June #24 : Riding Bareback - by Stephen Gendin

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Table of Contents

Nowhere Else to Go

Great Escapes

Gotta Light?

The Great Sex Debate

Made in Japan

Clipped Wings

The Vinyl Solution

Into the Woods

Hazel's House

Open Windows

S.O.S.-June 1997

Mailbox-June 1997

Ad Lip

A Higher Standard

Just Not Like a Prayer

Who's Sore-y Now?

Say What-June 1997

Devil to Pay

Web of Cries

On Pins and Needles

Fatal Attraction

Cocktails for Kids

To B or Not to B

Pot Doc Stalked


Alexander the Great(ish)

POZ Picks-June 1997

Skin Traders

Absolutely Fabregas

Barbarians at the Gates

Borders on Madness

A Second Look

Painful Truths

Before the Revolution

Riding Bareback

The Fleecing of Oprah

Barrier Blues

Mixed and Matched

To Tell the Truth

The Borders of Health

Road Trip Grub Tips

Following Your HAART

TLC for Your Largest Organ

Art and Soul


Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

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June 1997

Riding Bareback

by Stephen Gendin

Skin-on-skin sex--been there, done that, want more

A year and a half ago at a conference, I heard a talk by a really cute positive guy on the fun of unsafe sex with other positive guys. He was beautiful, the subject was exciting, and I soon ended up getting fucked by him without a condom. When he came inside me, I was in heaven, just overjoyed.

I'd had unsafe sex before, but never intentionally. Those experiences were guilt-ridden because I worried-both during the sex and afterward-about exposing my partner to HIV. This was different. Knowing the guy was positive made it empowering, not guilt-inspiring. I relaxed into my desires instead of fighting them and felt good doing so. On a purely physical level, the experience wasn't extraordinary, but emotionally everything purred so fine.

I'm not the only gay man who's developed a taste for such contact. Or gone looking for it. A quick search of America Online member profiles revealed 118 guys into condomless sex, 25 of whom identified as positive and four as negative, with the rest undisclosing. In fact, as the practice has spread, a whole slang vocabulary has sprung up to describe it: Fucking raw. Riding bareback. Skin-to-skin. With such delicious images, it's easy to stop thinking of it as unsafe sex.

I can't comment on a negative guy's decision to go raw, but for us positive men, the benefits are obvious. The physical sensation is much better. The connection feels closer and more intimate. The sharing of cum on the physical level heightens the sense of sharing on the emotional and spiritual planes. Then there's the satisfaction of knowing that seroconverting has its advantages (Or, to use American Express-speak, "Membership has its privileges.") It's a tasty revenge.

There's even something empowering about the idea of sharing someone else's HIV. It's like being thrown into jail for life and then, while serving your time, having the warden threaten to extend your sentence. The threat has no power because nothing can make a life sentence any worse. You can laugh at the threat, even spit in the warden's face. That time I got fucked by another positive guy, I felt I didn't have to fear HIV any longer. I could taunt it, challenge it by taking it into my body without being further hurt.

I know reinfection is a danger. Tons of positive men (including me) are walking storehouses of mutant, multi-drug resistant (MDR) virus. It certainly isn't smart to pick up one of those mean, cross-resistant monsters-I'm now "immune" to every antiretroviral on the market. "Regular" HIV ("wild-type" in scientific terms) may not be an automatic death sentence anymore, but some of those loathsome MDR babies probably are. Then there's the issue of STDs, some of which are very nasty. Hepatitis B, for example, can kill a person with HIV. Even the relatively easy-to-get-rid-of bugs like gonorrhea can activate HIV, causing viral load to go up, perhaps permanently. So even positive guys still have a lot to lose.

But for some of us, that's beside the point, and reinfection isn't a major worry. It's such a vague concept. And not easy to measure: How do you know if you've been reinfected anyway? And who can say that getting fucked without a condom by a guy whose virus has gone undetectable isn't less risky than sucking off someone with a high viral load? No one can say, because no one knows.

This fucking-raw craze could fade. As positive men understand resistance better, there may be more reluctance to pick up a new form of the virus. In the same way that some negative guys have sex only with each other, positive guys might start making decisions about risk based on which viral type their partner has. Proof of "wild type" HIV might be required before entry. Plus, men who know they have MDR virus might not find it so easy to ride raw anymore; the fear of passing on a more virulent strain could shatter barebacking's shiny image.

But if barebacking's hold on my own sexual fantasies is any indication, it'll take a lot even to tarnish that idea. Just writing about skin-to-skin is so exciting that I want to take a break right now and jerk off. Part of the joy of sex is its obsessive, all-encompassing irrationality, but condoms have prevented me from exploring that side. Riding bareback with other positive men is a less guilt-ridden way to indulge in that exploration.

I've only gone raw with a positive guy that one time. This has mostly to do with the fact that I'm in a monogamous relationship with a negative guy. If I weren't, I think I'd actively pursue barebacking--as do many of my positive friends--and feel OK about it.

It's a tricky situation. Already resistant to all approved nucleoside analogs and protease inhibitors, I worry little about being reinfected with a more dangerous virus. I understand that I do present a threat to most positive guys I might fuck raw with.

How do I justify pursuing acts with other positive men that many would describe as callous, even malicious? Am I guilty of skirting the facts in pursuit of raw pleasure? Or is the reinfection science shaky enough that it's not irrational for positive men to go skin-to-skin? With the risks so hazy and the benefits so brilliantly clear, no wonder riding bareback is all the rage. For me, being infected in the first place is such a doomful event that any act that brings pleasure, even a risky one, is worth grabbing for. Or so it often feels.

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