Piggyback (Follow-up to my previous post)

Jim Pickett of LifeLube.org responded to my post. I realize what I wrote necessitates a follow-up to clarify some points I made.

First, there is nothing wrong with condomless sex between two HIV negative, monogamous men. There is also nothing wrong with two HIV positive men, who are monogamous, engaging in condomless sex. This is their choice, and because they are acting as a closed circuit, due to the monogamy of their relationship, they are not putting anyone else at risk.

Now here’s where complications set in. Are these two hypothetical, HIV negative men truly monogamous. How long have they been together? Long enough to ensure that they are truly negative (6 months)? Do they plan on being monogamous in the future? If they do not, do they plan on engaging in anal intercourse, and if so, will they use protection? Will this protection be fool-proof (it wont’ be)? Will they always remember to slip on a condom? Will they be open and honest with each other if there is a slip up?

The point is, even in a situation where condomless sex appears to have no risk, there is still a chance for risk. Does this mean you shouldn’t ever engage in barebacking? Absolutely not. I’m not advocating for condom use at all times. I am advocating for condom use most of the time (hook-ups, non-monogamous partnerships, good dates, bad dates, etc.).

So what are we really trying to accomplish as a community when it comes to sex? I’ll tell you.

We are attempting to reduce our level of risk while maximizing our pleasure. If for most people, maximizing their pleasure means condomless sex, then you will see the risk side of the equation shoot up. Not a great balance. However if we advocate for condom use at all times, then you’ll see the pleasure portion plummet for many. No anal sex, likely the safest form of sex, probably reduces this pleasure bar even more (unless of course you are a gay man who doesn’t enjoy anal sex). So how do we find a happy medium? Do we take calculated risks to strike a balance? What kind of risks do we take? Is maximizing our pleasure really worth the risk? Are we just being uber-American, wanting everything but willing to sacrifice nothing? These are the questions that keep me up at night…until I fall asleep and dream about dinosaurs.

Once again, I want to iterate that I am not against barebacking. I believe it can be a healthy way for two educated men to engage in sex with one another.

*Footnote: Also, regarding Tony: I will read more of his work. All I really have to go off of is his panel conversation from last night. And aside from me disagreeing with his perspective, he contradicted himself a lot, as I pointed out in my previous post. Saying that porn has little influence, but then saying that youth learn by example is a contradiction. Saying that we are doing the best we can but that we can do more (another quote) is a contradiction. Maybe he’s just not a good public speaker. I can give him that. But when he is up on a stage, being advertised as an expert, then he better choose his words more carefully.

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25 responses to “Piggyback (Follow-up to my previous post)

  1. Daniel Reeders

    Tony’s point was that it makes no sense to worry about what young men might *watch* when they’re up in hotel rooms *doing* bareback sex at IML; social learning includes practice, not just visual culture.

  2. Daniel, I agree that what gay men watch and do might not be the same thing. However, to say “it makes no sense to worry about…” is a little short-sighted in my opinion. Visual culture, as you call it, still has an impact. Maybe not one as significant as practice, but an impact nonetheless.

  3. Anybody who thinks that what we see doesn’t affect what we do should pick an argument with the global multi-billion (if not trillion) dollar advertising industry. Ironically, if you ask most people if they make their choices based on ads, the resounding answer will probably be “no”. So, of course all these advertisers are wasting their money, right? OF COURSE WHAT WE SEE AFFECTS BEHAVIOR!!!

  4. Daniel Reeders

    It is literally non-sense to say “Sure, they can make an informed decision to DO it, but I will not offer them the choice to WATCH it being done”. And if this were a regression analysis, once you added social learning from peers to the mix, watching porn would no longer independently predict the behaviour. You cannot bareback on your own; regardless of what porn you watch, you necessarily require a partner to initiate you into the practice. Saying “oh sure the effect is small, but it’s an effect nonetheless” is inane and a cop-out.

    @Gary, since I work in social marketing, I’m hardly going to disagree with you, except on one point: what we watch affects cognition — behaviour follows afterwards, mediated by agentic factors and social context. As someone at the forum pointed out, if we behaved according to what we watch, we’d all be machine gun killers.

  5. There is actually zero data that suggests people who watch bareback porn are responsible for new infections, or engage in more bareback sex compared to people who don’t watch bareback porn…

    Here are a few studies of interest re: unprotected sex between poz and serodiscordant couples:

    Study examines repeated exposure to HIV in treatment-suppressed HIV patients

    http://irma-rectalmicrobicides.blogspot.com/2008/10/study-examines-repeated-exposure-to-hiv.html

    HIV Transmission under HAART – Lancet Study and the “Swiss Statement”

    http://irma-rectalmicrobicides.blogspot.com/2008/07/hiv-transmission-under-haart-lancet.html

  6. donwarnersaklad

    How widespread is the phenomenon?… of the strategy of “Let’s get tested 2GETHER B4 we have sex, for A VARIETY of STDs.”

    Do sexual health checkups reduce ambiguity and can they be like anything else POTENTIAL sex partners do together?…

    blog at
    http://notb4weknow.blogspot.com
    http://continuedat.blogspot.com

  7. To follow up with Jim’s link on the Swiss Statement and to add to the discussion:

    According to the article, the President of the Swiss Federal AIDS Commission clarifies the study’s findings.

    http://aidsmap.com/en/news/CB3AEAB0-8910-4B75-A6B1-3AEBB1413D2A.asp

    And if I’m understanding you correctly, donwarnersaklad, you do raise an interesting point, in light of the Swiss Statement. How can you be sure your partner/s do not carry another STI? This isn’t applicable to long-term, monogamous couples, but it is a good conversation point regarding serodiscordant sex partners who don’t fit that criteria.

  8. I have an answer to the STI question – regular screening/testing and treatment. That’s how you know if you or your partners have an STI. Honest, clear communication between partners is a must. The idea is talk, test, talk, trust, test again… and on and on. Infantilizing gay men doesn’t work. And there is no such thing as no risk. Get in a car tomorrow and it is a very risky move…

  9. And let’s also be clear. One does not need to be long term and monogamous to be STD free, and engage in unprotected sex. There are many couples who have negotiated arrangements that allow for sex outside the relationship that doesn’t put anyone at risk for HIV or STD acquisition…

  10. Thanks for the follow up, Jim!

  11. donwarnersaklad

    >”This isn’t applicable to long-term, monogamous couples”

    Question
    . When a partner is unfaithful would he most likely tell before or after?…

    Please note
    . There’s no test for mutual fidelity.

    Also note.
    . Postsex STD tests are a strategy–but what do they cause a person to do? Give up sex? Have less sex? Have more sex in order to “get even”?

    Testing before sex is a way to keep some sex from happening, and, consequently, prevent an STD. Postsex STD tests don’t do that. Presex STD tests will save some lives–some people will back out of the possibility of sex with that partner. Others may be way more cautious. Still others might wait for non-HIV STDs to be cured, if available.

  12. Daniel Reeders

    Don’t waste too much time replying to donwarnersaklad, he posts this spiel on *every* blog that mentions HIV/barebacking, and he’ll accuse people of infecting others if challenged.

    Keith, re “other STI”, it’s exactly the same as if you’re single — to protect your partner/s, you need regular testing and treatment, and if you catch something, you let them know.

  13. As an HIV+ man currently single and stuck in Kentucky, I watch bareback porn to remember. Up until a few years ago when my sexual behavior became more of an addiction than an expression of my sexual love for a lover, I only had sex with the guy I was dating at that time, so we had bareback sex. So I watch bb porn to remember what it felt like to be inside of someone.

    Now, being HIV+, I will only bareback with other HIV+ men. However, I’m not finding very many here and the few I do find I don’t necessarily find attractive.

    Like driving without a seatbelt or riding a motorcycle without a helmet, each person has to decide what risk they are willing to take to feel the wind in the hair – so to speak.

  14. Tony Valenzuela

    And to follow up on the my previous respond, I’ll repeat what I said on the panel.

    There is no empirical data linking a relationship to pornography and behavior. This research goes as far back as the Nixon administration.

    I said gay men learn by example exactly as Daniel Readers has stated: they witness other men barebacking in hotel rooms during IML and that has far more impact that watching porn.

    How else did I contradict myself?

    Tony

  15. I think the question that many have, Tony, is how is pornography different than watching men barebacking in person as it relates to engaging in condomless sex? Obviously watching in person provides easier access (I can reach out and touch them), but does easy access alone create the difference between observer and participant? And how has the Internet altered accessibility (e.g., hook-up sites)? Does this alter the impact pornography may have on action?

    In addition, if most gay men learn about gay sex through pornography (and I’m citing myself and all my known gay peers as examples), then how is it possible that pornography has no impact on behavior?

    These questions aren’t asked with an adversarial tone. I, and I’m sure many others, are curious, especially after we attended the forum on Monday.

    And I also want to add I’m not trying to demonize gay sex. I think we all too often get defensive when people call into question our sexual behaviors, even if these questions aren’t meant to be leading. It’s understandable. We’ve been demonized by heterosexual society for a long time. Let us not ostracize or put down those that genuinely ask such questions.

    And finally, I am a comedian, a journalist and a writer. I am not at all a professional activist, scientist, sociologist, etc. Still, I feel everyone has an equal voice when it comes to contributing to the greater conversation of gay men’s health.

  16. Tony Valenzuela

    Hi Keith,

    I need to know why my response to your original (Dangerous Dialogue) post has not yet appeared here yet? I submitted it a few hours ago and then tried again later but I notice it’s not up.

    Let’s start there, ok?

    Tony

  17. I just searched for the alert in my e-mail (that’s how WordPress tells me I get a comment). And there is no record of a previous post.

    Either it is delayed for whatever reason, or it just never went through. Which sucks because I’d like to read it.

  18. Tony Valenzuela

    Keith,

    I just tried again but it doesn’t post.

    Please e-mail me at tonyvalenzuela@gmail.com and I will send it to you. Then do me a favor and post it.

    This is all in good faith and the spirit of intelligent discussion.

    Best, Tony

  19. Tony’s response to my original post, which for some reason wouldn’t go through.

    Keith,

    I just got around to reading your post. I won’t get personal, as you have, but I’ll ask you this. Read my work about gay men and then tell me if you think I’m “incompetent” or still hold a “hypocritical, stunted rationality.” Yes, I’m asking you to invest some time in getting to know me. But what you don’t realize is that I was asked to sit on that panel because I do, in fact, have a long history of engagement with gay men’s health.

    Here’s some recommended reading. If you’d like to know how I weighed in a few years ago regarding gay men and crystal meth, read my piece in the LA Weekly:

    http://www.laweekly.com/2005-06-09/news/the-crystal-conundrum

    If you’d like to know my thoughts on gay men’s relationship to public health read this piece in POZ from 2008:

    http://www.poz.com/articles/killer_gay_sex_hiv_401_14539.shtml

    Or here’s an article I wrote shortly after being featured in POZ magazine in 1999 regarding barebacking:

    http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:RYMMsU-FTXYJ:www.tonyvalenzuela.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/TV_Edge_The_Barebones_of_Bareback_1999.pdf+the+barebones+truth+about+bareback+sex&hl=en&gl=us

    I have other articles I can send you (just give me your e-mail address) as far back as 1995 when I was among the first young activist to begin a public conversation on how an emerging generation of gay men (then, Gen X) had a new and complicated relationship to risk, HIV and condoms.

    I’ve been doing this work (both gay men’s health and queer activism in general) since 1990.

    Do your homework before calling people names.

  20. Well I as at the panel as well and I think it was a great place to start a much more visible debate in our communities about the role of pornography, pleasure and sexual liberation. I wish we’d had more time for debate and for more people to comment as I was twittering all the way through with thoughts and comments alongside loads of others, so the energy in the room was fierce!

    I’m not going to get too drawn into the Tony slag off or the descriptors of the other panelist, I’m sure some of it is for effect, but I do want to say how important it is that we support any member of our community who gets off their arse to take part in these discussions and debates. Too few people step up and step out to talk honestly whether their own individual opinion or one drawn from research and evidence (and I think tony is in the second camp) Much as we are vilified by the mainstream community, we do a pretty good job ourselves at bitching out at each other. I strongly believe we need a new discussion in our community about how we build a stronger more positive approach to relationships which brings in both monogamous and non-monogamous formats and doesn’t create a hierachy of judgement.

    The sad fact is that we just don’t know at a large scale what the impact of gay porn is. There was massive amount of work done in the Nixon era as the US tried to ban porn so was looking for any good reason and there was q reasonable amount of research done in Japan which showed that the content of porn, particularly violent porn, doesn’t change sexual practice. There is some small suggestion that if you were going to be sexually violent that the use of porn will shorten the period between contemplation and action but it does not change the outcome. I think there is a stronger arguement for more research into the impact of pornography but all the studies to date fail to show any demonstrable or significant impact. And hence we fall back onto societal judgements based on individual perception and prejudice.

    I also want to pick up one of the other points made which I think was really important at the panel, there was a strong steer from the facilitators towards the concept of self-regulation in the bareback porn industry and all of the panelists spoke about the importance of informed consent and choice. The question then is how do we include responsible messaging in porn which recognising that it can’t compromise the product and market otherwise it won’t be viable.

  21. >”Keith, re “other STI”, it’s exactly the same as if you’re single — to protect your partner/s, you need regular testing and treatment, and if you catch something, you let them know.”

    “…regular testing…” Does testing ever cure or prevent a disease?

  22. >”And let’s also be clear. One does not need to be long term and monogamous to be STD free, and engage in unprotected sex. There are many couples who have negotiated arrangements that allow for sex outside the relationship that doesn’t put anyone at risk for HIV or STD acquisition…”

    This does not make sense. The more exposures you have, then you are more likely to encounter someone with an STD. If you drive more you have more chances to be in an accident. Same with sex.

  23. Daniel Reeders

    >”The more exposures you have, then you are more likely to encounter someone with an STD.”

    But not all STI are created equally. If you have high partner numbers, you’re quite likely to end up carrying HSV and a number of the HPV. But as unpleasant as these can be for their carriers, they are significantly less serious than HIV. You can certainly remain HIV-free despite having thousands of partners — if you’re good at using condoms. If you’re a negative man using serosorting strategies, I would be more inclined to say it’s a matter of time, with your skill in selecting partners influencing whether it happens sooner or later.

  24. The more exposures you have, then you are more likely to encounter someone with an STD.

    > But not all STI are created equally.

    No such claim is made above.

    > If you have high partner numbers, you’re quite likely to end up carrying HSV and a number of the HPV. But as unpleasant as these can be for their carriers, they are significantly less serious than HIV. You can certainly remain HIV-free despite having thousands of partners

    You might want to take a look at the list of the dead from AIDS.

    One thing they will generally have is LOTS of contacts.

    > — if you’re good at using condoms.

    There is likely no such person in the world. They break. Somebody can’t wait. And so on…

    > If you’re a negative man using serosorting strategies, I would be more inclined to say it’s a matter of time, with your skill in selecting partners

    Skill? You can learn how to tell if someone is HIV+ other than with a test?

    > influencing whether it happens sooner or later.

    It has already happened for some millions of people.

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