Your Mother Liked It Bareback

Whenever a new study of gay men shows, yet again, that we are having bareback sex, the arbiters of sexual rectitude among us clutch their pearls and decry this behavior as shameful, shocking, and murderous. So you can just imagine runaway pearls showering the floor when HuffPost Gay Voices reported on a study that included such "surprising facts" as the finding that gay men are -- gasp! -- having sex without condoms.

I really wish that people would put down their smelling salts and try to understand the reasons that this might be the case. There's nothing new here except our seemingly endless confusion over why gay men would behave in exactly the same way that nearly every man on this planet has behaved since boners began.

Maybe those who find bareback sex distasteful believe that they are being politically correct, that their strident judgments about the sex lives of others are in the service of HIV prevention, that criticizing other gay men for acting like human beings will somehow alter instincts that evolution built over millions of years.

Perhaps this is part of our new gay agenda, to demonstrate to straight society that we're just as good at shaming gay men as they are, that we'll gladly neuter ourselves for equal rights and deny ourselves the very pleasures that they take for granted, that if they only give us gay marriage, then we won't talk about the condom-free butt-fucking that will happen on the wedding night.

Somehow we have come to the homophobic conclusion that when gay men engage in intercourse without a barrier, we must label it "psychotic barebacking," but when straight people do it, we can just call it "sex."

This double standard is ludicrous. Your mother barebacked. It is a natural and precious act that has been going on, quite literally, since the beginning of mankind. Abraham (barebacked and) begat Isaac, and Isaac (barebacked and) begat Jacob, and Jacob (barebacked and) begat Judas and his brethren (Matthew 1:2).

Maybe you have the ability to enjoy sex while your penis is wrapped in latex, and you use one every single time. That is terrific, really. Please continue. You are using a classic prevention tool, a golden oldie. Or maybe you and your boyfriend are HIV-negative and have the good fortune to be in a committed, monogamous relationship in which you can safely have sex without condoms. You are to be commended, and you are, regrettably, in the minority.

These scenarios are valid and worth replicating whenever possible. However, they do not represent a superior high ground from which to make pronouncements about someone else's choices. Sex is sex. It is affirming and natural. Anyone who wishes to equate condom-free sex with death and disease really needs to get some therapy.

There was an unspoken agreement that gay men made amongst ourselves during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s: We would use condoms (at the time it was the only "safer sex" option that existed) until whatever time the crisis abated. Many of us believed that this contract would be in effect for the rest of our lives, if only because we thought we would be dead within a few short years. But none of us could have fathomed that 30 years later we would still be held to these strict and oppressive guidelines.

In fact, a 1988 study of gay men showed that almost half of them never used condoms, and most of those who did failed to use them all the time. These figures are strikingly similar to the survey cited in the recent piece on HuffPost. Everything old is new again. Or it never went out of style in the first place.

The 1988 study is particularly interesting when you consider how many gay men view that period as a time of great sexual austerity -- and some of us are wishing for a return to those times a bit too ardently. Gay men who witnessed the early AIDS carnage will sometimes say, "If only younger men knew what we went through. If they had seen it, they wouldn't be behaving this way."

That's sick. I do not wish young gay men could witness the soul-crushing things that I did. I worked in the trenches very, very hard so that they might have the option of being apathetic. I prefer gay life today, apathy and all, to the holocaust of the 1980s.

Condom usage will almost certainly continue to decrease in the future thanks to new tools that have joined the growing list of HIV-prevention options. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) -- taking a particular medication in advance of sex with an HIV-positive person -- has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of transmission (and insurance plans in the United States are covering the cost). Many people living with HIV are limiting sex partners to those who share their HIV status, a practice known as serosorting. HIV-positive gay men have largely dismissed scary fireside stories of the ultimate boogeyman, the much-feared supervirus, which has never materialized.

We also know that when those with HIV have an undetectable viral load, the risk of transmission is negligible, so "treatment as prevention" efforts have increased. (A British study of straight couples showed that an undetectable viral load is more effective in preventing HIV transmission than condoms, and those researchers believe that the same would hold true for gay men.) To date, there is no known case -- not a single one -- of someone with an undetectable viral load transmitting the virus.

Gleaming on the horizon are rectal microbicides. These products, currently in development, will come in the form of lubricants or douches that will prevent HIV infection, and they could make the endless debate and judgments about condoms irrelevant once and for all.

As a matter of fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself has just changed its definition of "protected sex," broadening it beyond the previous definition of "sex with a condom." When even the federal government has caught on to the fact that condoms aren't the only form of protection, you've reached critical mass.

We don't have to do this anymore. We don't have to clobber each other with condom fascism, discredit the value of our sex lives, or promote a singular strategy that doesn't work for everyone. We can accept that gay men are making educated choices to engage in a variety of risk-reduction techniques. We can acknowledge that all these techniques reduce the risk of HIV infection, and that all constitute "safer sex."

And finally, we can stop pretending that those who remain fixated on condom usage have the moral upper hand.

The emperor has no clothes. And he isn't wearing a rubber either.