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[whitespace] Barebacking Roulette

Gay boys just wanna have fun, and say they know the risks. But are they really ready to pay the ultimate price?

By Genevieve Roja

IMAGINE A WORLD where condoms aren't needed. Then strip the world of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, HIV and AIDS. Sound like sexual utopia? Well, it is. Problem is, it doesn't exist. In this world, we run into sexual barriers. We become automated sexbots. Condoms? Check. History of STDs or HIV? Check. Number of sexual relationships? Check. Been tested before? Check. It's endless. It's tiring. It's ... safe.

Some men in the gay community--a small percentage, health educators say--are challenging safe sexual practices and rejecting warnings to create a practice free from latex precautions. It's called barebacking, or having sex without condoms. Is it wrong? Is it right? Is there a solution? Mark Krikava, editor of Manifesto, "the nonheterosexual newspaper" that is distributed monthly throughout the Monterey Bay area, says that the why of barebacking must be examined before it is even remedied. No easy task, since there is no consensus on the matter.

"There's the rightist, 'screw 'em all' group, and the warm fuzzy leftist group [that says] 'How do we feel about that?' " says Krikava, who runs Manifesto out of his Watsonville kitchen. "The strength lies in the middle; we need to address this as a public-health issue. We have to have a more pragmatic approach."

Is being frisky risky? The gay community is split on the matter. Operating under the perception that HIV transmission is inevitable, some feel that barebacking allows them to take control. Barebackers know their options, understand the consequences and accept their fate. That is control. Strap on a condom, cross your fingers, pray for negative results and wait, they say. That is being out of control.

"There's a certain thrill, risk, certain freedom of whether a man wears a condom or not," says Mark Hoffman, health-education coordinator for Santa Clara County's Department of Public Health in the HIV and Prevention Control program. "It's a freedom issue rather than a sensitivity and comfort issue. It's intertwined with ideas of liberation and, in some cases, a misunderstanding of transmission rates."

Barebacking doesn't stray too far from the wants of red-blooded heterosexuals, but though both groups are advised of the dangers of unprotected sex and are encouraged to be as safe as possible, gay sex carries a stigma of intolerance. Is there a difference when heterosexuals don't use condoms just because they want to feel good? Or when a woman says she's on the pill and assures her partner that she's protected from unprotected sex?

"It's like a trend," says Dan, who asked that his real name not be used. A San Jose resident, Dan, 30, works with gay youth. He says he barebacked with a consenting partner after he divulged his entire medical and sexual history. Dan hasn't tried barebacking since. "They hear so much about it, then it dies down. People always have to be reminded, 'These are the newest numbers on AIDS.' "

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From the June 1-7, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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