stay safe and minimise their risk of exposure to HIV and/or STIs?

  • If you barebacked and you are concerned that you might be infected, go on a course of PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) medication within 72 hours of having had the risky sex. This will reduce your chances of becoming infected.
  • Remember to use lots of lubrication. This reduces friction and helps prevent small anal capillaries from bursting, limiting blood transmission.
  • Pull out before ejaculating – this may help reduce the risk of infecting the bottom partner.
  • Look out for signs of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as yellowish discharge coming from the tip of your penis, painful and burning urination or genital or anal warts.
  • Reduce the risk of contracting hepatitis: The bottom partner can use a fleet enema (go to your chemist to get one, no prescription is needed) to clean out his rectum.
  • Stay faithful to one partner; the fewer your partners, the lower your risk.
  • Discuss your sexual histories with your sex partners before having unprotected sex.
  • Abstain from sex with high risk sex partners such as sex workers and intravenous drug users.
  • Avoid using drugs and alcohol before having sex. You’re more likely to make more level-headed decisions if you’re sober.
  • If you are in a relationship with an HIV positive partner or engage in very high risk sexual activities, speak to a specialist or your doctor about the appropriateness of using medication to reduce your risk of HIV infection, known as PREP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis).