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Why do men bareback?

A bumper sticker popular a few years ago claimed ‘Good girls go to heaven.  Bad girls go everywhere!”  Change the pronouns and you have a pretty fair statement of the way some of us feel about sex.  “Good boys” may seem more likely to end up in relationships, but the thrill of being “bad” is much more fun to many of us.

When it comes to safer sex, “Good Boys” use a condom every time, just like we’ve been taught since the mid 1980’s.  Good Boys have taken the messages of safer sex to heart.

Increasingly, though, many gay men are acknowledging that they get a kick out of being Bad Boys.  Bad Boys aren’t Good Boys who “slip” and forget to use a rubber.  Rather, they are seeking skin-to-skin sex, no condoms involved, in what has come to be known as “barebacking.”

Some people are horrified at the idea of unprotected sex in a time when HIV is still very much a threat to our community’s health and well being.  They see barebackers as self-destructive.  No doubt some men really are self- destructive; they think so little of their own lives that using a condom seems pointless.  Painting everyone with this brush is way too simplistic and misses the deeper meaning of sex for gay men.

Some men are attracted to the sensations that are present when a condom isn’t.  Others get excited knowing that they are doing something risky; they are drawn to the break-the-rules aspect of the act.  The excitement for them is similar to the rush some men experience from sex in public places.  Other men are drawn to the fact that this is an ultimate act of faith in their partner, and act of trust and intimacy that puts everything on the line.

All sex that involves opening the heart is risky to some extent.  Intimacy requires vulnerability, and vulnerability carries with it the possibility of being hurt.  While we usually think of our emotions as most at risk when we think of intimacy, the sense of putting our physical selves in the line of fire as well may be a craving that isn’t fully conscious.  We want to be fully present during sex, and this may be one way to do it.

Sadly, safer sex information often subtly trivializes gay sex.  Little attention is paid to how important cum is to many men, for instance.  If ejaculate is discussed at all, it’s only in discussing ways to keep it out of your body.  That’s treated as a small price to pay for avoiding infection.

This misses the meaning of sex for many men.  Ejaculate is not some meaningless “bodily fluid;” it is a powerful, mystical substance.    It is in some ways the essence of male erotic energy and power.  Its warmth and wetness, taste and fragrance captivate our senses.  To watch a man ejaculate is to see him naked and raw and unselfconscious; to feel him ejaculate is to experience the power of what it means to be a sexually alive man.

Small wonder that when safer sex instructions imply that ejaculate is a toxic substance or dismiss it’s importance, men may become alienated from their own bodies – or simply learn to tune out these messages completely.

None of this is to minimize the need to avoid HIV transmission.  What is important is to make conscious, sex-positive choices that respect the sacredness of our sexuality.  Unprotected does not always mean the same thing as unsafe.  Sex between two (or more, for that matter) people who do not have HIV is not going to put anyone at risk of transmitting HIV.  Of course, there are other bugs out there besides the “big” one.

Conscious unprotected sex requires that the parties involved know about their own physical health and well-being.  It also requires that the parties involved be capable of telling the truth and committed to telling it.

If some men are barebacking because they are seeking an intense and more profound connection with their partners, there are other ways of getting to the same place without possibly compromising their physical health.  Some men talk about not liking the way condoms cut down on sensation, for instance.  If that’s true for you, think about exactly what sensations it is that you are seeking.  Do you take enough time to really savor the sensations that are already present, or is there a big rush to get to one particularly sensation?

What place does semen play in your sexuality?  Is it necessary for you to take your partner’s ejaculate in your body for you to feel like your experience is complete?  This can still be safe if you and your partner have the same HIV status.  If both of you are HIV negative and you want to dispense with condoms, safety will require having a sexually-exclusive relationship or a clear commitment to safer sex when being sexual with other men.

Sometimes ejaculate is a sort of shorthand for experiencing the other man’s erotic energy fully.  If an exchange of energy is what you’re ultimately seeking, explore other ways to make that powerful connection and savor the sight, smell and feel of your partner’s cum.  Celebrate each other’s orgasms while keeping one another safe and healthy.  Be shameless; get into it.  Cheer him on.  And savor the powerful time after the climax, a time of hard breathing and open hearts.  Don’t be in too much of a hurry to tidy up.

The conflict many of us have over safer sex practices can help us to explore more deeply just how powerful and sacred sexuality can be.  In a world where gay male sexuality is often disrespected – if not actually outlawed – to celebrate our sexuality and to enjoy it in ways that keep us healthy is a powerful act of love.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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